How to Hire Remote Workers in a Crisis

by Susan Mullin

Does making a remote hire seem impossible during this chaotic time?

It may seem very difficult, if not insurmountable, to keep your hiring pipeline in a time of crisis. Economic unknowns and the potential for a remote work setup can be stressful! The good news is that there are options to help you maintain recruiting and hiring momentum—and even fill in resource gaps if you are in a hiring freeze.

The TorchLight team has worked remotely since our founding in 2012 and already recruits remotely using the phone and video conferencing. Though your situation may be stressful and scary to many people, your business needs may still be there. Here are some suggestions to help you keep the pipeline and your projects moving whether you are laying off employees, in a hiring freeze or free to hire.

If You’re Laying Off Employees or in a Hiring Freeze

We know the work doesn’t disappear just because a hiring freeze goes into effect. If full-time hires are off the table, perhaps you can advocate for hiring remote contractors and consultants, whether on a project-basis or to help backfill staff medical leaves, which may be higher than usual. This enables you to keep key initiatives moving without stretching your already swamped team to their limits with more work.

Like all consultants and freelancers, you avoid benefit costs and can try someone out without committing to a full-time hire (that you can’t make any way at this point!). If they end up working out, you may have someone ready to go when you get the green light on hiring again.

What about the candidates you were seriously considering for a position that is now on hold? Whether you’ve had phone or in-person interviews, we’ve found it’s worth the time and effort to stay in touch with these potential new team members by sending them periodic updates on hiring status.

No one knows how long a crisis lasts, but you will eventually be able to hire again. During this time, good communication with would-be hires can provide comfort and show that you value them. Wouldn’t it be great if you could quickly hire high-quality candidates you’ve already vetted (to various degrees) versus starting from scratch?

Continuing to communicate with candidates also helps build rapport and trust with the candidate—which can help build the company’s reputation among other jobseekers.

If You’re Still Able to Hire

You had the approval to bring that much-needed employee on (either contract or direct hire), you’ve had several interviews and then BAM—everyone is on lockdown and working from home, or some other culture shift. This is a real opportunity as you have less competition for candidates and could find a number of new top-quality employees. What should you do? Don’t wait! How can you push forward to hire remote employees? You can keep your hiring process rolling by moving it online. When faced with this shift, most hiring managers will have to readjust their hiring process:

Move from in-person interviews to video

The good news is that you can still do a live interview with Zoom, Skype, Google, Teams and other tools. While you may not be able to actually shake their hands (or bump elbows), you will be able to look them in the eye, get a sense of their poise and confidence (or lack thereof) and, in particular, their ability to communicate effectively in a potentially challenging setup. If you often do panel interviews, there is no reason why that can’t continue through video. If they can shine in a video interview, imagine how they will do in person!

Once you have the technology up and running (and maybe even completed a little tutorial to help you get comfortable if you aren’t already), you can treat the video interview in the same way you would an in-person interview. We recommend that you try to find a secure, quiet space (not an easy feat given kids, pets and other interruptions). You may want to do a practice run to make sure you are 100% confident about your setup.

Keep in mind that candidates may have a few interruptions too, given the current circumstances so you may need to cut them a little slack when it comes to a barking dog or child that enters the room. Those interruptions will also give you a glimpse into how they handle the unexpected. Do they yell at their child/dog? Or do they calmly address them and move them on and maybe even introduce them? Video interviews offer new opportunities to evaluate their fit with your organization and will also allow them to evaluate you as a manager. How you react is equally important to the candidate as well.

Building trust without actually meeting my remote hire

It’s understandable that moving to a remote hiring process could feel difficult. But given the workload and limited hiring window you may have, we encourage you to take a leap of faith and give it a try. You definitely won’t be alone as many companies are going to be forced to run at least some of their hiring process virtually to keep their businesses moving. To mitigate concerns, you may want to consider more interview rounds (and different kinds of questions ) than you typically would, along with trial assignments. Here’s a helpful list of questions to help assess remote work candidates from the Society of Human Resource Management.

Remote employee onboarding and training

How do you make a new hire feel prepared and welcome in a remote environment?  Digital onboarding is becoming more common due to necessity. Due to the fast-changing nature of shelter in place, several of our clients were forced to onboard virtually last week and more will have to do so in the near future. While this isn’t an ideal situation, it allows you have to the resource now rather than waiting for an indeterminate amount of time.

Using technology

We have been onboarding virtually for 8 years at TorchLight. We handle the administrative side of onboarding completely online (forms, benefits, payroll information, etc.) which saves a lot of time and paper. To help new employees get up to speed on the organization, the culture, and their jobs, we created a virtual training program using available technology. We’ve found it helpful to have a detailed training agenda and a short pre-meeting with the various trainers to ensure that we’re organized and on the same page. A well-organized training experience goes a long way towards helping a new hire feel more confident and cared for. Also, assigning a mentor or team buddy can be helpful for a new team member so that they have another go-to person to connect with to help navigate the organization.

One of our current clients suggested that to effectively onboard a new employee using remote technology “it takes good communication, a trusted admin to run the paperwork, and a flexible contractor who is ready to roll with some bumps.” Speaking of communication and flexibility, it goes both ways. It’s important for managers to have a conversation with your new hire about how they like to receive information and how you prefer that they reach out. Is email best? A phone call? Everyone is different and in a remote environment, having a flexible approach to your employees is key.


Last but not least, don’t forget to introduce them to the team! While this may seem more complicated in a remote setting, you can easily host a virtual welcome coffee or happy hour with the entire group. You can also send flowers or a plant to their remote office if that’s possible. While they may seem like little things, these personal touches help your new employees feel valued and connected to you, the team and the company. Check out this helpful article from Fast Company on effective ways to onboard employees.

Now what?

So, you’ve done it! You’ve made your first remote hire, completed onboarding and training and now they are up and running. What’s next? Just like your other employees, whether in-office or remote, we recommend you set up regular check-ins and keep the communication flowing between you and your new hire, as well as with the entire team. Here’s a link to our blog on remote team setup and communication.

We hope our advice has been helpful and we’ll be back soon with more perspectives on remote team performance management tips and tools, remote leadership and other important topics.

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Posted in , Hiring Managers, Remote Work