Remote Companies Hire for Impact, Not for Potential


Fred Perrotta

Credit is due to Rodolphe from Remotive for the title of this post. I immediately wrote this line down when he said it in his workshop at DNX Global in Lisbon last month. In this post, I'll expand on this idea from Tortuga's perspective.

Why Impact?

Every company wants to hire for impact. Remote companies have to hire for impact.

Measuring impact should be easier for a remote team than for a colocated team.

Remote workers have fewer opportunities to "play business." I don't mean to suggest that remote workers are lazy or deceptive. Whether remote or not, we've all passed an entire eight-hour work day without really accomplishing anything. We've done "work" without doing the work. I'll admit to having had a lot of those days at Google.

Remote workers can't appear to be working if no one is watching.

If you, as a people manager, aren't sharing an office with your direct reports, you can only see what they have done, not what they look like they're doing.

"Ass in seat" time doesn't matter if it can't be observed.

This is a good thing. In a remote company, you're forced to ignore hours and effort and instead focus on results. Hours and effort are only the means, not the ends.

Not being able to observe effort or track hours, as you would in an office, does not matter and should not impact how you evaluate your team. If a new hire doesn't have an impact on the business, you'll know. You can't be misled, intentionally or not, by long work days or other signals that are observable in an office.

The results will speak for themselves.

Remote workers have tremendous freedom and resonsibility compared to their colocated peers. If they can't turn that autonomy into results for the company, they can't work remotely.

Why Not Potential?

Remote companies don't hire for potential because they aren't good at training.

If a company isn't good at training, that company cannot maximize the value of a new hire who needs trained to reach his/her potential. Therefore, that hire is a bad investment. This is the fault of the company, not the employee.

Remote companies want their employees to grow and develop. Unfortunately, those employees need to impact the business first then navigate that personal growth themselves.

This shortcoming is caused by the types of companies that currently work remotely and by the inherent nature of remote work.

Learning Curves

All new hires must learn their new company and their role, even if they are already experts in the field.

New remote hires must also learn how to be effective working remotely. Most new hires at remote companies are working remotely for the first time.

Learning a new company and how to work remotely is a lot. The latter requires breaking old habits and building new ones. With these barriers to success to contend with, remote companies try to minimize the learning curve of the new hire's role.

At most remote companies, new hires need to be able to step in and do their job right away. They will become more effective over time, but remote companies need them to make an impact as soon as possible.

Structural Barriers

Training remotely is hard.

Training videos, how-tos, and SOPs are good tools to train someone remotely and asyncronously.

If you can't sit next to your trainee, hands-on, proactive training is impossible. The constant feedback loop of an in-person trainer or mentor is lost on a remote team. Even if you have the extra staff and time (doubtful), the logistics are difficult.

Ideally, you would want an always-on video which feels weirdly invasive when done remotely. In-person, this level of proximity wouldn't feel weird at all.

Remote companies work best when designed around asyncronous communication. Guided, peer-to-peer training with real-time feedback is a great way to learn but is the opposite of asynchronous. Remote teams have to break their most important habit to do the best training possible. Otherwise, your trainee will always be waiting on a Slack or email response to move forward, slowing down the speed of training.

Staff

Aside from Automattic, few remote companies are over 100 people. Most are much smaller. Tortuga has less than 10 people, which isn't uncommon.

Companies of this size are often too small for a dedicated learning and development (L&D) team or employee. Teams of less than 20 usually don't even have an HR person. At Tortuga, I'm the HR person in addition to being the CEO.

Without dedicated L&D staff, new hires don't get trained. Other teammates can't easiy carve out time from their full-time job to train new hires.

What Remote Companies Look For

Here is where we try to have our cake and eat it too.

Remote companies hire for impact. We want to hire someone who is already great at his/her role.

We also want them to have the potential to grow into a larger role in the future. The best people don't want to do a job they're already great at forever. They want to use their expertise to ease the learning curve at a new company. Once they're acclimated, they want to learn and to be challenged. They want to get better. A remote company must give them the room to do so.

Impact now is more important than potential later, but we also want someone with potential. Greedy, I know.

Small, remote companies have different priorities than larger, colocated companies. Larger companies have the staff and resources to hire a lot of students directly from college with minimal experience.

Enterprise's management training program is designed to hire for potential and to train new employees both in how Enterprise works and in how to manage a branch.

Enterprise wants a "clean slate." Remote companies need a certified expert.

Expanding the Pool of Remote Employees

Remote work appeals to younger people who want the flexibility to travel and to design a life on their terms. If we, as remote employers, can't hire and adequately train junior employees, we are limiting our companies' growth and the opportunities that we can offer to our teammates.

Right now, mid-careeer professionals are the best fit for remote work. They are young enough to value remote work and to not fear that moving out of an office will ruin their careers. Yet, they're experienced enough to impact the business immediately. They may have also reached one of the inflection points that lead people to seek out remote work: being burnt out, moving, getting married, or having kids.

The First Step is Admitting That You Have a Problem

Training is a weakness for most remote companies.

We need to first be honest with ourselves about the current state of remote work hiring and training. Potential employees should know that this is a challenge for remote companies and workers. We have to acknowledge this problem before we can begin to fix it.

We, as remote employers, have to push through this challenge collectively to take remote work from the fringe to the mainstream. Remote work will only become the default if we can hire a wider range of ages and experience levels and give those new hires the tools to grow and to be successful at our companies.

The faster we solve this problem, the sooner the remote revolution will arrive. This is an industry-wide shortcoming that we must all get better at together.

Any suggestions?