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Hiring new employees can feel like a risk. And in fact, it is. SHRM research recently showed that half of all hourly workers leave new jobs in the first four months, and half of all senior outside hires fail within 18 months. This places huge import on the interview and onboarding process for a company, especially when a team is distributed. With some help from Tabitha Colie of Seeq, we’ve put together some important tips for both interviewing and onboarding new employees.

The Interview

A rigorous interview process is crucial to ensuring that your new hires are ready to take on both virtual work in general and the specific culture of your virtual office. Taking the time to really do your due diligence here can save you time, money, and headache down the road. Here are some specific questions that can both point out red flags and give you a clearer picture of the candidate you’re interviewing:

Why is working virtually appealing to them?

Knowing why a candidate is specifically seeking virtual work (if they are) is important because it paints a picture of their needs and their context. It is crucial to know what the ‘movie in their head’ is of working virtually. Do they envision sleeping all day and working at night? Do they envision only working on certain days? If their vision doesn’t line up with your company’s expectations, it may be time to move on.

How are they set up for virtual work?

This may seem personal, but it’s helpful to know how well they are currently set up for virtual work. Where will they be working each day? Do they have a plan? How comfortable are they with technology? Do they have a decent internet connection? What online tools for collaboration, task management, or communication have they used previously? If it seems like a candidate may not have the space, organization, or comfort with technology, this may be a red flag. Especially if someone does not have the room in their living space for virtual work, it may indicate a lack of room in their mental space as well.

What makes them a great candidate for a distributed team?

Working on a virtual team requires certain skills; you need to see if your candidate is aware of what a virtual job entails.

What are their hobbies? What do they pursue outside of work?

As a virtual job has little structure by nature, it can be quite informative to know how your candidates structure their own free time. Do they have hobbies? Are they proactive about completing projects of their own accord? Are they working on passions without input or direction from others? What’s important here isn’t the hobby itself, but the drive, follow through, and proactiveness it entails. Things like running marathons, planting a garden, singing in a band, or leading a book club can indicate a healthy life of goal setting and accomplishment. If they conduct their personal lives this way, it’s a good bet they’ll be able to conduct their professional lives in the same way.

The Trial Period

It’s tough to measure a candidate’s work ethic or responsibility during an interview, so you’re forced to depend largely on instinct and cultural fit. A trial period lets you see if they are capable of doing the work you need in the way you need it done. The trial period will differ depending on what position you’re hiring for, but it should lean towards the tougher aspects of the position. If you’re hiring for a content writer, give them a dense topic. If you’re hiring for your marketing team, give them a project that really forces them to draw on their creativity and problem solving.

Bringing New Employees Aboard

You’ve hired new employees who seem like a great fit for your company. Now, how do you best integrate them with your team?

Introduce Them to the Team

In a co-located office, people use physical cues to remember who’s who. The girl with the awesome haircut, the guy with the cartoons on his cubicle walls, etc. It can be much more difficult to differentiate departments and people in a virtual office, where those subtle cues are less accessible. That’s why it’s doubly important in a virtual workplace to make sure every new hire is introduced to everyone on the team and has an understanding of what each person does. Consider planning five minute “speed dates” between your new hire and other team members, giving them a chance to learn who’s who.

Share Resources

Being new can be incredibly overwhelming, especially in a virtual space with far fewer “watch and learn” opportunities. Mitigate this challenge by sharing as many resources / outlines / how-to documents as possible with new hires. At Seeq, new team members have immediate access to a company-wide wiki platform containing articles about company culture, tasks, and processes. Having these resources at hand helps to address common questions and concerns.

Assign a Mentor

As we all remember from being the new kid in elementary or high school, making just one connection with one person can make all the difference in the world. At Seeq, each new employee is paired with a more senior buddy. This buddy is their source for understanding the company and culture. It can also be helpful to create a conversation in Slack or Google Docs where the newbies can post any questions they have, allowing anyone from the team to answer. This helps new hires get their questions answered while also getting to know the team.

Give Feedback Early and Often

Newbies make mistakes. It’s what they do. There is a learning curve with every new position, and it’s best to step in as early as possible to gently put them in the right direction. It’s kind of like playing bumper cars, only you’re the bumper. You will save your newbies time and frustration by gently guiding them from the very start.

Teach the Job in Steps

The overwhelming aspect of starting any new job necessitates teaching the job and it’s responsibilities. Oftentimes, trainees are taught the whole job in a few days or a week, which is recipe for disaster. The human brain can only learn so much at once. You may think you are wasting time by introducing the position slowly over the period of a month or even more, but in the long run you are saving time spent correcting mistakes and answering questions and about processes that were explained in the first three days.

Involve Them in Your Office Culture

According to the studies of Brian Kropp of Corporate Executive Board, half of an employee’s success in the first 18 months on the job can be attributed to how she or he fits in with others on the team. This means integrating new hires into company culture is just as, and potentially even more important than teaching them how to do their job. Company culture can seem pretty intangible though, right? At Seeq, Tabitha shared that besides their weekly Sococo meeting, they have a book club that is discussed in Slack, regular silly themed parties in Sococo, and regular retreats known as “Seeq Week,” where everyone travels to the same city for face to face time. These examples are especially great because each one can allow a different type of person to shine. Incorporating as many platforms and learning styles as possible into your office culture ensures an opportunity for everyone to have a voice.

Tabitha says of these exercises, “what it boils down to is getting to know who these people are so when you work on a project it can go a little more smoothly.” When asked about what the main ingredient might be to develop and nurture a close team relationship, Tabitha said,  “I think the key is virtually finding ways to laugh together and inject humor into our interactions online. It’s the biggest thing toward engendering that feeling of goodwill towards our co workers.” For those of you feeling discouraged by your new virtual team, veterans assure you that it works. It’s a little like magic. “There are days when it’s kind of hard to remember what it’s like being in an office because this just seems to work so well. You just seem to be able to connect with these people.” We couldn’t agree more, Tabitha.

Want to get in touch with Tabitha? You can reach her on LinkedIn or at seeq.com .