7 Soft Skills All Remote Workers Need
The traditional job you had may not be the remote job you want
Looking for a job that lets you work from anywhere? I have some good news: it’s never been easier to find remote work. Your soft skills can be the key to your next career.
As companies around the world transition from in-person, brick-and-mortar office environments to virtual workforce models, jobseekers can access all kinds of opportunities to work from their own spaces and on their own terms. As it turns out, many jobs can be done off-premises.
Now for the more complicated news. Not every occupation has survived through this historic shift unscathed. In some industries, such as retail and hospitality, most businesses simply can’t happen remotely. Meanwhile, countless professionals—from physicians to bank tellers, coaches to art dealers—have been forced to learn new ways of working and adopt new mindsets.
Work Is Changing—Are You Keeping Up?
It all adds up to a great deal of possibility and uncertainty—the possibility that there’s an ideal remote job out there for you, uncertainty about what it actually is, or where to look for it.
If you haven’t been able to find that perfect remote job so far, have no fear. You don’t necessarily need to go back to school or do a career-180. Keep an open mind and consider how your skills and experience may suit opportunities you haven’t considered before. If you’ve worked as a human resources professional, for example, you may be able to tap into workforce training experience to smoothly transition into an educational role. If you’ve worked as an event planner, you might be well-equipped for a job as a digital production specialist or social media community manager.
No, you may not be able to perform the exact job you had before the world went remote, but there’s a good chance you can find a virtual or work-from-home opportunity that’s naturally similar—and perhaps an even better fit for your skills and personality.
(Psst—not sure about the differences between “working from home,” “remote work,” and “virtual work?” Check out our explainer article.)
What Skills Really Matter for Remote Work?
Above all, it’s vital to focus on your soft skills. A 2019 Harris Poll survey found that qualities “such as personal, communications and time-management skills; enthusiasm; dependability; and reliability” are often “more desirable than having the right experience or qualifications for a job.” Given the choice between hiring for soft skills and hiring for experience, 75% of respondents chose soft skills.
These competencies are more important than ever in our challenging and rapidly-shifting world. They’re the keys for successfully jumping into a new line of work, adapting to changing circumstances, and keeping yourself happy and well-rewarded throughout it all. Here are 7 essential soft skills every remote worker needs to cultivate, regardless of job or industry:
Remote work lives and dies through communication—or lack thereof. Communication tools are essential (e.g. Slack, Zoom), but communication skills are more important. You need to be able to express yourself in a clear, honest, empathetic, professional, and timely manner, whether you’re communicating in a written form such as an email or text message, or verbally during a phone call or video meeting.
It’s normal to struggle with some level of idleness when working remotely. Don’t believe the myths: no one can be 100% productive 100% of the time. That said, you need to develop strategies and habits for overcoming procrastination and distractions.
Successful remote workers practice self-discipline by establishing and adhering to routines, prioritizing the most urgent tasks, and taking regular breaks to recharge. They know it’s not about getting everything done every day, but setting a sustainable pace that allows them to manage their time and energy efficiently over time.
Successful remote workers never stop learning. They’re committed to self-improvement through ongoing education and training. They pay attention to how they work and challenge themselves to do better and work smarter next week, next month, next year. They spend a portion of their free time reading books and articles, watching videos, and listening to podcasts that pertain to their jobs. They’re proactive in collecting feedback—be it from their customers, clients, or supervisors—about how they could improve. And, most importantly, they continually apply what they learn.
For all the freedom and flexibility it offers, remote work can also leave a person feeling isolated and lonely. Over time, these emotions can develop into feelings of inertia—the sense that you’re stuck in a rut or negative pattern in your career, with no way out.
You can avoid this by taking matters into your own hands and nurturing a network of peers, friends, mentors, and professional contacts. The more people you know, the less alone you’ll feel and the opportunities you’ll find.
This aligns closely with the previous skill. Look for connections and mutual growth opportunities, and take initiative in pursuing opportunities. Unlike traditional employment, where career progression tends to occur along a predetermined organizational hierarchy, remote work is often entrepreneurial. In other words, you can’t assume you’ll be promoted to boss one day. Depending on your job, you already are the boss, and you need to act like it.
Take charge of your career. Don’t simply do what’s asked of you; embed long-term value in your work. Rather than just accepting and completing a graphic design project, for example, propose an idea for a marketing campaign. You’ll need to think several steps and keep your eyes open for windows to sustain and grow your business.
6. Business Management
Okay, this one is really a combination of multiple soft and hard skills. When you run your own business, you need to be able to take care of things like contracts, project management, invoices, late payments, legal risks, implementation of new technology and processes, and much more.
Those are the hard skills. The soft skills of business management include abilities like using your time effectively, setting client or customer expectations correctly (underpromising and overdelivering—or not), and striking the right work–life balance. Remember: you’re the boss, but you’re also the business. To stay in business, you need to take good care of yourself.
Finally, successful remote workers stand apart for their capacity to handle change. They know how to roll with unexpected disruptions, delays, and shifting circumstances. After all, given the scale and pace of worldwide change these days, all of us need to be flexible.
You may not be able to deftly make it through everything the world throws your way without experiencing setbacks and frustration, but you need to be willing to remain positive, get back up quickly, and learn from what happened—so you can adapt better next time.
For more tips on how to succeed in remote work, check out some of our team's best tips.