A business owner asked us about what to look for when hiring a remote workforce:

As a small business owner, I’m looking at taking that next step of adding a few sales and support staff to my business. But due to the nature of the business and for cost reasons, they would be working almost purely remotely. I’ve never really hired a remote workforce before and was wondering if there are any particular traits or qualities that I should look for when hiring someone? And maybe more importantly, how would I be able to identify those traits and know that someone is actually a ‘self-starter’ (for example)?

Remote working or telecommuting is becoming increasingly popular amongst business owners, as well as job seekers. But, as you suspect, not everyone is cut out for remote working. There are definitely certain personality and workstyle traits that indicate whether someone will be an effective remote worker.

Successful remote workers normally have these traits:

  • Self-motivating and committed to overall business goals.
  • Proactive in setting their own goals and projects.
  • Very organized and task-driven.
  • Good communication skills and are comfortable using and communicating through technology.

But the tricky part is actually being able to verify that a candidate has those traits.

There are three ways you can identify if a person has these traits during the hiring process:

  1. Behavioural interview questions
  2. Reference checks
  3. Personality and workstyle assessments.

We’ve covered behavioural interviews in greater detail before here; and the merits of doing thorough reference checking here. In both of these you’re really looking for solid examples of the candidate demonstrating those traits in the workplace.

Personality and workstyle testing is an invaluable tool for hiring remote workers.

Personality drives a person’s on the job behaviour aka their “workstyle”. When it comes to hiring a remote workforce in particular, workstyle testing helps you get a preview of what someone will really be like on the job. These kinds of assessments normally assess a candidate’s “default settings” and can identify if they’re the type of remote worker who can stay on task, or the kind of remote worker who will get sucked into a Facebook vortex.

As part of our process we use a tool called the Workstyle and Performance Profile (WPP). Using the WPP as an example, there are six dimensions measured in this assessment but two areas are most important to pay attention to with remote workers: Task Orientation and Social Orientation.

Task Orientation: Spontaneous vs. Regimented

When hiring remote workers, you should be looking for candidates who tend towards regimented on this scale. This indicates that they are methodical and organized and don’t deviate from the plan too much. If they are not naturally regimented they will need a lot of follow-ups and check-ins to see if they are staying on track. People who are more towards spontaneous will also be more tempted to surf the web, go shopping and stare into the fridge!

Emotional Orientation: Reserved vs. Outgoing

On this scale you’re looking for someone who is not extremely outgoing because they might feel lost without the social interaction in the office. One exception to this is that if they are working remotely and doing a lot of phone or skype calls (as a salesperson might); this can substitute for the social interaction and be ok for outgoing types. The combination that definitely does not work is the person who is very outgoing and doesn’t talk to anyone throughout most of the day. This type of person will start phoning friends and setting up coffee dates to keep themselves socially engaged. Alternately, they shouldn’t be too low on reserved as comfortable communication is important for a healthy remote employee/manager relationship.