Five Pitfalls in Hiring Remote Workers

Susan Hall
Slide Show

No More Useless Remote Meetings

Done well, remote meetings mean saved travel dollars and greater collaboration of skilled resources. Done poorly, they can be highly unproductive, negative experiences.

Once, while working at MSNBC.com, I e-mailed my boss that work had come to a halt at the office because we were having an earthquake. Actually, I dashed off a note before dashing out of the building. She was in New York and obviously couldn't feel the shaking on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash. (No one was hurt and there was little damage.)

 

As physical location fades as a factor in employment, clearly new "workplace" issues crop up. I mentioned the other day music site Bandcamp, which employs an all-remote work force. Its job site says:

Half of us are in San Francisco, the rest are sprinkled around Seattle, Melbourne and Vermont. We get together all day and night on IRC [chat], design and document everything in a wiki, do a daily Skype call that is exactly like the start of Hill Street Blues, and meet in person a few times a year for strategizing, working head-to-head and blowing things up.

So employing a virtual work force has its own challenges. A piece on GigaOm points out five potential pitfalls:

 

1. Not minding the legalities. Microsoft found out the hard way that you can't hire temps for years-long stretches and deny them benefits given to permanent workers. (Yes, I was one of the permatemps.) Will this new hire be an independent contractor or a permanent employee? You'll probably need a lawyer to make sure you've got it right. My colleague Don Tennant has written that state and federal agencies are cracking down on the practice of misclassifying workers in this way.


 

2. Not hiring for "soft skills." We know that instant messaging, e-mail and such modes of communication deny us the facial expression, tone of voice and other cues to the writer's intent. It's easy to get wires crossed and feathers ruffled. In a remote workplace, communication skills become more important. Just as important are self-discipline, motivation and problem-solving skills. Working remotely can be a lonely business, so you need to make sure, too, that the candidate is emotionally prepared for that life.

 

3. Not working your network. It's easier to shake the tree to find great talent in your own area, but you should pursue every avenue. The article recommends posting a LinkedIn update about the open position and e-mailing all your contacts.

 

4. Hiring when you needed a new worker yesterday. Pressure to hire quickly will more likely lead to poor hiring decisions. Give yourself time to search broadly and evaluate candidates thoroughly.


5. Being fuzzy about how things will work. Put it all in writing. Zach Rose, CEO of Green Education Services, created a 40-page document covering everything including maternity leave policy, non-discrimination policy and whether the worker should take a cab or a bus in any given city.



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