8 Attributes of Successful Virtual Workers
By Nancy Settle-Murphy

Posted December 01, 2011

Many of my clients, like so many other organizations, are looking for ways to help them establish and cultivate a productive remote workforce. In some cases, they realize that greater workplace flexibility will allow them to attract and retain certain kinds of employees. In other cases, companies simply to have to slash costs, forcing employees out of company offices.

When starting up telecommuting programs, some of my clients start with a pilot program where a group of new telecommuters will pave the way for others to come. The first step: Making sure the people who are selected are likely to succeed in a virtual workplace. My clients ask me: Is there some sort of test or tool that we can put people through to make sure they’re the right candidates?

Here are some qualities and attributes that, taken together, can be pretty good indicators of a person who will thrive in the virtual world. In the interest of writing without bias, I alternate genders in the points below:

  1. Wants to work virtually: Is this person looking forward to working remotely? Does he see benefits to working from home? Does he see this opportunity as positive?
  2. Self-motivated: Can this person work without a lot of direction or guidance on a day-to-day basis? Can she work in the absence of frequent feedback? Does she feel confident enough about her work that she can operate independently for periods of time?
  3. Tolerates ambiguity: Can this person make progress without having all of the needed details or answers? Can he withstand the absence of certain information as he moves forward on some of his own work, and then circle back to fill in the blanks when answers are known?
  4. Desires social contact: Is this person likely to reach out to team members to make frequent connections, whether by phone, email, social networking or face-to-face? Is she a natural collaborator who thrives on sharing information, brainstorming with others, or simply checking in from time to time?
  5. Communicates thoughtfully: Is this person aware of how different types of communications can best be applied to reach a different objective? Is he a clear, concise writer who respects others’ time? Is he sensitive to different communications preferences and aware of how his own style might be received by others?
  6. Manages time: Has this person demonstrated a solid track record in setting priorities and completing work on time? Does he seem to value a reasonable work-life balance? Does he have a good sense for how long things will take before making commitments? Is he aware of how his own ability to fulfill commitments affects others on the team?
  7. Self-organized: Does this person seem to have a good sense as to where important information can be found? Does she usually have the information she or her team needs at her fingertips? Does she organize files logically, especially those shared by other team members?
  8. Comfortable using technology to connect and collaborate: Does this person know how to use the different meeting technologies available to him and his team? Is he willing to accept others’ preferences for using technology tools in certain ways, even if it’s outside of his comfort zone?

While this is just a short list of qualities and characteristics of people who are suited to working in a remote environment, it’s a good place to start when evaluating which employees are likely to thrive in a virtual world. And when employees don’t have a choice, this can be a helpful list for managers who want to make sure their new telecommuters have the competencies they need to work successfully.

Posted by Nancy Settle-Murphy