When hiring at Tortuga,
[W]e look for signals that someone can be productive outside of an office.
From Why We Work Remotely
Andrew Youderian asked me for more specifics on his Ecommerce Fuel Podcast. You can hear my answer there, but this article will elaborate on that answer.
Given that most people don't have remote work experience, how can you filter potential new hires for those who can be successful outside of an office?
Previous Remote Work Experience
Past performance is the best predictor of future performance. If a candidate has successfully worked remotely in the past, she has the potential to thrive at another remote company.
This is an obvious point but must be included.
Previous experience doesn't have to mean that someone worked 100% remotely for one of the high profile distributed companies like Basecamp or Buffer.
Did this person work from home on Fridays? Did they have to be productive outside of an office because of work-related travel? Did they work remotely for a time because of a personal or family circumstance?
Candidates do not have to have worked at a distributed company to have remote work experience. Any remote experience is a useful signal, especially if the candidate had to convince her manager to permit it.
History of Self-Starting
For candidates without remote work experience, you have to look for other qualities or experiences that suggest she will be a good remote worker. Not everyone who is productive in an office can be productive from home.
Beyond experience, I look for signals that a candidate is a self-starter. Every company says that they want to hire self-starters. Remote companies have no choice. Without a boss looking over your shoulder or officemates setting a precedent, you must take initiative on your own and motivate yourself. You must have an intrinsic desire to do good work. If your output depends on managerial oversight or peer pressure, you won't be as productive of a remote worker.
Let's discuss what experience signals that someone is a self-starter.
Following orders is easy. Providing the push to get a project off the ground and to escape velocity is hard.
Freelance Work or a Side Hustle
A history of freelance work (either full or part-time) or side hustles bodes well for potential remote workers. In both cases, one must start something from scratch and keep it going, whether that's a freelance graphic design business, an Etsy store, or a few hours Ubering on the weekends.
Reaching a full-time income or other markers of success are less important than starting something and perservering through some bad times. You don't have to have freelanced for years as long as you have pushed through some rough patches. Starting something is great but make sure that the candidate didn't quit at the first sign of difficulty. You want someone who can start new initiatives and overcome obstacles.
Intrapreneurship is like entrepreneurship but done within a larger company. Rather than starting a new company, an intrapreneur may start a new project or new line of business within a larger, existing company.
If you're hiring someone to work for you, intrapreneurial experience is nearly as valuable as entrepreneurial experience. When you hire someone, you want them to apply their skills and expertise to your business. That's exactly what intrapreneurs do. Starting a new company from zero may be harder but intrapreneurial experience is closer to what you're asking a new employee to do: use existing resources and her expertise to grow your business.
Starting Something, Anything
Lastly, any history of starting something, even outside of the business world, is a good signal that a candidate can take initiative and lead others.
Examples could be starting a non-profit or volunteering organization, founding a college group or club, or organizing intramural sports teams.
We've all been in situations where a group shows interest in something (starting a team, taking a trip), but no one individual is willing to step up, take responsibility, and make it happen. The person who does is the one that you're looking to hire.
To my fellow remote founders: What did I miss? What else do you look for to know whether or not someone will thrive working remotely? Let me know on Twitter.