What skills do remote workers need to thrive?

Remote working has moved from being the hot new HR trend to being a valid and increasingly popular working pattern. The Office for National Statistics reckons at least half of UK workers are going to have some type of remote working arrangement this year.

The cost benefits are well understood. Who doesn’t want reduced fixed overheads with smaller office space requirements? And your HR department knows all too well the impact on employee well-being and engagement when you give your team the flexibility of remote working, which is great for staff retention and productivity.

What is less discussed is what skills you need to be looking for in a remote worker. It’s not as simple as making sure they have a decent laptop and sending your team into their pyjamas and kitchens.

We run a remote-first team at Vestd and focus on a number of key skills when hiring candidates and training staff. Let’s explore some of them…

Time management

If you’ve got a team member who’s perennially late to every meeting and can’t even seem to make it to the staff party in time for starters, are they going to be a successful remote worker?

Your remote team needs to be able to get to the video chat on time, and be online when they’re needed for a collaboration session. Our daily video standups are an essential part of our working day, and everybody aims to show up at 10.30 sharp. 

Tools like calendar apps and workflow managers should help everyone manage their time and tasks so they get things finished on time. Slack notifications and alerts can prove helpful too.

Communication

Fast and accurate responses to emails is a good indicator that you’ve got a capable remote worker on your hands. Someone who will get your point first time without leaving you hanging is invaluable when you can’t just pop down to their desk to clarify.

Email isn’t the only way you’re going to be talking with your remote team. Make sure that everyone:

  • Can use the chat app of choice for your team
  • Has the right video calling software downloaded
  • Knows how to sign in the collaborative working tools

And once you’ve got your team skilled on the tools, make sure they know the communication rules. You need to make sure your team understands what you see as appropriate when it comes to nicknames, swearing, etc.

Tech savvy

A technophobe who still has a black-and-green screen phone might not be ready to migrate to remote working. That’s not to say you can’t get them ready, but there’s going to be more investment in someone who uses the bare minimum of tech at the moment to get them ready to go remote.

Ideally, you want a colleague who knows how to…

  • Navigate through different comms channels
  • Flip between multiple apps on their phone
  • Troubleshoot their way through an error code
  • Keep their software packages up to date

So that they can go remote without hitting up your IT guy every few hours for a walkthrough. If they can make it through a rollout of a new software package without having a mental shutdown, they’re probably going to survive going remote. The opposite is also true.

Self-awareness

The whole point of having a remote team is to improve their work/life balance, and therefore their productivity. As a manager, you need to know what type of workload to be assigning to team members, but they need to be able to switch off too.

The young go-getter who turns up early, eats lunch at their desk, and stays until facilities turns off the lights – are they going to be able to balance their need to please you with their need to breathe fresh air?

In the office you can see when someone is driving themselves too hard. When they go remote, you don’t get to see warning signs that they’re taking on too much, they need to know how to spot this themselves. You need to build a relationship with your remote workers where they can communicate with you when their work is getting on top of them.

It’s also incredibly important that remote employees self-regulate their hours. Work late one day, start late the next, or at least bank the hours for an early finish one day. 

Proactiveness

Every CV you’ve ever read has this buzzword on there, yet having genuinely proactive colleagues isn’t always a given. Plus, being proactive as a remote worker will look different to being the person who replaces the office coffee jar.

In a remote worker, you want someone who will create a spreadsheet, get all the sharing settings right, and keep it updated without being asked, or who will come to you with a training scheme for the latest software they want to learn about.

The insight from a genuinely proactive remote worker will likely add more value to your business because there’s less office-based stuff that they need to fix.

The take home…

It takes a slightly different skillset to be a successful remote worker. That doesn’t mean you can’t migrate your team to the new work pattern, though. As a manager you can work with your team to develop the skills they need, and offer training when needed.

Translating office skills to having your team work from kitchens, cafés, and hot desks may take time. If you’re in the position to be recruiting a new remote team, having someone experienced in the style of work is useful, but it is not essential when you know what you’re looking for.