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Hiring Distributed Talent: How To Make Working For You NOT Suck

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

My previous article “Hiring Distributed Talent: STOP Missing Out” was written out of frustration of the many fundamentally bad practices of the recruitment processes. In this post, I want to take that a step further and offer some practical ideas that would make working for you not only better but also more forward thinking and agile to fit the current (and tomorrow’s) working environment.

1. Rethink your entry requirements: What is that you are REALLY looking for?

What does your candidate ‘shopping list’ aka job description (JD) looks like? Do you require a first-class degree from someone working in a call centre? Do you ask for 5 years minimum experience in a Junior Project Manager position?

Being over-descriptive not only limits the talent pools you access and therefore the diversity of your applicants but is also a ‘red flag’ that you cannot figure out what this role is actually there to do.

The actual words also matter here. According to Kieran Snyder, CEO and co-founder of Textio, a machine learning platform that analyses language patterns, who has analysed over 50 million job postings, have found that removing gendered language alone fills vacancy, on average, two weeks(!!) faster. This combined with your organisational and team’s values, can help you structure what is worth assessing.

Speaking of values and culture… When you go out looking for “culture fit” that is the moment when you already weed out the diversity of thought and background. Diego Rodriguez from IDEO says that instead of “culture fit” employers should be thinking about “culture add” and “culture contribution”. Instead ask “what is missing from our culture?” and “what can this person bring to enrich it?”.

Get realistic about job requirements for the position, and ask yourself, what will really make someone successful in the role; and then match the recruitment process to this.

2. Have clear ‘hats’

Never underestimate the importance of defining roles and responsibilities in business! Many employees (especially now since the mass redundancies) wear several different hats, completing jobs outside the initial range of their job description.

Be explicit and transparent about the responsibilities and accountabilities, so people do not take on too much and become bottlenecks for progress or become subjects to burnout. Clearly defining each employee’s role has a positive impact from everyone knowing what to do and getting things done, improved collaboration and less wasted energy. This will also help you to manage your business more effectively.

Consider a team of doctors and nurses. Before the next ambulance arrives, they might have very little idea of the severity of the condition and what attention the patient will need. However, each person is clear on their specific task regardless of what the condition is.

Similarly, BBC news teams might vary from 60 to 100+ people. And these people will often have a wide range of skills. Nevertheless, when covering breaking news, no one panics, and sound technician suddenly doesn’t start doing camera operator’s job. You might say, this is because such teams do jobs that allow no mistakes. However, think about how much more productive and effective your teams would be if the grey areas of responsibility would be eliminated?

3. Reinvent your meeting culture!

Research conducted by a team in University of North Carolina shows that meetings have increased in length and frequency over the past 50 years, to the point where executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours(!!) a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s. And that doesn’t even include all the impromptu gatherings (or calls) that don’t make it onto the schedule. Sounds familiar? Then, how the hell do you expect any meaningful work get done in your business?

We have all heard of such “solutions” as having a clear meeting agenda, holding a stand-up meeting or delegating it to someone else instead. These are hardly solutions at all, as instead of addressing the problem itself, we put another plaster over the symptom. What gets overlooked is the toll it puts on productivity, focus and engagement, as people start working early, stay late, or jeopardise their evening and weekends with the family to get some of the deep-focus work done.

Here is an example of an alternative (and for some perhaps unorthodox) meeting culture employed by Basecamp. Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, believes that if someone has been working on something for 3 weeks or 3 months, it is unfair to give them 30 seconds in a meeting to talk about it. As we have more and more distributed teams, different time zones, schedules and hopefully more diverse teams, it is important to allow people to share and receive information differently. This is why Basecamp encourages employees to ‘have the stage’ by working out their thoughts for themselves and making a point by writing things down and sharing them as a single unit. The audience can then read it in their own time, uninterrupted and share their thoughts and feedback in an open forum through a chat function, like Slack. Jason has found that this allows to have more meaningful, richer and deeper discussions.

Basecamp only has meetings to do/make something rather than just talk about it. They have lean meetings with only the right (usually a team of three) people working on something real. Do not invite people who add no value in the meeting, as that only feeds presenteeism and eats into them getting actual work done. Even when a meeting is ran well and has a clear agenda, the sheer volume of them is what interrupts the work flow and takes people away from critical tasks.

According to research referenced in Harvard Business Review, as little as three months of rethought organisation’s meeting culture, can bring significant improvements in team collaboration (42% increase), psychological safety to speak up and express opinions (32% increase), and team performance (28% increase). Other aspects of organizational life improved as well, and respondents’ ratings of satisfaction with work/life balance rose from 62% to 92%.

Rethink your meeting culture so it becomes one of your competitive advantages rather than a mood kill!

4. Treat your employees as adults

Don’t go out saying that “when this pandemic is over and we all return to the old normal…”, as this pandemic is just some sort of expensive human experiment. Instead rethink your office culture completely – what does it stand for? How does the work get done around here? What did your office culture offer your employees that they are not able to get elsewhere? On the other end of extreme: if you have decided to shut down your HQ completely, what alternative meet-up solutions are you offering your people? How are your people not only ‘working’ but also collaborating, innovating, being creative and belonging?

Instead of being obsessed about where your employees do their work, think about what you can do to inspire them to bring the best of themselves to work every day. Allow and empower your employees to make decisions for themselves about how to best get their work done and add value to the company. (I have added Netflix HR policy below in the resources for some inspiration on this!)

5. Revise your approach to remuneration and reward

First thing to think about here is – what are you rewarding your people for? Secondly, is your current reward structure still fit-for-purpose and most importantly future-proof?

The reward system needs to become more fluid and consider the workspaces and working environments we are currently in. Is ‘travel allowance’ or ‘company car’ still a required and valid part of remuneration? Could this be changed up for wellbeing related rewards, e.g., massage, wellbeing session or self-development ‘on us’? Perhaps a weekend away in the countryside once a month to change up the environment and reconnect would do miracles for your employees? Granted, some of these might currently not be accessible due to pandemic restrictions, however, once we’ve found our peace with it and learned to integrate it in our daily lives, what will really matter to people?

Also, how transparent and open are you with your employees? Do you, for instance, have salary transparency, or is this not possible because EVERYONE KNOWS that the person sat next to me doing the same job is getting paid more than me? There is no need to be a great negotiator to get paid what you’re worth. Are you showing people you value them and are paying them appropriately from the offset?

In conclusion

Now is crucial time to think about these things, as we are building new working culture, habits and processes from scratch. At the moment we have all gone from one extreme, of doing most to all work from the office, to the other, of doing all of it from home. There is no flexibility and very little boundaries. We have simply brought work home and are simulating the office way of working. This is NOT it, and we have not yet ARRIVED. These, however, are good starting points for your thinking.


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