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Virtual Teams and Recruitment - Trends and Tips

Lawton Lai, CEO & Co-Founder, Find Recruiter

Now is the time to catch up with the new world of work.

In many ways, virtual teams are an ongoing experiment that has yet to be fully embraced in Hong Kong. The resistance stems from a deeply rooted corporate culture that values employees being present in the workplace, and demonstrating loyalty through long working hours. According to the SCMP’s interview with Hong Kong businesses fighting the COVID-19 outbreak in April, many employers from local businesses said the lack of face-to-face supervision of employees made them feel uncomfortable. And while the benefits of virtual teams appealed to them, many remained reluctant to adopt a remote workplace for fear that “they will lose control of the company”.

The truth is, companies who have adopted virtual teams have an edge in talent and productivity over those who don’t. A survey by Robert Half showed that 77% of the responding workers said work from home was a key factor on whether they would accept a job offer, while a study by Cornell University suggested that virtual teams are 20% more productive than on-site employees. This is why organisations like Facebook, Shopify and JPMorgan have declared publicly that they would make work from home the new normal, as in forever.

So to say the least, the remote work genie is out of the bottle and there is no putting it back in. Implementing virtual teams is no longer a matter of “if”, but “when”. Hong Kong companies, especially local entities, need to quickly step outside their comfort zones and change their mindset that remote work is not a challenge to overcome, but instead a clear business advantage.

Here are five practical tips to help you develop a winning remote workplace strategy.

1. Create leadership that drives the new workplace

If you have never heard of “Head of Remote”, you are not alone. Most companies don’t have one, but that’s about to change as some of the most progressive companies transitioning to remote work like Quora and Twitter are now all hiring this position, and many more are expected to follow suit.

The post was coined by Gitlab, which boasts the largest all-remote workforce in the world. Since 2014, they have been trying to answer the question “How do we transition to remote?” As an effort to stabilise remote workflow in their growing business of 1,200 employees distributed across the globe, they hired their first Head of Remote for their leadership team.

As the name suggests, the Head of Remote’s role is to ensure that remote work, works. But there is so much more to it than that. The position helps foster trust among employees who may have never met in real life, develop best practices that improve virtual collaboration, and establish a remote company culture.

Reflecting on Gitlab’s success, if businesses want to truly embrace a remote-first culture and build high-performance remote workplaces, then having a dedicated leader like Head of Remote to take charge in driving change is a good start.

2. Cultivate a healthy remote culture quickly

Companies with a strong organisational culture tend to have a lower turnover rate and more productive teams. But what happens to culture if your team members can’t just walk up to someone’s desk to catch up on their weekend?

A study by psychologist Susan Pinker revealed that individuals who had 15 minutes to socialise with colleagues had a 20% increase in performance over peers who didn’t. Given this, employers need to put in extra effort to build social connections among their remote teams, and cultivate a healthy remote culture. They should no longer work with the on-site mindset in which they take culture and camaraderie for granted.

Employers can consider scheduling regular virtual coffee breaks or happy hours to foster relationships that keep office traditions alive online. Also, creating an always-on video conference room where team members can pop in and out as they please, is great for encouraging informal communication and chitchat.

3. Hire the remote persona

To build strong virtual teams, it is important to recognise working remotely is a skill itself, and one that isn’t easy to learn or master. Believing that an excellent on-site worker can work as productively remotely without proper training or experience is unrealistic and sets the wrong expectations. As such, hiring managers need to add an extra layer of questioning to assess each candidate’s ability to work remotely.

Questions such as “What is your daily routine?” and “What communication challenges are you facing?” quickly help evaluate the candidate’s motivation to work from home, uncover their time management abilities, and give insights on how well they collaborate with team members on projects.

Hiring managers need to realise that specific skill sets are necessary to thrive in this type of work and as more people opt for remote jobs, they are required to identify candidates with the best remote personas.

4. Create and communicate OKRs to succeed

How can you keep employees, who are not used to working from home, focused on what needs to be done and continue contributing to your company’s goals? The answer is OKRs.

If implemented properly, OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) can help achieve better communication, more transparency and alignment across teams. It provides a language for sharing what everybody is working on and how they are progressing, no matter where they are working from.

The O stands for Objectives (your big aspirational goals) and KR stands for Key Results (your measurable outcomes that define success). Google, Amazon and Spotify have all used this goal setting methodology, to build an open and transparent culture that makes feedback among remote teams convenient and direct.

Establishing a communication plan is a crucial step to take in ensuring your team continues to work well together. OKRs immediately remove the guesswork and allow remote employees to figure out what the company’s top priorities are.

5. Maintain a positive candidate experience with virtual interviews

Remember the time when you first walked through the doors of a company you were really excited to interview at? This kind of experience is very impactful to attract talents but obviously a trade-off that virtual interviews have eliminated.

When candidate experience is more important than before, limiting the human touch is a major drawback of virtual recruiting. Thus companies need to go the extra mile in delivering a personal experience to their candidates, in other areas to compensate.

Organisations can consider using different employer branding solutions like those courtesy of Wantedly and Glassdoor, which help candidates experience the culture and people, without having to physically walk through the company doors.

Taking Action

History has a way of repeating itself. Companies who adopted technology 20 years ago have replaced every company that didn’t. Organisations who have implemented remote working these days will replace every company who hasn’t. Hong Kong businesses need to acknowledge that the transition to remote work isn’t a binary switch that is flipped, but instead requires a long journey of iteration filled with evolving leadership and cultural changes.

The future of work is here. Are you ready?

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