I love this article published in the HBR, February 8th, 2016 by Cassandra Frangos, Cisco Systems
I ran into a former HR colleague at a conference last month. We got to talking and she mentioned she was finding it difficult to hire a cyber security expert. I wasn’t surprised. Security talent is scarce in the tech sector right now. “I found someone phenomenal, but she’s in Washington State, and she won’t move to our cyber security group in San Francisco,” my friend lamented.
I said the first words that popped into my head: “That’s great.”
Hiring a candidate who is going to work remotely has three levels of benefits.
- The company benefits. Removing location as a limiting factor offers organizations access to (literally) all the talent in the world.
- Hiring managers benefit, because they have an opportunity to create diverse teams. For instance, it’s widely accepted that people who come together from different backgrounds bring new information and diverse perspectives.
- Individual employees benefit, because they can live where they want, close to family or perhaps in a place that has the type of climate they prefer.
Most organizations say they are more open-minded than ever about virtual teams, and yet they still have old-school systems in place for hiring people across the country or around the world. From where I sit, the overlapping barriers come down to structure, culture, and mindset.
Structurally, many organizations remain hierarchical. Decisions are still passed down from one to many as opposed to emanating from small, autonomous teams.
Culturally, the face-to-face meeting is still an important symbol of productivity. Want to finish something? Sit around a table together and get it done.
Mindset is the toughest impediment of all. Many traditional leaders fear a loss of control if they give people the latitude to work where they can’t be overseen.
This way of working is no longer sustainable. The talent gap in certain technical specialties, such as security and data science, is one reason. A more universal reason is that removing location as a limiting factor gives organizations a lot more freedom to find and hire the very best global talent — and keep them. How do you make virtual teams the rule rather than the exception? What kind of process do you need in place for hiring that superstar in Washington State? Four things are required:
Do deeper due diligence. No matter how sophisticated the process, companies usually design interview questions to rate a candidate’s experience and fit — in other words, to find out whether they have the skills to succeed and the mindset to thrive in their specific corporate culture. In hiring virtual candidates, however, you need to dig deeper.
This next level of direct questioning should assess whether the person is independent, passionate about their work, and collaborative. They need to be flexible and willing to travel and know that corporate headquarters is still where the action takes place. In addition, the most important experience this individual should have is past success working remotely. Find out how they made it work and double down on the due diligence.
I live in Boston — 3,000 miles away from Cisco’s San Jose headquarters. I work with executives around the globe; so being on Telepresence and Webex is a natural way we communicate. Still, there are many times when I need to be at corporate headquarters because important conversations need to occur in person and because informal hallway banter can surface new ideas and accelerate solutions.
Look at leadership capabilities. Consider the individual’s leadership style and how he or she projects himself or herself. In order to make an impression from afar, people need to stand out in a crowd and be an advocate for their ideas. In addition, the organization needs to scrutinize not only the candidate but also the manager to whom they will report. Remote employees need someone who will advocate for them regardless of where they live. Does the leader have the experience and dynamism to lead virtual teams? Does she value results over face time? Is her compensation tied to the success of her team?
Invest heavily in relationships. I recently ran across a team of three dynamic leaders who manage a business unit in tandem from three separate cities. Operating out of Germany, New Jersey, and San Jose, California, respectively, the trio is a high-functioning, collaborative team. How do they do it? They respect each other and communicate constantly. Initially, they invested significant, in-person time to forge the relationship. They understand each other extremely well and now they finish each other’s sentences. They tackle tough customer issues in unison and are on the phone or video together constantly. They’ve been together for several years and it works because they attend to their relationship.
Do a logistics and tech check. Setting people up to succeed off-site requires attention to IT support and infrastructure. Can people easily teleconference from their mobile device or PC? Are all team members comfortable using collaboration tools? Is any data flow to and from the virtual team secure, and do all team members understand the company security protocols? At Cisco, we use technology to make communication as dynamic as possible. When language and cultural differences come into play, for instance, seeing each other over a video feed that’s clear and reliable can make a big difference in deepening the interaction.
The last part of hiring people who are going to work remotely is knowing when it won’t work. There are some jobs where location is fixed. In some companies, for instance, the head of sales needs to work in close proximity to the CEO. For other mission-critical positions, it is necessary to be face to face with local accounts or available for the community.
Yet, I would argue that this is quickly becoming the exception, rather than the rule. Knocking down the cultural and psychological barriers that make hiring the best global talent impossible can open everyone’s eyes to the virtues of a more dynamic working environment.
Cassandra Frangos is vice president for global executive talent and organizational development at Cisco Systems. Connect with her on Twitter: @c_frangos.
MaxCo Advisors, April 2016