Remote work has been on the rise for over a decade now. And when COVID-19 forced most companies to send all their employees home, it suddenly became everyone’s work status. The working world as we knew it changed and these changes will have a lasting impact. One of the biggest adjustments for hiring managers and HR professionals will be learning which remote work skills are most important and figuring out how to identify them during the hiring process.
With a remarkable 42% of the U.S. labor force now working from home full-time, the line between professional life and home life continues to blur, bringing up new challenges for employees and businesses.
While it is more than possible to thrive in a work-from-home environment, today’s workers will need a host of different skills to do so. Companies will also have to adapt to this brave new world. The skills they might have valued five or ten years ago have shifted. Now hiring managers and HR teams must identify what remote skills will lead to the most productivity and screen for them during the hiring process.
In this post, we’ll explore the unique challenges brought on by remote work and the skills needed for success. We’ll also help you understand how you can prioritize these skills as you recruit new employees for 2021 and beyond.
Why is hiring skilled remote workers important?
COVID-19 gave us all a crash course in working remotely. Employers who previously refused to allow employees to work remotely were forced to change their ways. Many of these employers were surprised to see how effective their teams could be in a remote environment and came to realize the importance of being able to continue business operations without having to be physically present at an office. Today, working from home is not only necessary for many roles, but it has also been critical in the fight against COVID-19.
Without the historic transition to working from home, the economy would have taken an even bigger hit, and infection rates would have soared even higher. Instead, companies that could do so practically converted to a remote workforce. This way, they could continue operating, keep their workers employed and safe, and prioritize public health.
Now that we are months into what was supposed to be a temporary solution, many employees have become accustomed to conducting business online. They are demanding more flexibility—and there are companies willing to provide it.
7 top remote work skills
Setting your organization up for remote work is attractive to potential hires, and it keeps your business competitive as you build a skilled team of workers. It also opens up the hiring pool to other geographic areas, which might not otherwise be possible if employees were expected to work onsite full-time.
But to get the most out of remote workers, you have to hire people who can thrive in a remote environment. Here are seven skills to look for.
Many workers dream of personal freedom that comes from working remotely. Ditching long commutes and proper shoes in exchange for a home office and fuzzy slippers are definite perks. Some may even relish the idea of not being surrounded and bothered by pesky co-workers.
However, many of these same people may not consider that a workplace without coworkers (at least those who are there in person) can also be lonely. A few days of uninterrupted productivity can get old and turn into an exercise in daily solitude. There’s no one to break up the workday with casual conversation, or teammates to rely on if you need help in a pinch. Collaboration is filtered through a computer screen.
Anyone you hire needs to understand this and should be comfortable working on their own—all the time. That also means they need to be able to manage their time on their own.
Companies should value an independent worker who does not need a lot of handholding to get the job done. But the trade-off may become efficient yet overly siloed workers who fail to communicate or cooperate on projects. It can quickly become a mess. The counterbalance to too much independence is an equally collaborative spirit.
As much as remote workers must be independent, they should also remain willing to work well with others to achieve the common goal of the organization. This means leaving egos at the door, participating in virtual meetings or team exercises, listening to the ideas of others, and occasionally working outside their official job description for the greater good.
When everyone joins forces, the machine runs more smoothly.
When sitting at a home office faced with a blank screen and a whole day stretching ahead, there has to be something that gets a person going. With no coworkers – or a boss – around all the time, remote employees must possess an internal drive to be productive and achieve goals, even when no one is there to cheer them on or monitor them.
An employee that needs an authority figure to constantly tell them what to do can become a burden. You want to look for employees who have a certain self-awareness of what their own motivating factors are.
People are motivated by many things – perfectionism, feeling accomplished, external incentives, and avoiding failure to name just a few. Knowing what carrots will keep a worker happily striving forward will help you get the best work out of them.
In addition to being a self-starter, having little supervision means employees will have to be organized. This includes managing their projects, communication threads, and most importantly, their time.
The truth is that no one appreciates a disorganized co-worker. They never have what is asked for; they are always late on assignments; they don’t follow processes. It is a drag on the whole team, unfortunately.
There are countless platforms that companies use to streamline and centralize project management and communication. Furthermore, a seasoned employee should develop their own system for staying on top of their tasks and responsibilities – whether that is using digital tools or a good old-fashioned notebook. In short, each worker needs to have their own “method to the madness.”
#5 Strong writing skills
Working remotely relies heavily on written communication. An employee won’t have a co-worker sitting nearby to ask questions or run ideas by. It’s not possible to pop into a manager’s office to have a quick face-to-face conversation.
From email and text messages to Slack to Microsoft Teams chats, there are a host of platforms and methods to keep team members connected and work humming along. Therefore, your remote employees should be able to effectively communicate through writing – this includes proper grammar. This is especially true if an employee is client-facing, but there should be a standard for internal communications as well. No one wants to read an email riddled with errors or incomplete information.
Let’s not forget about etiquette. Make sure that employees and recruits can maintain a polite and professional tone across all their written correspondence.
Speaking of apps like Slack and Teams – they won’t be much help if someone doesn’t know how to use them, or the myriad tools that allow businesses to operate virtually. Successful remote employees must be comfortable with technology – period. They should be able to easily jump on a Zoom call, respond to a question posted in an online group thread, or edit presentation notes on Google docs. Remote employees should also have up-to-date equipment, including a reliable computer, internet, and phone.
Of course, there is a learning curve, but a strong candidate should have some familiarity, be comfortable figuring it out on their own, or at the very least understand the language so they can be easily trained. Someone who is able to jump in quickly with the technology even while working remotely will make onboarding seamless.
Every professional knows that sometimes you get those days when a project suddenly goes off the rails or there are multiple fires to put out. Anyone who has spent time working from home also knows that on top of these work stresses, you might also have to deal with kids at home, the dog barking, or the internet going out. Unfortunately, these things happen.
Yet just as a skillful professional navigates unwelcome issues with flexibility and focus, effective remote employees aren’t thrown off by everyday hiccups at home. Whatever gets thrown at them – in a remote setting – they have sufficient time and project management skills to triage problems, adapt quickly, and get the job done. Adaptable employees can be counted on, and this will build trust and resilience for the whole team.
Pro tip: conduct a skills assessment test
As a bonus, here's one last tip. Use online skills assessments to quantify candidates' skills before inviting them to the next stage of the hiring process. Skills assessments are the best way to measure an individual’s ability to do a certain job based on a series of curated questions and exercises. TestGorilla has a library of more than 110 scientifically validated tests so you can gauge how well a candidate can work remotely (now that you know what skills to look for) and whether or not they can actually do the job.
Remote work is here to stay and will more than ever become a vital part of the way we do business. By making looking for these skills as a part of your candidate selection process, top talent is well within your reach – no matter where it is.