DISTRIBUTED: Three Must-Have Traits for Distributed Employees

There’s no question, our awesome team of employees is what makes Intridea tick. Of course, any company could say the same, but being fully distributed takes a truly unique individual and it’s definitely not for everyone.

That’s why during Intridea’s hiring process, we keep an eye out for professionals with three essential traits: self-motivation, autonomy and curiosity. We call these highly desirable candidates SMAIPs (Self-Motivated, Autonomous, Inquisitive People).

In fact although we’re a technical company, we value these three employee characteristics even more than a specific set of programming skills. That’s because SMAIPs seek out and learn new technologies on their own, inspire other employees and produce killer work.

A Remote Chance

In addition to the top three critical traits, we also seek out employees who are most likely to work well in a remote setting. Okay, we know what you’re thinking. Wouldn’t a self-motivated person naturally be a kick-ass remote worker? Believe it or not, the two don’t always go hand-in-hand.

This is especially true for certain extroverts. While an extroverted worker might be extremely self-motivated and independent, he may also need to be around others to thrive. Many of these super-outgoing types will shrivel up and wither away in a secluded work environment.

So we’ve found the most desirable candidate for a distributed workforce is not only self-motivated; she also has the ability to remain engaged and inspired in spatial isolation. That’s why we look for team members who are content working in solitude for long stretches of time.

Slacker Alert

Of course, traditional brick-and-mortar companies also strive to hire self-motivated, autonomous and inquisitive employees—but these traits are particularly important for distributed team members. Because non-distributed supervisors share a physical space with their team, they can easily spot when employees are slacking off. This breathing-down-the-neck supervision is not possible when your employees are spread out across the nation or even the globe.

As a result, unproductive remote employees often fly under the radar. This slacker-effect is one the greatest dangers—and sometimes the ultimate demise—for many distributed businesses. To make matters worse, the unmotivated remote worker may not even realize that his status quo is disappointing his boss. It could take weeks before he’s called out on it, and by then a lot of damage could already be done. This is why it’s vital for distributed teams to hire self-motivated, autonomous, inquisitive people.

“The challenges of identifying candidates who will perform at a high level in office jobs are multiplied exponentially when hiring for home-based jobs,” writes Brent Holland, Vice President of Research & Consulting at FurstPerson, in an ERE article. “Regardless of the job or corporate culture, remote workers must be independent, self-motivated, conscientious, comfortable working in social isolation, and capable of solving problems.”

Tracking Down a SMAIP

When it comes to building a distributed team, the old cliché is absolutely true: One bad apple spoils the entire barrel. That’s why it’s essential to hunt down SMAIPs (Self-Motivated, Autonomous, Inquisitive People) when you’re hiring for a remote position.

Here at Intridea, we use rigorous interview and screening techniques. Throughout the interviewing process, we look for clues that the candidate is self-motivated, autonomous and inquisitive and will thrive in a remote work setting.

So how do you pinpoint a SMAIP? In our experience, a candidate might be the right guy or gal for the job if he/she:

  • Contributes to side projects, either in his/her field or outside of it.
  • Attends or hosts events or meet-ups.
  • Founded a start-up in the past.
  • Actively blogs or publishes in other formats, such as books, podcasts, etc.
  • Pursues passions outside of work (rock-climbing, cooking, carpentry, etc).
  • Freelances, either on the side or as a full-time job.
  • Learns for learning’s sake and take classes for fun.

Take Them for a Spin

Still not sure if that candidate is a SMAIP? Take him for a test drive! We’ve found it’s extremely beneficial to arrange a trial run with a potential hire whenever possible. When a prospect is willing to work a one-month trial gig on evenings and weekends before she comes on full-time, this in itself is a sign that she’s a SMAIP.

A trial run gives us a chance to assess the employee’s quality of work, communication skills and reliability. It also helps us determine whether or not the candidate is the right fit for our team.

Every now and then, a candidate’s personality simply doesn’t harmonize with the rest of our employees. In some instances, these trial runs have helped us rule out candidates who are not respectful of their teammates’ time or who don’t effectively communicate their progress.

It’s always better to discover these issues during a trial run than to hire an employee and realize it when it’s too late to pull the plug. And you don’t want a bad apple spoiling your beautiful bunch of SMAIPs.

Once you’ve built a powerhouse of SMAIPs, how do you keep these awesome remote employees happy? Find out in our next blog. In the meantime, got any tips for hiring remote employees? Keep the conversation going! We'd love to hear from you.