Hiring a remote team?

Written on 
September 15, 2016

An average manager is used to keeping an eye on things. At first, the request to source and hire remote talent won’t click. They’ll devise a way to bird-watch employees from another time zone. They shuffle to the whiteboard and sketch the grand plan: Send remote workers iPad, install on the wall, Skype all day, max zoom, include a handfan to simulate breath down their neck and back. Fortunately for me, a handfan never arrived in Philadelphia from my Timely team in Oslo, nor did one come for any of our other teammates across three continents, five time zones and six countries. Without the constraint of a local-only talent search, we cast a net on a world of applicants — boundless and full of funny accents — and employed empathy and common sense to structure our long-distance relationships. The result is one healthy SaaS business and a few considerations for other teams preparing to hire remotely.

Timely Oslo office

Only half the team at Timely are located in Oslo, Norway. The rest are spread out across three continents and five different time zones.

The global workflow developed at Timely and by other successfully managed remote teams wouldn’t be possible with inconsiderate partners. It’s tough to transition from a traditional “office culture is company culture” management style to one that manages contributions from the cloud. I’ve seen it up close in my own family business, and I’ve politely wrestled with capable, well-meaning managers who want nothing more for Christmas than the ways things used to be.

The decision to allow for remote workers is a critical step towards employing a first-class workforce, but it’s only the first step. To maximize the output of your team, to be considerate, a manager has to reflect on the priorities and unique challenges of the remote worker. Here are 4 considerations for the rookie remote manager.

  1. When will the remote worker be available to collaborate with our team? How can I maximize their productivity if I can only speak to them for 1–2 hours per day? Time zones are a thing. Although most of us know that, it’s tough to understand how much of a hassle it can be if it’s your first time collaborating from afar. When the home team isn’t available, remote workers need answers — information, updates or feedback. Slack is your friend, as are Trello, Box and, the timeless classic, weekly meetings. If teammates can’t pull an answer from the ceaseless feed of a Slack channel or a collaborative document, they’ll have to wait for the proper authority to log on and answer their question. That won’t work. Document everything in the cloud and you’ll avoid major setbacks.
  2. Are they comfortable communicating with any teammate? When setting up your relationship with the remote worker, introduce him or her to the entire team and be sure to make it clear that any of them are accessible. When I joined on with Timely I had series of interviews with the founders by Skype. For my work, I don’t need to have much discussion with them, but they’re not strangers. I’ve instead developed a nice routine of bothering Marius when I need something from the home office. That works just fine for me. He hasn’t stopped responding yet so I guess it works for him, too. It’s nice to know and be known in the workplace, remote jobs included.
  3. Will they feel confident in the mission of their work? Think about all the indirect feedback you get in an office — the vibes, passing conversations and other queues that inform your urgency or priorities. Remote workers don’t have the luxury of feeling the vibe or picking up on little hints. For us, it’s easy to feel in the dark without contact from decision makers or honest feedback on our work. I think we all prefer to work directly with the ultimate decision makers. I want to know the person who makes the decision to stop paying me so that (once in a while) I can speak with them about why they think my work is important to the strategy of the company. It’s nice to be reassured.
  4. How can we keep tabs on their work without overstepping our boundaries? Are we prepared to trust a remote worker? Trusting a remote worker is both the hardest and most important piece of the successful relationship. At Timely, our product is right at the heart of this trust bubble. We found that giving each member shares of the company is plenty incentive to help them excel in their independence. This shared ownership model isn’t an option for other companies. Instead, time sheets or more cumbersome solutions (unnecessary meetings) inform management at the cost of progress. Use Timely’s Automatic Time Tracker or necessary, less frequent meetings as friendlier solutions to keeping tabs on productivity without alienating the workflow of your team. A complete lack of trust is a major de-motivator. If you think you’ll have to micromanage a remote team, you might find it less stressful to hire local.
Timely Oslo office

Having a remote working culture allows us to hire the best people, no matter where they live.

We are advocates for productive remote work. There is talent in every corner of the world, and it should be able to find and contribute to the right projects and companies so that it can help build great things. If more companies are able to adopt and construct online workspaces, to be considerate of a few new challenges, and to understand that empathy is the bedrock of relationship capital, we’ll all benefit.

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