excerpt from the upcoming book ‘Without Office’ by E. Mironichev

A remote employee’s key distinction is his or her specialization. At a standard office, what’s often prized is a master of all trades, and the staff is usually comprised of multitaskers. In contrast, a remote team operates more efficiently when fast turnaround is required on the job when each team member works in his or her specialization. How this works is that 2 or 3 remote workers will replace a single office worker, but each of them will work for several hours strictly in his or her narrow specialization.

Even before the search begins, you need to describe on a single page (no more):

  • How the end results will be measured. For example, for content marketing, the aim might be generating 2 new articles for a site per week of at least 500 words. And for e-mail marketing, this might be 4 email mailings a week, or perhaps even the sales volume resulting from a mass mailing.
  • The details on the ideal workflow for the project. For example, once a week we discuss new topics for articles, spending an hour on this.
  • What source data and materials are already available for the project, and what is needed. For example, we might already have a list of topics for articles, with a short description for some, and drafts that are ready for publication for others, but we need more illustrations.
  • A monthly or weekly budget for this task. The budget can also be worked out in the course of the search for the right team for the job, meaning they’ll let you know what they require to do the job.
  • Who is the ideal candidate in terms of experience, professional skills, and work volume. For example, a former or current marketing manager with six months’ experience creating articles for a site.

First, you can simply jot down what you need to do, then consider your list of requirements to make sure it’s complete. Then, you can use it in a posting on a freelance marketplace.

If your goal is to find an employee for long-term collaboration, then this approach works best: Post a small sub project related to the main project, and see how the candidate copes with it, how he carries out the task. There was a time that, after several problems with new workers resulting in significant damage to existing projects, I began to start out new hires by giving them small projects with deadlines ranging from several hours to several weeks. This approach also lets you see what the new hire is capable of doing. And according to a  book by a former employee of Automattic, before assigning a major project to a new freelancer, the company first assigns him or her to work in customer support for WordPress.com. Automattic makes the technology behind WordPress.com’s online website hosting service, so by working in customer support, new hires learn the product better, communicate with customers, demonstrate their remote work skills and collaborate with other team members before becoming a full member of the team.

But maybe you don’t have any ideas for small test projects. Well, I’m sure that if you think about it and are patient, some small tasks will manifest among what needs to be done. Also, jot down any ideas for new products and services. And it’s very important that you ensure the test project you select isn’t critical to your operations, and won’t impact your core business. Otherwise, any failure by a new employee in his or her first project could result in big losses.

As regards test projects, the risk of failure should be seen as part of the hiring process, and so you must pay for any work submitted, regardless of the outcome. Of course, this does not apply to cases of out-and-out fraud. For example, I’ve been in situations where programmers used someone else’s code as their own, or copywriters tried to submit plagiarized text as their original writing.

For content marketing, you can start, for example, with an assignment to write a short note on a select topic. If you are satisfied with the results, you can then ask them to write a feature article. And only then, once you’re happy with the quality, move on to regular collaboration, ordering several feature articles a month.

If you still find it difficult to come up with a good test project for new hires, then consult with an expert on hiring remote employees. There are many freelancers on marketplaces who manage their own small remote team. You can post the job, and just put it out there that you need advice and help in formulating what the project consists of. And don’t feel like you have to give the project to whoever comes forward to help you work out the details!  

For inspiration, look at projects previously posted by other companies. Just do a keyword search and see how other customers described their projects, and what they consisted of. In fact, it often turns out that 90% of projects have already been implemented in one form or another. This is especially true when it comes to global freelance marketplaces that host millions of projects, such as Upwork or Freelancer.com.

So what happens if you post the ad, but there are very few responses? Remember that the purpose of your posting is not just to describe what you need, but to do your best to “sell” your project. If the description of the project is interesting, even tempting, then potential candidates are more likely to be interested in it, and might even offer you better rates (sort of like how Tom Sawyer got his friends to paint his fence for free).

An example from my practice: I needed to create a small application for automated correspondence in a chat using the very latest tools, which, by the way, were a hot topic on the Internet.

First I posted an ad something like this:

I need an application – a chatbot, which will respond to users based on a prepared table with answers.

This generated a lot of responses, but anyone willing to take on the project asked for a very healthy compensation.

I changed my posting as follows:

A unique opportunity to get to know the latest tools and acquire hands-on experience with the hottest new app chatbots!

In no time, I found a programmer who not only took on the project at an affordable cost but was grateful for the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology.

When posting a job, consider the time and day of the week. The best time to post something is at the start of the workday, or else very late at night. But to accurately assess what time works best for you, make the effort to repost your ad, i.e., place it on the site yet again. Many online marketplaces let you repost ads free of charge.

After posting your ad, determine for yourself how many candidates you need before making preliminary contact. If you sit around tracking each new response to your ad, you’ll waste your time. You’re better off waiting for a pool of 5-7 responses, and then getting back to each one of them, asking for details. Then, move on to the next collection of 5-7 applicants, repeating the process. This is more effective than taking the time to respond to each applicant in real time.

What if you don’t want to openly describe your project for one reason or another? In this case, place a short general description of the project, for example:

I need someone to create a mobile app, or I need someone to create a website:

In the posting, indicate that you will provide a detailed description of the project on request. Some freelance sites let you set it up so that the posting of the project can be viewed only after a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is signed. However, I myself don’t recommend this approach, as it greatly reduces the number of potential applicants and immediately suggests that the project is high-end, i.e. costly. As a rule, veteran remote workers are ready to sign an NDA later, after discussing the project and before starting work on it.

Please note that, as a rule, solid, quality freelancers are already busy and don’t look at new postings about projects. Therefore, in my experience, you shouldn’t hesitate to turn to the freelance directory run by the marketplace and manually send out invitations to apply for the project. After spending no more than an hour on this, you’ll get more candidates of a higher caliber.

Peter Schekochikhin (co-founder of Work-zilla.com) talked about his experience with hiring in his company:

In our company, all employees work remotely. And over the course of 7 years of service, weve worked out a system whereby we hire only people who really suit us. In short, the algorithm is as follows: resume => questionnaire => interview => testing => trial period.

At the first stage, we announce an opening wherever we can, and we gather together the resumes. We ask those candidates whose resumes are of interest to us to fill out a short questionnaire. To do this, we create a form in Google Drive with ten questions. We ask the potential candidate to describe his or her experience in the field related to the project. We also ask them to indicate their usual working hours in Moscow time (and see how much our schedules intersect its important that there’s an overlap of at least 4 working hours). We always include situational questions in the questionnaire: “Imagine that you have to handle such and such a situation. What would you do?” So, at this stage, we usually end up with a list of 3-5 worthy candidates. We thank everyone for participating in the selection process, and continue on with the best candidates. Then we conduct an interview in Skype where we set a small test task to test the candidates professional acumen (something like the notorious “Sell me this pen” challenge). After this begins a paid trial period.

A small business can employ another process. I like to think that it was developed by our customers. First, they place on the service several small tasks, for example, “Call 25 contacts”. And then they wait to see how the remote workers carry out this task. They listen to their calls, and form a consensus. If they liked someones performance, they offer him or her work on an ongoing basis. The downside to this method is that a freelancer may not be interested in full-time work. If that’s the case, you’ve wasted your time. Plus, you’ve immediately checked out the candidates in action, without wasting time on resumes and interviews.

If you are looking for workers on a freelance marketplace, be sure to examine the reviews provided by other customers, as well as the potential candidate’s portfolio. The more details about the concrete results of a project and about the specific work carried out, the better.

And again: even if it seems to you that the candidate is ideal, always start with small test projects, gradually increasing the work load. Only then can you assess the freelancer’s ability to meet your requirements, as well as his or her ability to work effectively with you as a remote worker. A beautiful resume really isn’t the same as actual skills that produce real results.

Briefly:

  • The effectiveness and results of your quest to find the right remote employee hinges on the quality of your posting for the project.
  • Always start any remote collaboration with a small, simple project.