Not everyone can be good at flexible and remote work, where people need to be productive without the supervision and support systems offered by an office environment.
As we gear up to bid adieu to 2020, we must acknowledge the kind of changes it wrought. Among other things, it has silenced the vociferous opposition to remote work which we have seen over the years and almost made it attractive. A report by Gartner says that post-pandemic, 31% more employees are likely to work remotely at least some of the time than before. What’s more, 74% of companies intend to shift at least some employees to remote work permanently post-COVID-19. All the arguments against remote work have now yielded way to strategies that enable it to be continued indefinitely. The reduced social interaction, communication, and collaboration of remote work have become imperatives and actual attractions. Technology has made it easier than ever for people to stay at home and work without going to any office.
When offices threw their doors open recently, only about 1 in 10 employees were willing to leave their homes and head to work. The rest opted to continue working remotely. Which made us wonder what it was this 10% of people needed, to decide to return to their workplaces, with the pandemic still raging? We compiled a list of 8 competencies that people need to succeed at remote work. Let’s look at what they are and enumerate the reasons which make them important, if not essential for success.
The ability to communicate well holds the key to any interaction. When managing people and conveying instructions, it becomes a game of ‘Chinese whispers’ if one of them lacks the required proficiency at communication. Communication could be both written (text, emails) or spoken (phone/video calls). All of us have experienced the cost of miscommunication enough to understand the value and importance of good communication.
Remote work lacks the kind of supervision that office spaces encourage. This could make some people lose focus and stop being organized. To help them be efficient and productive, managers may set deadlines and organize their deliverables against assigned timelines. Remote workers themselves can also set deadlines for themselves or organize their day using tools like Trello or Notion, to be efficient at what they need to do. There’s no one to monitor or motivate a remote worker, so an effective remote worker has to be a structured individual who sets a high standard for themselves and does not hesitate to work on changes or revisions when needed and resubmit on time when told that their work didn’t meet expectations.
We all need to know how to be organized and make the most of our working hours, in a day. When working remotely, workers need to be able to create an atmosphere conducive to work, where they would be able to concentrate on work and not get distracted or lose their effectiveness. Remote workers can deliver on tasks that need creativity and productivity at their own pace, by working at a time of their choice in a day. To illustrate, some people love to work through the night, while others may prefer to work in the early hours. To enjoy such flexibility with responsibility, a remote worker needs to coordinate with their supervisor to be available when needed even if their work doesn’t follow a pattern.
Remote workers need to be able to concentrate on the job at hand and not get distracted by music or a TV show which another member of the family may be playing to pass their time. It is entirely left to their self-direction on how they manage the tasks set for them, without losing concentration. Some other skills needed are customer orientation, punctuality, commitment, and a sense of responsibility coupled with the ability to seek help when needed.
Not everyone would need to be under the draconian supervision of a manager to stay oriented to working hours, deadlines, goals, and standards of work. All managers know people who attend work and stay seated at their desks also do not actually do the work expected of them. Such people will not inspire any trust in their managers when working remotely unless they change their ways. Ultimately, only a conscientious, self-directed, and disciplined worker who is able to manage their time well will be a valued remote worker. The rest will have to wait for the lockdowns to lift so that they can go back and sit at a desk to be managed by a taskmaster.
Even remotely managed tasks need a team to deliver on different aspects. While working independently, the remote worker will also need to work in conjunction with a team. While remote workers are good problem solvers and can operate well with just high-level instructions. That in itself will not be sufficient without an ability to get the rest of the team to stay on top of the project by sharing the required inputs with them. Their manager and other team members should be able to reach out to them when needed or be aware of a time of when they would be available, so they could plan a team meeting or discussion.
Remote work could sometimes be about the ability to work in spite of distractions like a sick family member, a celebration at home, unexpected visitors, or a favorite movie being telecast. The distractions and opportunities for slacking off which any home offers cannot all be listed here. As everyone knows, they are all uniformly good at making remote work difficult. Staying committed calls for a tremendous amount of discipline and ability to deliver to schedule.
To be successful, remote workers need to have a growth mindset and be willing to take initiative and grow. They willingly learn new things, willingly adopt new tools and gain the required proficiency, try to be flexible in their outlook, and believe in their own potential.
Some may consider this a big ask but this is the focus of GenY and GenZ, so it may not be too much to ask as we move into the future. The only imperative which makes people stay focused, productive, and working non-stop is the passion they have for the work they do. Not everyone does a job for the paycheck it brings. Some love their work and cannot but be committed to it. This would also help to keep the person’s mental health also on an even keel, in spite of the social distancing and relative isolation imposed on them.
Do keep these attributes in mind when sourcing your next batch of recruits, especially if you know that they are going to be working remotely or working flexibly. Add some of them to your next skill development activity to see how you can inculcate some of the values and discipline needed to be good at remote work.