Recruiting in the age of digital nomads

It’s predicted by 2020 1 out of every 3 workers will be hired for online work. Employees want the flexibility and convenience — and the benefits to employers are beginning to crystallize. The World Economic Forum cites telework as “one of the biggest drivers of transformation of business models.” 

In addition to meeting employee demand, companies are finding significant benefits to the trend. American Express reports its BlueWork program saves $10 to $15 million annually in real estate costs alone. Stanford University points to a 50% turnover drop in work-from-home employees. Companies are repositioning to meet the mandate and reap the benefits of the digital nomad workforce.

By any other name

There are many names for remote workers: Digital nomads, distributed teams, ROWE, work-at-home and more. Whatever they’re called, they all went through a hiring process with recruiters who’ve learned (or are learning) to shift the way they source staff, and what to look for when hiring.

Expanding their reach

Remote workers can be found in traditional places, and many large platforms, like Indeed and Monster, have incorporated remote work in their search capabilities. Other companies, like Freelancer, pair remote workers with employers for projects and long-term relationships.

Jenny Bloom, CFO of Zapier, a 100% remote company with 90 employees in 13 countries, says remote recruiting is easier, and harder. “With a typical office you have a 50 mile radius before potential hires need to relocate. With remote work, there are no boundaries.” She adds, “It’s harder because a lot of people think working from home sounds fun, so we get a lot of resumes and have to weed through candidates to find those who really want to work with us versus those who just want a remote job.”

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Looking for more

More than in-house hires, recruiters seek candidates who, with little or no supervision, will be productive. They look for the discipline to work in an environment of distractions (just one load of laundry…) as well as:

  • Candidates who have been successful working remotely in the past are a find, but not always available.
  • A high level of accountability and communication are needed — in many cases, over-communication is necessary to assure they’re on track.
  • Workable internet capacity and a back-up plan in the event of a crisis: A spare laptop, workshare and cloud access.

Many recruiters are turning to behavioral interview questions and personality assessments to gague responsibility, integrity, and efficiency for digital nomads. 

Wade Foster, CEO and Co-Founder at Zapier, says they look for the same qualities in remote candidates as they would in-house employees, but they’re “probably a bit more picky about wanting strong writing skills.”

Making the shift to a nomadic tribe

Offering an option for remote work is attractive, but many companies wade in before they dive. Testing with in-house workers that are verified self-starters, firms can see if the model works. If so, there are many ways to help the program grow:  

  • In-house or structured training assesses productivity, and verifies staffers understand polices and procedures.
  • Video conferencing during recruitment helps find a culture fit. Beyond, it assures everyone is on the same page, and see one other as part of the team.
  • Platforms can help companies stay connected with remote workers: providing centralized information, workflow and task management, and more.
  • Time zones matter. No matter how remote the worker is, look for a reasonable amount of overlap time during business hours to communicate.
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TransPerfect Co-CEO and co-founder, Phil Shawe, notes the right tools are critical to success. With 4,000 full-time employees and over 5,000 remote workers in 90 countries, they are the world’s largest privately held language services provider.

“Any company can use buzz words in the recruiting process … proper investment in creating policies and providing tools for a remote workforce to be successful in the overall organization is absolutely essential for any company wishing to attract and retain remote workers — and create a win-win for the company and its employees,” Shawe said.

For many companies 100% remote has been the model since day one. They look for people who value the benefit: Is it to work around kids’ schedules, or because of other situational needs? Many employers find these workers are less likely to take advantage of working remotely because they rely on its flexibility.

Remote hires are evaluated from first contact. Prompt, clear communications show a candidate is responsive, professional and accessible. Many companies administer projects before the hire to verify qualifications, timeliness and communication.

While resumes are important, an online profile may be more revealing. A coder without a strong GitHub presence may be a red flag. LinkedIn profiles can identify candidates accustomed to working independently, keeping their brand updated, and managing their portfolio. You may be tempted to check social media, but resist: Facebook can contain private information employers should be wary of accessing. 

Is this a trend that will end?

Workplace flexibility is clearly here to stay. Half of employers surveyed by and CareerArc believe it’s the most important benefit their employees want; 75% of employees rank it as number one. And the employer benefits are clear:

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The upside

  • 87% of employers who have flex report improved employee satisfaction;
  • 71% see increased productivity; and
  • 54% say flexible work programs improved their recruiting

And the down…

While many candidates like the idea of remote work, it isn’t for everyone. Some work can’t be done remotely, and some, who can’t self-motivate or work well with distractions, can be problematic. The same Workplace Trends survey cites some of the risks employers fear:

  • 42% worry about employee abuse;
  • 40% fear remote workers won’t incorporate to company culture; and
  • 34% are concerned with employee fairness

Foster notes,“You have to be a lot more intentional about communication since you don’t have the benefit of being right next to teammates and can tap on their shoulder. The way I think about it is designing the communication firehose in the organization and then helping teammates figure out how to properly siphon off the parts of the firehose that will be relevant to their role.”

No cubicle required

The challenge for employers is to find the right worker for the job, and be willing to do the work needed to keep the relationship thriving. As the digital nomad force grows, using new tools to staff and maintain a successful distributed workplace will be key to keeping up with remote employee/employer demand.​