How Time Doctor Hires and On-boards New Remote Team Members

by Gonzalo May 15, 2018

Remote companies are not unusual anymore. Quite the contrary: remote work is the new normal.

New remote companies are being founded every day in all corners of the world, while existing businesses are ditching their headquarters and moving their operations online.

According to Upwork’s Future of Work report, over 1,000 hiring managers surveyed said that they expect up to 38% of their full-time staff will be working remotely in the next decade.

The benefits are tremendous: increased productivity, lower overhead costs and most importantly, access to an unlimited source of top talent. When your hiring market isn’t the 30 miles radius from your office, opportunities open up.

At Jobbatical we are big advocates of remote working, but there are no silver bullets — running a distributed company does come with unique challenges you wouldn’t face otherwise.

How do you attract quality talent? How do you run a hiring process when you are 8,000 miles apart? How do you make sure people get things done?

To answer all these questions, we spoke with Liam Martin, co-founder of Time Doctor, and co-organizer of the Running Remote conference.

Time Doctor is a productivity and smart time tracking tool that helps individuals and organizations to be more productive, help stop people wasting their life on distractions and instead finish what is important to them.

Remote by design

Time Doctor started in 2012 as a productivity tool: Liam and his co-founder were looking for a way to be able to become less distracted, so they built a prototype of the Time Doctor app.

“For us, the answer became opening Time Doctor, figuring out what to do next, seeing how long it would take, and doing it,” mentions Liam.

And since Time Doctor a tool for remote people, when they saw the need to start building a team around it, they never thought about an office. It was remote by design, or remote-first.

Now, the Time Doctor team is close to 80 people, fully distributed over 27 countries with no physical headquarters. But getting there and building the right team wasn’t an easy task.

Attracting and hiring the right people

Time Doctor’s process is long, detailed and extremely thorough. Here’s a brief overview.

A comprehensive process maximizes success

The first step comes with a job post spec, usually from the person who will manage the new hire.

Once the job post is circling around the internet, the initial screening comes in. This initial screening consists of the resume, and a small, automated questionnaire that tests for skills and culture.

If an applicant fails the test, they are out of the system. But if they pass, they pass, they are brought in for a loner, paid test.

This paid test further tests the candidate skills, and allows Time Doctor to shortlist the right applicants for a comprehensive interview. If this interview goes well, they offer a conditional job offer.

Why conditional? If the candidate accepts and the background check goes smoothly, the candidate enters a Trial Process, which means they are hired for a month.

In most instances, Time Doctor hires two people for the same position. Considering how long and arduous the process is, hedging their bets is a smart move.

“If someone fails, it takes 3–4 months. We double up even though it costs more because that helps us be effective,” explains Liam.

With that said, it’s not a competition: if all goes well, they hire both.

“We are in a unique position where we can hire both. The great thing about remote is we can find amazing people in places like Ubud or Medellin.”

“The great thing about remote is we can find amazing people in places like Ubud or Medellin.”

Once the candidate goes through the first month successfully, all stakeholders get together and ask themselves “Is there a reason not tohire this person? If so, what’s that reason?”

Assuming a positive response, the candidate is offered a 3-month job trial. At this point, the new hire is on-boarded, introduced to all team members and can start work as usual.

Three months later, all the advantages of a regular full-time team member like team retreats, vacation time and employee benefits are available.

Hiring for their remote culture

All companies should hire for culture. No matter how skilled someone might be, if she don’t fit within the team, her probability of success is low.

This is specially relevant for remote companies that work thousands of kilometers apart, over multiple different timezones. A remote designer can be working on UX screens in Kenya, and delivering them to a front-end developer in Tokyo.

As part of the first filtering stage, all candidates aiming to work for Time Doctor do a culture test: “We do this even before the looking at resumes. If someone is not able to adapt to our culture at the beginning, they won’t be able to adapt no matter what,” suggests Liam.

For instance, Time Doctor found out that introverted people do better — “We need people who are a little bit on the introverted scale”–– so they test for that.

Not everyone succeeds remotely

Working remotely is unique, but it’s not for everyone. It requires you to focus for extended periods of time, take initiative with no supervision and be comfortable communicating asynchronously.

Not everyone is ready for that. Some people thrive in an office environment and would feel lost at home or in a coffee shop.

Remote working requires being able to focus for extended periods of time

Time Doctor is acutely aware of this, and prioritize candidates who possess the personality traits favorable to remote working.

“It’s either you are remote or not. At Time Doctor we have a motto: Don’t ask me what to do, tell me what you did, even if it’s wrong,” explains Liam.

Another way to put it is that all remote team members should be able to make independent decisions — “Everyone should be a mini-CEO” — specially in an asynchronous environment in which your team member can be sleeping.

“Everyone should be a mini-CEO”

When Time Doctor filters for culture, they include questions like “Do you have a passport?” or “What does your remote working stack looks like?” to ensure that the candidate can cope with asynchronous work.

Multiple iterations to get their

As mentioned, every great process goes through multiple iterations, and Time Doctor’s wasn’t an exception to the rule.

When I kicked off my conversation with Liam about their recruitment process, he mentioned “I was just working on that last night.”

The team went through several stages to arrive to where they are now — a comprehensive hiring process that supports rapid growth in a distributed environment.

But not everything starts scientifically: “It was mostly trial and error,” mentions Liam. “Below 10 employees, you do what you can. After that point, you start thinking about a process.”

“Below 10 employees, you do what you can. After that point, you start thinking about a process.”

Liam suggests that when you are just a handful of team members, you should do what you can. Resources are scarce, and everyone needs to wear multiple hats, so setting a process in place can be detrimental.

When they hit 10 people, they came up with v1 of their process, the first iteration. It had some safety fails in place, but it didn’t have the structure it does today. Then, the 50 perosn mark comes up: “That’s when we really got serious and put in a very strict process.”

The process is so rigorous, that Liam, one of the co-founders, can’t hire anymore without getting it approved by someone else in the team: “”This is very important to understand, you need equally intelligent people to tell you it’s a good idea.”

On-boarding new remote people

Every great company has a good on-boarding process to ensure all new hires are up to speed, and can start making an impact on the business from Day One.

As a remote company with a meticulous hiring process, on-boarding is done slowly while each candidate advances through the stages. But to “break the ice” with other team members and get everyone fully up to speed, Time Doctor has a comprehensive on-boarding document.

“This wiki communicates who we are as a business, how team members work together, and how we treat others,” explains Liam. “This covers key aspects of the Time Doctor culture. For instance, we accept all races, gender, sexual orientations, and religious affiliations.”

Candidates receive the Wiki after the first test month: “Before then they don’t have access to anything, but they do their best work.”

One suggestion from Liam: “We use specific software for this, but if you are below 50 people, a series of Google Docs works just fine, no need to reinvent the wheel.”

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