5 Essential Qualities to Look for in a Remote Worker

remote worker

I’ve worked almost exclusively from home for almost 2 years now. With the exception of Mondays (when we hold our weekly staff meetings), I spend my week working from home and communicating with my fellow colleagues via email, Google Hangouts and WhatsApp. As a result, I no longer have to endure the arduous morning and evening commute from Wicklow to Dublin, meaning I get to spend more time with my family and my pets, and using the hours I save travelling to do more of the things I love. While my productivity as a content writer has shot up with the lack of workplace distractions.

As someone who has experienced the benefits of telecommuting first hand, I’m delighted to see that the practice is being slowly but surely embraced by more and more organisations in a wide range of industries. Research tells us telecommuting increases worker productivity (a Stanford study has showed that call center employees increased their productivity by 13% when allowed to work from home), reduces employee turnover (employees who are given the option to telecommute are reportedly much happier (73%) with their employers than traditional office workers (64%)), boosts employee morale (a study from Pennsylvania State University shows that telecommuters are generally less stressed and happier than those who work in an office), and is cost-effective (it’s estimated that for each employee who telecommutes, a company saves about $11,000 annually) In short, telecommuting is a highly valuable and desirable working arrangement for both employee and employer.

But finding the right person to work as a remote worker can be a tough task for a recruiter. Not only do you have to ensure that the candidate is a good fit for the job role (i.e. that they possess all of the relevant skills and technical abilities to do the work), but you also need to ensure that that person has the ability to be effective and productive while working independently out of a typical, regimented working environment. Sure, they might be perfectly qualified and capable of doing the job, but do they have the right mindset to do it at home?

I know that working remotely can be a unique, and extremely rewarding experience, but I also know that it isn’t for everyone. Remote workers require a totally separate sets of skills than the average office-bound worker. They need to be self-disciplined with an unparalleled ability to focus on tasks in order to be successful in their job. So, what qualities should recruiters be looking for in remote working candidates and how should recruiters be assessing candidates in order to discover whether or not they possess these qualities? Let’s find out:

Self-Motivation

Because remote workers have no bosses, managers or teammates around them telling them which tasks to complete and in what order, it would be easy for them to become lazy and unmotivated. That’s why it’s important that any remote worker is a self-motivated individual i.e. they must be motivated to do or achieve something not just because someone has told them to do it, but because they want to do it and are enthused by the idea of completing those tasks.

How to assess self-motivation:

According to Forbes, although determining motivation in a candidate can be extremely difficult, it is nonetheless possible to do so successfully with a combination of interview questions and further sleuthing:

  • Work history. What’s the candidate’s promotion history like? Have they stayed in jobs long-term, and if so, did they move up the chain? If they changed jobs frequently, was it for advancement? Did former bosses rehire the candidate in different companies? Have they been headhunted by other organisations based on their achievements?
  • Outside interests. Motivated people are motivated not just about work, but about life. So, don’t stop at asking people about their goals for their work, interview the whole person and ask questions about their life too. What are their outside interests? Are they working towards any sports awards or achievements? Have the received any sports awards or achievements in the past? Do they have engaging long-term pursuits like running marathons, learning a language, or starting community initiatives? Do they stay engaged with the world through current events, reading, and self-development?
  • Failure. Motivation is related to resiliency, as it helps a person stay focused and positive despite the inevitable obstacles. In the interview, ask the candidate questions about failure, and listen closely to the self-awareness of the responses. Questions like; How did you overcome significant obstacles for which you’re proud?”, “What projects did you tackle without being asked?”, “How did you push through challenges?” and “What’s the lowest point you’ve had at work, and what did you do?” should give you a clear picture of the candidate’s resilience.
  • Off-the-record references. Thanks to the likes of LinkedIn and wider social media channels, it’s more simple than ever to find people who know the candidate beyond the references they’ve provided. Find people who have worked with the candidate before and ask them specifically about motivation. The willingness of others to talk off the record itself can be telling. Everyone’s happy to comment about a great candidate; with an iffy one, not so much. How would they rate the candidate on a scale of 1-5?

Ability to Prioritise

Efficiency and effectiveness are not the same thing. Someone who works hard and is well organised but spends all their time on unimportant tasks may be efficient but not effective. To be effective, you need to decide what tasks are urgent and important and to focus on these. Which is why a great remote worker knows what needs to get done and delivers. They are able to identify the tasks that are most important, and they’re able to finish up urgent work before anything else. Therefore, an individual who can focus on the right tasks and who knows how to keep good time management will do well working remotely.

How to assess time management skills:

Open-ended questions like “How do you approach time management?”, that require the candidate to answer based on their personal experience should help you work out if they are comfortable with managing time, but clever candidates get good at giving interviewers the answers they want to hear, not answers that necessarily reflect the truth of the matter. That’s why the guys over at Recruiter.com like to give potential candidates a set of tasks to complete (as part of as short term, paid contract) and see how they work through them before deciding whether or not to hire them full time.

Once the candidate has completed the tasks, it’s important to ask yourself, “Did they complete the urgent and important tasks first and leave the easy things until the end?” – study after study tells us that the most effective way of managing our time is to get the most important tasks over and done with first – and “Did they take one task at a time or did they try and multi-task?” – multi-tasking has been proven to be a poor approach to productivity.

Problem-solving

Great remote workers are also great problem solvers/troubleshooters. They have an inbuilt initiative to seek the answer to any problems they face and are comfortable doing so. That said, they also know when it’s more efficient to troubleshoot on their own and when it’s necessary to seek the assistance of someone else.

How to assess problem-solving ability:

In order to determine how a candidate will cope should a future problem arise while they are working remotely, it’s important to delve into their past experiences. Ask the candidate to describe a situation in which they found a creative way to overcome a particular obstacle. Ask them what is the most innovative new idea they have implemented. Get them to tell you about 2 or more improvements they have made in the last 6 months. Or ask them to tell you about a time when they had to analyse information and make a recommendation.

Then, once they’ve answered, ask them how confident they are about their answer.

Great Written Communicator

When you work remotely, as in my case, most of the conversations and communication you have with your team back in office will be via email, text and private message. Therefore, if a candidate finds it hard to express themselves using the written word, it’s a pretty safe bet that they’re not going to be able to thrive remotely.

How to assess written communication:

When it comes to assessing this ability, pay close attention to the candidate’s cover letter and any email correspondence you’ve had. These two things should give you a good indication of their communication style and whether or not they come across fluidly on paper.

Trustworthiness

In life, every good relationship is based on trust – trust is the metaphorical glue that holds relationships together. If you don’t have it, relationships fall apart. So, if you can’t trust the person who is working remotely, then not being able to see them every day is going to cause you (and their manager) to lose sleep.

How to assess trustworthiness:

Because trust  is such a subjective thing, there is no generally agreed set of rules or measurements that we can use to assess trust formally. Which means you’re just going to have to use your own good judgement here. But there are certain games you can play with the candidate such as the well-known Prisoner’s Dilemma that can give you an indication as to their level of trustworthiness.

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