I worked in corporate America for over twenty years. During that time I hired and managed people, and unfortunately had to fire people, too (which always felt terrible). I wrote job descriptions, created skills assessments, and developed training courses about employee engagement. Because of this experience, I know the top skills you need to be a successful remote worker.
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This list might surprise you because often people think the skills they need to be a successful remote worker have something to do with technology or social media.
In fact, my conversations with students in my Remote Work 101: Work, Live, and Travel Where You Want program is what inspired me to write this article. So many times I hear things like:
- I’ve never worked online so I have no experience.
- I’ve only been an administrative assistant for twenty years, who would hire me?
- All the technology I need to know confuses me.
- I haven’t been in the workforce since my kids were born.
That last one kills me. As if you have no skills because you were raising a family and managing a household? Let me recap that: You managed finances and resources enough to keep people fed, put a roof over their head, and basically keep them alive.
I find that people vastly underestimate their value. Many think they only have a couple of skills, and have a hard time seeing how those skills translate to working in a remote job—much less one that brings them joy. It breaks my heart when I see talented, multi-skilled people count themselves out of a job before they’ve even applied.
Therefore, in this article, I’m going to show you how you have at least some of the skills needed to be a successful remote worker.
The bottom line is that employers want employees who they can depend on. This is especially true with remote workers because they can’t see you or have immediate access to you. If you can demonstrate some of the skills on this list in your resume and an interview, then you have improved your hiring odds significantly in the eyes of many employers.
1. Work Independently
Being able to work independently is really important when you work remotely. You’re on your own, without a boss or team. You can’t just “pop” over to your co-worker’s cubicle when you need something. It means you can figure things out on your own (most of the time), and don’t need people around to hold you accountable.
I’m a fairly independent worker, however when I worked in an office I was notorious for just popping in with questions—especially technology ones. In hindsight, I was probably pretty annoying. People were trying to work and stay focused and there I was like, “Hey Joe, you got a minute? Can you train me how to add a signature to this email?”
Since I started working remotely, I’ve trained myself how to find answers and troubleshoot more. I use YouTube and read blogs to get the answers to my questions. I also take paid training courses when I need to learn new skills. Basically, I figure it out.
Ways to demonstrate this skill: The good news is that most people have some experience working independently. Think of a hobby that you do by yourself, or anything you do where you don’t need people to tell you when and how to do it. Now apply that to a specific job task. Then use that example on your resume or in an interview.
2. Meet Deadlines
Meeting deadlines is one of the most desired skills of any employee (remote or otherwise). These days, so many things are project-based and bound by timeframes. Being able to meet deadlines shows employers you can be counted on.
Additionally, being able to meet deadlines will show employers you can take on higher priority tasks, which can lead to more opportunities, promotions, and raises.
Ways to demonstrate this skill: The best way to do this is to meet the deadline (that seems obvious). However, sometimes deadlines are unrealistic. In those cases, make sure you communicate this honestly and negotiate for a longer deadline or a reduced scope of work. Also, if you may miss a deadline let the employer know in advance and as soon as possible so it isn’t a surprise. It’s better to tell them something they might not like than look undependable.
Your ability to meet deadlines will be tied to your ability to manage time, which is the next skill.
3. Ability To Manage Time
Managing time is a skill that sounds easy but isn’t—just get a planner or magically breeze through your day with a neat little to-do list.
These days, so many things compete for our attention. You open your email and get distracted by an alert from Facebook that takes you down a rabbit hole of watching cat videos (oh, that’s just me?).
Managing your time is vital in a remote role because no one is watching you. It’s easier to slide into distractions when the boss isn’t breathing down your neck.
Ways to demonstrate this skill: I’m a really effective time manager, and one of the things I do is list my top three priorities for the day. I have a secondary list too, for when I finish those top three things—but those items always come first.
I also write the tasks I’ll do in hourly time blocks. To be fair, I have a background in project management, where I developed the skills to estimate time. But if you start tracking your time on tasks, for example in a tool like Toggl, you’ll get better at this over time. By the way, sharing how you manage your time with a potential employer helps to increase their trust in you.
4. Communicate Effectively
Being an effective communicator feels like a life skill everyone should have. Wouldn’t it be great if we all said what we mean, and everyone else immediately understood it 100%? Yeah, not gonna happen—we’re only human after all.
You don’t have to be the world’s best communicator as a remote worker, but you do need to be able to explain things, ask questions, and be proactive with your employer. Again, it’s because you aren’t onsite, and meetings happen virtually. You miss out on things like body language and facial expressions that enhance communication. Therefore, you need to be extra clear with your communication.
Ways to demonstrate this skill: Show up to meetings prepared with questions. You can also start by emailing an agenda to your boss in advance. For example, let’s say that you are a virtual event planner. Your email can look something like this:
Thought I’d let you know that I’d like to review these three things in our meeting today:
- The dates for the event.
- The menu options.
- The budget for the flowers to be purchased
I look forward to chatting soon.
This conveys your ability to plan, think ahead, and desire to communicate along the way.
Being resourceful is similar to being able to work independently, in that you have to find answers and solutions. It’s what makes you become more independent as a remote worker.
I can give you a personal example of my technical virtual assistant, Reed, who is very resourceful. He is helping me with an online course launch, even though he has no background in the type of technology integrations I need.
But I know him to be quite resourceful and independent, which is why I hired him. He has spent time researching possibilities, troubleshooting tech challenges, and even offering me solutions I would never think of.
His ability to do those things brings me peace of mind as an employer. Additionally, it saves me time from having to learn everything on my own, or having to give him direction.
Ways to demonstrate this skill: You can be more resourceful by starting with the mindset that you can figure things out. Too many times we allow ourselves to get overwhelmed or confused when we don’t have answers. This shuts off our logical mind and blocks us from finding solutions.
Start with the mindset that you can figure things out, and then share that sentiment with your employer. For example, say things like, “I don’t know the answer to that but I will find out.” You can also do things like building a reference library. Do this by saving YouTube videos, or storing (or creating) helpful resources in Dropbox or a Google drive, like I do. Then tell your employer that you have built, or are building a resource library so that they can easily have answers at their fingertips.
6. Can Do Research
Your ability to do research is tied to your resourcefulness. It’s a step of being resourceful actually, because if you don’t have the answer to something you pretty much have to research it.
I would say though, that research for remote employees has more to do with not stopping at the first answer. In my early corporate project management years, I was always looking for the quickest answer. I wanted to move on with things quickly, probably because I was time-crunched.
But stopping at the first answer isn’t doing thorough research. These days, since there can be multiple answers or possibilities to a problem, you should research enough to find the BEST answer—not just any old answer.
Also, doing research to this degree will make you more well-rounded, and show your employer how committed you are to providing quality work.
Ways to demonstrate this skill: You can demonstrate your research abilities by offering your employer more than one solution. My virtual assistant, Reed, did this recently. We ran into a snag with my Facebook live videos. Reed did research for me and came back with two viable options to solve my problem. He ruled out a third option because it was overly complex, and he knew I needed something easier given my time constraints.
This kind of skill brings much relief to an employer, and shows them that you not only can do research, but you can think through complex situations, too.
7. Problem Solver
Being a problem solver is a highly sought after skill by employers because it takes the pressure off them to find solutions. They love it when an employee says something like, “I thought through the issue with the catering, and I’ve figured out how to solve it.” It literally brings down their heart rate because they know they are in good hands.
I’m a natural born problem solver. My husband laughs at me because it almost doesn’t matter what the problem is, I always find solutions: “What, there are no tortillas left? That’s okay, we’ll use lettuce wraps instead!”
I firmly believe there is always at least one, and probably more like five solutions to a problem.
Problem solving is also tied to the skill of thorough research, and finding more than one solution. But it also speaks to your ability to BELIEVE that solutions exist, and that you have what it takes to find them.
Ways to demonstrate this skill: This morning, I had a call with my social media assistant, Carrie. I was a little panicked by a tech issue we may have with people registering for my webinar. She said, “No worries, I got you covered.” We didn’t even have to talk about the issue because she took ownership of it, and communicated that she’d handle it for me.
What a huge relief! It not only demonstrated her problem solving skills, but it also showed her ability to communicate effectively. Even if she’s shaking in her boots right now scrambling for answers, she didn’t let on—and that goes a long way to build confidence with employers.
8. Team Player
Being a team player doesn’t simply mean getting along with others. It includes offering to help, sharing your expertise, and contributing to the workplace culture.
Nothing turns people off more than when people say things like, “That’s not my job, that’s above my pay grade, or go ask Joe, he’ll know.”
Seriously, do your best to help when and where you can. Go above and beyond enough to show people you care. For example, don’t sign off at 4:55 when your shift ends at 5:00. Instead, at 4:45 tell people you’ll soon be signing off, and ask them if they have any last minute requests you can help with.
I want to balance this by saying don’t go too far above and beyond. I know some people who work an extra two hours every day, or always volunteer on every project. The problem is that these folks might think this will get them a raise or promotion, and they are disappointed when it doesn’t happen quickly enough or ever. Worse yet, they get burned out by overworking. So don’t overdo it. A good rule of thumb is to be a good person and do your best.
9. Deal With Ambiguity
Dealing with ambiguity is all about being able to work in an environment that lacks clarity. In most jobs, your work will not always be well-defined, and rules will be gray.
I always smirk with this one because I worked for an employer who measured this skill in everybody’s performance review. As the business grew and changed during troubled times, they used “deals with ambiguity” as a crutch phrase to hold people accountable for a lack of leadership (what, do I sound bitter?).
I do think it’s an important skill for people to have, though. In remote situations, you may not have all the information, and maybe the company or entrepreneur you work for doesn’t have enough defined for you to feel confident in your job.
The trick with this is not to freak out about it. Seriously, that’s my best advice because I know it can be difficult to work in fast-paced, ever-changing environments. Start-ups are a good example of this. Even if you’re freaking out on the inside, just calmly do your best and it will show the employer that you can “deal with ambiguity.”
Ways to demonstrate this skill: When you don’t have all the information and you feel like you can’t do your job, you can say to your employer something like, “I feel like with more information I could do a better job, but I’m going to work with what I have so far. Let’s check back in on X date, and make sure I’m on the right track. By then perhaps, we’ll have more information to work with.”
Saying something like this shows your ability to stay level-headed and keep moving forward. And it sure beats, “Holy crap Tom, I can’t do my job unless you get me those files my tomorrow.”
10. Take Initiative
I am in “initiative heaven” right now with the people I am working with. Reed and Carrie, who I mentioned earlier in this article, are taking it upon themselves to learn new skills, offer ideas, and do whatever it takes to help me with my project.
That’s the best way to describe what taking initiative looks like. It’s when you don’t wait for directions, and you don’t need things to be clear to get started. You’re able to work with a rough vision, and then take the initiative to figure out what needs to get done.
It takes courage and some confidence to jump in like that, but I always say that courage and confidence come from taking action. The more you do it, the more confident you get.
Also, when you are good at things like being resourceful, doing research, and solving problems, you feel more capable of taking initiative in the first place. These skills work hand-in-hand—you develop one and improve others, too.
Ways to demonstrate this skill: There are ways to demonstrate that you take initiative or want to. Simple phrases like, “Let me handle it for you,” or, “I can take that action item,” communicate initiative.
Additionally, not asking for things, but just doing them works, too. For example, my husband surprised me last week by getting our Twitter account up and running with tweets and everything. I had no idea or expectation about this. He just did it. It was like having a slice of cake with extra frosting. I am not his employer either, which makes that even sweeter. Awwww.
I hope you found this list of top 10 skills to be a successful remote worker helpful. I want to clarify that you don’t need to have all of these skills. You just need to know which ones you are good at and communicate them. Make sure they are clearly indicated on your resume, and talk about them in your interviews.
Click here if you want tips on how to write a resume for an online job.
If you want help figuring out what skills you’re good at, sign up to get my free training session “Got Skills?” You’ll dig deeper into the skills you have, and learn how to turn them into strengths.