5 Tips for Hiring and Team Building Remotely

Utilize all your resources and tailor experiences for the virtual new reality.

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By Jennifer Fitzgerald Originally published

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The entire world changed in a few short weeks this spring. A global health crisis catalyzed an economic recession, and uncertainty began impacting entrepreneurs and startups everywhere. As a startup founder, I've seen firsthand the importance of finding innovative ways to adapt your business to new situations, while continuing to have a "people-first" mentality.

I run a company that helps people assess their insurance options. Prior to the pandemic, we planned to double in size by the end of this year, and we're lucky that we're still on track to meet that goal. But for anyone fortunate enough to be hiring right now, we've discovered that recruiting and onboarding on new talent is a whole new reality, with a whole new set of considerations. We've pivoted our interviewing and hiring to be fully remote, and here are some lessons we learned along the way.

1. Invest in your people first

From both a hiring and retention perspective, supporting your existing team is a strategic function of your business. While every startup's needs are different, you can — and should — prioritize creating a positive experience for current and potential employees to attract the best new talent.

Related: Hiring Remote Workers? Here's What to Consider First.

2. Utilize shared resources

Companies across the world are dealing with change at an unprecedented pace. One estimate places the number of laid-off startup employees at more than 30,000 since March 11 — and that's just at startups. With so many people looking for work, regular reports are issued about companies still hiring during this outbreak. If you're hiring, reach out to relevant outlets to see how to add your company to these lists.

It's also important to personally connect with your community, whether that's with your peer network, other companies in your city or checking out community boards. Doing this can help you crowdsource new resources, like opt-in layoff lists for talent, and give you an outlet to share challenges.

3. Acknowledge (and adapt to) the human toll of this moment

People are dealing with tremendous challenges, from parents juggling childcare responsibilities alongside full-time remote work to the general anxiety that prolonged isolation can bring. Rather than gloss over those realities, openly acknowledge them in interviews and onboarding.

Studies on organizational transformation have found communication is the most important factor for success. Communicating right now may look different, but it's critical. Share regular updates with candidates and employees, early and often, even when you don't have all the answers. Candidates are now frequently asking how companies are dealing with COVID-19. Proactively share your organization's policies, so candidates feel a greater sense of certainty about your business. Encourage two-way dialogue, empowering people to ask questions and share concerns.

Related: What Nobody Tells You About Remote Work

4. Create new experiences tailored for virtual life

It's impossible to fully recreate an in-person experience virtually, so it's important to adjust accordingly. Experts are noticing heightened "video-call fatigue," a feeling that virtual meetings are more exhausting than in-person meetings due to nonverbal overload. If you can extend your interview process over a few days to give interviewers a break, do it. Scheduling is easier now, as commute times and overbooked conference rooms have evaporated. To add a welcome atmosphere, consider having a candidate's recruiter join their video interview for a few minutes early to help test out their technology and answer any logistical questions, similar to how someone might greet them at the door if they were interviewing in-person. Make sure candidates meet a group of their future coworkers — since no matter where you're working from, it's the people who truly define company culture.

5. Connect with each other and share the laughs

For a new employee who's never met the team in-person, creating an early sense of psychological safety is incredibly important. To assist with building that bond, prioritize opportunities to integrate new team members from day one.

Consider implementing engagement opportunities like casual "working sessions" that replicate an in-office atmosphere. For example, we've set up group virtual coffee meetings and designed fun new activities, like a "Bring Your Kids to Work" show-and-tell session to keep employees engaged and experiencing social connections even while physically separated. We also instituted regular leadership office hours to support our employees and a bi-weekly company survey to understand how employees are feeling and how we can better support them.

Ultimately, this is a universal time of change and adjustment, and things won't always go smoothly. From shipping disruptions that make it challenging to get tech equipment to new hires before their first day, to the devastating human impact of this crisis, the ramifications of COVID-19 are wide-ranging and here to stay for a while. But in the middle of all of this, there's still opportunity for growth, innovation and some much-needed laughs with your team.

Related: These 50 Companies Are Growing and Hiring Remotely Right Now

Jennifer Fitzgerald

CEO and Co-Founder of Policygenius

Jennifer Fitzgerald is the CEO and co-founder of Policygenius, the nation’s leading online insurance marketplace. She is the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year New York 2019 and one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business for 2018. Before starting Policygenius in 2014, she and her co-founder, Francois de Lame, were management consultants at McKinsey & Company.

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