6 Steps Toward Hiring Productive Virtual Employees

Many companies use remote-worker programs to recruit and retain prized talent, but telecommuting’s appeal fades quickly when companies struggle to hire and keep productive virtual employees. The challenges of identifying candidates who will perform at a high level in office jobs are multiplied exponentially when hiring for home-based jobs.

Although organizations generally screen for job and culture fit, a successful telecommuting program requires evaluating candidates’ fit with the environment. Nearly a decade of research points to five qualities employees must possess to be successful in virtual offices.

Regardless of the job or corporate culture, remote workers must be independent, self-motivated, conscientious, comfortable working in social isolation, and capable of solving problems (e.g., technology-related issues).

When thinking about how to hire and retain these types of candidates,  start by looking at some common hiring and retention pitfalls that can undermine telecommuting programs.

First, companies tend to focus heavily on a candidate’s job-relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities, while neglecting the individual’s suitability for remote work. Second, some companies reward high-performing employees by allowing them to move from an office to their homes. Unfortunately, these merit-based programs usually suffer setbacks because companies assume that someone who is successful in one environment will deliver results equally well in any environment — and research indicates that it’s just not true. Finally, the most common candidate screening tool is the employment interview. Extraverted people generally perform better than do introverts in job interviews, but extraverts are less likely to be successful working in socially-isolated settings.

Many business leaders assume that work-from-home job candidates tend to be more skilled than traditional job applicants. Our research suggests that candidates applying to office- and home-based jobs have nearly identical knowledge, skills, abilities, and personality characteristics. However, this same research shows that it’s common for 300% more applicants to apply for home-based jobs, giving hiring managers the ability to be more selective during the screening process. The net result is that home-based workers — having been vetted from a larger pool of candidates — are more capable and better skilled on average than traditional employees.

To successfully hone in on the right candidates for a home-based job, we recommend these steps:

Step 1: Take time to understand the job, culture, and the environment in which the job will be performed. No job exists in a vacuum, so understand the working conditions as well as the drivers and inhibitors of success.

Step 2: Conduct a review of all jobs, their goals, and how they contribute to the company’s success.  The information will tell the story of what it takes to be successful as a telecommuting employee.

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Step 3: Identify psychometric assessments to measure the qualities it takes to be successful. These assessments should have a history of empirical validation and should measure competencies required by the job, culture, and environment.

Step 4: Conduct an empirical study using data to connect the dots between personality, skills, and abilities as well as the key success factors of the jobs and work environment. An empirical study will ensure the results are specific to the company and its environment(s), rather than relying on a generic one-size-fits all model.

Step 5: Draw conclusions about the characteristics that distinguish success from failure. This company-specific information will differentiate the business and its environment(s) from its competition.

Step 6: Create a review schedule to evaluate the performance of the pre-hire process against key goals and business drivers every three to six months. Ensure that assessments and business strategy remain inextricably linked.

Hiring productive virtual employees is not easy, but it can be done. A successful hiring process takes time, data-based methods, and dedication to ongoing analysis to ensure it delivers lasting value. It also requires a strong management team to provide the support, professional development, and leadership home-based workers need to feel connected to the company and its mission.

Brent Holland is vice president of research & consulting at FurstPerson, a provider of talent assessment solutions. His team focuses on designing and validating progressive pre-hire assessment tools that match applicants to the job and work environment to improve customers’ operational performance and produce clear ROI.


9 Comments on “6 Steps Toward Hiring Productive Virtual Employees

  1. I think the key is for the company to have strong and clearly communicated mission, values, and goals. A remote worker cannot be productive without a deep understanding of what his/her work is a part of, and a company with diffuse or distracted goals can easily pay a lot of people to do a lot of work (onsite or off!) that doesn’t contribute to results. It’s just easier for someone who works remotely to be less connected to the core values of the company, which makes it all the more important for them to be clear to remote workers (and everyone!).

  2. @ Kerry: I agree wholeheartedly with your comments, and would just remove the words “remote” or remotely” What you say is true for ALL workers.


  3. Thank you both for your comments. I agree with your posts. Creating clear lines of sight between job(s) and the company’s mission is an essential component in creating an engaged workforce, regardless of the where workers are based.

    It is also important for companies to: (1)create an interesting and informative recruiting process that gives candidates the opportunity to interact with people rather than relying solely on recruitment technologies that can depersonalize the process; (2) identify the right talent and develop the skills managers must possess to lead virtual work teams effectively; and (3) ensure virtual workers are connected socio-politically in the organization, not simply an afterthought when it comes to decision making, promotional opportunities, etc.

    A superior hiring process will only work well in a supportive environment. It takes the right recruiting process, culture, leadership, and structure to achieve the results companies expect from their pre-hire process.

  4. @ Brent: Thank you.

    “A superior hiring process will only work well in a supportive environment. It takes the right recruiting process, culture, leadership, and structure to achieve the results companies expect from their pre-hire process.” Good luck getting more than a very few of those, let alone all of them.

    ISTM that most suggested recruiting solutions require conditions (which if they already existed) wouldn’t require the suggested solution. I don’t want solutions where things have to be near-perfect to work; I went solutions for the real world where things are usually very FAR from perfect…



  5. @Keith: You’re welcome and I appreciate your commentary.

    “ISTM that most suggested recruiting solutions require conditions (which if they already existed) wouldn’t require the suggested solution. I don’t want solutions where things have to be near-perfect to work; I went solutions for the real world where things are usually very FAR from perfect…”

    You’ve hit on a very important point, Keith. Creating pre-hire solutions that deliver substantive ROI in the “real world” involves a lot more work than picking something off the shelf and incorporating it into the recruitment process. Sometimes that upfront work involves working with a company to solidify the support structure that, if not addressed, can marginalize investment in the pre-hire process. This does not mean it is necessary to create a utopian workplace – as you correctly point out, a perfect company doesn’t need any process improvements – but my point does emphasize the importance of cultivating an environment capable of realizing the value from a well designed pre-hire process. Unfortunately, too many “solution providers” seem more interested in telling a company what it wants to hear rather than what it needs to hear, which is one reason why many pre-hire processes don’t live up to their billing.

    It’s also important to note that a well-designed pre-hire process will not fix a broken organization. A pre-hire process should align the best available talent with a company’s culture and jobs. However, the process used to map the DNA of successful employees (e.g., retention and performance) in healthy companies can also work in broken companies, but the result will be that the pre-hire process will identify prospective employees that will enable the existing dysfunction.

  6. I really appreciate the article and thought provoking steps you have defined. It is clear that digital technology has revolutionized the world and has impacted our personal and professional lives. The future of business rests with hi-tech technologies and companies who take advantage of technology will certainly maximize their profits by many folds. The six steps defined in your article will help business community to chalk out a proper plan before opting virtual employment.
    On the other hand, virtualization is not only creating opportunities for entrepreneurs but also helping people living in developing world to find virtual jobs globally. These people with scarce resources can see light at the end of the tunnel through virtual work, which is becoming a household name in today’s world. I myself am a witness of it and providing opportunities to the skilled youth of Pakistan through the platform of http://hireavirtualemployee.com.

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