What if all of your interviews take place via video chat and you never meet anyone in person or see the office? Or what if it’s not just the hiring process—what if the entire company is permanently remote? Do they even have a company culture if they never work side-by-side?
Your concerns and head-scratching are completely valid. Understanding company culture from afar—whether the remote aspect is just for the hiring process or for the role itself and whether the position is fully remote or a hybrid, temporarily or permanently—adds a layer of complexity to an already difficult concept.
You shall forget the idea that culture is synonymous with ping pong, happy hours, and dogs in the office. These things are the byproduct of operationalizing culture in an office, but they’re not culture. Sure, those physical markers of perks play into a company’s environment and overall vibe, but they don’t make up the entirety of it. That’s good news, because it means you can assess culture in a meaningful way, even remotely.
But if you’re not looking for a stocked snack counter and lunch-break yoga classes, what should you be keeping an eye out for? Here are six tips to help you understand and evaluate a company’s culture before you accept an offer—even if you never step foot in the office.
1. Know What You’re Looking For
You probably have a list of must-haves you’re searching for in your next position. That should include not only the nuts and bolts like pay and benefits, but also the values you want your company to prioritize and the cultural aspects that resonate with you.
This prep work is particularly important when you’re going through the process remotely. Trying to understand every aspect of a company’s culture through video chats and internet research alone might feel overwhelming. So zoning in on the pieces that are most important to you means you can keep your antennae up for encouraging signs—and deal breakers.
2. Do Some Independent Research
While a remote hiring process can make you feel like you’re at a disadvantage, that doesn’t need to be the case—you have plenty of resources at your fingertips to understand the inner workings of a company’s team and atmosphere. Plus, many of the research techniques you’d use during a “typical” hiring process are still applicable. You can dig into online resources, including the company’s:
- Website: Spend some time on the company’s website to understand how the company describes its culture to the outside world.
- Blog: Look at the company blog. They may have published relevant content, such as a behind-the-scenes look at how they transitioned to remote work during the coronavirus pandemic or the different social good initiatives their team members are part of.
- Social media: Are they responding to customer service inquiries promptly and respectfully? Are they sharing any content from their employees? Does their overall voice and tone align with what you’re looking for?
There’s no shortage of resources for you to look through. To avoid falling down a rabbit hole, remember to keep in mind the non-negotiable elements you identified earlier and look for materials and reviews that address those specific criteria.
3. Connect With Current (or Former) Employees
Nobody has better insight into a company’s culture than the employees who work, or have worked, there. Getting in touch with current and/or former team members can give you some behind-the-scenes knowledge.
You could ask the person who’s spearheading your hiring process if they can introduce you to a few employees who might be willing to answer your questions about culture. That demonstrates your interest in the company, and also shows that you’re someone who takes initiative.
Think of these social media searches as your sneaky way to get an understanding of employees’ insights and experiences, without having to explicitly ask for them.
4. Ask Specific Questions
At the end of a job interview, you should have the opportunity to ask questions. This is your chance to directly ask about the aspects that are most important to you, and you don’t want to waste it.
Here are some remote-specific questions about company culture you can add to your list:
- How does your team maintain strong bonds, even when working remotely?
- How has your company culture changed with some or all of your team working remotely?
- What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome when team members started working remotely?
- What tools do you use to keep communication streamlined between your in-office and remote teams?
- What team traditions do your remote and in-office employees love?
- What Slack channels are your favorite?
- What conversations happen daily on Slack or via email?
Remember, asking questions at the end of the interview isn’t just a chance for you to look good and demonstrate your engagement in the hiring process, it’s also an outlet to get your hands on valuable information you need to make an educated decision about whether or not you want to work there.
5. Observe What You Can
When you’re trying to suss out a company’s culture, the importance of attention to detail can’t be overstated. Particularly when you’re interviewing remotely, you need to detect and take in whatever clues and information you can.
As you speak to a recruiter, hiring manager, and any other team members you interview with over the phone or on video, ask yourself: How content do people seem in their roles? Do people seem excited about bringing somebody new onto the team? Or exhausted at the prospect of needing to train and onboard? Are they providing thoughtful answers to your questions? Or rushing through them?
6. Use the Hiring Process as Your Cue
Finally, the hiring process itself should give you at least a glimpse into how that company treats not only its applicants, but also its employees. How they approach the process will be a great window into how they approach everything else.
A few things that are worth paying attention to during the remote hiring process include:
- Organization: If the hiring process is disorganized and filled with misunderstandings and frustrations, working at the company could be the same way. In contrast, if they have streamlined systems in place that show an obvious respect for your time, that’s a sign that they value the people who interact with and work for their company.
- Communication: The interview process is also an “opportunity to evaluate their communication as a company. What tools did they use? How did their communication come across to you?” says Hailley Griffis, Head of Public Relations at Buffer. There’s a noticeable difference between communication that’s timely and thorough, versus an email that’s curt and only answers half of your questions.
- Work-life balance: Are you getting emails from a hiring manager in the middle of the night? Or over the weekend? That could be an indicator that their culture doesn’t prioritize disconnecting and downtime. But bear in mind that one of the potential benefits of remote work is control over your schedule, which means employees might actually prefer to work at that time and appreciate that flexibility. Plus, remote work also means the hiring manager could be in an entirely different time zone. If you’re not sure how to interpret what you’re seeing, you could ask about flexible schedules and balance in your interview.
Remember, a company’s hiring process typically isn’t a standalone activity; it’s a direct reflection of their values and approach to work. And it’s a mirror that you should use to your advantage.