People & Leadership

How I hire: Remote Year’s VP of people operations on coaxing more from work—and life

Remote employee

Technology is not only causing big changes in how people work, but also where they work. Many employees today are trading in their cubicle for a laptop, finding they can work just as easily from home—or even the other side of the world through remote working options. Globally, two-thirds of millennials say their employers have adopted flexible work arrangements, according to Deloitte’s 2017 Millennial Survey.

“Candidate expectations are changing,” says Jeremy Payne, vice president of people operations at Remote Year, which helps employees travel the world while keeping their full-time job. “Rather than seeing success as the ability to buy things—the nice car or the big house—these days, people are favoring experiences and are placing more value in benefits like remote work, paid time off and a positive social environment.”

Remote Year employees, called “dreamers,” facilitate 4- or 12-month travel experiences for participants, who live and work in a different city each month.

We sat down with Payne to find out what makes his employees tick and how he’s scaled hiring to meet the growing interest in remote working opportunities. Less than three years ago, Remote Year launched with one 12-month program. Today, the company runs multiple program itineraries in 18 cities worldwide. (No spoiler here: A love of travel is a must for every employee since they work remotely, as well.)

Passion drives performance

While the remote working trend may have gained popularity with Millennials, they aren’t the only generation looking to break from the norm. In 2016, 43 percent of U.S. employees worked remotely at least part-time. Alternative work arrangements are not only convenient for workers, granting more flexibility in where, when and how they work, but Deloitte’s survey also suggests links to improved performance and employee retention.

Remote Year has seen these benefits in their own workforce, which is based all over the world. Employees have a passion for travel and most have some experience with long-term travel, ranging from travel experiences that last from several months to more than a year long. Payne says this attribute makes it easy for employees to relate to the company’s mission.

“We recruit dreamers—people who think big and who have helped achieve audacious goals,” Payne says. “We love hearing examples of how people contributed or what they led that was new and exciting.”

Payne looks for candidates who understand the power of remote work to support their own love of travel. They are the people, Payne says, who will help the company grow.

“Remote workers can be some of the hardest, most productive professionals out there,” he says. “Having control over their schedules and their approach to work is a big reason for their, and our, success.”

Payne knows a good candidate when meets one because, well, they remind him of himself. Before joining Remote Year, Payne and his wife sold everything they owned and toured the U.S. in an RV for a year, exploring the country while working remotely and seeking out their ideal future.

“Fast forward to today and we still travel, still have that RV and still live those values,” he says.

Challenges of flying solo

The ability to work remotely is an essential skill for Remote Year employees, but it’s a difficult one to hire for, Payne admits. Remote workers encounter a lot of day-to-day challenges that traditional workers never have to face.

“It gets lonely, so they need to communicate proactively, feel comfortable bragging a bit about their accomplishments, and be able to forge a strong relationship with their manager,” he explains.

The company’s 120 full-time employees must also be autonomous and trustworthy. Because Remote Year doesn’t have a central location, virtual meetings are crucial to keep everyone aligned and the company running smoothly.

“The small meetings that we do have become really important,” says Payne. “We have to trust that our leaders are making the right decisions and that after a meeting you’re going to do the work you said you’re going to do.”

When interviewing candidates, Payne assesses candidates’ fit across three levels: organization, team and role. All interviews are, not surprisingly, conducted virtually with the cloud-based conference and video tools Remote Year employees use every day. This helps Payne assess how comfortable a candidate is in using the technology.

The ability to unplug is another important, if unofficial, trait.

“In distributed organizations, you can get caught up in working across time zones and not enjoy the freedom that comes with not having to come into an office,” Payne says. “It can be so easy to work 14-hour days when you want to give it your all, but we don’t want people to burn out and create situations where they can’t be successful.”

Creating a global culture

It can be tricky to build the culture without a central location, but Remote Year has taken this challenge head-on.

In addition to company culture, Remote Year employees have the unique advantage of experiencing local cultures as well. “If you were to ask a Remote Year ‘dreamer’ what our company values are, they’d tell you how that translates in Argentina or Croatia,” or wherever they’re living, Payne says.

Maintaining a strong culture as the company grows is an important priority for Payne. Remote Year maintains this culture through monthly all-hands meetings that range from a town hall-style discussion to a deep dive into a specific team. But whatever the format, each meeting starts with a celebration of sorts: Culture Club.

Each month, dreamers submit nominations for employees who exemplify two of Remote Year’s core values. The hour-long meetings begin by acknowledging team members whose life and work exemplifies those values.

It’s a “reminder of who we are, why we are here, and why we exist,” Payne says.

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