Just as there have been significant changes to the way we work in recent months, companies have also had to change the way they recruit in order to continue to connect with candidates remotely. While we have previously blogged about tips for conducting successful video interviews,  a new challenge has emerged for candidates – how do you go about assessing a company’s culture in a remote interview?

The new normal means that you may have to make decisions about the fit of a role and a company without having the opportunity to visit the office in “normal” conditions. You will not be able to observe how the office is organized, how employees interact with one another, or any of the many other contextual clues you might have previously relied on to gauge company culture. In the absence of these sources, it is important to consider and prepare questions in order to gather the information you need to make an informed decision.

We would suggest considering the following questions:

  1. Ask them to describe the office set up – is it open plan, shared or private offices? Where does the team sit in relation to each other and how do they interact with other business units?
  2. What IT is in place to support remote workers? This may include hardware (laptops, headsets), as well as any subsidies to set up a home office (perhaps you need to buy an ergonomic chair, etc).
  3. Have they onboarded candidates remotely in recent months? If so, what did that look like? If not, how do they envision this taking place? The size of a company will have an impact on the amount of experience a company has with remote onboarding; however, what is key is knowing that they have a concrete plan in place to achieve the necessary training and integration.
  4. What systems do teams use to communicate during the day? Is there a heavy reliance on emails (and will you go most of the day without verbally interacting with others) or are there collaboration tools, such as Microsoft Teams, in place?
  5. Have there been any social activities organized remotely? I have heard examples of teams organizing quizzes, virtual cooking classes, and book clubs. These may be especially important to you as you work to develop new relationships in the early months of a new role.
  6. Have working hours shifted during the remote working period? You may have childcare or other obligations that mean a strict 9 to 5 schedule is not achievable for you and you will want to figure out how the company manages this.
  7. What challenges have they encountered with remote working? What feedback have they received from employees since the start of remote working and what changes have been implemented? First, and importantly, this will show you if they have sought employee feedback. Next, it will help you gauge where the shortcomings are so you can decide how you feel about those.

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. What is important is for you to be prepared to collect this information and then assess how the answers align with your own priorities and needs. Just like the interviewer will want you to provide concrete examples of instances where you have demonstrated skills, you need to make sure you are getting the same from them. Push to get specific examples of initiatives that are in place and challenges they have faced rather than high level statements about the value of collaboration and connectivity. This article provides even further examples of questions you may want to put to your interviews to suss out the culture.

Some hiring processes are moving faster than others and, depending on the company’s timeline, you may have the opportunity to have a “distanced” in-person meeting with the team but you will certainly not be able to replicate the full office experience that would have taken place pre-COVID. Thinking through what you value in a company’s culture and preparing questions will be key to ensuring you get the information you need to make an informed decision.

Jennifer is a Recruitment Consultant with The Heller Group. She is actively involved in the recruitment and placement of lawyers into law firms and corporations. In her spare time, Jennifer enjoys hiking with her two dachshunds.

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