What to look for in Remote Workers

We are now going through the hiring process for bringing on a new developer. One that must work remotely. This is a first for us.

Not everyone is cut out to be a remote worker. I’m not going to call them untethered, because there are too many communication systems, communication patterns, and too much technology keeping them from “flying free”. They are tethered, but not by an office.

From all of the reading I’ve done, here’s what I’ve heard are the great traits of remote workers:

1. Ability to Prioritize and a self starter

Remote workers will be given many tasks. Some of them important. Some of them timely. Some of them both important and timely. And then the rest, well, a bunch of tasks. As one of our long-time teammates says “get the right stuff done, not just stuff”. And as I like to add, get the right stuff done at the right time in the right order.

Not only does the remote worker have to be able to prioritize, they need to get going on those tasks that make the most sense first, second, etc.

2. A natural focus on activities, not time spent

Office staff know that they need to be there at a certain time and that home calls at a certain time. Remote staff don’t have those cues. It is natural to assume that, when working remotely, the dog needs to be walked, lunch needs to be made, and yes, sometimes laundry gets done during the day. There are time interruption cues throughout a remote worker’s day that they do attend to.

So instead of focusing on being on time and doing work while at the workplace, they have to focus on finishing activities assigned to them or reaching out for new activities if their list is finished.

3. A focus on writing c l e a r l y

Here are our communication tools:

  • Jive desktop and phone app (verbal communication)
  • Slack (written)
  • Email (written)
  • Office (written)
  • Jira/Bitbucket/blah blah blah (written)
  • GoToMeeting (verbal with written decks when necessary)
  • ZenDesk (mostly written)

Get the point? Most of our communication comes in the form of written messages without the ability to see the other person’s face make that “scooby-doo” head turn if they a) don’t understand you, or b) are taking the message wrong.

4. They are either their own support system, or they have one

The first thing one of our long-term staff said when I told the office we were shutting it down was ‘are you still coming to visit to take us to lunch’? I asked if the lunches were that great (the food sure isn’t). and her answer was ‘I really like the social-ness of when we are all in the office and doing things’. Office staff have people they interact with. I have a wife who sits 3/4 of a house away and yells while I’m working (hey, its interaction) and an old dog who farts under my desk. Not much in the way of social interaction, but it’s something. I get it. Imagine if it was only me and the farting dog?

Then there’s the other type of support system. The “I can’t sign on to X”, my “Y” is broken, “Is the Internet slow for you too?” support. We do our best to assign software and hardware to users and prep it for them. Remote backups for key workstations. Dual Internet connectivity for corporate officers. But, well, stuff breaks. And remote staff have to deal with it without giving up days and days to fix it.

Remote workers either have a support system, or they are one. In other words, if they aren’t tech savvy, they are going to be more of a drain than you might be ready for.

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