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Summary:

When you’re evaluating potential hires for a remote work position, or accessing whether or not an existing office-based asset can make the jump to working from home, what skill or skills do you hold most important? Here are my three top selections.

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When you’re evaluating potential hires for a remote work position, or accessing whether or not an existing office-based team member can make the jump to working from home, what skill or skills do you hold most important? It’s a tough question, because what makes someone good at any given position normally doesn’t necessarily make them best suited for a remote work environment.

Here are the skills that I think, irrespective of specific industry, provide the best ground upon which to build remote work success. It’s a short list, and obviously the more of these a candidate has, the better, but there’s one in particular I think stands out above all the rest.

  1. Wide-ranging technical knowledge and experience. Someone who works remotely will be doing much of their job online, and just as the best photographer has used a variety of cameras and equipment, the best remote worker will have used many platforms, operating systems and devices. Remote workers don’t need to be experts in many fields, it’s more important that they have experimented early and often with a range of technological areas. The key is that they understand fundamentals well enough that if they are thrown into a brand new computing environment with unfamiliar hardware or software, they can hit the ground running and quickly get up to speed. The best tool is the one you have with you, and the best handyman is the one who can wield any tool.
  2. Independently motivated. If you want to work remotely, you had better be able to provide our own motivation to get things done. Many people perceive that there’s a considerable chance that if they worked from home, they’d have a hard time getting anything done, and that can definitely be true if you are used to strong external guidance at a traditional workplace. In many remote work situations, the only taskmaster you’ll have will be yourself, so if you’re good at digging in and getting stuff done, it’s your time to shine.
  3. Excellent communication skills. If you have an employee in-house and you don’t hear from them for three months, they’re probably either on vacation or playing some serious hooky. With remote workers, large gaps in communication can be all too common. That’s why you should focus on finding remote work assets that put considerable stock in talking to and being talked to by home base. But just finding a chatterbox isn’t enough. You need to find employees that can communicate effectively in a variety of electronic media without becoming a productivity drag by unnecessarily requesting too much attention. It’s a surprisingly thin line to tread.

For me, the most important asset to have is no. 3. Breakdowns in communication result in the biggest mistakes, and lead to productivity-killing mop up. What’s at the top of your list?

  1. Let’s take a look at the same issue from the remote worker’s point of view to balance that of the employer’s:

    1. Wide-ranging technical knowledge and experience
    If a company is using certain applications for certain jobs, they should not expect that their freelancers use the same applications. Examples: 1) A recent client of mine used an in-house application to compress files for sending them over email but could not open my email with the attachment compressed with another program. 2) A seemingly simple thing like using Microsoft Office may mean that the company is using the latest version, whereas the freelancer may be using an older one, which can render .docx and .pptx files, for example, unusable at the other end. To summarize, be flexible with your technologies; your freelancer may not be able to upgrade to everything you’re using yourself.

    2. Independently motivated
    The role of a project owner or team leader is much more important for a remote team than an in-house team. Someone merely doling out assignments and then sitting back waiting for results won’t cut it. Remote workers are by and large lone wolves and will appreciate it if you make them feel like part of your team. The head of the team should take his or her role as an inspirer of the team very seriously.

    3. Excellent communication skills
    This is easily the most important of the three points also “on the other side”. Remote employers should, however, remember that the quality of communication will always surpass quantity. The remote worker will need time to do the actual job, not spend all his time communicating. A horror story from some months ago in my own one-man copywriting business involved a client who sent sundry pieces of overlapping information expecting me to compile a coherent entity, a very time-consuming task totally thwarted by his requirement of having daily contact and frequent net meetings. Excellent communication skills, yes, including an understanding what is needed and when.

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