Anatomy of a Great Remote Worker

Open up your book from Anatomy 101 and you’ll find a well-defined litany of knowledge. We know each part and its role: the heart for pumping blood, the lungs for processing oxygen, the legs for getting around.

But when it comes to the anatomy of a great worker — particularly one who can function on a remote basis? That’s a little less clear.

Marissa Mayer, executive at Yahoo since 2012, found that their company had such a problem with remote workers that they had to ban the practice of working from home.

But if your company can identify a great remote worker by their apparent makeup as professionals, you can continue to hire great remote workers who are nothing but an asset to your company. That’s why we’ve put together our own anatomy lesson — only this time, it’s all about the anatomy that makes up a great remote worker.

The Head: Skills, Consistency, and the Discipline to Keep on Track

“The head” is all about the mental skills and qualities that help the remote worker manage themselves. Organization and discipline are key here — and common symptoms of disarray include missed deadlines and a lack of attention to detail.

Skill #1: Time Management

Time management isn’t just a vague notion about how to handle one’s hours spent working remotely. It’s a tangible skill. And like any skill, it has two features: 1) it can be learned and 2) it comes with its own subset of smaller skills, including:

  • Can your remote worker prioritize one project over another? Are they capable of doing that themselves, or do they have to be told which to focus on first? A great remote worker uses their head to come up with priorities for their time even in the absence of a boss on the other side of the wall.
  • Pomodoro technique? Batching? “Getting Things Done”? It doesn’t matter so much how your remote worker achieves their productivity so long as they achieve it. If they can accomplish in 30 minutes at home what takes 60 minutes at the office, then maybe that extended break in the kitchen isn’t such a bad thing.

Time management is a “head” skill because it takes a certain kind of knowledge and experience to develop over time. And when your remote worker has it, you’ll know — because their assignments will consistently come in on time and on budget.

Skill #2: Communication

Communication, like time management, is a skill.

But communication goes beyond that. It’s also about hustle.

You want a remote worker who isn’t afraid to ask questions out of the gate. The sooner they ask questions about a project milestone, the less time they spend working on something that’s completely out of whack with your vision.

On the flip side of that coin, over-communication can be just as big of a problem. A remote worker who spends half of their time crafting emails about a project isn’t showing major communication skills, either.

The key is to find someone who can strike a balance. They should be alert and keep themselves in the loop without wasting time on “busywork” communication.

Skill #3: Discipline and Consistency

Motivation is important, but when it comes to productivity, discipline and consistency are king. President Calvin Coolidge described persistency as “omnipotent” — an even more important quality than talent.

Discipline and consistency are hard to find — even hard to look for. But you’ll recognize it when you see it.

A remote worker who puts in quality work day after day has probably developed a system of self-discipline. A remote worker who seems to do most of the project’s work at the very end of the allotted schedule? Not so much.

The tricky part here is that discipline and consistency are only proven over time. That means you might have to take a chance on a remote worker because you see the other “head” qualities listed here. Chances are, if they possess skills #1 and #2, they’ll own this one, too.

The Heart: Self-Motivation, Integrity, and Work Philosophy

If the “head” is where the good work habits come from, the heart is why they exist in the first place. These skills are far less tangible than the skills above, which makes them harder to develop. In many cases, a remote worker with strong motivation can develop the other skills of remote working as they go. That means trying to find a strong “heart” from the get-go.

Feature #1: Self-Starting

The phrase “self-starter” gets thrown around a lot these days, but its application here is obvious. If someone is going to work for you from the comfort of their home, then they should have enough entrepreneurial spirit that you’d trust them being their own boss.

Working remotely, a worker in many ways is their own boss.

There’s a reason Inc.com’s list of great remote employee traits started with the ability to set and share goals. A remote worker should be able to take direction — but more important is what they do after that.

Feature #2: A Healthy Approach to Getting Work Done

Forbes published a handy list of questions to ask during a job interview. These questions are aimed at identifying workers with that self-starting mentality.

Essentially, what you want to identify is that a remote worker understands that when they’re handed a task, it becomes their job to see it through.

When you interview potential remote workers or evaluate your in-house employees, look for the following traits:

  • When it comes to accomplishing their task, are they proactive, or do they wait for direction?
  • Do they embrace outside-the-box solutions when necessary to complete a task?
  • Ask them about a time they took risks and failed. How high is their risk tolerance?

Feature #3: Integrity and Quality

“In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.” – Warren Buffet, chairman/CEO of Berskhire Hathaway

Integrity is the difference between cheating on a test and taking the time to learn all of the answers. It should be no surprise, then, that integrity and dedication to quality are essential features of a great remote worker’s “heart.”

There’s no substitute for basic accountability. You’ll have to look for it with the interview questions listed above, pay attention to your remote worker, review their work — but when you’ve found it, you always know it.

The Eyes: How a Remote Worker Sees the Project

A good pair of actual eyes means good vision. A good pair of “eyes” in this context means a remote worker pays attention to detail, listens closely to instructions, and can even self-evaluate with accuracy.

Talent #1: Attention to Detail

Attention to detail comes from both discipline and motivation — the more passionate a remote worker is about what they’re doing, the more likely they are to care about the minutiae of each project milestone.

Attention to detail is particularly important in a remote worker because they need to pick up on things you might have missed.

If they can spot an error in a PDF by reading it thoroughly, or see how some small change they did at home can affect you at the office, that attention to detail becomes downright invaluable.

Talent #2: Listening and Observation

Attention to detail is closely linked to listening and observational skills. If a remote worker needs to hear directions two or three times, or repeatedly sends confirmation emails, it’s a good sign that their spirit is in the right place — their skills just aren’t yet up to par.

Listening and observation is just as important during remote meetings, when they have to absorb and retain as much detail as possible so that they can dedicate the rest of their time to the work at hand.

Talent #3: The Inward Eye: Accountability and Self-Evaluation

Finally, we reach accountability — perhaps the most important organ in the anatomy of a remote worker.

In this case, the more the better. Ex-Navy SEAL Jocko Willink co-authored the book Extreme Ownership and detailed his philosophy of accountability. Willink found value in the idea that everything that happened under his command was a reflection on him.

The benefits of extreme ownership are many:

  • Clarity: With accountability, a remote worker will never have to question why they’re doing or what they’re working toward. They know the goal and they know it’s their responsibility to meet it. With more accountability, there’s less room for waffling.
  • Passion: Taking ownership of a milestone or a project means becoming more emotionally invested in the work itself.
  • Freedom: Accountability means freedom from excuses, freedom from procrastination, and freedom from the aforementioned waffling. If there is a job to do and it’s not yet done, the remote worker with accountability will get to work.

Put all of it together and you have the anatomy of a highly effective remote worker — so effective, in fact, that they might just put to rest this notion that all work absolutely must take place in an office.

What traits do you find most important in a remote worker? Share your comments below.

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