Business meeting in a virtual space conceptual business illustrationWith the arrival of increasingly sophisticated networking and collaborative technologies over the past decade, we have seen teams move from being centrally located to having members telecommuting from home for a day-or-two per week. But, this was only ever going to be a temporary situation as the rise of mobile computing technologies—tablets, smartphones and laptops—means that the virtual workforce is not just confined to the home any more. Yes, it is now truly mobile, operating from planes, trains, hotels and flexible office space. In fact, research suggests that 37 percent of the total global workforce will be classifiable as mobile workers by 2015.

It’s evident that purely co-located teams are on the decline, being replaced by virtual teams in whole or in part. The demographic of these virtual teams are changing dramatically now, as they are becoming more globalized, as leaders begin to hire virtual team members in overseas locations to address talent shortages in their own country,  drive down production costs or to engage with customers in new markets.

The point is that being able to recruit and engage a global virtual team is becoming an increasingly important and crucial standalone skill for the recruiting and HR professional, and below I have set out some tips and advice on how to do this effectively.

1. Understand what the core competencies for effective virtual team work

My research has led me to the conclusion that there are around four skills/qualities that must be present in order for an employee to be an effective virtual collaborator, and these are:

1. Self motivation,
2. Able to work independently,
3. Can work collaboratively
4. Reliable, (that is they meet deadlines, deliver as required and are punctual and attend scheduled meetings)

This latter skill of reliability has been deemed crucial in academic texts as it is the prime way of building trust in teams. A white paper from the Academy of Management Executive has outlined that trust is vital to any team’s cohesion and performance, and the way that virtual teams build trust is not through social bonding but through ‘performance consistency/reliability’.

2. Screen for those key qualities with formal assessments

As you can see, there is a unique combination of soft skills that the ideal virtual worker should possess and these are crucial to success in this role. I think this raises the stakes surrounding these skills, and therefore, recruiters and HR should think about doing formal behavioral assessments. Using a tool such as (there are many other similar tools on the market) can help you do a more rigorous assessment of these key virtual working qualities.

3. Conduct first round interviews virtually and use this as a screening process

On many occasions when hiring virtual workers (say in far flung places), you will have no choice but to conduct the interview virtually. But, in other instances you may be hiring virtual workers in your proximity. In which case, make sure to first interview them virtually so you can see how they communicate and collaborate in this virtual context.

4. Involve other virtual team members in the interview.

Patch in other virtual team members and have them participate in the interview so you can see how the candidate operates in a virtual, more collaborative, one-to-many/many-to-many setting. This is a great way to assess their ability to work in virtual teams.

5. Behavioral interviewing – favor examples from a virtual working context

Ideally you should focus on behavioral interviewing questions, which assess candidates’ past achievements in the virtual worker core competency area. Where possible, favor candidates who can provide examples of achievements that occurred in a virtual environment as opposed to a co-located team environment as they are likely to be a more reliable predictor of future performance.

I’d be keen to hear any more useful tips on hiring virtual teams. If you do manage to hire a virtual team then please read the second part of this article: “The Four Fundamentals of Virtual Team Management.

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