How to Hire the Best Virtual Startup Employees

By June 21, 2013

Telecommuting. Virtual employees. Work from home. Thanks to a few high profile decisions by the leaders of companies like Best Buy and Yahoo, the plight of the virtual worker is suddenly a hot button issue.

While large companies like Best Buy and Yahoo might be cutting their telecommuting programs, many other organizations are looking more kindly on the idea of workers who are not tied to a physical office.

For instance, a study by WorldatWork found 16 million people telecommuted in 2010 alone. A more recent study, the Society for Human Resources Management’s 2012 National Study of Employers, found 63 percent of companies allow employees to work at home at least occasionally.

With Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer leading the charge against telecommuting, why are some companies still embracing the virtual office or even expanding their telecommute workforce? When it comes to small businesses and new startup companies, it just might be smart money to go virtual.

Startups and Virtual Workers: Perfect Together

For startup companies especially, the virtual worker might be an attractive prospect. While many startup companies feel they need an ‘all hands on deck’ approach, the truth is just as many startups are strapped for both cash and talent.

The hunt for the right people can be especially tiring thanks to the skills gap. The chasm is ever-widening between the industry specific skills employers need and the skills job seekers actually present. For startup companies, many with a tech angle and desperately seeking tech or STEM subject employees, finding the right talent can seem like a never-ending process.

Virtual workers can present an answer to this problem by helping employers jump the skills gap. Because workers can chip in from anywhere, employers are no longer hampered by their geographical location. Virtual workers make it simpler to find someone with the right skills–whether the company is located in Silicon Valley or Death Valley.

Plus, for cash-strapped startup companies, virtual workers are often cheaper than their flesh-and-blood counterparts. The SHRM study found companies can reduce their operating budget by $6,500 for every person who telecommutes just one day a week. Careful startups with an eye on their bank accounts can clearly see the benefits of cutting costs with full-time virtual workers.

Hiring the Best Virtual Workers

The key to hiring the right kind of virtual workers is to focus on the skills you need while never losing sight of company culture fit. Just because this new employee won’t be making their home in your office doesn’t mean their fit with your organization becomes inconsequential. In fact, because of the long-distance nature of the worker, it might be even more essential this person fit with your company’s culture and values.

Here are a few tips for how to hire the best virtual workers, even if you can’t shake their hand in the interview:

Tip #1: Get Personal

Odds are, you won’t be seeing your candidate sitting across the desk from you in the interview. This is especially true if you’re interviewing a candidate with high level skills who might just live on the other side of the country. As a startup, your hiring budget isn’t unlimited, so why waste money flying in a candidate who will ultimately never spend much time in the office anyway?

Yet you still need to form a personal connection with the candidate in the hiring process. You need face-to-face interaction. You want an employee to be more than a voice on the phone or text in an email. This is why you should embrace the video interview to ensure you can connect one-on-one with potential telecommute candidates.

While interviewing the candidates in real time, ask all the same cultural fit questions you would ask a job applicant in-person. You don’t just need an employee who can churn out work for your company, you need someone who fits into your organization. As a startup, you’ll need someone who believes in your mission and feels as passionately as you do. These are the people willing to put in long hours and jump right into the startup chaos.

Just because the candidate isn’t physically burning the midnight oil with you doesn’t mean you no longer have to screen for sincere passion. Whether you’re hiring an employee who will show up in the office everyday or sign into a laptop every morning, passion and sincere belief in your company’s culture, values, and core ideals is essential.

Tip #2: Get Specific

One of the main reasons for startups to embrace the virtual worker is because it opens up the talent pool to highly-skilled employees while taking out the relocation question. But to ensure you’re hiring the most highly skilled workers, you’ll need to focus on skills and abilities in the hiring process.

When interviewing, tailor your questions to target the specific skills you need in your company. If you’re looking for a web developer or IT guru, make sure your questions focus on technical skills and program knowledge. Company culture fit questions are important, but only after you’ve ensured the candidate on the other side of the webcam has the specific skills your startup needs in the first place.

Implementing tests as part of the hiring process can be a great way to find out if a candidate has what it takes for the job. Instead of taking the candidate’s word on their writing ability or coding knowledge, ask them to provide you with concrete proof. It will give you a taste of how the candidate will work remotely, and how quickly they can turn around projects under the tight deadlines startup life often imposes.

Tip #3: Get Checking

Hiring a virtual worker isn’t much different than hiring a static employee. In both cases, it’s best practice to always check references to ensure your candidate has been truthful with you. Since 46 percent of resumes submitted by applicants contain some form of false information, it’s smart to double-check everything.

In particular, working remotely requires a different skill set and corporate personality than in-office worker bees. The virtual employee needs to be self-motivated and self-sufficient. It’s easy to claim possession of these skills in an interview and much harder to live them. If your candidate is only motivated by a boss peeking over their cubicle wall, this person isn’t the right fit for remote work.

Always check the references of a virtual candidate. As a startup, you might be strapped for time, but a bad hire can set you back thousands of dollars and throw you behind schedule. When talking to references, make sure your candidate can really work independently.

For startups looking for the best talent without a huge budget, virtual workers can be just the answer to their prayers. However, it’s important for startup companies to remember hiring a telecommuting worker is much the same as hiring an office-bound star. Company culture fit, specific skills, and reference checks are all important for ensuring your virtual worker becomes a top-notch member of your team.

How do you ensure you hire the best virtual workers? Share in the comments!

 About the Author:

Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online interviews. Connect with him and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter.