The remote-hiring playbook for startups

Tiho Bajić, LTSE Advisor

As someone who recruits engineers, I can tell you that the competition for tech talent seems to grow by the day here in the Bay Area. The situation has led to a number of tech giants establishing remote offices that make it easier to recruit high-quality employees who live outside of Silicon Valley. In my experience, the benefits of such offices extend beyond big companies; they may, in fact, be even greater for resource-strapped, early-stage startups.Having hired more than 100 remote employees at three startups in seven different countries, I know firsthand that remote hires can be a huge aid to a team that needs talent but can’t compete on compensation with its larger counterparts.Hiring remotely also offers access to a more diverse talent pool, especially for early-stage companies. Many prospective employees in a tech hotspot like San Francisco cannot afford the significant pay cut that comes with joining a company that is just getting started. By removing the barrier of location, your pool of candidates can broaden to include more people from different backgrounds and skills.While hiring remote employees can benefit everyone involved, most early-stage founders whom I meet have no idea how to find and evaluate remote candidates or how to work with them after they join their team. Here are some steps that have worked for me in building remote teams:

Cultivate your community

When it comes to recruiting, your company’s network is its most precious asset — and you can cultivate it over time. Start by looking to the shared life experiences, meetups, and technical and social groups that you and your team are part of. These communities can be great places to find remote employees. Considering the communities you’d like to be part of (or that you wish existed) also can help you diversify your talent pool or lead you to the right candidate for a particular niche.

Join in

Organize an event, contribute to an open-source project, or attend a meetup. In cities such as San Francisco and New York, these events draw people from all over the world. Take advantage of this. Speakers and organizers tend to be the most networked, so make sure they know you and recognize your participation in the community.

Know what both sides bring to the table

Usually it’s very simple. You bring capital, customers and reputation. Prospective remote hires bring expertise, experience and networks that extend beyond what your company already has. You are offering someone the opportunity (backed by financial wherewithal, presence in key markets and your networks) to build something on a scale they may not be able to achieve otherwise. In return, they help you build a more efficient and robust company.

Don’t settle

Adhere to the same standards in hiring a remote candidate that you would in hiring someone locally. If you go in with a willingness to accept a trade-off between talent and cost, you end up with a tiered system among your employees. That is a recipe for disaster.

Learn the differences between remote and in-person work, and map out a plan to bridge the divide

Your company needs to commit to a culture that supports remote work. Meetings need to be held via video conference or summarized promptly in writing. Decision-making cannot take place in one-off conversations. Invest in messaging tools and take time to configure them so that everyone knows what’s going on. If you have multiple offices, consider having a remote general manager who is responsible for helping to create a culture that supports remote team members.

Learn from your remote employees

In many instances, someone you hire to work remotely will have worked remotely before and knows how to succeed in such an environment. Whether it’s coordinating across time zones or payroll, the employee either may know how to handle it or whom to ask. Let them co-own it.

Don’t silo remote employees

Everyone you hire will be part of your team regardless of where that person happens to sit. As much as you can, assign remote employees a variety of projects. This lowers the cost of every task, allows your remote workers to get up to speed quickly, and helps prevent a tiered structure.

Remote employees are part of your company

Remote employees are a feature of your company, not a bug fix for cheaper headcount. Take the time to invest in and develop them. On-board and train employees consistently wherever they happen to be.Companies that hire remotely from the start are forced to develop internal communications, build organizational resilience, and incorporate flexibility into their operations — all of which also may hold appeal for candidates from typically underrepresented groups in tech. The longer you wait to integrate remote employees, the harder it will be. Startup cultures, once formed, can be notoriously resistant to change.

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