As employers scramble to meet the demand for remote work, many organizations are saying all the right things to prospective employees without being dedicated to, or effective at, building a healthy, high-performing remote or hybrid workplace. Not all remote workplaces are equal, and the flexibility afforded by remote work is less valuable when the remote workplace doesn’t offer adequate connection or a strong underlying culture.
The job search process has always required due diligence from candidates. However, with recruiters feeling immense pressure to deliver candidates and hiring process that are now days versus weeks or months, it can be difficult to get a full understanding of a company’s remote work infrastructure during recruitment. Remember, a recruiter’s job is to get someone in the door; it’s often akin to marketing or sales and may not reflect the reality of the workplace once you get the job.
In this environment, the burden falls on candidates to carefully evaluate a potential remote work opportunity both during and beyond the interview process. In addition to typical job-search fact-finding — asking the right questions in interviews or examining employee review sites such as Glassdoor, for example — candidates must determine whether a workplace ensures that remote employees are treated equally, supported, fulfilled, and effective.
Fortunately, candidates can learn a lot about a company’s effectiveness at remote work during the hiring process. The key is to look for attributes about the organization’s remote culture and ask pointed questions about the principles and norms that dictate the company’s overall culture and remote work experience.
Company Culture and Values
When evaluating if a company has an effective remote culture, start with this key truth: the elements needed for an effective remote company culture are the same ones needed for a great company culture in any type of workplace. Employees vetting whether a potential remote job is right for them should start by seeing if the company has strong cultural principles in place that are aligned to their own values.
Healthy cultures are typically built on clear, consistent core values. Effective core values should not just be marketing slogans that look good on a company wall or website — instead, they should differentiate a company’s culture and indicate what employee behavior is rewarded and what is not. Working remotely prevents a company from spreading a culture through in-person modeling and imitation. But if a company has clear core values that are consistently rewarded and reinforced, it’s easier to ensure that everyone is rowing in the same direction, even if they aren’t sharing a physical workspace.
As a first step, it helps to research the company early in the application process and become familiar with the organization’s values — either by finding them on the company’s website or by asking for them before the interview. From there, ask interviewers questions about those values in the actual interview.
For example, you should ask the interviewer to share the company’s values and watch how they respond. Does the interviewer know any of the core values, or do they have to look them up? You will know in a matter of seconds after you ask.
You can also ask more specific questions, such as “How do core values factor into employee evaluations and advancement?” “How does the company respond when employees don’t meet the core values?” Ask for specific examples, not abstract concepts. You might even ask, “When were you last recognized for demonstrating a company core value?”
Any interviewer should be able to answer these questions confidently if the company’s values are genuine and consistent. Unfortunately, this isn’t guaranteed; research by the employee recognition software firm Fond found that at 70% of organizations, fewer than half of employees can name the company’s values.
Doing research outside the interview is essential as well. It’s useful to search the company on Glassdoor or a comparable review site to see what employees say about the culture and working experience. If the company truly has strong, consistent core values, they’ll likely show up in their Glassdoor reviews.
If a company has strong core values, it’s a good sign that the organization has a consistent, healthy culture, which is a prerequisite for effective remote work. If it doesn’t, you may be better off walking away.
Remote Work Strategy
Candidates should also determine whether a company has fully committed to a strong remote work environment or whether flexible and remote work is only used to entice people to join the company.
The reality is that many companies invented their remote work policies on the fly in 2020 and have not yet determined their go-forward virtual work strategy. For example, according to McKinsey and Company, 40% of employees say their employer has not communicated a vision for their organization’s future workplace model, and 28% say that what they’ve heard is vague.
Some companies that offer remote roles will have a supported strategy for implementing virtual work and incorporating remote employees into their organization. Others will haphazardly pursue some hybrid of in-person and remote work in an attempt to avoid setting norms and keep everyone happy. Candidates need to know before joining a company whether its remote policy is a well-planned strategy with supporting systems and processes, or an attempt to avoid having to pick a strategy at all.
To find out before you take the job, it’s crucial to ask how often remote employees are expected to be in the office. An employer should be able to provide clear guidelines for how often a remote employee must come to work in-person, especially if the role is only partially remote. Do remote employees come to the office on an as-needed basis, on specific days each week, or on certain days each month? A hiring manager at a company with a clear, consistent hybrid strategy will be able to tell you explicitly.
Beyond that, candidates should ask how prevalent remote work is at the organization. There’s a big difference between joining a predominantly remote organization or team and being one of the only remote employees on a team that typically works in the same physical space. You might also ask to speak with an employee who works remotely on a team that is mostly together otherwise.
Remember, these questions don’t just determine what you’ll need to do once you join the team; they also will help you discover what you can expect from your colleagues. It’s useful to know when you can expect colleagues to be available, when you might be able to join them for in-person work, and what opportunities you’ll have to make peer connections.
It’s even helpful to ask specific questions about how a company handles common situations in remote or hybrid work. If some employees are in-person and some are remote, how do they handle one-on-one, team, department, or all-company meetings? What about quarterly reviews? It can be frustrating to be one of the few remote employees joining a conference call or video conference with a bunch of employees in a conference room. In these situations, it’s hard for employees to see, hear, or participate, and a lack of careful planning for those situations may indicate an absence of remote-friendly norms in other functions.
Finally, it’s useful to ask what sort of tech infrastructure the company has in place, and how their technology supports remote work. Remote work requires digital communication and collaboration tools, and an interviewer should be able to share with you which digital tools they use in their daily work.
These questions should not be difficult for interviewers to answer. The best remote organizations will have already executed according to these details and will be able to tell you what you can expect when you join the team.
And, of course, you don’t need to depend only on interviewers to get this information. Back-channel references are a common tactic employers use to vet candidates — reaching out to former managers via LinkedIn to verify what a candidate is telling them, for example. You might consider reaching out to a former employee of your prospective company to ask them what their remote work experience was like. Because they no longer work at the company, you might get a more honest answer about what it’s really like to work for the organization.
A common misconception about remote organizations is that remote employees never connect in-person. In contrast, the best remote organization know that creating opportunities for people to meet and bond in-person helps build the trust and connectivity necessary for effective virtual work.
Candidates should ask if the company hosts all-company events or smaller in-person social events, co-working days, or other opportunities to connect in-person. Companies that invest in in-person meeting opportunities — even something akin to a well-planned annual summit — create connections within their teams that carry over into the rest of the year. Most remote employees don’t want to work from home to avoid seeing people — they often just want more flexibility or the chance to ditch their painful commute — and do want in-person team-building and connection. It’s important for job seekers to know if a company offers those opportunities before accepting a remote job.
As more employees demand remote opportunities, the job market will be flooded with partially or fully remote roles. However, just as in any marketplace, some of these companies will be offering opportunities that are less rewarding than they seem — and may result in buyer’s remorse. Candidates must do their due diligence and ask the right questions to determine if they are walking into a good hybrid or remote environment, before accepting the job. Otherwise, the Great Resignation of 2021 may be followed by a great boomerang in 2022.