Top 3 important soft skills for hiring remote workers
We've always known that when it comes to hiring, a candidate's soft skills can be just as important as their technical skills and professional experience. But in our increasingly distributed work environments, where many new employees are remote or hybrid from day one, what used to be nice-to-haves are becoming must-haves. And certain remote worker skills are proving more critical than others.
Does your hiring strategy reflect these new priorities yet?
In this article, you will learn:
- Which remote worker skills you should be looking for
- How to check for these soft skills during the interview process
- How pre-employment assessments can help you dig deeper
What are the best skills for remote work?
Let's start by looking at the top three soft skills to look for in remote employees.
Working remotely presents unique challenges workers wouldn't experience in an in-person environment – one of the biggest being extra distractions. There's no driving away in the morning and putting the dirty laundry, uncut grass or even the comfy couch out of mind. This is where self-motivation – hand in hand with self-discipline – comes into play.
In addition, the physical distance between coworkers naturally makes it harder to quickly connect on smaller challenges that arise. There isn't a friendly co-worker right over the cubicle that can immediately answer a question. Being self-motivated also means being a self-starter. Workers must be comfortable making solo decisions when appropriate and also not hesitate to reach out for additional support when necessary.
These are just two small examples of the independence, integrity and focus that remote work requires. Without the soft skill of self-motivation, an employee won't be able to make consistent contributions to a virtual team.
To succeed in this environment, remote workers have to be able to walk into each day knowing what they need to get done. Then they must be able to follow through on tasks without the prompting of a manager who's looking over their shoulder.
Remote and hybrid positions are best for people who are good at blocking out distractions and comfortable with a great deal of autonomy.
For distributed teams, conference calls and written communication are ways of life.
To improve hybrid or virtual work environments, remote worker skills must include intentional communication. These individuals know how to let their personality shine no matter the work environment and make a concerted effort to get to know the folks on the other end of the phone or camera.
It's important that new hires are good at deciding what to say and also when and how to say it in several contexts – email, messaging, phone and video – and for many different purposes, such as:
- Relationship building
- Idea sharing
- Reporting progress
Look for candidates who are comfortable switching in and out of these modes of communication – and who are willing to engage others as they prefer for the sake of better collaboration.
You could read endless books about leading well at work. That's because winning others over and getting them to follow you toward a goal takes well-honed influencing skills.
Remote management roles with a widespread group of direct reports require perceptive leaders whose ability to influence others is especially polished and honed.
Getting team members to execute on assigned tasks with enthusiasm, and to collaborate well with each other, requires considerable finesse over the phone and in writing.
Self-motivated people with strong communication skills and the power to influence make excellent supervisor candidates. Even if you're not hiring for a management position, this can be a good skill to look for if there's any opportunity for future advancement in a role.
Remote soft skills: Interview questions
Behavioral interviewing is one of the best ways to draw out a candidate's soft skills.
Simply put, behavioral interviewing refers to the technique of inviting your candidates to share specific examples of when they demonstrated a skill in a prior work setting. In this case, you'll want to ask about past experiences in remote environments whenever possible.
Learning how they've reacted in various situations gets down to the finer details of your candidates' behaviors – and whether or not they have the soft skills you're hoping to identify.
Below are a few sample interview prompts you can use. Before you ask them, explain to the candidate that you'd like to hear about:
- S – a situation they were in
- T – a task that needed to be done
- A – an action that they took
- R – the result of that action
- Describe a time when you've had to prioritize your tasks to meet a deadline.
- How do you balance work and home life?
- Describe a time you've had to work independently to solve a challenge.
- Describe a time when you worked on a project in a virtual environment. How did you communicate with your teammates throughout the process?
- What's your preferred method of communication and why?
- How would you initiate a new project idea with your team?
- Describe a time when you were on a Zoom call and had an objection pop up. How did you overcome it?
- An important deadline has been missed and everyone is stressed. How do you move forward?
- How would you avoid a missed deadline to begin with, keep the project on track and spirits high?
Using pre-employment tests
Hiring someone is like putting together different pieces of a puzzle, seeing if you can gather enough pieces to get a clear picture of who someone is and whether they're right for the role.
When identifying someone's soft skills for remote work, pre-employment personality tests are a great piece to add that will help show you their unique behavioral strengths.
If you give a personality assessment before the first or second interview with candidates, the results can even help you prepare interview questions that focus on certain soft skills that are important in your evaluation.
Want the peace of mind that you're making a good hiring decision for a remote or hybrid role? Incorporate into your hiring process behavioral interviewing that focuses on the key remote worker skills. Consider going a step further with personality assessments, and don't neglect other hiring process fundamentals, like background checks, to help you make the most informed decision possible.
These tips just scratch the surface on how to improve remote work. Don't forget that experience and hard skills absolutely matter, too. The right soft skills won't overcome deficiencies in these areas. They will, however, multiply the chance that an otherwise qualified candidate will succeed in a distributed workplace.