10 Key Interview Questions When Hiring for Remote Positions

March 10, 2021

Photo of woman talking into laptop and answering remote interview questions

Of all the things that have changed over this last year, you can add to the list: interview questions. In the past, recruiters asked candidates about their skills, work ethic, and ability to get along with others at the office. But now that so many roles have switched to 100% remote, you need to revise your interview questions too. 

Even as vaccines roll out and life returns to some semblance of normal, remote work is here to stay. According to an Upwork survey in the U.S., one in four employees will continue to work remotely  in 2021. 

So, how can you gauge whether someone will be a successful remote employee? To help you be the best judge, we’ve assembled a list of 10 interview questions — mostly focused on the soft skills needed to work from home  — to ask any candidate for a remote job. 

1. Have you worked remotely in the past?

Before 2020, many if not most candidates would have answered “no” to this question. But 51% of the workforce did their job remotely at the height of the pandemic restrictions last year, so a lot more people have experienced remote work now. It’s still important to ask this question, though, because the idea of working from home — curling up on the couch in your jammies with a computer on your lap — can be quite different from the reality.  

2. If you have worked remotely, what were some of the challenges you faced?

This will give you a good sense of how well a candidate has handled the challenges of remote work, such as loneliness, lack of connection, or difficulty in getting information quickly. By asking this, you can determine whether a candidate understands the realities of remote work and whether they have strategies in place to do it successfully. If, for example, they tell you that they deal with the loneliness by trying to meet a friend for lunch — or scheduling a video lunch with a coworker — once a week, that’s a strong indication that they’re good at developing coping strategies. 

3. Where do you like to work?  

Here, you’re trying to determine where the candidate physically plans to work. Perhaps they have a dedicated home office. Or maybe they prefer to set up shop in a coffeehouse or hotel room. This is nuts-and-bolts information, but you need to know whether the candidate has a distraction-free workspace with a reliable internet connection — and, if not, what they might need to be successful. This could include a desk, an ergonomic chair, or maybe an office in a coworking space. Ask them exactly what they need.  

4. How do you schedule your workday?

What you’re really asking here is: How do you manage your time and stay productive? You’ll want to learn when they start their workday and what their optimal working hours are. One of the things many employees find attractive about remote work is the independence. But for candidates who need the routine of the office and a manager nearby, the freedom can be debilitating. So, it helps to find out if someone can stay productive and work independently, even if they work hours that are more flexible than the traditional 9-to-5.  

5. Have you worked with a distributed team? How did you make it work?

When everyone is working in the office, it’s easy for employees to get the information they need. They pop into the office of their manager or coworker and ask a question. But distributed teams can work many time zones apart, which means an employee may need to wait 12 hours before getting answers to their questions. Ask candidates how they’ve handled this in the past, or might deal with it now. How will they go about getting the information they need? This will give you some sense of their resourcefulness and ability to problem-solve on their own. 

6. How have you used different communication tools when working remotely?

When you work as part of a distributed team, you rely on a variety of virtual tools, such as Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Drive, to communicate and keep projects moving forward. These tools are vital when teammates are scattered across time zones and communication is asynchronous. By asking candidates how they’ve used these tools, you can determine their fluency with different technologies and assess their communications strategies.

7. What’s the most important thing you can do to make a project successful when you’re working remotely?  

This will give you an idea of how a candidate approaches a project when they’re not able to collaborate in-person. Perhaps they like to ask a lot of questions up front. Perhaps they stay in touch with their manager and coworkers at every step in the process, so everyone’s on the same page. Or maybe they have a particular gift for managing expectations around timelines. Their answers will give you a sense of their communication style and approach to complex projects, as well as what kind of a collaborator they will be. 

8. Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a remote coworker. How did you handle it?

Yes, recruiters ask this question for traditional office jobs, but conflicts arise in remote environments too — and can be trickier to navigate when you can’t resolve them in person. Something that comes up in a chat, for example, might be interpreted the wrong way or a hastily written email may come across as abrasive. Ask how the candidate might handle this. What you’re trying to find out here is how proactive a candidate will be about addressing conflicts and whether they can recover when things go off-track. 

9. How do you focus on your tasks while working from home?

Distractions are a fact of life with remote work. Dogs bark at the postman. Roommates or children interrupt at the exact moment you have a brilliant thought that will make the project a success. Find out how a candidate handles these distractions. Some people love the solitude of remote work because it gives them a chance to focus deeply on their tasks, while others need coping strategies such as sound-canceling headphones to block out everything around them. Make sure that candidates have strategies that will help them stay productive and do their best work. 

10. How do you switch off from work?

Burnout is huge among remote workers, so you need to find out how candidates create boundaries between home and work (not always easy when your office is six feet from the kitchen). According to Gallup, 29% of fully remote workers have experienced serious burnout during the pandemic, significantly more than the year before. And employees who experience high levels of burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 13% less confident in their performance. So, ask what kind of breaks they take during the day. Talk to them about how they shut off and whether they’re able to put work aside at the end of the day. The healthier and happier your employees, the more likely they are to be productive in their roles.

Final thought: Soft skills can be the deciding factor  

When you’re interviewing for fully remote positions, you’ll probably spend a lot of time on questions about soft skills. Just like for an in-office position, you need to determine whether a candidate has the experience and skills for the role. But you’re also looking for the traits they need to work from home productively. When it’s a match, it can be a win-win for both the employee and your company. 

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