Building an All-Star Virtual Team

As the number of employees working from home or remotely grows, here's how to make top-notch hires.

learn more about Heather R. Huhman

By Heather R. Huhman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Employers and managers are often skeptical when it comes to hiring virtual workers.

To build a virtual team of employees, trust and confidence factor into the hiring process. Indeed, some employers never meet candidates in person. Yet that employee is involved with building a company's success; no wonder some managers are nervous when it comes to hiring virtual workers.

Apprehensive about hiring telecommuters? Consider current trends about virtual work environments: According to Forrester, nearly 34 million Americans are working from home and telecommuting is expected to rise 43 percent in the United States by 2016.

Virtual teams allow an employer to tap into some of the best talent available because recruiting is not restricted by geography. By opening up positions to candidates across the world, companies such as Upworthy, Buffer and Mozilla have experienced success with virtual teams, finding individuals who are truly passionate about what they do.

Thinking about building an all-star virtual team? Here are some things to consider:

Related: 6 Ways to Manage a Virtual Work Force

Figure out the type of team needed. Determine the company's culture (its mission, values and goals) and figure out what type of team would be suitable.

Determine how the team will function in an online environment. Although virtual employees will miss out on face-to-face interactions, a strong company culture can still be created. Consider using a platform such as Skype to serve as the "water cooler," giving employees a way to interact and share ideas.

Define the ideal employee. Each employee hired should provide a glowing example of the company's brand. Paint a picture of the perfect employee, the exact qualities sought. Think about why those qualities are important for the company and how the employee would fit into that culture. This list should be comprehensive, covering work ethics, drive, passion and personality traits.

Expore the qualities that are not desirable. If there's no allowance for employees without motivation or passion for the industry, be aware of this when weeding out candidates.

Allow for possible compromises. Don't stick to a cookie-cutter mind-set. Each individual will have unique qualities and even some flaws not previously considered. Or a prospective employee might meet all the qualifications but have scheduling issues. Is it possible to be flexible and meet the candidate's needs?

Figure out how the new employee will represent the brand. Employees can be a company's biggest brand advocates. During interviews, keep in mind who will be asked to represent the company.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Recruiting New Employees Online

Design the interview process. In most cases, impressions of the candidate will be gathered from phone calls, video interviews or email. The best way to measure fit is by assessing skills, experience, behavior and personality. Require candidates to participate in a variety of interviews and assessments to give a comprehensive impression before the job offer is extended. Design questions that specifically pertain to the startup.

Here are some further ideas:

Conduct one-way video interviews. Although a two-way interview can be more efficient, one-way interviews have advantages. Questions can be created so candidates record their responses. Review any recorded interview multiple times to make a better decision.

Do a series of interviews. Even if the first video interview goes well, conduct a round of second interviews. The first interview could focus on the position and ask about skills, experience, career passion and interest in the post. The next interview could dive deeper into questions that assess the candidate's personality and cultural fit.

Require candidates to perform a skills test. During the final step of the hiring process, ask candidates to take a skills test to see how they lines up with the requirements. Depending on the type of position, ask the candidates to complete a related assignment.

Related: How to Maintain Security When Employees Work Remotely

Perform reference and routine background checks. When hiring staff without in-person meetings, be very cautious. Checking references and the employment background is critical. Do an initial overview of candidates' online presence. Check their online behavior and how they represent themselves.

Next, run background and reference checks to ensure prospectives hire are being truthful. Research shows 43 percent of employers perform background checks just before extending a job offer. According to the Trends in Employment Background Screening survey by EmployeeScreenIQ, background checks remain a priority for employers, with 92 percent of employers reaching out to a candidate if something negative is detected.

Start building the dream team! Launch the hiring process. Ups and downs may arise during the interviewing process but stick to goals when searching for talent. Don't rush the hiring process for a virtual team. Focus on hiring slow and firing fast. A bad hire can negatively affect the company, so carefully screen candidates and never be afraid to pull the plug if a someone isn't working out.

Create goals for the virtual team. Be sure every candidate, once onboard, is on the same page and expectations are clearly communicated by setting goals that are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and time bound -- called SMART goals. This will help manage employees efficiently. Without face-to-face interactions, staffers need goals that are concise and attainable enough to sustain motivation. The goals should be heavily focused on deadlines. After all, employees won't have a manager standing over their shoulder to ensure the work is done.

What are your best tips for building a virtual team?

Related: Not Using Big Data for Hiring? You May Be Missing Out on the Best Candidates.

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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