As employers struggle to meet the demand for remote work, many organizations are saying the right things to potential employees without being committed to, or effective at building, a healthy, high-performing remote or hybrid workplace. Not all remote workplaces are created equal, and the flexibility of remote working is less valuable if the remote workplace does not offer an adequate connection or a strong underlying culture.
The job search has always demanded due diligence from candidates. With recruiters feeling tremendous pressure to deliver candidates and the hiring process that now takes days instead of weeks or months, it can be difficult to gain a complete understanding of a company’s remote working infrastructure during recruiting. Remember, a recruiter’s job is to get someone in; it is often akin to marketing or sales and may not reflect the reality of the workplace once you get the job.
In this environment, the burden rests on the candidates to carefully evaluate a potential remote work opportunity both during and after the application process. In addition to the typical job fact-finding – asking the right questions in interviews or researching employee review sites like Glassdoor – candidates must determine whether a workplace ensures that remote workers are treated equally, supported, fulfilled and effective.
Fortunately, candidates can learn a lot about a company’s remote working effectiveness during the hiring process. The key is to look for characteristics about the organization’s external culture and ask targeted questions about the principles and standards that dictate the company’s overall culture and external work experience.
Company culture and values
When evaluating whether a company has an effective external culture, start with this core truth: The elements necessary for an effective external corporate culture are the same that are necessary for a great corporate culture in any type of workplace. Employees vetting whether a potential remote job is right for them should start by seeing if the company has strong cultural principles aligned with their own values.
Healthy cultures are generally based on clear, consistent core values. Effective core values shouldn’t just be marketing slogans that look good on a company wall or website – instead, they should differentiate company culture and indicate what employee behavior is rewarded and what isn’t. Working remotely prevents a company from spreading a culture through personal modeling and imitation. But if a company has clear core values that are consistently rewarded and reinforced, it’s easier to make sure everyone is rowing in the same direction, even if they don’t share a physical workspace.
As a first step, it helps to research the company early in the interview process and become familiar with the organization’s values — either by finding them on the company’s website or by asking them before the interview. Then ask the interviewers about those values in the actual interview.
For example, you should ask the interviewer to share the company’s values and see how they respond. Does the interviewer know one of the core values, or does he have to look it up? You will know in seconds after you ask.
You can also ask more specific questions, such as “How do core values play a role in employee evaluation and promotion?” “How does the company react if employees do not live up to the core values?” Ask for specific examples, not abstract concepts. You might even ask, “When was the last time you were recognized for demonstrating a company’s core value?”
Any interviewer should be able to confidently answer these questions if the company’s values are genuine and consistent. Unfortunately this is not guaranteed; Research by employee recognition software company Fond found that in 70% of organizations, less than half of employees can cite the company’s values.
Doing research outside of the interview is also essential. It’s helpful to search the company on Glassdoor or a similar review site to see what employees are saying about its culture and work experience. If the company has really strong, consistent core values, they’re likely to show up in their Glassdoor reviews.
If a company has strong core values, it’s a good sign that the organization has a consistent, healthy culture, which is a prerequisite for effective remote working. If not, you better run away.
Remote working strategy
Candidates must also determine whether a company is fully committed to a strong remote work environment or whether flexible and remote working is only being used to entice people to join the company.
The reality is that many companies have invented their remote work policies on the spot in 2020 and have not yet determined their future virtual work strategy. For example, according to McKinsey and Company, 40% of employees say their employer hasn’t communicated a vision about their organization’s future workplace model, and 28% say what they’ve heard is vague.
Some companies that offer remote roles have a supported strategy for implementing virtual work and incorporating remote workers into their organization. Others will haphazardly pursue a combination of personal and outside work in an effort to avoid setting standards and keep everyone happy. Before joining a company, candidates need to know whether the external policy is a well-planned strategy with supporting systems and processes, or an attempt at not having to choose a strategy at all.
To find out before taking the job, it’s crucial to ask how often remote workers are expected to be in the office. An employer should be able to provide clear guidelines for how often a remote worker should come to work in person, especially if the role is only partially remote. Do remote workers come to the office when needed, on certain days of the week or on certain days of the month? A hiring manager at a company with a clear, consistent hybrid strategy will be able to tell you that explicitly.
In addition, candidates should consider how widespread remote work is in the organization. There’s a big difference between joining a predominantly remote organization or team and being one of the few remote employees in a team that typically works in the same physical space. You can also ask to speak to an employee who works remotely on a team that is otherwise usually together.
Remember that these questions don’t just tell you what to do once you’ve joined the team; they also help you discover what to expect from your colleagues. It’s helpful to know when you can expect colleagues to be available, when you can join them for personal work, and what opportunities you’ll have to make peer connections.
It’s even helpful to ask specific questions about how a company handles common remote or hybrid work situations. If some employees are in person and others are remote, how do they handle one-on-one, team, department, or company meetings? What about quarterly statements? It can be frustrating to be one of the few remote employees on a conference call or video conference with a bunch of employees in a conference room. In these situations, it is difficult for employees to see, hear or participate, and a lack of careful planning for those situations may indicate the lack of distance-friendly standards in other positions.
Finally, it’s helpful to ask what kind of technical infrastructure the company has and how their technology supports remote working. Working remotely requires digital communication and collaboration tools, and an interviewer should be able to share with you the digital tools they use in their day-to-day work.
These questions should not be difficult for interviewers to answer. The best third-party organizations have already acted on these details and can tell you what to expect when you join the team.
And, of course, you don’t have to rely solely on interviewers to get this information. Back channel credentials are a common tactic employers use to research candidates, such as reaching out to former executives through LinkedIn to verify what a candidate is telling them. You might consider contacting a former employee of your prospective company to ask them about their remote work experience. Since they are no longer with the company, you may get a more honest answer about what it’s really like to work for the organization.
A common misconception about remote organizations is that remote employees never interact in person. In contrast, the best third-party organizations know that creating opportunities for people to meet and bond in person helps build the trust and connectivity needed for effective virtual work.
Candidates should ask if the company hosts corporate events or smaller personal social events, co-working days, or other opportunities to connect in person. Companies that invest in face-to-face meetings — even something akin to a well-planned annual summit — create connections within their teams that carry over for the rest of the year. Most remote workers don’t want to work from home to avoid people – they often just want more flexibility or the chance to forget their painful commute – and do want personal team building and connection. It is important for job seekers to know if a company offers those opportunities before accepting a remote job.
As more workers demand outside opportunities, the job market will be flooded with partially or fully remote positions. However, as in any other market, some of these companies will present opportunities that are less rewarding than they appear – and may lead to buyer remorse. Candidates must do their due diligence and ask the right questions to determine whether they are entering a good hybrid or remote environment before accepting the job. Otherwise, the Great Resignation of 2021 could be followed by a big boomerang in 2022.
This post How to check a remote workplace? was original published at “https://hbr.org/2022/03/how-to-vet-a-remote-workplace”