Even though remote work makes people happier and more productive in the long-term, it can be tricky to get your remote work mojo at first. Many first-year remoters struggle to figure out what works for them. In particular, they have a hard time connecting with coworkers, unplugging from work while at home, communicating problems or delays, structuring their workday, using tools beyond the basics, staying motivated and, quite frankly, staying sane.
Before you jump into the wonderful world of remote work, do yourself a favor and boost your remote soft skills. Soft skills shouldn’t just be nice-sounding phrases that you stick in your resume. The soft skills that we’ll talk about today can really save you from falling deep into the pitfalls of remote work. You’ll work and feel better after getting the lowdown on remote soft skills and how to improve them.
1. Top Communication Skills = Be the King of Updates
Companies are always talking about wanting candidates with top communication skills. But what does that really mean?
In the remote world, you’ll complete most of your work over email, a project management tool and/or video calls. On a daily basis, you’ll write messages and updates. You’ll give feedback and make changes. You’ll lead meetings and present ideas with clients and coworkers. All this, and more! Being a great communicator means that you’re clear, positive and responsive. Need a refresher on how to do that? Here are some tips for building your remote communication skills:
- Don’t send massive emails with assignments or deadlines hidden in them.
- Use spacing, bullet points and bold font in your emails to highlight key info.
- Send separate emails about separate topics.
- Use specific subject lines. (Ex. Not just “Update.”)
- Start your message with a personal one-liner. (Ex. “Hope you had a good weekend!”)
- Use emojis when appropriate, especially a simple smiley face.
- Give any negative feedback only after positive feedback.
- Phrase confusion, frustration or disagreement by sticking to the info and not emotions. (Ex. Instead of saying “This report is really confusing and a total mess” you should say “I think we could make the report more organized, with more in-depth analysis.”
- Elevate big problems or delays to video calls. Just don’t send an email.
- Let others know about delays or extensions early, not right before the deadline.
- Always respond within 24 hours, if possible, even if it’s a “check and get back to you” email.
- Send updates on a regular basis. For a key project, daily is a good idea.
With these tips, you’ll become the king of updates and win at remote work!
2. Self-Driven = Hello Results, Goodbye Boss Over Your Shoulder
As a remote worker, nobody will be stopping by your desk to check on your work. You’re on your own to get work done. Self-driven is more than just turning in work on time, however. A successful remote worker will have the ability to organize work so that it turns out high-quality, without the stress and potential errors of a last-minute deliverable.
- Create a tasklist for today. This will help you stay on track for completing everything you need to.
- Work when you’re at your best. Morning, afternoon, night? Since remote work is flexible, you should plan to work at your best moments. Also consider where you get good work done. Don’t sit idly at your desk if you work better at the kitchen table.
- Consider a PM tool to plan your week. It’s possible your workplace already has a PM tool. You may consider creating your own to-do list with this tool (or another) to keep track of your tasks.
- Add “start X task” reminders to your calendar. Science says that we do a better job when we start early and finish late. Try to start projects, even if just an hour of thinking or planning, so that the back of your mind is thinking about the content.
- Estimate hours for tasks to avoid uh-oh days. You planned to finish three things this afternoon but – oops! – the first one is actually going to take all day. Save yourself the trouble by really looking at the requirements first and estimating hours before you get started.
- Stay motivated with a rewards system. A reward could be anything from a yoga class, a candy bar, or a date night with a friend. Try to get work done during certain hours so that you’re available for your treat.
- Avoid the YouTube-blackhole with out-of-house breaks. Don’t be drawn into the YouTube (or Netflix or Facebook) spiral. When you need a break, take a walk around the block or go get coffee nearby. Don’t wallow inside all day.
3. Collaborative = People-Focused, Globally-Focused Interaction
Collaborative is perhaps the most important soft skill for remote work. Distributed teams require coworkers to get work done together from afar. Often, you can’t just split up the project into sections and then expect it to come together. As a remote worker, you’ll have to continually talk with your team members, fix problems, deal with delays, help a struggling coworker, work around limitations and, of course, get along with each other. In this way, collaboration includes both working effectively and playing nice.
- Make time for small talk. Connecting with coworkers is the best way to get to know them and understand them. Stay human and make sure you’re not skipping this step
- Have “stand up” video meetings in your home offices. Video meetings should be regular for remote workers. Use informal or stand up meetings so that you stay on top of the project.
- Send daily updates on what you worked on. Ideally your whole team would do this, so that you’re all informed as to how each part is going.
- Ask for help (and pitch in when others need it). If you’re stuck on one of your tasks, it’s best to ask for help. Otherwise you could delay the project by trying to resolve it on your own.
- Keep your feelings out of it. You aren’t going to like every coworker you ever have. The important part is that you try to connect with every team member and, when you just don’t click, keep your feelings out of it. Everybody on your team has something important to offer.
- Think global. Don’t forget about cultural differences or time differences. This goes for both relationships and working practices – for example, some cultures use different tones or phrases to give feedback. Stay easy-going and good-humored, without offending anybody.
4. Tech-Savvy = Going Beyond the Basics With Webinars and Willpower
Everybody thinks they’re tech-savvy because they know how to make a formula in Excel. But are you really? If your boss told you that they’re changing the website platform tomorrow, how would you react? Would you complain and demand a set of instructions? Or would you poke around the system and come up with questions? Being tech-savvy in the remote world means that you can adapt to new systems without feeling overwhelmed. Of course, that doesn’t mean you know every tool perfectly – just that you’re willing to be a little resourceful and get to know the system without prompting from your boss. If you want to become more tech-savvy, you can try out these tips:
- Look up webinars and wikis on how to make the most of a tool. Take the time to boost your skills. Oftentimes there are features that you don’t even know about.
- Make lists of tool-related questions to ask others. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about a tool. Chances are that other people have the same questions.
- Create how-to documents for your team. Documenting how a tool works or the protocols for using it is a fantastic idea.
- Don’t put security concerns aside. If you notice that a tool has low security, bring it up with your boss and think up solutions.
- Doubt the default and research the best tools. If the company has used the same tool for thirty years, it may be time for an update – or not. Research the options and share your findings with your team.
- Go to or lead internal workshops. Your coworkers are full of useful information. Attend a video talk by one of them, or offer to lead one yourself.
- Brush up on your skills. Don’t let your skills go out-of-date. Read articles, follow industry leaders on Twitter – whatever it takes to stay on top of changes. For example, if you want to polish up your knowledge of Node.JS, look up articles (like Node.js interview questions) so that you keep your knowledge fresh.
5. Good Work-Life Balance = So You Don’t Live at Work (Literally)
What does your personal life have to do with it? Well, remoters are more likely to work well, without getting burnt out, if they have rich personal lives. Work-life balance isn’t something to scoff at, especially for remote work. Top struggles for remoters include not being able to unplug after work and feeling lonely. These issues are less likely to become a problem if you keep a good balance between your personal and professional lives. Of course, this is a challenge at your home office, but some good first steps are:
- Make an unplugging ritual. You should make a clear distinction between work and play by doing the same action every day. This could be as simple as powering down your computer for the night, or drinking a cup of coffee after you’ve finished. Make a ritual so that you don’t blend the personal and professional.
- Schedule social breaks. Work doesn’t have to be a solitary affair. Invite another remote friend to work with you for the day, or schedule a lunch break with a family member.
- Get a wifi hotspot to work from anywhere. Working from the park or the beach can make you feel great. The best way is to get a wifi hotspot that you can take anywhere.
- Plan hard-stops for certain projects. If you planned to finish sections 1-3, don’t continue onto 4. It’s important to stop after finishing milestones so you can recharge before the next one.
- Use after-work app blockers. New apps are now offering to block certain apps or senders after hours. This could be a good way to keep you from answering emails until midnight.
- Spend your flexible time with loved ones. After all, one of the biggest benefits of remote work is having a flexible schedule. What’s the point, if you don’t use it! Spend your personal time without guilt that you’re not working.
You have the potential to be an amazing remote worker. Just be sure to boost these five key remote soft skills – communicative, self-driven, collaborative, tech-savvy, healthy work-life balance – so that you put yourself in the best position possible to succeed. Many of these skills can’t be developed overnight, but require long-term commitment. We encourage you to find ways to improve these soft skills throughout your remote career!