The Secret to Hiring Really Good Telecommuters

Out of sight, top of mind

Got a job vacancy? There are probably qualified remote candidates, but how should you assess them? And where do you find them in the first place? Take a deep breath -- hiring a really great telecommuting employee isn't dissimilar to finding a really great office worker. Follow these steps.

It's not them. It's you.

Before starting your talent search, be honest with yourself. Everyone isn't cut out to manage remote staff. "Do you have trouble trusting people? Are you micromanagerial? Hit-and-miss as a communicator? Then you might not be cut out to work with remote staff," says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of, a service that helps employees find freelance, part-time and telecommuting jobs.

Write a detailed job description.

Think about what's needed, and let that mold the job description and listing. Do your remote employees need to be in the same state or country as you? Do you need employees to keep the same business schedule you do? How often do they need to visit a head office, if ever at all? Specify these things in the listing before posting the position.

Cast the right-size net.

Submit your listing to mainstream boards, but also post to websites that cater to remote job seekers --,, and are a few good ones. And the bonus of targeting a niche audience: The people who know to use these websites probably have experience telecommuting.

Set some ground rules.

It's OK to ask a remote job seeker to travel to meet you for an interview, particularly if you're willing to pay his or her travel expenses. "Run the job search that you're comfortable with," Sutton Fell says. "If you don't want to extend an offer until you've met the person, then ask them to come meet with you. Just make more time in your schedule to do face-to-face interviews."

Be careful what you ask.

Here's a sticky wicket: Basing hiring decisions on a candidate's lifestyle violates U.S. anti-discrimination laws, but if your employees work from home, you need to know about their work environment. Limit your questions to accommodations and equipment required for the job. "For example, if you need employees to have a landline telephone, state as much, then ask them if they have one," Sutton Fell says. Other inbound topics: Internet speed and a work computer's operating system.

Look for one skill in particular.

Exemplary communication skills are par for any job. Why? Because so many people stink at them. But the best telecommuters are exceptional communicators. "I like workers who can speak up for themselves," Sutton Fell says. "Having a people-pleasing attitude can sometimes be concerning in remote workers, because it means they won't tell you that they're having a hard time."

Skype at least once.

Ask each candidate you're seriously considering to do at least one video chat session with you from his or her proposed work space. "The Skype interview objective isn't just to listen to what they're saying, but to observe their work environment," says Liam Martin, co-founder of, a remote staffing agency that helps place telecommuting employees. "Is it safe? Do they have a fantastic Internet connection? Are there a lot of distractions in the background? Any of these could be problems going forward."

Do a deep-cover reference check.

Speaking only to the references your candidate provides (cough, approves) is an amateur move. "Let's say I'm looking to hire a website designer," Martin says. "I'd ask them to give me the URL to six websites they've worked on, then I'd use that info to catch up with some people affiliated with those websites and ask them if they know the designer." However, you shouldn't contact current employers and colleagues unless the candidate has given you permission to do so, Martin says. You don't want to get him or her in trouble where he or she currently works.

Ace the onboarding process.

You know how cellphone companies tell you that your cell's initial charge is the most important one? The same is true of onboarding new hires -- if your expectations are a jumbled mess out the gate, then your new employee's results will be also. Outline short- and long-term goals for new staff, but also don't forget to discuss brass tacks. "People who are accustomed to classically managing in-office staff don't always know there needs to be operational procedures for everything with remote workers," Martin says.

Jada A. Graves is the Careers editor at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter @jadaagraves, circle her on Google+ or email her at

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