10 interview questions to ask remote workers

As more organizations embrace remote workers, it's important to know how to ask the right interview questions to gauge a perfect fit. Here are 10 things you must ask when hiring a remote worker.

remote employee interview questions
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Interview questions to ask remote workers

Interviewing remote workers is much different than hiring for a traditional, on-site position. In addition to the usual questions about knowledge, hard skills and experience, interviewing candidates for a remote position must take into account commitment, communication skills, conflict resolution, motivation and technology prowess.

"There are some differences to look for when you're hiring remote workers. You need to emphasize constant communication, availability and collaboration skills, as well as the ability to work independently, to solve problems and resolve conflicts and be able to gauge productivity," says Madhav Bhandari, head of growth at cloud productivity management and time tracking software company Hubstaff. Here are 10 interview questions for remote workers that will help you find the perfect fit.

remote employee interview questions - What's your remote work experience?
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1. What's your remote work experience?

Though previous remote work experience isn't the only predictor of a candidate's suitability, it can be useful to gauge their comfort level and reliability, says Tricia Sciortino, president at virtual assistant outsourcing firm eaHELP.

"We want to know where they're starting from. Are they an old pro who's been working remotely for years? Or would this be their first experience working remotely? That can help us tailor the rest of the interview. If they already have the necessary mindset, the right tools and are used to working without on-site supervision, it lets us move on to other areas of the interview," Sciortino says.

remote employee interview questions - What tools do you use to manage and complete work remotely?
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2. What tools do you use to manage and complete work remotely?

Collaboration apps, email, time management and tracking software, messaging apps, video calling and conferencing technology -- these are all necessary tools for a remote worker's arsenal, says Sciortino. For her organization, all candidates must meet a set of basic technology requirements and all interviews are performed using video and a webcam.

"All of our interviews are done via webcam, both to assess body language cues and to check someone's basic technical capability and ability. Do they have a webcam? Can they operate it? Can they figure out different video and collaboration platforms -- like GoToMeeting, Zoom, Skype?" she says. We require candidates to meet certain minimum technology requirements, too, including a reliable, high-speed Internet connection with enough bandwidth to do video calls, Wi-Fi, a smartphone and a computer with minimum speeds and operating system versions, she says.

remote employee interview questions - What's your home office like?
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3. What's your home office like?

Though not everyone is privileged enough to have a separate, dedicated home office, it's important that they have some kind of distinct workspace, Sciortino says.

"We ask this question because having that type of space shows commitment and dedication to working -- even if it's just a small table in a corner of your living room, or a specific area set up in your bedroom that's devoted to work, we want remote workers to have a space where they can get into 'work mode'," she says.

[ Related story: Working at home a win-win for employers and employees ]

remote employee interview questions - How do you manage conflicts or issues when working remotely?
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4. How do you manage conflicts or issues when working remotely?

Communication and collaboration are the linchpins of a successful remote work strategy, so it's vital to make sure a candidate can handle little problems smoothly and tactfully before they become big problems, says Hubstaff's Bhandari.

"Managing disagreements or conflicts with managers, coworkers and other colleagues is critical, especially for remote workers who are more independent. Are they comfortable tackling these politely, tactfully and quietly? Do they know when to ask for help, and who to ask? This can give you a peek into their personality and how well they will work with others," Bhandari says.

remote employee interview questions - How do you stay focused and on deadline when working remotely?
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5. How do you stay focused and on deadline when working remotely?

One of the common misconceptions about remote work is that those who work from home can more easily multi-task things like childcare, housework and other personal events like doctor's appointments. While it's true there's a greater level of flexibility, the key to a successful remote work strategy is being able to focus on work -- because remote workers are actually at work, Sciortino says.

"Just because your office is at home doesn't mean you shouldn't have childcare, that you can take extended lunch breaks or that all scheduling goes out the window. We are a 100 percent distributed, remote company, but we still keep normal business hours. Of course, your actual hours depend on your role, but in general we want to see candidates who stick to a schedule just as if they were going into an office," she says.

remote employee interview questions - Tell me about a time you were on a tight deadline and how you managed it.
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6. Tell me about a time you were on a tight deadline and how you managed it.

Remote workers are still bound by the same time schedules and deadlines as those workers in a main office, so you need to make sure remote candidates are just as dedicated to meeting deadlines and keeping projects on-schedule, says Bhandari. Asking them to provide an example can help gauge their problem-solving skills and their commitment to staying on track, he says.

"You want to make sure they're able to deliver on promises. If you're a remote worker and you have three or four tasks every day, it's not unreasonable to think you might run into bottlenecks. That doesn't mean you just give up, you have to prove that you can work around these obstacles creatively and independently," Bhandari says.

[ Related story: Want better IT talent? Recruit remote workers ]

remote employee interview questions - What kind of hours do you keep?
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7. What kind of hours do you keep?

Again, the specific hours a remote worker keeps are dependent on the requirements of the individual organization as well as the role they're interviewing for, but in general, you need to know if they're an early bird, a night owl or somewhere in between. You also have to know that they can adjust their schedule to adapt to the business' needs, work late when they're needed, or work around personal scheduling conflicts, says Sciortino.

"Personally, for me, I've set myself up on a schedule. I wake up at the same time every morning, I take a set amount of time for a lunch break -- I'm usually available and working during normal business hours, give or take 20 or 30 minutes. It makes it seamless -- you'd never know I didn't work in a regular office," she says.

remote employee interview questions - How do you troubleshoot problems on your own?
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8. How do you troubleshoot problems on your own?

Remote workers have a certain independent, self-sufficient quality, and it's important to gauge that early on in the screening process, says Bhandari. If there's a technology hiccup, or a project isn't going as planned, what steps can they take to address the problem on their own? And how can remote workers gauge when it's time to ask for help?

"Remote workers have to be problem-solvers. Can they handle certain troubleshooting on their own? Do they ask for too much help with things they should be able to figure out? Or do they not ask for enough help when there's a serious problem?" he says.

remote employee interview questions - Are you comfortable using time-tracking software?
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9. Are you comfortable using time-tracking software?

One issue with remote workers is that it's often hard to "turn off" and know when the work day is over. On the flip side, it can be easy to give in to distractions and waste an hour here and there catching up on Criminal Minds reruns. Time-tracking software can be a great way for both remote workers and their managers to keep tabs on hours worked and contribute to greater productivity, says Bhandari, as well as keeping track of project status, goals and daily and weekly tasks. "We've found that many clients not only use time tracking software to manage working hours and track productivity, but to keep track of communications, status updates and project documentation. When everything's in one place like that, it's easier for everyone, no matter their location, to see exactly what's going on," Bhandari says.

[ Related story: 5 ways to make telecommuters and remote workers feel included ]

remote employee interview questions - How do you keep up with industry news?
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10. How do you keep up with industry news?

Finally, gauging a remote worker's passion for their potential role and their curiosity and willingness to learn can help you decide if they're a great fit culturally, too, says Bhandari. Ask what news outlets they follow, what Twitter users they follow and how active they are in forums, chat rooms and in industry groups.

"Since they're working remotely, it's harder to gauge their cultural fit since they won't be on-site. But this is a good way to assess how committed and passionate they are about the industry, their company and the role," he says.