Is remote working right for me? Six traits you’ll need

Not sure if remote working is right for you? We’ve listed six key traits for remote workers.

Don't worry if you don't shine in all areas. It’s useful to be aware of your strengths and the areas you find challenging, so that you can consider these as you plan your remote career.

Trait 1 – Self-starter, with good motivation

For some people, working remotely means less distraction and greater productivity compared with working in a busy office. But others can be left feeling unsure of where to start or if they are making enough progress. All of us have off days, but remote workers do need to be self starters with a reasonably high level of motivation. Otherwise, without the peer pressure of an office full of colleagues, some people can find it harder to keep on track.

Tip: If you haven’t worked remotely before, is there anything else you’ve done that suggests you would enjoy this way of working? Some companies report that people with experience of freelance work may find the switch to remote working relatively easy. Or maybe you’ve carried out a volunteer or student project, or spent time as a stay-at-home parent – tasks that need you to organise your own time and stay self-motivated. A lack of this type of experience doesn’t have to be a problem, but it’s worth thinking through how you would manage your time, set goals and track your progress without office colleagues around you.

Trait 3 – Clear communicator

Remote workers need to be confident communicators. You’ll need to be comfortable communicating in writing if your team keeps in touch using text-based tools such as Skype, email or Slack. You don’t need perfect grammar and spelling, but for most remote roles, you will probably need to be comfortable discussing your work in writing.

You also need to be willing to learn your way around the communication tools and processes used by your team, whether that’s video conferencing, Skype, phone, email, or team-communications software such as Slack.

Initiative is important here, too. If something is unclear, you need to be able to recognise this and raise it – rather than struggling away alone. But it’s not all down to you – your employer should be thinking about how to build and support a culture of good communication that includes remote team members. Using great social communications tools and expecting regular check-ins with other team members and managers can help everyone in the team stay connected and on the same page – no matter where they are based.

Tip: Think about a recent, tricky situation that has cropped up at work. How would you have handled this if you were working remotely, rather than in the office? What would you have done the same, what would you have done differently? What tools would work best?

Trait 6 – Emotional intelligence and cultural awareness

Remote workers need to be willing to pay attention to how they communicate. Without body language or tone of voice to go on, an email comment can seem overly harsh and critical, and sometimes even the best intentioned communications can go awry. Some people are more blunt when writing comments than they would be when speaking face-to-face. If that happens, don’t take it to heart. The best thing is often to ‘stay calm and communicate.’ Try another channel – maybe pick up the phone – and double check what was meant.

If you are joining a very distributed team working with colleagues from a wide range of different countries, a degree of cultural awareness is needed. You don’t need to be an expert on every place you have colleagues, but it helps to be aware of key cultural issues. While avoiding stereotypes, there may be cultural norms about how people communicate – such as whether addressing people by their first names is considered polite (or not), when it’s OK to contact people out of office hours, how direct (or not) to be with feedback, and different expectations about leadership styles. If working in a cross-cultural team is new for you, ask your employer if any guidance or training is available.

Trait 2 – Team player

Some people still think of remote workers as loners who prefer hiding out at home with their laptop, avoiding communication with colleagues. In fact, a good remote worker will really value team work and be prepared to make an extra effort to ensure that he or she stays fully involved with what’s going on with their colleagues.

Tip: It can be useful to think through how you would stay involved with colleagues if you’re not based in the same office. Are you happy catching up by phone, or do you prefer tools such as Skype or Slack?  Are you close enough to travel to the office for some meetings? How would you report on your progress to a line manager, and what sort of direction would you like from them? Taking the initiative, such as offering to take the lead on a project or piece of research, can be a great way to make to sure you’re not left out of the team.

Trait 4 – Flexibility

Do you love routine and familiarity, or do you thrive on change? If remote working is new to you, be prepared to give yourself time to adapt to this new work style, and accept that you may find some new ways of working challenging to begin with. You might find that ‘doing what you’ve always done’ no longer works, in terms of planning, organising and communicating about your work. That means being prepared to go out of your comfort zone a little, and to learn new skills and approaches.

You may need to be particularly flexible if you are joining a very dispersed team, with colleagues spread all over the globe and working across different time zones.

Tip: Part of moving to remote working involves recognising that it’s new. It’s OK to try things – and it’s OK if something doesn’t work out; see what you can improve, tweak it, and move on. Be patient with yourself, and with colleagues. Most fully remote teams report that it takes lots of experimentation to find the right tools and systems that really work for them – and this needs further adapting as teams grow and change.

Trait 5 – Commitment to learning

Are you happy to invest some time and energy into really getting confident with the tools and processes you’ll be using? You definitely don’t have to be a technical wizard. But for those of us who take a while to pick up new technology, it can really help to practice outside of work, as soon as you start searching for remote vacancies. You could try setting up a Google Hangout or video chat with family or friends, or plan a project or holiday using Trello or Slack. It can be helpful to treat remote working like any other area of your professional development, planning out what steps you’ll take over the next few months to build your remote-work skills. Take a look at our tech skills articles to get started.
If you’re joining a new company, ask what tools they use and what training and IT support will be provided to help you get up to speed (and maybe have a sneaky practice before your first day!) If you’re going for an interview, think about the tools you’ve used before, and about how you communicated with clients and colleagues, and organised your work life – you may already know more than you think!

So that’s our Top Six. Are there other factors you think help with remote working? We’d love to hear from you: Get in touch, or join the conversion on social media. 

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