Recent technological advances have made it easier than ever to decouple offices from jobs. They have also released a surge of interest in alternative ways of work, increasingly known as “remote-curious.” This is great news for employers, who now have unprecedented access to a global talent pool and can hire the best employees, wherever they are. It also means that employees are no longer bound to look for a job within commuting distance and, in some cases, can look for a different balance between work and the rest of life.
But working remotely isn’t for everyone and because it’s so new there are kinks that still need to be worked out. Last week, we joined the remote work experts at Buffer, Ashoka, Help Scout, and Trello in a discussion about why this organizational model works for them. We also talked about remote working pros and cons as well as the best ways to work with people you don’t see every day. These are our main takeaways.
Choose your own adventure
The great promise of remote work is a policy of flexibility. “Live smarter, not harder” is one of the core tenets of Buffer’s culture, according to CTO Sunil Sadasivan. With the exception of Buffer (a fully-distributed team, with a mailing address in San Francisco but no actual headquarters), most of our speakers said that the choice to work on-site or remotely was entirely up to their employees.
Flexibility, in the case of working remotely, also means identifying the moments when in-person interaction would be more effective. Liz Hall, VP of People at Trello, says that the onboarding hires usually takes place in person, at their main hub in New York. Rob Long our VP of Growth at Workable, worked remotely in London before moving to Boston to be in the same time zone as the rest of his team.
“The best team you can assemble isn’t all in Boston. It’s everywhere in the world,” said Sunil. Access to great talent, work-life balance, and decreased office expenses are three big reasons why these companies choose to build distributed teams. But, no one thinks of remote work as the end game for their companies. According to our panel, successfully distributed organizations are inherently flexible and reevaluate their situations constantly.
Tips for hiring remote workers
At Ashoka and Buffer, hiring managers look for job candidates who demonstrate a strong streak of self-sufficiency. These people are often creators of organizations, communities, and side projects. Becca Van Nyderenen, Head of People Operations at Help Scout, says that having remote work experience isn’t necessary–but that it’s a red flag when inexperienced candidates have no questions about working remotely.
Mel Larsen, who leads recruiting at Help Scout, shared an overview of how they hire. The process is the same for remote and on-site employees. Candidates must pass a culture screen, a technical screen, and a trial period or “project phase” in order to get to the final stage of the hiring process. At Buffer, candidates undergo an extended version of “project phase” called Buffer Bootcamp.
Keeping the team connected
Managing remote employees across locations and time zones requires the highest level of intentionality. Tech tools can take the place of an office, but they only do half the work. Scheduling face-to-face conversations, water cooler moments, and all-staff gatherings ensure that remote employees bond and contribute to virtual team building. Leaders should also resist the temptation to keep big conversations private. Asha Aravindaskhan, Global Director of Talent Operations at Ashoka, says the company practices transparency by enabling any employee to call into executive meetings.
Remote work challenges and the way forward
Our panelists agreed that the biggest challenge of employing remote workers is providing the same experiences for all employees at their companies, such as benefits, base pay etc. The last frontier of remote work is bridging the gap between tech and international laws pertaining to employment. “While the technology for remote teams has skyrocketed forward in the last 10 years, international laws haven’t changed: citizenship, tax laws, and insurance coverage are all still built for people to live in the country they were born in, work for a company based in that same country, and stay fixed in one spot,” said Help Scout’s Mel Larsen.