Hiring Tips & Insights: COVID-19 FAQs: Tech Hiring in a Remote World

COVID-19 FAQs: Tech Hiring in a Remote World

By Robyn Luyt

Trying to hire for your tech team during a global health crisis may seem scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in South Africa, our account managers have been helping dozens of companies navigate the remote world of interviewing, offer negotiation and onboarding, and we know that many of you are trying to figure it out too. To support you, here are the questions, and answers, that we’ve answered in the past few weeks.

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Concerns around job market trends, going remote or COVID-19

Is now a good time to hire or should I sit tight until COVID-19 passes?

  • Tech remains the enabler for growth and now is a great opportunity to invest in building winning tech teams.
  • While open positions for talent might drop to some extent in the coming weeks, it will still outweigh the number of software makers available to fill them.
  • Smart companies are gearing up to hire remotely and win in the ‘new normal’ of the virtual world – and those who don’t risk being left behind and missing out on tech talent.
  • So if your company can effectively set up to hire and work remotely, you will have a massive edge because top talent that wouldn’t normally be in the market are now looking for new opportunities.

How do I continue to grow my team but still stay lean as a business?

  • That’s a really good question and one that we’ve been thinking about as a company too.
  • What we’ve realised is that staying lean means focusing on what really matters to your company’s long term goals – even if that means cutting back on some things like team spend so you can continue to grow your team and focus on what matters.
  • At OfferZen, we are now holding ourselves to strict operating principles to ensure that we solidify our business and seize any opportunities that arise.

Are candidates even looking for jobs?

  • Yes, candidates are still looking for jobs. In fact, top talent that wouldn’t normally be in the market are now looking for new opportunities. If your company is in the position to hire and has a solid plan to navigate the economic situation, you will have a massive edge if you can get on top of remote work and online hiring now.

How do we go full remote as a company?

  • We think that remote work is going to be an exciting learning opportunity for companies but it is going to take a lot of concerted effort and practice to get it right.
  • At OfferZen, we’ve been doing optional remote days for over a year now, but have taken steps to move our entire team remote until it is safe to do otherwise.
  • Here’s how we made sure we stayed fully operational:
  • You’ll also need to investigate the kinds of tools that you would need when going remote:
  • In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing how other companies in the tech community are setting up for remote work in our newsletters so keep an eye out for that.

We’ve just hired a candidate or they’ve just started but we can’t take them on or keep them anymore. What do I do?

  • Recognise it’s okay to feel frustrated: This situation is a really tough one. It’s important to keep in mind that the candidate is allowed to feel frustrated, angry or let down. The best you can do is approach the situation honestly and work with them to come to a solution.
  • Have empathy: You need to approach this situation with a lot of empathy. Remember this person has resigned from their job and they will now become unemployed. You are, for all intents and purposes, firing them – which is really tough.
  • Set up a 1:1 conversation with them: Ask to chat to them face-to-face over a video call. Give them a heads up on the topic you’ll be discussing so that they can mentally prepare themselves. Explain the change in your company’s situation and why you can no longer continue to employ or onboard them.
  • Uphold your legal agreement:
    • Clarify that you will pay them for the time worked and/or the notice period of at least 1 week if they haven’t started yet or have worked for you for less than six months (refer to chapter 5, section 37 (1) of the BCEA).
    • If your agreement stipulates something different for e.g. 1 calendar month – you technically have to pay them for that whole notice period. If, owing to the financial status of your company, you are unable to afford to do so, it is crucial to have this conversation with the candidate and come to another agreement.
  • Offer them reasonable support to find a new opportunity: They are going to have to start their job search from scratch. Offer to help by noting companies that you can recommend or mention that you are happy to be a reference.

On interviewing remotely

What do I need to consider when going full remote on hiring? What needs to change?

When going about remote hiring, your online process might actually remain quite similar to your in-person process, but there are few things you’ll need to really think about:

The candidate experience:

  • Make it exciting: Online interviewing is not as exciting as coming into the office and meeting the team face-to-face so put some extra thought and effort into bringing your team’s culture into your process.
  • Be empathetic: Over and above trying to find a job, candidates are also enduring the COVID-19 lockdown. It’s a stressful time for everyone and it’s important to keep this in mind and show extra understanding or flexibility if needed.
  • Technical issues can be extra stressful: Reassure the candidate if they run into issues at their end. For example, follow-up with a message showing your understanding if something does occur – the clarity and speed of your message will speak volumes on how your team approaches awkward or hard things.
  • Choose the interviewing team wisely: A remote video call with many people can be super overwhelming for a candidate, so make sure you choose interview attendees wisely and for specific reasons. Alternatively, you can record interviews and share them with the team for discussion later.

The current team’s experience:

  • Prioritise collaborative hiring: With in-person hiring, your current team might see the candidate come to the office for interviews – but this won’t happen for remote hiring. So you want to be deliberate about incorporating the team into your remote hiring process so that they also have the opportunity to assess, evaluate, and get to know potential remote hires in the interviewing process.
  • Over-communicate on milestones: In the virtual world, it can be hard to have sight of what’s happening in the team. For this reason, you want to make sure you’re sharing hiring milestones with your team so that they don’t feel left out of the process or feel like someone joins the team out of the blue.

Your interview prep and set up:

  • You might want to extend your interview: If you’re feeling nervous about making your first remote hire, consider extending your interview by 30 mins or so. This can give you extra time to really deep dive into questions with a candidate and get to know them.
  • You’ll need to prepare better questions: A longer interview will only be useful if you’ve prepared your questions really well. Consider testing your interview questions on someone in your team so you can really refine them to get to know the candidate better.
  • Have a backup plan: Technology has a funny way of going haywire at the most critical moments. Add contingencies to your normal prep list should your interview plan go of-track for some reason for e.g. load shedding hits or your laptop dies.
  • Don’t leave prep until last minute: While some of your hiring process might remain the same, don’t leave it until the last minute to make adjustments for the virtual process. Some interviews you’ll really need to think about are: whiteboard interviews, simulation days, and culture-fit interviews. Make sure you put adequate time aside to really investigate what these interviews will look like online.

How do I do remote (whiteboard) technical interviews?

  • Whiteboard assessments are not the only way to effectively assess technical ability. This may be a great time to investigate other methods:
    • Code review (ask a developer on your team for help)
    • Online assessments (see next point)
    • Peer coding activities with screen share
  • When it comes to online assessments, there are a few platforms you could consider:
  • If you would still like to carry out a remote whiteboard interview, you can use tools like Miro or other online whiteboards. Here’s how we’re incorporating Miro into our own team’s workflow.

What kind of tech/tools can I use for remote interviewing?

To win at remote interviewing, you’ll need:
* A laptop or cellphone: Make sure that it’s fully charged and has a good quality camera.
* An online calendar: You’ll need a calendar like Google calendar to send a meeting invite to the candidate.
* Email or WhatsApp: You’ll need to be able to contact the candidate to confirm the meeting and send them any additional information.
* A video conferencing platform: At OfferZen we use Zoom because it offers the best connection. You can of course also use Google hangouts, Skype or even a WhatsApp call if you prefer.
* A second desktop monitor (optional): We recommend two screens so that you can keep the candidate on the one screen and screen share on another if you need to.
* A good pair of headphones: This will help keep the background noise levels low.
* Explore other tools: On top of this, you can also explore some other tools that may help you be more creative or comfortable during your remote interview.

How should I prepare for a remote interview with a candidate?

  • Set up the meeting invite:
    • Send an online meeting request for the interview time to the candidate once you’ve confirmed the day and time with them.
    • Add any documents or interview preparation for the candidate to the meeting invitation so they can review this before the interview.
    • Confirm with the candidate that they’ve seen and accepted the invitation.
    • Make sure that you’ve sent the candidate the correct video conference link in the meeting invite.
  • Your setup will be online so you’ll need:
    • A strong internet connection
    • A quiet place to do the interview
    • Your laptop charged or plugged-in
    • Wear headphones so you can block out distractions
    • Turn off notifications so you don’t get distracted. Also make sure your background is uninterrupted and free of anything that could be embarrassing!
  • Join the meeting on time: This would be the equivalent of arriving early for an in-person meeting.
  • Test the connection before you start your interview: Ask the candidate if they can see and hear you clearly.
  • Be prepared to pay extra attention to social cues: A tip: Wait a few seconds longer after someone has stopped speaking before you start so you can make sure that they’re done.
  • Check your load shedding schedule before the interview: If load shedding means you’ll lose connection, contact the candidate and offer to reschedule.
  • Be camera ready: It can be uncomfortable speaking to an avatar so make sure you’re appropriately dressed so that you can keep the camera on for the interview.

How do I give candidates a realistic view of our culture over remote interviews?

  • Give them a virtual tour: If you’re up for it, take them around the office virtually or share pictures of your workspace.
  • Schedule chats to meet the team: Include other team members in your video call or schedule some time for the candidate to chat to team members 1:1.
  • Share culture artefacts: Share anything with the candidate that could give them a sense of your team’s culture. This can be team event pictures, recordings of meetings, useful docs, blog posts, video recordings or even an office map.
  • Prepare and ask the right questions: It’s just as important for you to figure out if the candidate is a good fit for your company’s culture. Spend extra time thinking about the kinds of things you would need to know to figure this out.

How do remote interviews affect a candidate experience?

  • When it comes to remote interviews, you want to pay extra attention to the candidate experience because it really matters.
  • There are two major benefits for the candidate when it comes to remote interviews:
    • No stress from commuting
    • They can interview from the comfort of their own home
  • But, there are also a few things you’ll want to consider to make sure that you put a candidate first and create an awesome experience:
    • Prep the tech: Make sure your candidate has the right meeting link, and that you’re properly set up at least 15 minutes before the call for the interview.
    • Set up a clear agenda at the start of the meeting: This will help both you and the candidate navigate the interview process.
    • Create the space for questions: It’s harder to interjet during a remote interview so create a clear space for the candidate to ask questions at regular intervals during the chat.
    • Show that you’re engaged: It can be nerve-wracking speaking to a screen if you don’t have indicators that the person is listening to you. So make sure that you keep eye contact with the candidate, and acknowledge that you hear what they have said for e.g. nod your head.

How do I give a candidate a sense of our workspace when not in the office?

  • Explain it well: Put a little bit of extra thought into how you would explain your work space to someone and keep this description handy.
  • Give them a virtual tour: If you’re up for it, take them around the office virtually or share pictures of your workspace. If you have an office map handy, share that too!
  • Find proxy images: If you can’t go into the office, you can do some research online to find images of office spaces similar to your own and share those instead (with the disclaimer that it is not your actual office :) )

Should I even hire someone I’ve never met in person?

  • A key thing to keep in mind is that the only major difference between an in-person interview and a virtual one is the absence of physical contact. The attitude and beliefs of the person do not change.
  • If you’ve taken someone through your hiring process and introduced them to your team, it’s totally possible to get to know someone very well remotely.

On onboarding a new joiner remotely

How do I onboard new employees remotely?

Here are some of the methods and tools you’ll want to consider when onboarding online:

Don’t be afraid to use tech

  • Enable instant communication online: When taking onboarding online, you’ll need a team communication platform that allows for instant messaging. At OfferZen, we use Slack for instant messaging, doc sharing, calls, and maintaining a sense of human connection.
  • Get set up for face-to-face calls: You’ll also need a good video conferencing for face-to-face meetings. We use Zoom as a meeting tool. A tip would be to have one meeting room open all day so that team members can jump in and out as they need to to ask questions or chat.
  • Create an internal knowledge base: Before your new joiner joins, create a folder that houses your most important onboarding material. This could be culture documents, team videos, ‘How to docs’, etc.
  • Encourage screen sharing with a team member: Encouraging periods where your new joiner shares their screen with another team member could increase surface area for feedback or advice.

Set up daily team structures

  • Uphold and honour regular meetings: From the get-go, set up meetings like 1:1s, team stand ups and an end of week retro for your team and really honour these meetings. This structure helps to create some consistency and certainty for a new joiner – which makes things less stressful overall.
  • Help your new joiner set up a ‘best day’ checklist: This checklist reflects all the all the tasks the new joiner can complete to have an awesome, productive day. It also prevents them from feeling blocked when it comes to prioritising what to do next.
  • Be visible about daily plans: Ask your team to set up their calendar to reflect their day so that team members, especially new ones, know when you are able/unable to chat.

Find ways to integrate culture and other people

You don’t need to be the only person caring about onboarding a new team member. In fact, including other team members can give the new joiner a better sense of company culture and belonging. Here are some things to consider:

  • Choose someone to own the onboarding process: This person, who is usually a more experienced person in the team, will be the main person owning the onboarding the new team member: From getting them settled in, to understanding work processes, and weekly check-ins. As the onboarding owner, they should also keep a pulse of how fulfilled the new joiner is feeling in the role and have the means to raise concerns with team leads if needed (if not the team lead).
  • Choose an onboarding buddy: This person will act as a secondary point of contact (other than the onboarding lead). They will help answer questions, set the new joiner up, and generally be a ‘friendly face’ around the virtual office.
  • Have agendaless meetings: Agendaless meetings are a great way to get the team to check-in with each other and connect outside of work-related things. Consider dedicating a small portion of your team’s daily stand up, for example, to just have organic conversations over video calls.
  • Set up a remote team event: Within a few weeks of the new joiner starting, set up a remote team event to celebrate their arrival. This can be a remote lunch for the entire team for lunch (hello UberEats!), a team Netflix party or even an online game.
  • Send out a message to the wider company: Whether over email, Slack, Teams or WhatsApp, it’s a good idea to let the wider company know that you have a new team member joining! This creates excitement but also prevents awkward introductions a few months down the line. A pro-tip: add their picture and share a short bio so that the rest of the company can easily interact with them.

Be aware of what could go wrong during the process

  • Not all new joiners are the same: You may need to tailor your onboarding process for a new joiner depending on their remote work set up or even their timezone. It’s important to be accommodating because joining a new company, especially remotely, can be stressful.
  • Don’t destroy trust: Excessive screen sharing might make your new joiner feel like they aren’t trusted or don’t have privacy. If that’s the case, ask them how they prefer to receive feedback and brainstorm collaboration options together.
  • Avoid micromanaging: In the beginning, frequent check-ins might make your new joiner feel like they are being micromanaged. So make it clear that you’re still figuring out a good cadence for check-ins and that you appreciate their feedback.

Consistently improve your onboarding process

Whether in-person or online, your onboarding process shouldn’t be set in stone. In order to figure out if your online onboarding process is useful, you need to get feedback by:

  • Asking your new joiner for feedback:
    • How did they experience it from start to finish?
    • How do they feel in their day to day? Do they feel well set up or are they feeling lost and overwhelmed?
    • How do they feel about working with the team? Do they feel welcome?
    • Is there anything that they would change about the process?
  • Asking your team for feedback:
    • Have they noticed any gaps in your new joiner’s knowledge, way of working etc?
    • Have they been able to interact with the new joiner or get to know him/her?

How do I integrate a new team member remotely and make them feel welcome?

Getting set up in a new team is hard, but it’s even harder when you are remote and there is no one close by to help you. To make the process as smooth as possible for a new team member, here are a few things you’ll want to consider:

  • Prepare well in advance: You want to make sure that your new joiner doesn’t have any issues getting set up come start day. Create a list of all the accounts, programs and team processes that they’ll need to be added to. If you’re sending them any work equipment like a laptop, test it before sending it to them.

  • Start early to get the boring stuff out of the way: A big part of onboarding is completing forms and getting set up on team systems, but this can be unexciting. Instead, send the paperwork well in advance (+-1 week before the start date) and schedule a call between the new joiner and HR team to get them set up on all systems.

  • Send a welcome gift: There’s nothing like receiving a gift just for you. You can do the same for new joiners with a welcome pack that includes essentials that make them feel welcome. Think company swag, stickers, a team welcome note, an ironic framed ‘family photo’ of the team, cool office stationery, or some yummy snacks. You can take it one step further and get your team to add their personal touch to the gift so that the new joiner can get to know them too.

  • Make onboarding impactful and engaging: Rather than have a new joiner go through training videos on their own, be creative and find ways to incorporate other team members. For example, ask team members to create useful onboarding activities for the new joiner that will help them learn company and domain specific knowledge. It’s a great opportunity to bond with the team.

  • Set clear expectations and goals: Most people would agree that they want to be useful and make an impact as a new team member. Help your new joiner feel clear on what ‘success’ looks like by:

    • Setting clear expectations i.e. projects they’re on, the tasks they own, and who they’ll work with etc.
    • Helping them define professional and personal work-related goals
    • Spending time explaining how your team impacts the business and where they fit into this

    Ultimately, you want your new joiner to have a clear sense of purpose and a point of reference when prioritising tasks to work on.

  • Schedule regular check-ins: For the first three months, make sure you’ve set up weekly 1:1 check-ins with your new joiner. Use this time to make sure that you are aligned, find out where you can offer support, and give recognition for milestones they’ve achieved.

  • Set up a remote team event: Within a few weeks of the new joiner starting, set up a remote team event to celebrate their arrival. This can be a remote lunch for the entire team for lunch (hello UberEats!), a team Netflix party or even an online game.

How do I prepare my existing team for a remote new joiner?

  • Keep them in the loop: A new team member can be exciting – but it can also feel uncertain especially if the team wasn’t part of the hiring process. As far as possible, keep your team up to date on the milestones that you’ve reached with a candidate. This helps them feel that they are part of the process and will prevent them being taken by surprise when a new team member joins.
  • Create a space for questions: Before a new joiner joins, setup time with your team to hear about what they have been working on, and where a new joiner could help. Work together to set expectations and give them the opportunity to voice concerns, questions or ideas.
  • Include them in the onboarding process: Allow your team to help you brainstorm ways to get the person up to speed and part of the team. If they form part of the actual onboarding process, you should also brief them and help them take ownership of their part.
  • Nominate an onboarding buddy: This person will act as a secondary point of contact (other than the onboarding lead). They will help answer questions, set the new joiner up, and generally be a ‘friendly face’ around the virtual office. Make sure to set the onboarding buddy up to be successful by walking them through the expectations, ideal outcomes and the ‘why?’ behind having a buddy system.
  • Send out a message to the wider company: Whether over email, Slack, Teams or WhatsApp, it’s a good idea to let the wider company know that you have a new team member joining soon! This creates excitement for their arrival but also prevents awkward introductions a few months down the line. A pro-tip: add their picture and share a short bio so that the rest of the company can easily interact with them.

My new joiner has just started and I’m worried about them working remotely so soon. Should I let them?

  • Given that South Africa is now on lockdown, you should most definitely let your new joiner, and team, work from home.
  • To help your new joiner, and team, win at remote work, check out the linked articles below to:
  • Remember that, while uncertain, this is also an exciting time to explore remote work strategies with your team so you should see it as an opportunity to build trust rather than as a barrier to productivity.

If you have any other questions, feel free to leave a comment and our team will get back to you!

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