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Today Zack Grossbart stops by again to provide some tips for effectively hiring workshifters.  Zack is the author of the upcoming book The
One Minute Commute and writes over on his blog
Zack focuses much of his writing on exploring how to build distributed
teams using best practices from the high-tech industry.

Hiring a workshifter is one of the most nerve wracking experiences a manager can have. Evenajleonworkshifting.jpg thinking about hiring a workshifter seems fraught with risk. You don’t know if they’ll work out. If they aren’t working out how will you know? How will they fit in with the team? What if you can’t contact them? The potential problems are seem so insurmountable that many managers decide to never even  open that can of worms.

You can take a lot of risk out of hiring workshifters by knowing what to look for. Potential workshifters should have all the attributes of any good employee, but there are specific talents that every workshifter must possess to succeed. Hiring managers who know what to look for can judge these skills with a simple set of tests during the  interview process.

Talent 1: Clear Writing Skills

Writing well is the single most important skill for a workshifter. You don’t need to hire Hemingway, but if the candidate can’t clearly communicate their thoughts in documents and emails you’ll both be in big trouble.

Start by looking at their resume. Is it well written? Did they make it easy to read and understand their qualifications? A resume acts like a magnifying glass for writing ability. If your teleworker candidate’s resume isn’t well written they won’t write well once you hire them. But don’t stop there; after all it’s possible that they had help writing their resume.

Do a Google search and find any blogs, Facebook pages, and other social media pages. These pages don’t always have to discuss professional topics, but the author should write clearly. Can you follow what they have to say? When you are finished can you summarize the content easily?

Another overlooked tool for evaluating writing skills is email. Always start an email conversation with candidates. Ask leading questions and see if they respond well. Make your questions open ended and give them a chance to impress you. If you get answers that are terse or unintelligible move on to the next person.

Talent 2: Accepting Criticism

Workshifters are inherently a little disconnected from the team. Being out of the office can bring with it the advantage of being more productive, but it also means that interpersonal issues are more difficult to resolve. Workshifters have learn to accept criticism well and not take it personally. If your new teleworker doesn’t take criticism well they’ll never survive outside of the office.

Ask them directly how they handle criticism. Ask them to discuss how they’ve handled difficult situations in the past and how they responded to criticism. You can learn a lot by their answers.

Blogs and Facebook pages can also come in handy here. If they have an existing social media presence they have probably received negative comments. How did they handle them? Were they dismissive or did they take the comments to heart and really try to understand them?


Talent 3: Quickly Learning Conventions

When a workshifter starts in a new job they will probably attend orientation lectures and learn the basics of how work gets done in your organization. This will cover the big issues, but what about the dozens of other smaller details that go into working in your office and working with your specific team. Important details how to format a presentation, the best way to file expense reports, are a critical part of any job? Workshifters are at a disadvantage here because they can’t just stick their head over the cubicle wall and ask. They must learn conventions quickly.

Always ask to see some work from a previous jobs. Does it look like the same every time or did they adapt to the specific requirements of each new workspace?

Ask them how they would go about learning the ins and outs of your organization, and look for specific, detailed answers.


Talent 4: Self-sufficiency

Workshifting gives you freedom and along with that comes responsibility. Good workshifters manage their own time and their own needs. They can’t just call the IT department every time they have a problem.

Workshifters should have a plan ahead of time for the following issues:

  • A home office – Do they have one set up? What is it like? Were they planning to work out of Starbucks? Successful workshifters have made a serious commitment to their office environment.

  • Telephone and Internet connections – Do they have a good land line and a fast Internet connection? Are they expecting you to pay some of those costs?
  • Tools – Do they need you to buy them a computer? A printer? A desk or a chair?

  • Computer support – How much do they need and how will they get it?
  • Backups – Will they take part in your backup systems or do they have their own?
  • Data security – What steps will they take to make sure your data is secure when it leaves the office? This might include encryption or a virtual private network solution.

A good workshifter candidate will have detailed, specific  answers to all of these questions during the interview.


Talent 5: Staying Motivated

Sometimes an office is a distraction, but it also offers a certain camaraderie. Going to a shared work place surrounded by other working people is a great way to stay motivated. Workshifters, on the other end of the spectrum, must stay motivated on their own.

This is one of the most difficult skills to judge since most candidates will lie to you. They aren’t doing it maliciously, but unless they have a lot of experience with workshifting they may underestimate the importance and difficulty of staying motivated when they work from home.

One of your first clues to self-motivating candidates  is excitement. Everyone should show some excitement during an interview. If they can’t do it then they won’t do it from home.

Hobbies are another good indicator of the self-motivated. What does the candidate do outside of work? Do they have long term hobbies or just fleeting interests?

Can the candidate tell you specifically how they were proactive in their previous jobs? Did they wait for someone else to show them the path or did they lead the way? Can they talk about how they got their work done in other positions?


Talent 6: Showing Their Work

In the office you can see someone arrive early and stay late. At home you can’t just trust that a workshifter is doing their job. They have to show their work.

Let them describe what previous projects. How did they communicate about their work? Were there status meetings? Did they send emails or documents? Ask to see examples of these documents whenever possible.

Every workshifter is a little different, but they all need a way to proactive show you they’re getting their work done.


Talent 7: Being Consistent

Imagine this: at 10:00 AM you send Bob, a member of your team, an email with a question you need answered quickly. At 10:30 you see he isn’t on IM yet. He isn’t there at 11:00 either. You check your calendar and your deleted email folder, but Bob didn’t send you a note about taking the day off.

By noon you are a little annoyed. It has been two hours without seeing him online. You ask other team members but they don’t know either. By 2:00 PM you are thoroughly fru
strated. You haven’t seen Bob, you don’t have the answer to your question, and you have no idea when you will get it.

In the office you might walk over to Bob’s office, but when Bob is a workshifter you have no idea where he is. Is he taking a vacation day without telling you? Did his computer crash? Is he just ignoring you? This might not be a big problem if it only happens occasionally, but a member of your team that is consistently inconsistent will drive you nuts.

Ask them about their plan and what they expect. Are they willing to commit to a specific work schedule? Also ask them for references. References are very helpful in providing real feedback on a candidates consistency.


Recognizing Workshifter Talents

Workshifting is a skill and you have to judge that skill. The ultimate indication of workshifting ability is previous experience. Have they workshifted before? Did it go well for them? Can they supply references?

Focus on these workshifting talents and you can hire teleworkers with confidence.

Photo by: AJ Leon

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  • zgrossbart.myopenid.com

    Thank you Justin for the chance to work with Work Shifting again. I’m hoping these techniques can take the fear out of hiring work shifters and help more companies hire them. I also created a Hiring Work Shifters Cheat Sheet, a quick reference when you’re conducting work shifter interviews.
    Good luck to everyone hiring work shifters and let us know how it goes.