Going Remote Pt. II: Hiring, Onboarding, and Compensating Remote Teams

By Kat Rumbles on April 24, 2020

Like many of you, our team has been transitioning to a distributed workforce over the past few weeks. To help us all adjust to this new reality, we’ve been hosting a series of virtual Town Halls and Q&A sessions with distributed teams across the globe to hear their hard-earned lessons. We recently asked Job van der Voort, CEO at Remote, to share his insights on hiring, onboarding, and compensating remote teams. Given Job’s experience managing a distributed team and running a business that helps companies hire anyone, regardless of where they live, we were excited to hear his learnings. Whether your team is working remotely in the short-term due to COVID-19, or you’re building an all-remote organization, here were our key takeaways.

Interviewing Remotely

Don’t let too much time go by in between interviews. When bringing candidates onsite for an in-person interview, companies often conduct all first round interviews back-to-back, preventing the candidate from having to make multiple trips to the office just to pass through the first round. Job suggests taking a similar approach to remote hiring. While it can be tempting to let everyone schedule their own Zoom interviews based on their availability, this often results in a candidate having to go through one round of interviews over a two-week period. This is a poor experience for the candidate and can make it difficult to come to a hiring decision, as some interviewers may forget feedback by the time the rest of the team has finished interviewing. Try to schedule interviews back-to-back or at least within a 48-hour period and hold a hiring meeting shortly after.  

Whiteboard best practices. When it comes to interviewing technical candidates, companies that are used to in-person technical interviews might want a stand-in for whiteboarding. If necessary, Job recommends using  Miro or a standard text editor that allows pair programming. Remote, however, doesn’t use a whiteboard or any live coding in their interview process. “If we have engineering candidates that we think very highly of, we might give them an assignment, but we let them do their assignment in their own time. We don’t do any whiteboarding in real life—I don’t have a whiteboard in my office!—so we don’t do that in interviews.”  

There’s not much else to change in interviewing itself. As folks adjust to remote work, hiring someone without meeting them in-person might feel like a hurdle to overcome. However, as Job points out, with a good video tool, what are you really missing when you can interview someone over video conferencing verses in-person? “I joke sometimes, what is the advantage of knowing how someone smells and how tall they are? Those are the real, true big differences between being in-person and being remote.” 

Onboarding New Team Members

Setting up your employees for success. Before day one, make sure your new hire has all of the necessary hardware and office equipment they need to get started (mailed to them directly). For Remote, that includes a great laptop and anything else they need to set up their home for remote work. Job has a high-quality camera, microphone and headphones to improve the quality of Zoom calls (check out that video quality in the video below!). He also stressed the importance of a good office chair. Depending on the size of your company, you can either approve home office expenses as needed, or if you’re a bigger team, you can set an official monthly/annual budget for every employee to help set up their workspace. One other tip from Job: Make sure you have a camera that’s facing you rather than on a laptop that you’ve set to the side and is capturing your profile view. It’s a small thing that makes a big difference when you’re video conferencing with someone. 

Make sure new hires meet their colleagues, both on their own team and beyond.  “When you’re onboarding someone remotely, they won’t bump into each other in the elevator or at the coffee machine, so you have to recreate that.  Everything has to be an explicit decision.” At Remote, which is still a small team of about 20, all new hires set up 30-minute video calls with everyone at the company so they can put a face to the name and job title from the beginning. If you are a bigger organization, creating collaboration across teams and departments helps prevent silos within teams. Open Slack channels and video conference lines, along with tools like Donut (which pairs colleagues together randomly), can help spread trust and collaboration across the organization.  

Establish a handbook as your single source of truth.  Creating a resource that employees can refer to for any and all company questions is a great way to ensure everyone has access to the same information. One important tip: make sure everyone has edit rights, so as things change and new processes are put into place, the handbook stays up-to-date. If not everyone can contribute, you risk losing the single source of truth.  Remote’s Handbook is public, so feel free to take a look to get a sense of what a handbook at your organization might look like. Job and his team are constantly asking each other, “‘Where did you document it? Is it documented? I documented it here, etc.’” This is a great best practice to put in place now while your team is temporarily working remotely that will also help with collaboration and knowledge sharing when you return to your HQ.

Establishing a strong company culture beyond week one. According to Job, it’s extremely important to create personal relationships amongst a remote team, whether your team is permanently distributed or just for the short-term. “If you don’t do it, people won’t feel connected to the company and may end up leaving.” There are many different ways to establish personal connections and build your company culture, but the important thing is to do it. Remote has a daily call, which is mostly focused on team building and staying connected. They also have a mix of other activities, which are all opt-in, in hopes that there’s something for everyone. “The beauty of working remotely is that everyone is equally connected. When you work on bonding activities, you can create a stronger culture because of that.” If your team is adjusting to remote work, find ways to maintain the aspects of your culture that have always made your company special, whether that’s frequent discussions of candy preferences, spontaneous dance breaks, or competitive game play. Find something unique to your team, and embrace it. 

Compensating Across Geographies 

Getting the numbers right. Like many fully distributed teams, Remote considers the cost of living in the city where the candidate is based as a factor in deciding compensation. They use GitLab’s compensation calculator as a resource, which calculates a salary range based on the role, level of experience, and the rent index in the city the candidate lives in. “The moment you say you don’t pay everyone the same, they say, ‘Well, that’s unfair because I do the same work.’ I think the best way to look at it is like a market. If you want to employ someone who lives in a very expensive city, you will have to pay them more. And if you don’t, someone else will.” Remote is really up-front with candidates in the hiring process about how their compensation model works, including how compensation is adjusted if an employee moves somewhere with a different rent index. In that case, Job said they would give the employee a new offer, which takes into account the new location, given the salary may increase or decrease depending on the change of location. When sourcing candidates, Remote doesn’t look for low-income areas and recruit more heavily there. However, establishing salaries by market rate in the places their employees want to live means Remote has much lower costs in salary and office expenses than a company with an HQ and an employee population based out of San Francisco, New York, or Seattle. 

Thank you to everyone who joined our conversation. For those of you who couldn’t make it, a full recording of the virtual Fireside Chat and Q&A session can be found below or here.

Note: Remote and GitLab are Two Sigma Ventures portfolio companies.

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