Part 1: Hiring Legal Employees in Remote & Hybrid Environments
In March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders mandated that companies worldwide require many corporate employees work remotely. Indeed, by April 2020, about half of the world’s population was under some form of lockdown, with about 4 billion people in 90 countries or territories having been asked or ordered to stay at home by their governments.
Even as the restrictions are lifting in some jurisdictions, many organizations decided to extend the remote working period for some employees. Many found themselves enjoying the flexibility and convenience of working from home and avoiding the daily commute. Some of these employees were still working remotely when the 2021 labor shortage arose, and the labor shortage caused a lot of companies to turn their attention to employee retention. Concerned they might lose key employees if they required on-site work, some companies allowed their employees to continue working remotely.
As the remote working trend continued, CFOs started to take an active interest: They began to realize the cost savings from having their onsite workforce transition to remote work.
As CFOs began to evaluate the viable financial upside of a permanently remote workforce, CEOs began to consider the possibility of a long-term change. This in turn led many CHROs to anticipate the benefits that come from being able to hire candidates located anywhere in the world, rather than being tied to specific geographic locations.
As a result of this massive sea change in how business is done all over the world, many General Counsel have found their peers advocating for a remote workforce, so these GCs are now anticipating a permanent change for their team.
Prior to the pandemic, many Legal Departments required all of their employees to work onsite, so most General Counsel may not have experience hiring employees in a remote, or partially remote/hybrid, work environment.
CFOs saw the upside in a permanently remote or hybrid workforce, and CEOs began to consider the possibility of a long-term change.
The difference between remote and hybrid
At first glance it may not seem like there are material differences between hiring remote or hybrid talent, vs fully on-site talent. However, remote/hybrid working environment presents unique challenges when it comes to employee hiring and retention, and these challenges can be easily overlooked by General Counsel who have primarily managed teams working onsite in an office environment.
Below is some information you may find helpful if you are beginning to prepare for a permanent change to remote or hybrid working for your team, or looking to make your first hire in an all-remote or hybrid environment.
Need to hire remote or hybrid legal staff now?
Useful considerations when hiring for a virtual business environment
While many of the traits that make an employee successful in an onsite work environment will also make that employee a good remote worker, there are also some unique considerations when hiring employees who will be working remotely either some or all of the time.
For instance, training and mentoring a new employee may be a bit harder when they aren’t sitting in an office down the hall from you.
Remote workers will be more dependent on technology than in-office workers, and remote employees aren’t going to have the benefit of an onsite IT Department to provide in-person support.
Traits such as self-discipline, motivation, reliability, and the ability to work independently are even more important for remote workers, and finding candidates with strong time management skills is key when hiring for a remote, or partially remote, position.
It’s important to find a candidate who will be able to build strong internal relationships and earn the respect of others through virtual interactions. Unfortunately these traits can be difficult to assess during the interview process, but here are some ways to help your evaluation:
- Ask the candidate about past experience working remotely. If a candidate had a long tenure in a role that was performed remotely, that could be a good indication that the candidate has the potential to succeed in a remote working environment.
Rely heavily on references. References can be very helpful in evaluating the intangible skills noted above, so consider asking references about the intangibles that are important to you in your hiring decision. If references confirm the information your candidate told you during the interview, that can shed light on the candidate’s credibility and trustworthiness.
Ask behavioral interview questions designed to assess the candidates’ ability to succeed in a remote working environment. A behavioral interviewing approach looks at past performance as a guide to help predict future performance, so instead of asking candidates vague or open-ended questions, behavioral questions ask candidates for specific details about how they behaved in the past in certain situations. While these interview questions can be awkward for both the interviewer and interviewee, they also can be useful, especially when you ask the same questions of all candidates to provide a strong point of comparison. Examples of behavioral interview questions include:
- Can you give me an example of a difficult problem you solved at work How did you go about reaching a solution?
- Tell me about a time when you made a mistake. How did you handle this experience?
- Tell me about a time when you had to develop a new skill. How did you approach the learning process?
- Tell me about a legal task you had to complete with a tight deadline.
- Ask the candidates about their home office setup. It is helpful to use the interview process to find out whether the candidates have a dedicated home office space where they can work free from distractions. While in March of 2020 it was considered acceptable to have barking dogs and inquisitive children make background appearances on Zoom calls, that may become less acceptable as we have more time to transition to a remote working environment.
- Consider bringing in an industry expert. There are many benefits to working with outside recruiters, and the help of experts is particularly salient when you are navigating the uncharted waters of hiring one or more full-time remote workers. Here’s just a few good reasons to consider working with a tenured legal staffing firm with deep experience hiring standout talent into remote positions, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Recruiters are seasoned – they conduct interviews regularly as a routine part of their day-to-day jobs. As a result of this substantial experience, they have a keen sense of what to look for and how to identify red flags in candidate behavior.
- Many recruiters have been conducting screening interviews via videoconference for many years, so assessing candidates via videoconference is often not new to them.
- Many recruiters specialize in working with attorneys and lawyers who will be able to understand the unique particularities of corporate legal departments, and use that in their candidate assessments and evaluations.
Despite the challenges associated with hiring a remote workforce, there are many upsides as well. For instance, by allowing employees to work remotely you are able to select from a talent pool of candidates located anywhere in the world – no more being limited to hiring someone willing to reside in one particular city. Also, you may be able to hire employees in a market with a lower cost of living than yours, and may be able to convince new hires to take a slightly lower salary to offset the lack of commuting costs they will incur. Many of these benefits will make the hiring challenges worthwhile. Once you find the perfect employee for your role, the next step will be to ensure they are onboarded properly so they can succeed at your organization.
Prior to the pandemic, many Legal Departments required all of their employees to work onsite, so many General Counsel may not have experience hiring employees in a remote, or partially remote/hybrid, work environment.
Tune in next week for Part II:
Onboarding Legal Team Members in Remote & Hybrid Environments
 Coronavirus: Half of Humanity on Lockdown in 90 countries. Sandford, Alasdair (2 April 2020)
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