10 ways to assess and hire for remote culture fit

Last updated:
May 19, 2021
December 19, 2021
min read
Brendan McConnell
Table of contents

Remote work has become, and will likely remain, a dominant arrangement globally. That means that companies will - and have already - faced a major shift in creating and structuring their company culture while remote.

This, of course, leads to an interesting question for recruiters: how do you assess and hire for remote culture fit?

This article will explore this concept in more depth and look at:

  • Why cultural fit is important for remote teams
  • How to communicate your remote culture in the hiring process
  • How to assess candidates for remote cultural fit

Let’s get started!

Why cultural fit is important for remote teams

As most recruiters are aware, hiring can be expensive and time-consuming. Hiring the wrong employee for the job can be even more costly due to ongoing factors like lost productivity, negative impacts on co-workers, and the eventual need to replace that person.

Many reasons might make somebody the “wrong hire,” such as frequent lateness or absences, poor communication, lack of alignment with teammates, or an inability to do the job well.

These factors are bad enough when an employee is physically working alongside your team but can be greatly amplified if you work remotely, harming your team’s productivity, culture, and engagement.

Culture, in particular, is known to increase team productivity and output. Companies with strong cultures - whether remote or in-office - are able to punch above their weight versus larger competitors due to strong rapport, better teamwork, and a desire to reach a common goal.

Those benefits, however, are much easier to achieve if your team is physically located in the same location. Being able to naturally build connections in real time is a key component of company culture, which can be hindered by working remotely. The challenge, therefore, is how to replicate that in-office culture for a team of dispersed employees.

One way to do it is to find and hire people who can create, align with, and nurture the type of remote culture that you’re trying to foster on your team. That means people who share the same values or goals, know how to communicate and work well remotely, and are able to build that same level of rapport while dispersed.

In other words, it means defining the remote culture that you’re looking to create, and finding people who will fit the bill.

The rest of this article will show you how to do that.

How to communicate remote culture fit in the recruitment process

The first steps in finding remote employees to build your winning culture is to define what it is you’re looking for, and then communicate it to candidates. That means defining, showcasing, and sharing information about your company culture at touch points throughout the recruitment process.

Here are some tips for how to accomplish that:

1. Showcase it in your employer branding

Share employer branding information about your company culture, values, and goals online via your careers site, social channels, and through multimedia content like videos and images.

These platforms are often your candidates’ first touchpoint with your brand, so it’s a perfect opportunity to emphasize your remote work culture. Make sure to include content that gets people excited about the prospect of working for you remotely but is also realistic about the expectations that come with that privilege.

Remote cultures are often quite global in scope, for example. If that’s the case for your company, then positioning yourself as an international, diverse, and inclusive workplace would likely be appealing to like-minded candidates.

2. Talk about it in your job descriptions and recruitment ads

Job descriptions and recruitment ads are as important as employer branding when showcasing your remote work culture. This is where the perceived benefits of remote work meet the realities of the job to be done, allowing candidates to self-assess their qualifications and desire for the job.

As always, you should be as thorough as possible when describing the role and its requirements. Make it clear that the role is a remote one, and outline what that will entail for the new hire, including:

  • What they can expect as a remote worker
  • What you expect as a remote team leader
  • What the benefits and realities are for both of the above

The goal is to make your job opening and company sound appealing to candidates who share the same values and goals as your team, while also being clear on expectations.

3. Replicate remote communication in your interview process

A major requirement of remote work is clear communication via email, chat applications, and video conferencing. The interview phase is a great real world test of these skill sets, and will give the candidate a taste of what their daily work life would look like on your team.

Create a structured interview process that includes a short series of 30- or 1-hour video calls with your team. Pay attention to how effectively the candidate is able to present their ideas and interact with your team over video, and how effectively they communicate via email between calls.

In addition to the information you’ll gather from the interviews themselves, you’ll also gain a clear picture of the candidate’s abilities in a remote communications environment.

4. Communicate the “caveats” to remote work

While showcasing the benefits of working remotely is important to generating applicants, it’s also critical that you are honest about the caveats that come with this type of work.

Throughout the recruitment process, you should make it clear what the trade offs will be for the candidate if they choose to work remotely instead of in an office environment.

These caveats might include:

  • The need to be a self starter
  • Potentially working outside of normal hours
  • Reduced physical interaction with colleagues
  • Ownership over their schedule and workspace
  • Travel requirements

Anybody who has worked remotely will understand these requirements. For those that haven’t, it may be an eye opener and prompt them to reassess their application.

5. Emphasize your remote work processes

Lastly, it’s important that you outline the processes you have in place for team alignment and communication on your remote team. Talk about how teams collaborate, how progress is measured, how reporting takes place. Do you use project management tools? Time tracking software?

This serves two purposes:

  1. It makes your expectations clear, and emphasizes the need for strong communications
  2. It shows the candidate that you’re serious about remote communication and team culture

Again, this is an exercise in expectation setting. Communicating your processes and the applications that you use to make them happen will allow you to assess how comfortable the candidate is with that work arrangement, helping you determine potential cultural fit.

Clearly communicating the type of remote culture you’re hoping to build, and being realistic about what remote work will entail, will ensure that all candidates are coming into the process with their eyes open.

How to assess a candidate for remote culture fit

Communicating your cultural requirements is one thing, but being able to reliably assess candidates for remote culture is critical to ensuring that you make the right hire.

Here are some tips for how to reliably assess for remote culture fit:

6. Ask about remote work experience

One of the best predictors of success in remote work is whether or not the candidate has done it before. That’s largely because people who have worked remotely know what it entails, and are aware of the positives and negatives that come with it.

Consider asking about remote work experience in the application phase, and then expanding on that conversation during interviews.

This will help you understand:

  • If the candidate has worked remotely before
  • What that remote work experience looked like
  • How it aligns with your teams’ remote work expectations
  • Whether there’s a disconnect or alignment between the candidate’s experiences and your expectations

While having no or different remote work experience shouldn’t be a disqualifying factor, this screening exercise helps ensure that both parties are aligned on expectations and requirements.

7. Ask why the candidate wants to work remotely

This question ties directly into the previous point. By asking the candidate directly why they want to work remotely - especially if they haven’t before - you’ll be able to understand their motivations for applying to your position.

Do they want to be able to travel and work at the same time? Are they expecting remote work life to be easier and more freeing? Are they being realistic about what remote work life entails?

Asking these questions will allow you to assess and rank candidates based on both their motivations, and their maturity and ability to meet your cultural and productivity requirements.

8. Assess remote work-related skills

Remote workers require a set of specific skills to work effectively in dispersed teams. You should actively screen and assess for those skills during application, shortlisting, and interviewing.

Some of those skills include:

  • Communication: Check for spelling and grammar in the job application, and how thoroughly and clearly they answer screening questions. Also pay attention to communication skills during video calls.
  • Autonomy: Note how effectively the candidate follows instructions when completing screening assignments, and how confident they appear when working independently.
  • Role-specific skills: Ask the candidate to complete job-relevant skills tests that are closely aligned with on-the-job tasks. Pay attention to quality of work, clarity of communication, and presentation skills.
  • Discipline and maturity: Remote work requires a lot of personal scheduling, discipline, and accountability. Ask the candidate for examples of how they manage their schedule or show discipline in their daily lives.

You’ll likely have further skills that are a requirement to work on your remote team. Screen for those skill sets as well to generate a full picture of each candidate.

9. Ask probing cultural fit questions

If you’ve gone through the process of defining and writing down the characteristics and personality traits you’re looking for, then you should be able to generate some probing questions that screen candidates based on those requirements.

Write down a list of 5-10 cultural fit questions that you’ll ask every candidate. This should be a combination of questions related to your company values and your remote team.

These could include questions around:

  • What types of work environments they like
  • What they need or want to be successful
  • What they value in a team
  • What they value in a leader
  • What their motivations are for coming to work every day

Ask these questions during the interview phase to help fill out a cultural profile of the candidate. Then, compare their answers to the lived experience of working at your company remotely to see if there’s alignment.

10. Use high quality video interview software

The biggest drawback of working and screening remotely is the inability to see a candidate or co-worker in person. This creates somewhat of a barrier between the two parties, regardless of how good teleconferencing technology has become.

While there is no real substitute for in-person conversation, you can mitigate some of these challenges by ensuring that you use the highest quality video interview and teleconferencing software possible.

You’ll want to make sure that your platform of choice allows for a seamless, high-quality interview experience. This will allow the candidate to interact comfortably, and in real time, with you and your colleagues. It will also allow you to see the candidate “in action” in a remote work setting, without the interruption of broadband or video quality issues.

Lastly, many high-end video interview platforms come with the ability to record and analyze interviews after they’ve taken place. This allows recruiters to play the tapes back at a later date to review the interview from a different angle. If, for example, you focused on the candidate’s skills and work history in the live interview, you can go back to assess body language and communication skills in the re-watch.

Assessing and hiring for remote culture fit is all about being clear in your requirements, and having a defined process for screening candidates. By doing both, it’s possible to deliberately build a remote team that shares the same values, goals, and desires to be successful.

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