Building and maintaining a successful distributed team requires strong leadership skills, the right tools, and a smart hiring strategy.Today’s workers want flexibility — 87% of respondents to a 2022 McKinsey report said when given the chance to work flexibly they take it. And companies are on board. Andela’s recent Technology Skills and Sourcing Survey, conducted in partnership with Foundry, found that 83% of enterprises plan to either increase or maintain the number of tech workers who are remote.
Both employees and companies alike are gaining plenty of benefits from it, too. Research shows that engagement and morale — both crucial to attracting and retaining top talent — are boosted when employees are able to choose where and when they work. Plus Global Workplace Analytics reported that employers can save around $11,000 a year for each person who works remotely half of the time.
But building and maintaining a successful distributed team — one where all workers are remote a majority of the time — doesn’t just require strong leadership skills and the right tools. It also takes a smart hiring strategy, where candidates are properly vetted for, among other things, being able to work well on a distributed team without regular in-person interaction or a reliable office space.
These five skills in particular are important for a remote employee to be effective in a distributed workforce: communication, time management, self-motivation, organization, and collaboration. Below, we outline why they’re important, and how to tell during the hiring process if a candidate has them.
Communicating well is necessary for just about every role out there, even in tech — but it becomes more nuanced when employees aren’t speaking face-to-face.
In a remote setting, interactions with managers, teammates, customers, contractors, and others happen over email, messaging platforms, or project management tools like Trello or Notion, if not by phone or video call. Each of these avenues comes with its own hurdles and etiquette rules.
When communication fails in a remote setting, silos emerge and confusion arises. Candidates best suited for remote work are experienced and confident communicators — they should be able to write as eloquently and professionally as they speak, and they shouldn’t have trouble getting their point across clearly and concisely, in any form of communication.
When hiring for a position on a tech team, look to see if the candidate is making eye contact and clearly explaining their answers – especially the more technical ones. Can they explain in both laymen’s terms and technical terms? This is a great indicator of how they will be on the job, too.
2. Time management
Someone who often, if not always, shows up on time, delivers on deadline, and responds to requests promptly is going to be set up for success.
Great time management ensures that no matter what time zone teams are in, or what distractions may arise, projects get completed on schedule. It’s also a quality that encourages motivation and productivity — when employees are able to manage their time well, they’re also more able to easily prioritize, pivot direction if needed, and get more work done.
In an interview, ask candidates for examples of how they manage their time on a big project with multiple milestones. Was it through daily team stand-ups to ensure everyone was tracking correctly? How well do they handle sprint deadlines? Do they thrive with micro deadlines and therefore give themselves goals to meet? This will illustrate how they think about their time and managing deliverables.
Smart remote teams provide structure for their staff even from afar, be it through software and tools or documentation. But even the most meticulously managed remote workforce needs to consist of self-motivators.
Distributed teams face unique challenges due to the absence of direct oversight. Unlike a traditional office setting, there is no one physically present to ensure that team members are focused and working on the right tasks. Additionally, there are numerous potential distractions that can arise when working remotely, such as children, pets, and household chores.
To address these challenges, it is important for distributed teams to establish clear communication channels, set realistic goals, and foster a sense of accountability among team members. Regular check-ins and progress updates can help ensure that everyone stays on task and remains focused on achieving their objectives.
During the hiring process, look for someone who is responsive and eager. Ask candidates what their career goals are, how they plan to get there, and examples of previous project-driven goals they’ve achieved. If you hire them, it’s important to understand what drives them so they can stay motivated.
Even with systems in place, individual contributors need to be well organized and strong project managers. With requests coming in from all angles — messages, emails, calls — and often from multiple people, it’s easy to lose track of important information.
Remote team members have to work efficiently, with the added challenge of balancing the delays that come with online, or asynchronous communication. When workflows are established, workers are better equipped to act fast.
Organization and time management can go hand-in-hand, so understanding how well a tech candidate manages their time will help hiring managers understand their level of organization — or lack thereof. Ask a candidate how they managed a project with cross-functional teams and what roadblocks they had, including how they overcame them. Also ask about any processes they put in place or workflows they prefer - agile?
Remote employees who are great at collaborating make the workplace more enjoyable for all. But just as importantly, they’re more productive because they’re willing and able to share knowledge and resources that help the team, no matter where they’re located, be successful.
Simultaneously, they’re open and available to assist others where needed. For example, a collaborative team member can help another team member get a project over the finish line or brainstorm how to best solve a problem. In an interview, hiring managers should ask about a time when the candidate had to collaborate with another team member or team on a project. Have them discuss how they worked together, their communication, and the outcome of the engagement.
Finding the right skills for your distributed team
The best way to vet for these skills when hiring remote developers is to ask specific, behavioral interview questions. Some other great examples include:
- Have you ever worked in a remote setting? If so, how do you ensure you stay focused? If not, how would you go about staying focused?
- What tools, systems, or tricks do you use day-to-day to stay organized?
- Tell me about a time when you had to work with another teammate to meet a deadline or goal.
- Tell me about a time when you were given little direction or support in completing a project. How did you approach it?
There are other subtle ways to suss out these qualities and strengths. In an applicant’s resume or cover letter, look for indications that they’ve worked closely with others to achieve their goals and have a self-starter attitude. Have past roles encouraged them to manage, mentor, or collaborate on projects with people inside and outside their team? Do they mention moments where they led a new initiative, conceived new ideas, or spearheaded new processes? Also, notice how their application materials are organized — if they seem meticulously curated and edited, they likely have a strong attention to detail.
Remote, distributed work isn’t for everyone. But there’s a growing pool of candidates who thrive in this environment. By seeking out these skills, you’ll pinpoint the perfect technologists for your needs.
As a remote-first company, Andela is uniquely qualified to seek out and qualify candidates for remote work. Andela Talent Cloud uses artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to analyze thousands of data points from across the hiring lifecycle, from skills and experience to geography and language proficiency. And it gets smarter with each interaction as it qualifies and matches the ideal talent to the job.
To find out more about working with Andela to hire highly skilled remote workers, get in touch with us today.