Covid-19 precipitated the largest experiment in remote working in history. Over half of the Irish workforce worked at home for some period during the pandemic. Such has been the enthusiasm for remote working that it is often claimed that the days of the office are numbered.
When Covid hit, businesses quickly complied with state emergency regulations to move all work into people’s homes that did not involve the provision of critical services. Eurofound estimated that at the height of the pandemic in 2020, the proportion of people working exclusively at home in Ireland was over 40 per cent, second only to Belgium in the EU.
As the professional world settles into a new norm of working from home, there are more remote jobs than ever before—but there are also more remote job-seekers.
According to a recent FlexJobs survey, a whopping 65% of respondents say they want to work from home full-time post-pandemic, and 31% would like a hybrid work schedule.
The good news is that opportunities for remote job seekers continue to grow in many industries, including virtual administration, healthcare, education, customer support, marketing, and more.
However, despite the growing preference for remote work, some would-be remote workers aren’t prepared for the particular challenges that working from a home office can bring. Along with having the technical skills and experience to do the job, workers also need to have a variety of other skills to be successful remote employees.
Luckily, many of these soft skills and talents can be learned or honed! For employees, this means upskilling to acquire the important remote working skills in order to stay relevant and get ahead in their career.
What do remote work skills mean?
Remote work skills refer to a set of skills both tangible and intangible that are essential to achieving maximum productivity in a remote working environment. Some important skills required for remote work include being a self-starter who is accountable, disciplined, and an organized problem-solver. Punctuality, adaptability, effective communication and strong time-management skills are also essential to remote work.
When we refer to the key skills for remote work in this guide, we’re not talking about foundational skills needed to get the job done. For example, if you’re applying for a job writing applications in Java, you need to have the skills required for that particular program, or there’s no way you can do the job successfully.
So our focus here is on the essential skills required to be successful working remotely, quite apart from the technical skills required to be successful in the actual job.
Here are 3 essential skills for remote work.
Discipline and self-motivation are essential qualities for remote work. Remote employees need to be proactive and take initiative without being constantly monitored by managers.
In an office setting, your manager would walk by your desk to get updates or even help you if you are stuck. But in a remote work environment, you need to remind yourself about the things you need to get done every day.
Ideally, remote employees should be self-starters who don’t require a lot of direction. They should have the ability to create a remote work schedule, set their own goals, estimate timelines, and achieve those goals in a timely manner.
There is evidence to suggest that employers specifically seek out those who are ‘managers of one’. Great remote workers thrive with a high degree of autonomy. They relish the freedom to accomplish goals on their own terms and recharge when it’s time to recharge.
There will always be distractions when working from home. Remote workers maintain focus by blocking out visual and audible distractions. They proactively embrace the fact that there will be interruptions and don’t dwell on an interruption when they happen.
Apps designed to boost productivity and track time can be helpful. Additional tips include blocking off certain times of the day to dedicate as focus hours, working in sprints for a period of time then taking a short break before repeating the cycle, and not getting sidetracked with e-mail or Slack notifications.
Remote work requires excellent communication.
For any remote company, being able to effectively collaborate in a remote environment is a top priority and requirement of all employees. Familiarity with a variety of virtual communication tools like instant messaging and videoconferencing tools is a must. That means getting comfortable with project management programs, video meeting software, and company-specific digital platforms.
Each company has its own tools and methods for getting work done and keeping workers engaged, so you need to feel at ease with learning and using new digital resources.
When teams work remotely, at least half of all communication is done via writing rather than speaking. This means communicating through emails, Slack, text and using the chat function on video calls.
While instant messaging and video meetings are common and useful for remote teams, most remote employees prefer asynchronous communication that does not warrant a real-time response and allows for everyone to contribute to the discussions according to their own availability.
But that means, by the time your colleague sees a message you sent, you may not be available online to clarify any queries. Therefore, it is crucial for remote employees to be as clear, succinct, and direct as possible when sending out messages to team members.
In a remote work setting, every message, email, and call needs to be effective to improve productivity and save everyone’s time. You need to be able to communicate clearly no matter what platform you’re using.
As a minimum this means always checking spelling, grammar, and punctuation and proofreading emails before sending them. You’ll also want to ensure you’re using the right level of formality and the right tone depending on who you’re communicating with. You can get away with less formality when messaging your coworkers than you can with your boss. Texts and Slack also call for less formality than email.
Miscommunication and a lack of message clarity wastes time and causes frustration among all workers. As a result, you need to be able to write clearly and succinctly, whether it’s through email, online messaging, or a note in a project management program.
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Adaptability is an essential skill that all remote employees should have to manage the constantly changing remote work environment.
Change can be frightening—particularly when you’re pivoting to an entirely new way of working, which may be unfamiliar to you or your team. It’s important to remember that a remote transition is not a binary switch—it’s a journey of iteration. Be open to rolling with the waves, as each day is a chance to learn.
Remote employees have to constantly learn to work with new team members, collaborate with a geographically dispersed team, adapt to new technologies and tools, manage work in case the internet goes down or their laptop stops working, and keep an optimum work-life balance. While many consider adaptability as a natural skill, it can also be steadily acquired by understanding the numerous requirements of your job and creating solid work schedules that take into consideration your home and work needs.
Remote workers have to be prepared to adapt to unexpected situations, like IT issues. Remote workers must be prepared for these situations, know who to contact to resolve them, and have a backup plan. Sometimes it takes a bit of creative problem-solving to find a solution, but that’s all part of being adaptable.
3 steps to cultivate remote skills
How do you rate your remote work readiness from a skill perspective? Did any skills stick out to you as opportunities for improvement? Maybe you already know the skills you could grow in. So how do you get started?
Identify the soft skills you already possess
Starting with an assessment of your current skills, identify areas of strength and where you can improve. Start by doing a self-audit to determine which soft skills you feel strongest with and which ones you lack confidence in. Asking people close to you, such as friends, family and coworkers, can also give you insights on where to go from here.
Take a class
There are plenty of online short and longer courses to help you strengthen your skills. Here’s one place to get started. Then, once you’ve got a course under your belt, it’s time to practice—at work and in your personal life. You might also seek out new tasks or projects at work, in volunteering, in your community or at home where you can put these newer skills to use.
Interview someone who has the skill you want
Informational interviews are also a great way to learn from other people who are already strong in the skills you want to build. For example, if you know a family member that has excellent stress tolerance and you’ve witnessed them staying calm in stressful situations, ask them how they approach stress and what their advice would be for you to get better in this area.
Remote work is the future
Work is going to be a lot different in the post-pandemic world. While employees might not be strictly working from home, they will still end up spending more and more of their time working outside the office. As a result, companies will be looking to hire individuals who can work remotely in a professional, effective, and productive manner. Hence, employees need to understand the changing digital culture and develop skills that can help them become a successful remote worker.
Remote work comes with many perks for employees, including flexibility, independence, increased productivity, and not having to commute. But employers hiring for work-at-home jobs are looking for more than someone who has the skills and experience to do the job. They also need to trust the employee will be accountable, reliable, and able to work well in a remote environment.
The good news is that remote skills can be learnt and honed. Follow our tips to get started and open up the opportunity of remote work for yourself.