How to build and retain a high-performing, remote IT team

by Staff Writer

Technical skills that were once the benchmark for your hiring practices are now just the start. While IT departments come in all sizes depending on the scope of the organization, implementation management, information security, and project management fall within their jurisdictions.

In a study by Deloitte published in the Wall Street Journal, more than half of CIOs report a significant mismatch between current competencies and future needs. To build a team for the future, IT managers need to implement efficient, forward-thinking hiring practices that can take them beyond the current pandemic.

During your searches, you need to balance the importance of technical and soft skills, improve remote interview practices, and consider what candidates can add to your company.

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Finding qualified IT candidates

Building a team takes time. According to a 2019 report from recruitment software provider iCIMS, it can take 66 days to fill a tech role, which has increased by 11 days from the time it took in 2016. And unfilled roles represent $680 in lost revenue per day per vacancy, according to iCIMS.

Unfortunately, talent shortages have been common in IT for years. Sixty percent of the CIOs surveyed by Deloitte said finding and hiring qualified people who have the right skills is their top workforce challenge. And as the list of skills needed in IT grows, this challenge isn’t likely to go away. 

As companies have a greater demand for cloud computing, big data, and information security, more IT jobs are being created. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that IT employment would grow 12% from 2018 to 2028, adding about 546,200 new jobs. While this rate might slow due to the current situation, it’s much faster than the average for all occupations.

Posting a job ad is no longer enough. Companies need to take a proactive approach to recruiting IT talent. Often, strong candidates aren’t actively seeking out new positions; they’re in demand and they know it, and they can choose where they want to work. That means company IT recruiters need to get creative to gain their attention—which is even more challenging right now.

Get in front of them by networking through virtual industry events, hackathons, and job marketing platforms. It also helps to build relationships in the community, such as with local universities, business groups, or research hubs. In addition, your existing workforce is also a good gateway to an introduction. 

Your team will likely be connected to other high quality talent through their professional networks. Referral programs can be successful, too. In fact, a recent article from Forbes called employee referrals the “holy grail of hiring,” citing the method as a leading source of superior candidates and the best return on investment.

The right balance of technical and soft skills

According to CIO magazine, experience in the open-source language Python, used in AI applications, is in high demand. As are programming skills like SQL, used in database management systems, and Java, used to create mobile and web applications. 

Candidates who have these proficiencies will be highly sought after, but possessing a certain skill set is not enough. Today’s IT professionals need skill combinations. In the Deloitte study, Sysco Corp. CTO Wayne Shurts said today’s IT departments need “technology athletes—people who are curious and always looking to solve business problems through technology.” 

But they’re harder to find, as they require a combination of hard and soft skills. In the Deloitte study, 64% of CIOs said people with analytics and data science skills will be the hardest to find in the next five years, 54% named cyber security, and 49% pointed to innovation and emerging technologies. 

Soft skills help employees within organizations better strategize, communicate, and collaborate with other business functions. To assemble the IT team of the future, and CIOs are looking for these three in particular:

  • Creativity: Employees will need to brainstorm and design new solutions for business issues.

  • Cognitive flexibility: Employees need curiosity and mental agility to quickly learn new concepts.

  • Emotional intelligence: To effectively collaborate, employees will need interpersonal communication skills.

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Reimagine the interview process

Due to COVID-19, a large portion of the workforce is working from home (WFH), and many companies are choosing to keep them there. Hiring, too, needs to be done remotely. The first step is reimagining the technical interview. 

Often, physical white boards are used during an interview to test the candidate’s technical skills, such as a programming language. Instead, you may need to substitute a virtual tool like Google Docs, Scribble, HackerRank, or CodeSignal. 

You can also use your video conferencing platform’s screen share feature and ask candidates to show you a system they designed or code they wrote, walking you through the process. Ask what they contributed to the process, and how they collaborated with others on the team. 

And you can ask candidates to take a test on the specific skills they would be required to do on the job. This could be done during your interview, again using the screen share feature, or completed afterward with a firm deadline. 

The candidate’s ability to master a remote interview will demonstrate their ability to work remotely, too. IT teams traditionally use hands-on approaches to implementing projects and troubleshooting problems. As more IT teams transition to WFH arrangements, you’ll need to find candidates who are proficient at adapting to new environments, communicating effectively, and collaborating from afar.

What does the candidate add to your organization?

Another challenge is determining culture add. Candidates come from a diverse range of backgrounds that inform how they work. In-person interviews offer more opportunities for contextual clues, such observing interactions between the candidate and your team. Asking behavioral questions can help: 

  • What did you like most and least about your previous workplace? 

  • How do you see your working style matching the job? 

  • What type of environment would you need to do the job?

Tech companies are known for their perks, such as free meals and snacks, on-site gyms, and innovative working environments. During the COVID-19 pandemic, those items can no longer help you attract talent. You’ll need to find other ways to get candidates engaged in your corporate culture. IT managers should tout other perks, such as opportunities to work with new and emerging technologies, access to senior management, and flexible work arrangements.

One benefit of remote hiring is its efficient use of time. Instead of having to coordinate schedules and book conference rooms, virtual interviews can be arranged at times that are more convenient to stakeholders’ calendars. Removing the logistical challenges can streamline the process. In fact, several CIOs are considering keeping the practice permanent after social distancing restrictions are lifted.

Building the IT team of the future may be challenging, but finding candidates with the right skills and attitudes is essential to the future of your organization. IT leaders need to take an always-recruiting mentality to keep filling their talent pipeline. Great talent is out there.

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