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Management - 11 min read

How to Hire Remotely During COVID-19

Maria Lamp
Content Strategist

The continued spread of COVID-19 is affecting different regions and industries in dramatically different ways.

The travel and tourism industries have taken unprecedented losses, while many gaming and delivery businesses are thriving in a world that's stuck at home. “Not surprisingly, with travel at a minimum and social lives put on hold, the accommodation and food services industries are among those suffering most, along with manufacturing, wholesale and retail, and real estate and business," reports the BBC and continues: "Together, they account for nearly 38% of the global workforce, with 1.25 billion people employed in these industries around the world.”

Many startups are in a particularly precarious position. A Startup Genome study found that since the beginning of the crisis, almost three-quarters of startups have laid off full-time workers. The same study found that 41 percent of startups find themselves with three months or less of cash runway left.

As a result of such massive upheaval, the job market is flooded with talent, with a large number of businesses out of the hiring game for a shorter or longer term. It's a buyer's market now, but this won't necessarily make finding the right talent a walk in the park for those fortunate enough to still be hiring.

If you’re one of them, here’s how to approach hiring remotely during the COVID-19 crisis.

Hire internationally

If you’ve been hesitant to open up your hiring to the global talent pool, now is a great time to start. If you’ve been hiring internationally already, keep going.

It might sound a bit counter-intuitive—countries are locked down, layoffs are making more local talent available. But don’t let this get between you and the diversity you’ll find on the global market. This is important for a couple of reasons:

  • Who you hire now is crucial. The right team can mean the difference between thriving and languishing in a crisis. Even if your talent pool is bigger than before, so is the pressure to hire well.
  • The world has changed, but many basic truths haven't: Diversity is still the key to innovation. By bringing more varied perpectives and experiences to your team from all over the world, you're boosting your odds of success.

With international travel at a virtual standstill, you might not be relocating anyone physically for some time, but keeping a healthy pipeline of international talent is vital. By the same token, if you're hiring and onboarding people remotely anyway, does it really matter where they are in the world?

Once the world opens up again and relocation goes back to (some version of) normal, you'll be ahead of the game, especially if you have a reliable relocation partner backing you up with the logistics.

Be extra sensitive

The World Health Organization recognizes elevated stress and anxiety levels as the main psychological impact of the pandemic. When hiring remotely during COVID-19, keep in mind that everyone you interview may be facing any number of challenges in their personal life:

  • Financial difficulties. With millions of jobs lost around the world, many people and families are unsure where their next paycheck is coming from.
  • Health issues, both physical and mental. Not only is it a direct physical threat everywhere in the world, but COVID-19 is also causing and exacerbating mental health problems for many people globally. It is also making it harder for people to seek medical help with non-COVID issues.
  • Family problems. While families are confined to their homes together, many people are tasked with taking care of children and/or elderly relatives while also dealing with a sudden uptick in time spent with their spouses. Divorce rates are expected to spike as a result of the pandemic and, particularly worryingly, domestic violence is on the rise.

These are not things often discussed in job interviews, but they can easily impact interview performance.

This doesn’t mean you have to walk on eggshells and hire everyone who knocks on your Zoom meeting door for fear of hurting their feelings. Just keep current circumstances in mind and:

  • Put people at ease. Video interviews are often doomed to awkwardness from the start. It can be difficult for people to establish a rapport over video, especially if microphones, speakers, or cameras aren’t working, if internet connections are bad, or if there’s too much background noise, echo, or lag. Set the tone for the call at the beginning by being energetic, relatable, and in good spirits (without leaning too far into fake cheerfulness).
  • Don’t judge too harshly based on first impressions. Of course, you want to hire the absolute best people for your team, but be mindful that you might not be seeing people at their best right now.
  • Be flexible and understanding. For people stuck at home with children, other family members, or animals, daily routines can currently be very challenging. In fact, there’s often very little “routine” about them.

    • If your candidate needs to reschedule a call, give them leeway and try to make it work.
    • Don’t count lateness as an automatic fail. Maybe they have a sick child, a scheduling conflict with a busy spouse, or another unexpected delay that can stem from a deep disruption of daily routines.
  • Don’t get too clever with your questions. Trick interview questions thankfully seem to be going out of style, and they’re also unnecessarily stressful to deal with. Ask straightforward questions, give them hypothetical scenarios to see how they’d respond. But unless they’re genuinely relevant to the role, questions like “How many pairs of sunglasses are sold in Thailand every year?” will only cause mental clutter and take up valuable interview time.

Make sure your culture shines through your interview process and beyond

Your culture isn't a dusty slide deck that everyone on your team will see exactly once during their entire tenure. For better or for worse, your company culture shines through everything you do. From the moment you hit "publish" on that job ad, you're showing your candidates how much they matter to you.

The interview process is a huge and critical reflection of your culture. In her recent Forbes article, TalentCulture founder Meghan M. Biro points out why it's crucial to absolutely own the remote interview process right now. "Mediocre, awkward, tedious interviews will transmit the message that the work culture at this prospective employer is likely lacking," she writes.

To make sure remote interviewees see your culture is up to scratch:

  • Have a well-defined and actionable set of core values that you stand by and put into practice every day.
  • Have a culture deck you can share with candidates.
  • Develop sets of interview questions that will gauge candidates’ alignment with your values.
  • Write everything down. Have a clear, documented hiring process to be sure everyone on your hiring team is on the same page.
  • Coordinate between hiring team members to make sure you're not asking redundant or irrelevant questions.
  • Be organized and on-point with your interview set-up. Show your candidates you respect them and their time by preparing for interviews well in advance.

Even if you're in a hurry to hire, put some thought into your interview process and don't rush through it. Very few smart hires are made when the process is an afterthought.

Look for remote-readiness

Whether or not you’re planning to stick to remote work in a post-COVID world (whenever that may come around and whatever it might look like), you’ve probably realized by now that remote-readiness is a must for businesses and individual team members.

So yes, you're looking for someone organized, driven, disciplined, and responsible—a person who can show you they get the job done outside of a neat office/home binary.

But above all, your team will benefit from people who can roll with the punches. In a word, adaptable. Over the past few months, we've seen how quickly and how drastically things can change. No normal is the new normal, and those with the right "flux mindset" are the ones best-equipped to thrive in a world where uncertainty reigns.

Have a good health policy in place

People joining your company at a precarious moment like our current reality will almost certainly have their health and wellbeing top-of-mind. This is the time for employers to step up and show candidates what kind of safety net they can expect.

Published this April, a survey of employers in the United States found that 86 percent of employers said they are promoting the use of telemedicine, nurse lines or virtual healthcare visits. Fifty-eight percent are increasing access to telebehavioral health, with an additional 14 percent planning to do so.

With employee mental health at risk across the world, letting future hires know you have a plan to be there for them is key.

Figure out your remote onboarding and remote experience

Onboarding someone to an existing team is a delicate endeavor, knows Gonz Sanchez, Head of Growth at Jobbatical. Doing it remotely, particularly in the middle of a global pandemic, adds an extra layer of complexity fun. “My biggest mistake has been not providing enough support and structure to the new hire,” he says. To set his new remote hires up for success, Gonz developed these three rules for his onboarding process:

  • Have thorough documentation. Your company's documentation should be an instruction manual for how to operate, so open it up completely to all new hires. This should be the ultimate source of truth for everyone.
  • Build a clear 90-day plan. All new hires come with huge expectations. After all, that's what you’re hiring them for. The problem comes when there is a misalignment between them and the rest of the team. A 90-day plan helps set clear (and realistic) expectations and be on the same page.
  • Assign an Onboarding Buddy. A new remote hire will have millions of questions, but no one to go to for answers. Designating an official Onboarding Buddy and making that person accountable for a successful process will ensure a smooth transition.

Joining a new team can be overwhelming, so anything you can do to provide structure to a new hire will be appreciated.

If you're not confident in your ability to offer a smooth remote experience, now is a good time to experiment and find what works for you. Many HR software solutions and tools are currently available for free, so get your team on board and work together to find solutions that people respond well to.

Be a stellar communicator at every stage of the hiring process

Clear and concise communication has been and will always be the foundation of successful companies and teams. More than ever, though, a global crisis is the time and place to really push the boat out on effective communication. In the context of hiring remotely during COVID-19, this means:

  • Minimizing canned responses. Even on a good day, an obviously automated, soulless message is disheartening to a rejected candidate. At a time like this, a personalized message could make all the difference to someone’s state of mind.
  • Being transparent and managing expectations. If your workload is overwhelming and causing long response/processing times, your candidates will probably understand. Don’t say they’ll hear from you tomorrow if you're not sure you can manage it.
  • Strictly no ghosting. This is a golden rule of hiring that still seems to get broken all the time. Don't leave your candidates hanging, waiting for an update that will never come. Close all loops, whether you have good news or bad.

Like nearly every aspect of life as we're beginning to know it, hiring remotely during COVID-19 will inevitably involve a lot of trial and error. Whatever else you do, shape your hiring process with real humans in mind. In a recent interview for TecHRseries, Samuel Leduc, Head of Global Recruitment at Kiwi.com, points out how often it's forgotten that companies are made of people. "Putting the people at the centre of the business will solve most other issues," he says.

With good communication, honesty, transparency, and a human approach, you can build a team that can weather any storm.

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