The American workforce is changing, and one of the most visible changes is the fact that many American workers converge less and less often in a traditional office.
Recent research from Gallup shows that telecommuting is on the rise and that nearly four times as many Americans report that they work remotely than did 20 years ago.
If you’re looking for ways to make working remotely work for you, you’ll need to recognize how it differs from working in a traditional office setting — it’s much more than avoiding the commute and the cubicle.
To help you figure out if you’re going to thrive in a remote work setting, I spoke with Tricia Sciortino, a business leader who manages an entirely remote workforce. Sciortino is the president of eaHELP, a provider of virtual assistant services.
eaHELP’s entire corporate team works from their homes, as do the hundreds of contractors who partner with eaHELP. Tricia shared the top five qualities she and her team look for when it comes to hiring remote workers who really get things done:
1. Technology savvy
Remote workers absolutely have to stay connected, and technology tools are their lifelines. “We conduct nearly every meeting via video, as well as every step of our interviewing process that we don’t do in-person,” Sciortino said. “It gives us a deeper level of connection and insight than we’d get over the phone, and I don’t ever feel like I’m working ‘alone’ because I’m seeing my teams’ faces on a daily basis, except it’s on a screen rather than in an office.”
Sciortino also highlighted how the ability to find and implement new technology solutions is key for workers who will have to serve as their own ad-hoc IT support departments. “There’s nobody for us to call when our laptops act up, so our teams have to be willing to figure some things out for themselves,” she said.
You can’t let out of sight equal out of mind when working remotely. Communication and clarity take on a new level of importance when working remotely.
“We look for people who have the ability to ask good, clarifying questions and get the answers we need,” Sciortino said. “We’re also very intentional about communicating a message in multiple ways — I’d much rather over-communicate with my teams than leave them wondering.”
Remote workers don’t have anybody watching the clock to see when they start and stop working. That means intrinsic motivation — performing an action or behavior because you enjoy the activity itself — is essential for working from home. “No one is there to cheer you on or push you, so you’ve got to know how to stay on task and know the practices that help you get the most done in the time you have,” Sciortino said.
4. Boundary setting
Working from home can be a bit like a Dickens novel: The best of times and the worst of times.
“Working remotely means I have more freedom to work when and how I want, which is terrific for me as a mother of two school-age daughters,” Sciortino said, “but it also means that I can never physically leave it ‘at the office.’ That can be challenging for many people working remotely for the first time.”
Sciortino and her team counsel new remote workers to set up a physical office that’s separate from the rest of their home if possible, so they can literally leave the office. They also frequently share tips for time management and setting boundaries between work and home life.
When you don’t see your co-workers daily, and they don’t see you, it can get a bit tricky when conflicts arise and expectations go unmet.
“When we find ourselves running into gaps in communication and perspectives, we’ve learned that we have to fill that gap with trust — we have to assume the best of each other. Otherwise, our virtual working culture goes straight down the drain,” Sciortino said. “And we each know that the burden to be trustworthy is on us — we trust everyone is doing what they need to be doing, and that we each need to live up to that trust.”
Working remotely can be an incredible benefit for employers, as they can recognize huge savings in overhead and often huge gains in productivity. It can be an incredible benefit for employees who go into a remote working situation with their eyes open. “We love being an all-virtual company, but we know it takes hard work to make it work,” Sciortino said. And by recognizing that the work will be worth it, you can make it work for your career as well.