Hiring Remote

I have been working remotely for about 8 years now. I’ve worked at companies that did it poorly, and companies that did it well. Let me define remote for a minute. I mean fully remote. Like, I can count on one hand the number of times per year I see my coworkers in person and have fingers left over.

I was the first remote employee in my division at Mattel, and I helped guide the culture toward supporting remote employees. Mattel, for its part, has been very supportive, and honestly did many things right without even really thinking about them as supporting remote employees.

I have a lot of thoughts about remote work, and I’ll probably turn this into a series of posts on the subject. For now, I’m going to start at the beginning - hiring.

I’ve interviewed at over a dozen companies that support remote employees. How the interviewing process goes tells me a lot about whether or not a company really supports remote employees.

When I interviewed at Canonical, the whole interview was remote. I never saw anyone in person until after I got my offer, and then it was just a run to the nearest office to sign paperwork. I literally never met any of my coworkers in person until our first offsite about three months in. And that’s totally ok.

When I interviewed at Mattel it was much the same, except I was brought on as a contractor first, which allowed me to prove myself, and then they were happy to just continue letting me do my thing as a full time employee 3000 miles away from the rest of the team. I pushed my boss to hire more remote devs, and we now have a team that is almost fully remote.

Many places I’ve interviewed want you to come onsite after some number of interviews to “meet the team”. While this is ok, it tends to make me think those places aren’t as fully bought into remote culture. There was no office to go into at Canonical. Meeting the team was getting on a google hangout (and that’s fine).

If you buy into remote culture, meeting someone in a video chat should be good enough. After all, that’s how you’re going to interact with them 99% of the time. Just as the whiteboard is a relic of another time, I believe the onsite interview is a relic if the job is remote. (If the job is not remote, then I think it’s pretty important to get a handle on how the person interacts in person with other people… but that’s not what we’re talking about.)

I don’t code on a whiteboard at work, and I don’t code in a meeting room with another developer at work either. And honestly, they almost never ask me to code in that meeting room. It’s all talk and drawing architecture on a whiteboard. Which, like, seriously, save yourself the plane ticket and hotel charge and just let me do that over hangouts.

The problem with having me come on site is that it’s a 2 day thing. I have to leave work early to catch a plane the night before, spend the night in a hotel, get up mildly jetlagged, interview all day, then take a redeye home unless I want to spend a second night in the hotel and get home at like 3 in the afternoon the next day. If I did that for every job I interviewed for last time I was looking, I would have had to take a full month off… it’s just not scalable…. and it’s rough on my family.

Speaking of family, let’s talk about onboarding. Some companies will onboard you remotely. This is great. Paperwork can be tricky, but it’s doable with a notary public (that’s what I did for Mattel). Otherwise, going onsite for onboarding is fine… you sign paperwork, get a company laptop, some swag, etc. All that could be mailed out, but I get that paperwork can be tricky remote.

But that’s like… maybe 3 days if everything goes really slowly. Many places want a week onsite for onboarding. Buh…. to do what? If there are significant things I can only do while onsite, we’re probably going to have problems when I go back to work at my house for months at a time. Also, aren’t many of my coworkers remote, so won’t most of them not even be there? One place even mentioned onboarding was two weeks onsite.

Two weeks is an eternity. I have young kids, and there is zero chance I’m going anywhere onsite for two weeks. I work remote so I can be with my kids. I’m sure a lot of more senior devs out there are in the same position. Making your onboarding process long makes you much less desirable to anyone with a family. Don’t draw it out any longer than necessary. As a mediocre white man who is used to getting his way, I might feel comfortable asking for a reduced onsite, but I bet many other developers who are not so privileged might not.

So, to sum up - if you really want to show you support remote developers, instead of just saying you do, start with the interview. Make as much of your interview process remote as possible, and then make your onboarding as painless as possible. It’ll save you time, it’ll save your candidates time, it’ll save the company money, and it’ll make everyone happier.

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