To remote work or not - that is the question.

About two years ago, David Heinemeier Hansson, founder of ruby on rails and partner at 37Signals, wrote a really strong worded piece on the merits of remote hiring. According to him, he had no sympathy for companies that complain about lack of developer talent which also have stringent rules against remote working…

It’s 2013 and earlier this year, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, made the headlines by banning work from home for all Yahoo employees. This sparked quite a difference of opinion among people within Yahoo and the technical fraternity of the world - one which was for the move and another which was against.

There will always be those who prefer working remotely rather than working from an office and vice-verse. But when you’re starting up, you’re probably not going to have a swanky office like that of a Yahoo and there’s a good chance that you’re not an ideal catchment area for developers. In such a case, you will have to resort to working remotely, so as to get the best developers working for you.

Barriers in communication exist even when you’re face to face, so the distance isn’t going to help. But, you have no other choice. The best you can do is to know as much about a person’s remote working facilities and habits before engaging with them.

And here’s how you do it -

1) Has he or she worked remotely before this

If you’re the kind who likes to work on assignments before hiring, you will get a fair understanding of this in your interactions with the developer. Their mail interactions will not only give you an idea of their responsiveness, but also give you a rough idea of how digitally savvy they are (check for their device on the signature 😉 )

But, it would be good to ask them about their past experiences in working remotely. Issues like a flaky internet connection, or a power shut down or a device crash could have occurred in their previous tenure and it will be good to know how they handled it back then or how they would handle it if it were the case when you’re working with them.

Also, they would be familiar with task management tools like Asana or Trello and many others, which should be a fair measure of weather they’ve worked with a team that didn’t under the same roof.

Experience of having worked remotely is a plus, but if the candidate is communications savvy, can handle internet related issues and is familiar with working on task management tools, then you can give them a shot.

2) Did he/she complete the project in their last remote assignment?

The current internet solutions are fairly reliable and it is often a matter of self discipline which decides what the effectiveness of the employee. Along with your experience with them on their initial assignment, it will be good to know what the person has shipped working remotely, and how.

If the product he/she was working on in the past didn’t see fruition, there is a good chance that developer was responsible for it. If this is the case, it is a huge red light; don’t hire the guy. And even if the product did come to life, what was the developer’s contribution to it and what was his/her employers’ experience working with them.

These are good questions to ask and most of your decision can be made right here.

3) See what you can do.

The probable candidate is a good coder, has a good track record and is aware of everything that needs to be done. But their infrastructure isn’t good enough. He/she is probably running a low end laptop on a not so fast connection. And we all know what bad internet connections do to developers!

One of the advantages of having an office space, is the surety that the infrastructure is good and it works. Try to provide them with the same for their homes as well. If budget permits, it might not be a bad idea to invest in a good machine and a fast internet connection. It will still work out cheaper than the developer hours that you will lose because of the issues that the very same things cause.

4) Get the team to meet

As your startup grows, you probably have an office and as you’ve seen the benefits of remote working as well, so you’re doing both. As you hire more remote developers on a full time basis, it’s probably a good idea to fly them down to your office; nothing like a good old face to face quality time.

This practice is observed fervently in companies like GitHub. An answer on Quora said

"I'm a GitHubber working from Columbus, Ohio. In my particular case, I was burned out on freelance work (~7 years) and I reached out to GitHub to ask about possible opportunities. I was contracted to redesign the git-scm.com site and was then flown out to SF to talk about possibly working full time. As Ben mentioned above, all remote candidates fly out to SF to meet as many GitHubbers as possible."

As for knowing how people are doing, communication is transparent and constant. We use Campfire in addition to discussions on github.com (issues, pull requests, etc.). People are encouraged to work on what excites them, so everyone is naturally self-motivated on Quora

Read more on how GitHub evaluates remote employee here.

And on that, what has your experience of working with remote employees been like? Share your views with us.

About the Author

Raghu Mohan
Raghu is an engineering grad handles Marketing at HackerEarth. Prior to this, he was an editor at YourStory.com. When he’s not working, you can find him at the nearest music shop having a jam session.
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