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Using Project Management Software to Hire Remotely

The past few years have brought a large influx of remote employees into the workforce, with some of the biggest gains in healthcare, IT, education, and sales and marketing industries. While a few prominent companies such as Yahoo remain skeptical, the economy has largely been receptive to the idea of hiring outside of their geographic areas.

Forrester’s US Telecommuting Forecast predicted that 63 million Americans will work from home by 2016. 

There are a number of reasons driving this change—among them broader access to relevant talent, reduced labor costs, and elimination of commute times. A Stanford study from November revealed that working remotely can boost productivity by about 25 percent and save companies $2,000 per employee annually.

The Challenge: Finding Mr. or Ms. Right

Though many companies are eager to take advantage of these benefits, finding ideal job candidates is easier said than done. Working from home requires not only the appropriate skillset for the position, but also a certain work ethic that can be difficult to measure using traditional hiring tools (resume, interview, references) without face-to-face interaction.

If you want to see the same kind of productivity in a remote worker that you’d find in an office employee, you’ll need someone who is self-directing, results-oriented, resourceful, and an excellent communicator. That’s quite a tall order.

To make things more complicated, remote searches usually yield a higher volume of applicants since they’re not restricted by region. If you’re managing the selection process manually (handwritten interview notes, saved emails, spreadsheets), things are going to get tricky, and you may end up making a poor decision. 

How PM Software Can Help

Project Management

Luckily, one of the best tools for extending hiring to remote employees is something you probably already have: your project management software. Here are four ways you can exploit a PM application to accommodate the challenges of long-distance hiring:

1. Use calendars and task management to work across time zones

Communicating with candidates across multiple time zones is not a simple feat. If your office is in Sacramento, but your interviewee lives in New Delhi, you may have to call or Skype at 7 PM in order to catch them awake. If many of your applicants are overseas, you’ll have limited windows of time in which to contact them directly, and building a schedule manually could involve lots of time-zone-Googling, mistakes, cancellations, and so forth. 
Instead, try using the scheduling and task management features built into your PM system to map out your interviews, delegate them to the right people, take notes, and keep track of which ones are completed. Some PM applications—such as Redbooth, for example—even offer integrated video chat.     

2. Create pipelines for the selection process

If you’re careful about who you hire, your selection process is probably more intricate than a basic application-interview-decision sequence. Such caution is especially important when hiring remote employees since they’ll be working under less supervision and with less upfront training. Using project pipelines is an easy way to standardize decisions and make sure each candidate receives the same consideration. 

Your “project,” in this case, would be the candidate. For each task or milestone—depending on the software—you can make comments, assign responsible parties, attach relevant files (resume, cover letter, letters of recommendation, interview notes), and keep the candidate informed about next steps. Software with Kanban boards would be particularly useful in this case. Typical “cards” could include:

a. Initial application
b. Phone interview
c. Skills assessment
d. Video conference with hiring committee
e. Test-run exercise
f. Reference checks
g. Hiring decision
h. Official offer
i. Onboarding
j. Training/Probationary period    

3. Conduct a performance assessment

Many companies already use PM software to track their remote employees’ progress and collaborate with the rest of the team. If you expect new hires to be proficient at this kind of unsupervised productivity and virtual teamwork, why not let them complete a performance assessment inside of the system by giving them role-based access to a test project. This would not only show you how refined their skills are, but also give you detailed insight on their pacing, workflows, and problem-solving methods. Many professionals agree that performance assessments are a vital piece of the hiring process, especially for virtual positions. 

4. Simplify onboarding

Not all remote hires are permanent hires; many are brought on as freelancers with contracts for discrete, short-term projects. From a financial standpoint, the low buy-in obviously means you want to be as conservative as possible with training, management, and onboarding expenses. A project management application quickly connects your new hire or freelancer with their responsibilities and a repository of project resources, instructions, and communication tools. All of this reduces the need for hands-on management. 

In the traditional hiring process, companies use a combination of HR systems and manual tools, and then piece the info together when making a decision. This approach is usually effective because of its biggest asset: the face-to-face interview. The interview is a great equalizer . . . e.g. a candidate has a beautiful resume, but they interrupt all of your questions and don’t seem like a team player, so you move on to someone else. 
Hiring an employee to work for your company in an exclusively digital capacity, on the other hand, is a risky move that requires diligence and set processes. Project management software can help your hiring managers standardize this process for dozens, even hundreds of applicants across multiple time zones.  Whether they wore slacks or pajama bottoms to the video chat will forever remain a mystery, but what really matters is the caliber of work they’ll produce, and you’ll definitely know that.