5 Competencies to Seek When Hiring for Remote Work

by Achurch Consulting

It’s time to retire the phrase “soft skills.” So-called “soft” skills are essential for all professionals, especially those who work remotely. Remote employees can’t succeed without these competencies. In a remote work environment, miscommunication easily arises when someone lacks the skills to understand the tone of a message or ask for necessary clarification. Someone with underdeveloped teamwork skills may get by in the office with more chances for a personal connection or “quick clarification” conversations. In the remote office, collaboration and teamwork take more intentionality and adaptability

The list of essential remote work competencies is long, but you can only focus on a handful when interviewing job candidates. We suggest you start with the five competencies that make the biggest impact on remote work performance.  

1. Communicative

In a remote workplace, employees (and teammates) must be good listeners and communicators. But communicative goes beyond being clear and concise when writing and speaking. Remote employees must be inclined to communicate.

Communicative team members are proactive about providing status updates. They’re confident enough to ask for clarification and help when necessary. They’re candid and open—unafraid to hear or convey the truth, in a diplomatic manner, of course. Communicative employees have a high level of emotional and social intelligence.

During the recruiting process, pay attention to how promptly a candidate responds to your emails and messages. Notice the degree of clarity in their communication and their willingness to provide information in anticipation of your needs. You shouldn’t feel as if you’re pulling information out of them. They should either understand what you need and provide it, or ask clarifying questions, in case you’re the one not making yourself clear.

Ask interview questions about:

  • Methods they prefer for communicating in different work scenarios and why.
  • A difficult conversation that didn’t go well and what they learned from the experience.
  • A difficult conversation that went better than expected and what they learned from the experience.
  • How they keep their supervisor and other stakeholders in the loop, for example, co-workers, project team members, and volunteer leaders.

2. Disciplined

With no one around to look over their shoulder, remote employees must rely on their own self-discipline and innate work ethic to stay on task. They are in the habit of prioritizing projects and tasks, managing their time, and structuring their day so they can accomplish everything on their list.

They schedule time for deep work and follow routines to manage the busywork portion of their job. They set boundaries for themselves and others so they can minimize distractions and maintain their focus.

Ask interview questions about:

  • Work habits that keep them on schedule.
  • Preferred tools or apps for task and time management.
  • How they prioritize tasks.
  • How they maintain life/work boundaries.
  • What their work setup looks like.

3. Self-Motivated

Remote workers must be self-starters. They don’t need to see other people at their desks to know it’s time to start working. Self-starters are internally driven to perform at a high level. They’re intrinsically motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose, according to Daniel Pink, author of Drive.

Ask interview questions about:

  • The degree of autonomy they had at their last job and how they felt about it.
  • How they learned about their members’ or customers’ industry/profession in their last job.
  • Their professional reading habits.
  • Professional development they pursued in the past year.
  • Their role in advancing the organization’s mission/strategy in their last job.
  • When they lacked the motivation to do a task/project and how they overcame that apathy.

4. Self-Directed

A self-directed employee doesn’t need constant direction, handholding, or supervision. They structure their day themselves by prioritizing and organizing their work and making the appropriate decisions. Self-directed employees don’t wait for instruction. They seek out the work that needs to be done within their role and the company’s mission, and loops in their manager as needed and helpful. They seek ways to improve processes instead of accepting the status quo and serve as their own project manager. They find answers before being asked the questions.

Notice how much they learn about you and your organization while preparing for their interview.

Ask interview questions about:

  • When they improved a process—discuss their motivation and the outcome.
  • When they were missing information or resources to get something done and how they found what they needed.
  • How they approached a difficult challenge or goal and how they overcame barriers.
  • When they took the initiative to collaborate with others to accomplish something.

5. Trustworthy

Work is much more satisfying when you are surrounded (virtually) by colleagues and employees of the highest integrity—so seek that in your job candidates. You want trustworthy, responsible remote employees who mean what they say and do what they promise, even when “out of sight.” They’re honest and transparent. You can count on them to keep confidence and do the right thing even when it’s the difficult thing. They stand behind their work and have high expectations for themselves and others.

Ask interview questions about:

  • When they needed to earn the trust of others—for example, new committee chairs, board members, member segment, chapter leaders or affiliate staff, colleagues in another department, supervisor, or partnering organization.
  • When they had to be honest even though it wasn’t the easiest thing to do.
  • When they had to argue for the right thing to do.
  • When they had to confront unethical behavior from someone on staff or a member.
  • How others, past colleagues or friends (may even one of their references), would describe their trustworthiness.

Final Thoughts

After choosing a job candidate who exhibits these five competencies, the next step is welcoming them into your organization through the remote onboarding process. And similar to certain competencies being more important than others when working remote, so are certain steps of the onboarding process. If you’re unsure where to start or how to evolve your onboarding program or process for your remote employees, we’re here to help.

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