How to Hire for Your Virtual Office

Matt Volpi

Big tech companies are often in the news for their offices, such as Apple’s circular spaceship design in Cupertino, Facebook’s battles with their neighbors in Menlo Park, Google’s Mountain View “biodome” and Uber’s upcoming glass monstrosity in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Laundry Service, Hair Salons, and Bowling Alleys

We read about catered food, laundry service, hair salons, bowling alleys and slides, each company trying to outdo the next to make their workplaces as hip, cool and convenient as possible to both attract new talent and then keep them there long after “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” has come and gone.How to Hire for Your Virtual OfficeBut out in the real world where unicorns only live in fairy tales there are plenty of companies shifting in the other direction and either scaling back or getting rid of their offices altogether. This isn’t driven by all of their employees asking to work from home, it’s motivated by the increasing geographic diversity of their teams and cutting out the unnecessary overhead of maintaining permanent office spaces.

The Cloud

Thanks to cloud technologies and a host of affordable collaboration options out there, the technical barriers of a distributed, virtual workforce have fallen. Assuming you have broadband and a decent computer, there’s really nothing stopping you from holding a “knowledge worker”-class job without ever setting foot in a cubicle.For the most part, workers in these office-less or office-lite firms have already spent some time in a more traditional office environment. They’ve had years or decades of water cooler chats and company lunches and after work beers. But as more companies move to this model, they will inevitably begin hiring people for whom this is their first job.Obviously anyone getting their first job in 2015 is a digital native; they text their friends even when they’re sitting next to them, already stare at screens all day and they can certainly handle whatever virtual communication and collaboration tools are required. The question is how they’ll respond to a life where getting out of your pajamas is optional every day and there’s no one looking over their shoulder.Will they realize the value of building “office” relationships when there is no office? Will they be self-motivated and not abuse the freedom inherent in a virtual environment? Will they be living in apartments and houses that actually offer a suitable workspace? Will we simply convert vast swaths of future generations into anti-social introverts that can type 200 words a minute but can’t make small talk?These are the questions business owners and managers must consider as they face the new officeless reality so many companies are (logically) embracing. But if you’re going to hire an entry-level worker into a virtual environment, here are a few tips:

1.) Try to make sure they at least live in the same metro area as some of your other employees

While the kid in Wichita might want a little less in compensation, being able to have a face-to-face interaction with a coworker every now and then without getting on a plane is a huge plus.

2.) Identify their support system

While toeing the line of what you can legally ask about, do they have roommates, family nearby, a boyfriend of girlfriend? Knowing that they see other people on a regular basis means they’re not too isolated.

3.) Push them on their self-discipline and motivation

Do they have daily routines that they already do? Have they shown initiative in the past even on things totally unrelated to work? If they’re cut from the “I wait for the world to come to me” cloth, they may not be a great fit.

4.) Get a sense of how they spend their spare time

You want to make sure their habits and hobbies get them out of the house and interacting with people “IRL.” If their idea of fun is playing video games all night, you might be depriving them of any chance of human contact.

5.) Make sure they know what they’re getting into

During the interview process, you should really spell out that they are going to spend almost all of their time alone, in their house or apartment. The whole pajamas thing might sound great, but the whole not actually seeing another human being all day might not.

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