18 min read

How to Hire Remote Employees

How to Hire Remote Employees

Supporting remote work offers a number of benefits, but increased access to the best talent is probably the biggest reason to adopt it. Attracting and hiring talent is one of the main issues at any company, particularly for in-demand roles like software engineers or product designers.

This is because remote hiring expands the talent pool you can access beyond your local environment and opens you up to attracting the best candidates regardless of their location.

Even if hiring isn't an issue for you at the moment, the majority of employees who have been remote working want to continue to do so. To attract new talent, you will need to support remote work and it will have the added benefit of improving employee engagement and retention while creating a more diverse company culture.

The good news is hiring for remote roles isn't too different from hiring for in-office roles. You need to define the role, write the job description, attract high-quality candidates, and be explicit about your cultural values and expectations.

However, there are also key differences you need to be aware of particularly how to attract remote employees, the challenges they face, and how to onboard remote workers once hired.

Zoom meeting

Why you should hire remote employees

If you're on the fence about hiring remote employees, you should familiarize yourself with the benefits remote work provides to employers:

  1. Increased employee productivity: The myth that remote workers are lazy is just that a myth. In fact, the most cited problem for remote workers is overworking.
  2. Lower costs: As an extreme example, Google will likely save over a billion dollars due to employees working from home due to reduced costs related to promotions, travel, entertainment, and in-office perks.
  3. Easier recruitment and access to a larger talent pool: We've touched on this above but it's worth repeating. By hiring remote employees you quite literally have the world's best talent at your fingertips.
  4. Increased employee satisfaction and better employee retention: Not only do you give them more work-life flexibility, you also give them a chance to prove their leadership abilities with expanded autonomy and responsibility.
  5. Better disaster preparedness: A remote workforce means that your business can continue to run even if there is a natural disaster, local or national emergency, or say a global pandemic...
  6. Better networked employees: Remote workers tend to have flexibility in their schedule which makes it easier to juggle work, professional development, and networking.
  7. Lower carbon footprint: Less employees commuting means less greenhouse gas emissions. By supporting remote work, you are demonstrating that you care about the environment to potential employees and customers.
Remote video meeting

Understand the characteristics of a good remote worker

Remote work doesn't work for everyone. Remote employees need to have a number of important skills to be successful. But it's a myth that not everyone can handle remote work.  These skills can be learned if a potential employee wants enjoys or wants to work remotely.

Even if a potential candidate hasn't work remotely in the past, a background in freelancing, contracting, or startups can help. Zapier found that "10 of our first 13 hires at Zapier had startup or freelance work in their background—and several staff members started out freelancing for Zapier before joining us full-time."

The common traits you should look for when hiring for are a remote positions are:

  • Bias for action: Look for self-starters who have the technical skills to do their job with minimal input day-to-day. Successful remote workers tend to create their own schedule and routine to stay focused.
  • Ability to work independently: This is particularly important when working on a remote team spread across geographies and time zones. If the team is signing off as they start their day, they need to be able to make decisions and continue working without input.
  • Strong and frequent communicator: Communication is essential in an office environment and even more important when working remotely. When most of your communication happens through writing–emails, team chat, or private messages, you need to be able to write clearly and concisely. Equally important is being able to communicate emotion. A few emojis can go a long way.
  • Cross-cultural literacy: Remote employees need to be able to communicate with team members from different cultures and linguistic backgrounds. You need to be able to find common ground with people who have different language abilities, communication styles, cultural backgrounds, and traditions.
  • Trustworthiness: Employers need to be able to trust their remote workers. One of the benefits and challenges of remote work is that employees have complete control over their time. You need to trust new hires to do the work.
  • Local support system: If the only support a potential candidate has is the business, then a remote environment can be difficult. You need to hire people who have support systems outside of the business so they can get adequate social interaction and have a work-life balance.
  • Comfortable with longer periods of solitude: Loneliness is one of the biggest remote work challenges. Many remote workers enjoy the ability to focus deeply on their wok, but it can be difficult to transition to if you're not used to it.

Read our guide on the essential skills of successful remote workers to see a full list.

Face-to-face meeting in a room

Learn to attract remote employees

While it's true that hiring remote employees increases the size of your talent pool, it can be difficult to attract remote job seekers if you're not a known remote company.

Hiring remotely means you can't rely on your local presence and demand for a remote workforce has never been higher.

We recommend you read our complete guide to attracting remote employees but here's a TLDR:

  • Build a strong remote employer brand: Hiring for remote jobs means you can't rely on your local brand to find the right candidate. Build a strong digital presence so new employees can discover and learn about your company. Describe the way you work, include remote employee testimonials, showcase in-person and remote activities, outline company culture, provide information about your tech stack, and highlight what is important to you. Create a free remote company profile on Himalayas. Once you've signed up, you'll be able to tell your company's story to the world and shine a spotlight on your culture, tech stack, and the countries your team works from. Creating and completing your company profile will leave a lasting impression and get candidates excited to work with you before you've even met. If you're looking for inspiration, browse thousands of remote company profiles here.
  • Write remote specific job posts: Before you start sourcing candidates, it's a good idea to clearly define the position, don't throw up a generic job description and call it a day. You need to sell your company as much as the job itself. We've outlined more on how to do this in a section below.
  • Advertise on remote job boards: If you're new to the remote hiring process, it's a good idea to advertise your remote jobs on dedicated remote job boards. We're biased, but we think Himalayas is the best place to find remote talent. You can use our free remote company profiles to tell your company's story and shine a spotlight on your culture, tech stack. And our sophisticated job listings let you specify time zone and visa requirements so only relevant job seekers will see your posts. Create a free remote company profile on Himalayas.
  • Design an attractive and fair compensation policy: Remote employees, much like their in-office counterparts, want to be compensated well and fairly. Don't believe the myth that you can underpay them. When you're hiring remote workers, you're not only competing against local companies but also remote companies all over the world.
  • Showcase your benefits: Beyond financial incentives, think about what else you provide to your remote workers. Common examples include professional development, a learning and development budget, home office or co-working space stipend, company retreats, ability to work from anywhere, paid parental leave, health insurance, or employee wellness programs.
  • Use your existing network: One of the best ways to attract candidates to open positions is to reach out to people you've worked with in the past. If you enjoyed working with them, it's a good idea to see if they're interested in joining the interview process.
  • Attend and sponsor local meetups: This might seem counterintuitive but a great way to fill remote roles is to find people locally. If you already have remote employees, ask them to attend local meetups relevant to the role. Even if you don't, consider sponsoring the events to get your employee brand out there.
  • Ask your users: Your users are one fo the best sources of candidates for remote interviews. They're already passionate about your product and understand how your company thinks.
  • Use content marketing: Zapier has found almost every candidate that they interview mentions their blog as one of the reasons that they want to work at Zapier. In fact, 1 in 10 of their employees said they applied to Zapier because of what they read.
  • Ask for employee referrals: Leverage the networks of existing employees. Ask them about the best people they've worked with for any open roles.
  • Reach out to people who left on good terms: Particularly if they left because they wanted to move somewhere else. You already know they're good workers!
  • Leverage social media: This might seem obvious but share open roles on social media. Let your followers know that you're open to hiring remotely.
Team discussion in an office
Invest the time with your team to get clear on what the position is

Get clear on the position

A common pitfall when hiring remote employees is to write the job description without getting clear on what the position is. This is part art, part science but hiring tends to be a lot easier if you understand why you are hiring the role and the needs and desires of potential candidates.

Invest the time to get clear on what the position is and what gaps it will fill in your team. Be sure to ask your team what they would like this person to bring to the table, as they will be working with them day-to-day. Do this before you start sourcing and interviewing candidates.

It's tempting to jump into the concrete things about the person you want to hire by describing their skills and experience. However, it's better to start with the specific outcomes you want before describing the candidate.

Ask yourself and your team questions like:

  • Do we need a full-time employee, a contractor, or someone part-time?
  • Do we understand what the person will actually do?
  • Are we aligned about what the role is and isn't?
  • What does success look like?
  • What will the impact be on the team, the business, or the product?
  • What would a typical day or week look like for a person in this job?
  • Is what we are expecting even feasible for a single person?
  • What technical and non-technical skills are we looking for?
  • Do we need a generalist or a specialist?
  • What experience should this person have?
  • Which skills are nice-to-have and which are must-haves?
  • Do candidates like this even exist? If so, how do we find them?
  • Would they want to join our company?
  • How do we assess that a person has the skills we want?

There is nothing worse for a candidate than meeting with different interviewers who all have different ideas about what the role is and why they should join the company.

Another related mistake is to outsource the responsibility of writing the job description to a recruiter. This can work if you've armed the recruiter with the information you gleaned from the above questions. It won't work if they throw up a generic job description based on a template they found on the Internet. That will do nothing to help candidates assess whether they want to work at your company in the role. Remember you don't have a local reputation. You need to sell your company as much as the role itself.

Jason Fried, CEO and co-founder of Basecamp, takes it one step further and recommends doing the work yourself first:

When it comes to an all-new position at the company, we like to try to do it first with the people we have so we really understand the work. If you don't understand the work, it's really hard to evaluate someone's abilities. Before we hired our first customer service person, I did just about all the customer service for two years. Before we hired an office manager, David and I mostly split the duties. That really helped us know who would be good when we started talking to people about the job.

This is a great idea but depending on the role, your background, and the amount of time you have available, doing the role yourself might not be feasible. If it's not, gather all the information you can and use it to develop the job description.

Recruiters at Zapier conduct a kick-off meeting with hiring managers to educate themselves about the position. The meeting generally covers:

  • Day in the life: What a typical day entails
  • Cross-functional partnerships: How the role interacts with colleagues across teams
  • Contributions: Key qualitative or quantitative goals to be achieved

You also need to consider the degree of experience and impact you need and expect from the hire. Are you hiring a junior employee? Or a VP to run an entire function? In general, the more senior the employee the less guidance they need to be successful to achieve an outcome but they will be harder to hire and more expensive.

If you followed the approach outlined above, you should know what success looks like in the role and how it relates to your company and goals. Now you can develop a set of skills, traits, and values:

  • Technical skills: Typically involve actionable knowledge like specific programming languages, SaaS products, or technical certifications. Think about which skills are a strict requirement and which aren't. For example, an experienced programmer can likely pick up a new language on the job.
  • Nontechnical skills: Cognitive, social, and personal abilities that will make them successful in your remote work environment. While there are a number of essential remote work skills, you should also think about what would make them successful in your unique environment.
  • Traits and values: If you're a startup, you might value people who are highly adaptable and comfortable with ambiguity. If you're a fully remote asynchronous team, you might value writing, time zone sensitivity, and ability to work independently. Read our guide to asynchronous communication to learn best practices.

Try not to be too rigid when you're coming up with these as it might cause great candidates to not apply. To quote Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI: Hiring: values first, aptitude second, specific skills third.

Job description example on himalayas.app
Browsing existing job descriptions is great for ideas

Writing a remote job description

Now that you've defined the role, it's time to write the job description. An informative and compelling job description will have many of these elements:

  • Job title: The name assigned to a particular position at the company. This is how most job seekers will decided whether to read the job description or not. Titles can vary in descriptiveness from general such as Software Engineer to specific Senior Software Engineer (Payments Infrastructure).
  • Job level: Typically only applies at larger companies, but job levels or job grades are formal categories of increasing responsibility and authority in the company. The higher the level, the more autonomy, responsibility, and compensation the role has and the greater the skill, accountability, and independence.
  • Location: There is no one-size-fits-all definition of remote work. Make it clear in the description whether the role is fully remote, whether it's hybrid, and any other time zone or visa requirements (e.g. "Australia only", "time zone agnostic", or "4 hours overlap with UTC+4 required")
  • How remote works at your company: Remote work can vary from work from home but located in the same city or time zone to fully distributed and asynchronous like GitLab. No approach is better than another but it's important for candidates to know what they're getting into.
  • Company name (including logo and branding): Remember, you need to sell your company and the role itself. Good design and branding can go a long way.
  • Company narrative: This will typically describe your mission, origin story, and company vision. It should also include a brief pitch about what it's like to work at the company, as well as your company values and culture.
  • Role narrative: A short story illustrating what it would be like to work in the role and what the ideal candidate looks like. It could include the outcomes of the role, how it could benefit the candidate's career, why you're hiring for the role, characteristics and skills that will help the candidate succeed, and how the role fits into the overall company.
  • Outcomes expected for the role: What are you expecting the candidate to achieve if they are hired. You don't need to be hyper-specific, you just need to give potential candidates a sense of the tasks that they could be working on and whether they have relevant experience or skills.
  • Skills and experience required to meet expected outcomes: You need find a balance between making the skills and experience required too specific (which can cause good candidates to self-select out) and too broad (which makes good candidates with relevant experience less likely to apply). Experience doesn't always translate to seniority or ability and there is research that some candidates, particularly women, will only apply if they meet all the requirements. Only put requirements in here that are truly requirements. If you don't need it, don't include it.
  • Skills and experience that are preferred but not necessary: This is where you can be specific about the tools, technology, and experience that you'd love the candidate to have. For example, if you use TypeScript exclusively, you might have 5 years JavaScript experience required and ideally 2 years TypeScript experience. Likewise, you may prefer that the candidate has a computer science degree but plenty of good candidates won't!
  • Traits and values of the ideal candidate: Help people understand the type of person you are looking for while doing your best to be inclusive. Aim for culture-add rather than culture fit.
  • Compensation, benefits, and perks: While you don't want to attract people who are solely interested in what you can offer them, fair compensation and good company perks are a great way to attract talented remote employees. We recommend including a compensation range as you'll filter out applicants who are expecting a higher salary and job posts with transparent salaries drive more applicants.
  • Tech stack: If you use Ruby on Rails and Marketo, let people know! Potential applicants who are passionate about the technology will be more likely to apply and it's an easy way to stand out from other remote companies.
  • How to apply: This may seem obvious but you'd be amazed how many companies forget to add this to their job descriptions.
  • What to expect during the hiring process: Again, this may seem obvious but most companies fail to provide applicants with a clear understanding of what to expect during the hiring process. Providing this will help candidates prepare and will help filter out any potential applicants who aren't serious about applying.
  • EEO statement: An equal employment opportunity statement (EEO statement, equal opportunity employer statement, or diversity statement) shows that your company is operating in good faith and part of how you can market yourself.

Providing this level of detail will turn some people away. Those people aren't a good fit anyway and the applicants that do apply will be more invested in the process and your company.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't be mindful about the length and formatting of your job descriptions, you should! Candidates will skim and may not even read the material at the bottom of the page, so put the most important bits at the top. What is most important will depend on what you value most.

You'll also want to be careful with wording in your job description as it too can determine who applies. Using gendered language can contribute to an imbalanced pipeline. Certain language can also discourage older or marginalized candidates from applying. Consider using a tool like Textio to check your text for discriminatory or biased language.

Finally, when you've finished writing up the job description, share it with your team and incorporate their feedback into a new version. You may find that certain skills or attributes you think are important aren't. This is an iterative process that will get better over time.

Woman in remote interview

Interviewing remote candidates

If you've done everything up to this point, you should be seeing good candidates applying to your open positions. This is where the real challenge begins. You need to filter through dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of applicants and then interview and assess who will be your next employee.

Don't rush this process, hiring may be time-consuming but hiring a bad fit is even worse. GitLab recommends focusing on candidates that align with your values and those that say your values resonate with them.

Once you're ready to interview candidates, it's good to remember that you're assessing the person's ability to do the job as well as their ability to work remotely. You should already have a good idea how to assess the person's ability to do the job, so we'll focus on how to find the qualities of a successful remote worker.

It doesn't mean that they have to have remote experience. In GitLab's case, they look for qualities such as timeliness, dependability, respect, a heart of collaboration, perseverance, empathy, kindness, and ambition.

We recommend also looking for self-awareness, expert communication skills, and strong writing.

Even if someone hasn't worked outside an office environment, they probably have spent time working from home during the pandemic. Ask them about how they managed and look out for candidates who talk about how they enjoyed the autonomy and ability to solve problems on their own.

Ask them about the challenges they expect, and what their adjustment plans are. You're looking for thoughtful, specific answers as successful remote workers tend to be structured thinkers who plan ahead. There isn't necessarily a correct answer, it's more about assessing whether or not they've got the skills to create their own structure and routine.

If a candidate has worked remotely, it's easier to ask them about their specific experience to determine they'll be successful remote working at your company.

Another good question to ask in remote interviews is when they're happiest during their workday. Do they like long stretches of time focused on deep work? Or do they prefer lots of real-time collaboration or async remote collaboration?

Some remote companies work together in real-time, operating in the same time zone while others work almost entirely async. It's important to be upfront with candidates about how your team works. Otherwise, you might onboard someone into an environment that they didn't expect and won't thrive in. A waste of time for you and the employee.

It's also important to understand how they come across in a remote environment. Do your best to structure the interview process so that it mirrors how the candidate will end up working. For example, you'll probably want to assess how they come across on video, via written communication, and maybe even audio-only.

Woman with coffee writing notes

Given how important written communication is, we recommend having a written assignment as part of the interview process. This could be:

  • A sample email: Ask the candidate to send a sample email to a colleague or customer.
  • Take-home assignment: The form this takes will depend on the role you are hiring for. If you're hiring a content marketer, you might ask for a sample blog post.
  • Text-based interview: This might seem extreme but if you are going to communicate primarily over text, it's a great way to see if they're a good text-based communicator. Automattic interviews developers over text.

You're probably going to want to assess them over video as well to get a feel for their nonverbal and verbal communication skills as these aren't captured in text-based assessments.

At the end of the day, evaluating if a remote candidate has the necessary traits to be successful in a remote work environment isn't that different from an in-person interview.

We recommend using behavioral interview questions which help uncover how people behaved in previous situations. The best candidates will use the STAR method to structure their answers.

Here are some sample questions you could ask:

  • Do you have experience working remotely?
  • How do you ensure your tasks are complete when working outside of a traditional office environment?
  • What is your ideal management style?
  • How do/would you structure your day as a remote worker?
  • Tell me about a time when you proactively implemented a new or different approach to work at your company.
  • Tell me about a time when you made a decision without your manager's input.
  • Describe a time when you delegated work effectively.
  • What do you do when you have competing priorities?
  • Describe a tangible example of how you communicate progress on your OKRs to stakeholders.
  • Say you wrote a memo and someone didn't understand it, what do you do?
  • How do you keep your current manager informed about what you and your team are doing?
  • Can you provide an example of when you were honest, despite a potential downside?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • How do you stay engaged and motivated without real-time interaction with co-workers?
  • What do you do to minimize miscommunication in emails and messages?
  • What are the greatest challenges of working remotely?
  • How do you approach work-life balance when working remotely?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

Hire your next remote employee with Himalayas

Himalayas remote job search

Whether you already support flexible work arrangements at your company, or are just starting to think about how you can begin to support remote work, if you've read this far there's a good chance that you're looking to hire remote employees and we'd love to help.

Himalayas is the best place to find and hire remote talent. We’re focused on providing job seekers with an experience that has great UX, focused on speed and efficiency so your job can be found by the right people fast. You can also specify time zone or visa requirements so only candidates you care about apply.

Create your free remote company profile today.