Hires Bottle

How to Build an Effective Remote Team

Not everyone is meant to work remotely.  Some people need to be in an office.  The trick is identifying those that can thrive in a globally distributed environment.

The first two people you hire are the most important.  They set the tone going forward.  They establish your culture.  They will attract like-minded future hires that will carry the baton forward.

Who should you hire?

The following characteristics are what I look for in remote team members:

1. Believer

Remote employees should be motived by something other than money.  A mission unites people toward a common goal.

2. Learner

Tech changes so fast that what you know now is less important than your ability to learn.  Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress and Automattic, says if you have four traits – Integrity, Work Ethic, Taste, and Curiosity – you can learn anything.

3. Entrepreneurial

Look for people with entrepreneurial instincts.  Could this person go out and start their own project or company if they weren’t working for you?  Do they embrace failure?  Are they a one-trick-pony or do they have a broad set of skills?

4. T-shaped

A T-shaped person is moderately good at many things and super good at one thing.  Can you coordinate with others in areas outside your expertise?  IDEO CEO Tim Brown describes a T-shaped person in a 2011 interview.

5. Collaborator

Can you collaborate with others to build things?  If you’re the kind of person that wants to be locked away in a closet only emerging after 6 months with the shiny new widget you’ve built, look elsewhere. That widget you built has to play nicely with other widgets.  You can work alone, but you have to come up for air.

6. Rebel

Some find solace in a system.  They thrive in an enclosure of rules, procedures, and process.

I tend to value experience over education.  Often someone who has an advanced degree in Computer Science needs structure.  They’ve spent 16-plus years excelling within the confines of formal education.  I like someone who sees the Matrix.

7. Communicator

We live in the age of Slack, Hangouts, blogs, and wikis.  Despite this amazing technology, in-person is still better than remote.

Body language is missing.  If Steve asks me, “How are you?”  My default answer is, “Fine.”  If this exchange takes place in-person, Steve could read my body language and detect that something is actually bothering me today.  He could then probe further or decide to leave me alone.

This same exchange over Slack lacks context.  Steve is left wondering, is Brandon really fine or is he just saying that?

Sure we can do video chats, but let’s be realistic.  Engineers don’t like video chat.  It’s too intrusive.  Let’s not even mention the phone or email.

The clean, asynchronous style of Slack, or IRC back in the day, gives people a chance to work without having to focus on a conversation.

Does your personality come across in writing? Can you express humor, sarcasm, and disdain?

8. Work/Life balance

You are motivated by the mission, but you also have a life.  Interesting hobbies, cool side projects, world travel, kids, a dog can all keep you from burning out.

Many remote workers I talk to say they get more done at home than in the office.  In fact, without the distractions of an office, the challenge is finding ways to step away from the keyboard.  Have a life that pulls you away from time to time.


It’s hard to undo the damage caused by a bad hire.  A single bad hire degrades your culture, sends your best people elsewhere, and repels good new hires.  Finding good people is challenging.  Don’t rush.

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