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Recruiting, Onboarding and Managing People Remotely, Part 2: An Interview with Priya Bhasin

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 Kia ora koutou katoa!

The onset of COVID-19 has forced many companies across Aotearoa to adopt work-from-home policies before they were ready, and this presents even greater challenges if you’ve recently hired or plan to hire in the near future.

To help you adapt with minimal disruption to your business, we have created a two-part interview series sharing insights from experts in our network on managing work, recruiting, conducting interviews and onboarding new employees remotely without missing a beat.

In part two, we talked with Deal iQ founder, Priya Bhasin. Previous roles in her impressive career include Commercial and Procurement Manager for ICT at IRD and Global Director at Lenovo.

In this interview, Priya provides insight into remote hiring and interviewing, including the types of questions to ask, and offers her advice on managing teams and maintaining the company culture in remote situations.

What do employers need to know when recruiting and interviewing people remotely?

Priya: When recruiting remotely in this day and age, you have tools such as Skype available for interviews, which allow you to get a feel of the candidate’s personality and nuances. But like with any interview situation, people will put forward their best side (it’s human nature), so you should make the effort to interview more than once. Rather than doing an hour-long interview with somebody, you could break this up into smaller blocks of time with two or three half-hour interviews. Usually by the third time you speak to someone, you've already started to establish a rapport and are better able to assess their credibility, style of communication and relationship building skills.

I recommend asking questions that will allow you to gauge personality type – something that is really important regardless of whether they're going to be physically located in your office or not. Ask specific questions, such as:

  • How do you identify your priorities and manage time?
  • How do you build credibility with stakeholders?
  • Give me an example of a time when you were about to miss a deadline. How did you react? What would you have done differently?
  • How do you communicate with people when deadlines are getting held up due to something out of your control?
  • How do you manage difficult stakeholders?
  • How can I assist you in these situations as a manager? Are you likely to come to me early with that problem or do you prefer to try everything you can before you come to your manager?
  • This is how our culture is at the moment. How do you think you'd fit into that?

Reference checking is also really important. Your reference check questions should be along the lines of:

  • Have you ever had any problems with this person's time management?
  • How good are they at managing priorities and asking for help when needed?
  • What do you see as the main areas of personal growth?
  • Has this person ever had an issue at work where they haven't gotten along with somebody? How did they deal with this situation?

Asking these types of questions during the hiring process helps you determine a person’s work style, personality and time management abilities, which obviously become even more essential in a remote situation.

What is the best way to manage teams in a remote situation?

Priya: Contrary to what many leaders believe, you don't need to manage remote work at an incremental level. It’s more important that you’re enabling communication pathways so that your people can identify when they might be having issues with workload or quality output and know the tools available to them. Regular team meetings, as well as checking in individually with everybody at least a couple of times each week, helps to allow team members to raise issues without micro-management.

​These check-ins should start at a macro level and only focus on specific bits of work if required. At the beginning of the week, ask: How are you going this week? What are your priorities? How's your workload? Do you need me to take something off you and reallocate it? Anything I can help with?

And then at the end of the week, ask: How did it go? In your view, what have you not managed to get to this week that you would've liked to? What were the reasons for that? Did you face any challenges? Is there anything I can do to assist you in overcoming them?

Doing this helps people to gain independence and autonomy, and it also keeps you on top of what's going on. These are conversations where you're working as a teammate rather than as a manager, but you're also focusing your conversations with them on what roadblocks they might be facing and how you can help clear those.

Another aspect of managing people remotely is quality assessment – this could mean picking up some of their work occasionally or building a peer review system (an approach that works really well in remote teams). It's about creating a culture that allows people to feel that they don’t always need to go to their manager for something; they can turn to their colleagues as well.

In addition, having the right tools available is also important, such as providing a good template library to ensure people are doing work that looks and feels consistent across the organisation. Also, a team skill base library can be very valuable, so your people know who is good at proofreading or contract negotiation, for example.

How do you continue to foster and maintain the organisational culture remotely?

Priya: Managing your company culture in remote situations is all about getting creative and figuring out ways you can build relationships remotely. It’s important to keep the culture light-hearted and warm. For example, we used to play a word game where somebody would send out some ridiculous words that had to be used in the team meeting. It's about making it a little bit more fun and casual so that people are able to get to know each other. Another strategy I've utilised in the past is from culture and engagement company Updraft, and involves using a scale to help you gauge how people are feeling.

You start the team meeting by asking "out of 10, is there anyone here that is at a five or less?"
This allows you to focus the conversation and support the people that are going through a hard time at work because of workload, a particularly difficult stakeholder or even a personal issue. For a lot of people, there's nothing major that they want to discuss. Perhaps there's a little too much work, but they're coping. But when someone comes in and says they’re at a two, everyone stops to ask, “what's going on? What are you facing in terms of difficulties, what's the next step? How can we help?”

It is so critical that people are supported in this way because you don't want them working in little islands. They need to feel like they're part of something bigger. That if they have a problem, they can pick up the phone and ask somebody – and it doesn't always have to be their manager.

I think that a lot of managers forget that people do business with people, not organisations. Relationships are crucial and so is the skill of building credibility. You want to help your team develop these skills so investment in this area is so important, and even more so in a remote environment. Spend time getting to know your new starter as an individual. What’s their personal situation, how many children do they have, what motivates them? That kind of information usually comes out organically in an office environment, but you need to make an inorganic attempt at eliciting it in a remote team.

At the end of the day, you can't dictate how people are going to get on. All you can do is open up the lines of communication with their colleagues and with you, and take it day by day.

Do you have any advice for organisations that need to hire during this unprecedented time?

Priya: I'd just say don't be too scared about it, because you can make the same mistakes when hiring in-person as you can remotely. You need to stop and ask, what’s the worst that can happen? Because if it's hiring someone who's a bad fit or has over-hyped their skills, for example, that can happen just as easily if you're interviewing face-to-face. So, it's more about how you invest in your team to create an honest, warm and supportive environment to help mitigate those risks if they occur.

In my experience with remote recruitment, I have found that I’ve been, for the most part, pleasantly surprised by people.

Summary

COVID-19 is a temporary disruption (albeit a challenging one) but by adapting to remote work, businesses won’t just weather the storm – they may even come out stronger for it. If you need advice on recruiting, onboarding and managing people remotely, get in touch with us – and be sure to check out part one of this series if you missed it!

Kia kaha!