No more shortcuts: Hiring remotely

Looking up through red autumn leaves against a bright sky

In the early months of the pandemic, when I was unemployed and looking around for my next move, I talked with a few recruiters who had similar stories: a fraction of their clients were theoretically hiring, but really what they were doing was trying hard to figure out how to make interviewing and hiring work remotely.

Having interviewed, hired, and onboarded dozens of (in my opinion) outstanding employees onto highly collaborative distributed teams, part of me wanted to say “hire me and I’ll help you figure it out.” Another part of me wondered why folks were finding it so hard, and in the next couple of posts I’m going to be digging into that question.

Maybe your team isn’t in a place right now to think about hiring and onboarding, but there are a few skills that go into doing it successfully that will serve you well in other parts of your work. These take time to build if you haven’t been focusing on them, and they take attention to maintain, so regardless of where you are in the hiring cycle – whether you’re a manager of a team that’s done comparatively well or whether you’re looking to get hired yourself – it’s worth thinking about them now.

Label your shortcuts.

One of the things people find difficult about hiring remotely is learning to translate the physical cues we’re accustomed to picking up when we meet someone in person. One reason that’s sometimes difficult is that we haven’t articulated what, specifically, we’re learning from those physical cues. It’s a shortcut – and shortcuts tend to be full of unconscious bias, so it’s worth unpacking these things even if you’ll go back to a co-located life as soon as it’s safe to do so.

If this is something you’re up against, consider what physical cues you feel you’re missing and what they signal to you. For example, eye contact is notoriously hard to replicate in a video meeting. What does eye contact convey to you? What does it stand in for that’s still important in a context where you might never share a physical space with your new colleague? Confidence? Attentiveness? Aggression?

Once you’ve labeled the shortcut for yourself, you’re in a position to figure out how to get there “the long way around” – by talking with them. Then, once we’re able to take the shortcuts again, ask yourself whether you and the person you’re talking to are really taking the same shortcut. Are you perceiving inattention from a lack of eye contact when they’re trying to convey respect? How can you use your words to figure out where that shortcut is leading?

After the interviews are over, there’s a whole new set of shortcuts that we take on in-person teams: cues that help us know how our new team member is doing, cues that help us as manager understand when to step in and when to lay back, and cues that help the new team member understand the cultural norms of the organization. In next week’s post, we’ll talk about some ways to get at those end goals with a distributed team.

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