8 Characteristics of a Great Remote Employee

Let’s face it, working from home just isn’t like working a typical office job.  There are so many differences between the two it’s almost daunting to think about listing them out.  A great remote employee has certain characteristics that are just different than one who works in a conventional office.

Here I wanted to think about what we’ve found to be common characteristics of a great remote employee.

Granted not every new team member Needs to have All of these, but the more you find in one candidate the better.  Ok, here we go with what we think are a pretty complete set of characteristics of a great remote employee:

Self Accountability

No boss, no problems, right?  Not so fast my friend.  Working remotely in many ways increases the reliance on the employee to be not only self motivated but accountable as well.  Without someone physically in the office to keep track of you, make sure that your butt is actually in the chair, and maintaining some kind of discipline it can get easy to flit around doing a sorts of busy work.

Staying accountable to the tasks at hand, monitoring deadlines for their deliverables, and keeping organized is a big first step in setting yourself up for success as a remote worker.

Emotional Intelligence

Technology is a wonderful thing and tools like Skype have revolutionized the way that we communicate here in 2016. However, as great as these tools are the fact is nothing is as simple and effective as a face-to-face meeting.

With a remote team the job of analyzing, interpreting, and responding to verbal and non-verbal communication is even more important.  Without all of those visual cues it is increasingly difficult to ensure that you’re acting (and reacting) appropriately to your team members.

Emotional Intelligence is the set of skills your team members must have so that they are collaborating with their fellow team members in a productive, respectful, and, well, intelligent, way.

Technical Skills

No doubt that especially for the more technical crafts like designers and developers there has to be a certain amount of innate skill involved.  However, this should really be the lowest common denominator when it comes to a really great remote team member.

In all business, especially one in which you’re working remotely, things change a lot.  Projects you’re working on, tools you’re using, conversations you’re having are all going to evolve right along with your business.  And if your team members are struggling to complete their core tasks each day, then that uphill battle of adapting to the new challenges of day-to-day work life will be even that much more difficult.

One of the best approaches I’ve seen to measuring the level of these technical skills is a test project or trial employment period.  Either of these allows the employee to show off their skills, and you as the employer to really measure not only how the communicate about the project, but technically how they approach and complete this test project.

Communication Skills

In a remote environment written communication is much more important than verbal.  No face-to-face time means that things like email, chat tools, and knowledge base documents will hold all of the ‘tribal knowledge’ of a company.  Without any of the work communication being done in person, and certainly less than normal of it being done verbally, communicating effectively via written word is hugely important for remote teams.

In fact, this can carry over into the hiring process as well.  Some companies, such as Automattic (the creators of WordPress) do a part of their hiring interviews in chat form.  This is to test the prospective team members on their ability to communicate in this format, and to make them think on their feet a bit.  I’ve done this in the past, and with huge success.  It really is quite telling of the capacity of a team member to adapt and communicate in an unconventional way during the hiring process.

In addition to written communication, sometimes you want to try to replicate the office environment, and for that it’s ideal to use video chat.  There are several tools we like for this, including: ZoomSkype, and Google Hangouts.

Proactive Involvement

It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle when you work remotely. Without the physical boundaries of an office building it’s tempting to take off for a long lunch, scoot out a bit early on Fridays, or just “get by” when a little more effort is really what the job needs.

These temptations around working remotely, where your none of your coworkers or managers are around to see your work are ever present, and something that remote employees will have to learn to master. The best remote workers will be those who are always looking to produce results, without having to be asked, and maintain focus on the job at hand, regardless of their environment.

All of this should be done without constant prodding and “checking in” from management.  The best remote team members are reliable so that when a task is assigned everyone knows that it will be done, and done right.

Experience Working Remotely

There’s no substitute for experience.  Talking about remote work is one thing, but actually doing it (and doing it well) is an entirely different thing.  For employers, a first time remote employee is a risk, no doubt.

Whether the new team member will adjust emotionally to their new work life, whether they’ll be good, thorough communicators, and whether they’ll be proactively involved on projects is up in the air from the beginning.  Hiring a team member with proven track record of performing in their remote environment is a safer bet.

Independence

In our experience this is one of the most important traits.  Your remote team members have to be fiercely independent.  Time zone differences, changes in communication style, rapidly evolving businesses are all reasons why remote team members are always learnings, adapting, and adjusting to new things at work.

If you as the manager or founder have to “hold hands” through every change that your business makes then it will be a very long journey indeed.  It’s a real pleasure when you can outline a task to a team member, and know that they will take the reigns with that project.  Of course questions will come up, and decisions will have to be made, but knowing that someone has taken ownership of a project is incredibly important.

Local Support System

Remote employees generally fall into one of two buckets:  young millennials looking for a way to work when they want, where they want and specialists who aren’t great fits for their local job environment.  Whichever bucket your prospective employee falls into, having a reliable support system around them is vitally important.

The younger crowd often manufactures this through a shared working space, like Coworking. This collaborative, supportive work environment gives remote workers a place where they feel “at home” when telecommuting, and the sense of community helps get them into that creative, productive mindset.

For those who are looking to specialize in a field, and maybe can’t find those exact jobs in their hometown then remote work is a great way to really hone in on exactly what they want to do, since the ‘where’ doesn’t really matter.  For these professionals a support system around them is also important because the fact is remote work can be lonely.  Having family, friends, other remote workers around you helps to ease that feeling and bolsters up the sense of community both at and away from work.

What is your experience, either as a remote worker or a manager of a remote team?  What things have you found to be really important in your teams that make them work really well?  Drop a comment in below to start the discussion.

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