The shift to remote working has been an interesting trial of how people can adapt to a fundamental change in the way they live. It seems to have come as a surprise to many people just how well we have managed to adapt to this new way of working, which is so alien, despite it taking place within our homes. It’s looking increasingly likely that the outcome of this pandemic-induced experiment will be a new kind of workplace, which incorporates the old ways of bricks and mortar alongside a capacity for remote work. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of just some of the skills that make remote working a more pleasant and productive experience.
Independent working skills
For many people, remote working means working alone. Without the gentle pressure of a pair of friendly eyes occasionally flicking a glance your way, it can be tricky to keep yourself from counting the number of buses that go by or taking too keen an interest in the business of your neighbour’s cat. Amongst the jargon-filled thicket of Pomodoros, Sprints and Kanbans lies a pretty simple principle: allocating certain amounts of time to certain tasks can assist your concentration. Actually sticking to these allocations is another question, but having a clear structure to your working day can hone your skill in time management and focus and alleviate stress.
The wifi’s down; the dog has had a free-for-all on the cream carpet; your company has just switched from Zoom to Teams and your boss has called to ask if you can learn a new bit of software ahead of next week’s product launch. Sounds like hell, right? Obviously no one (other than the most masochistic among us) would welcome a situation like this with open arms. But those of us who can get through a day like this, whether by sheer force of will or by rearranging deadlines and getting help from coworkers, are remote superstars. Being flexible and unflappable in the face of surprises is a fantastic skill to have in your repertoire for many parts of your life, but it has proven vital for remote working. As we move out of lockdowns and into another new working environment, split between the office and remote, this ability to adapt to new habits will continue to be important.
It may sound slightly contradictory but a crucial skill for remote working is knowing when not to work! The merging of the workplace with the home environment has been strange and complicated. What was once a space where many of us could be free from the pressures and expectations of the workplace has now become our primary working environment. Nevertheless, it is important to maintain a separation between work and other activities. Now that the spatial distinction has been eroded, the challenge lies in maintaining a temporal distinction. Knowing when to work and when to relax is crucial not only to our wellbeing, but to our ability to flourish in other areas of life. The lack of a daily commute has given us the option of spending more time doing things outside of work that are meaningful to us: it’s important that we take these opportunities.
Allocating certain times of the day for working and others for leisure is an obvious first step in maintaining this balance. Universities have inspired us with their ‘lockdown libraries’. These consist of video meetings, in which students can join during certain hours of the day with their microphone muted. This gentle encouragement can improve your ability to focus and also helps with setting boundaries on your work.
With each team member working to a different schedule and interaction being largely limited to formalised meetings, taking the initiative on tasks is an indispensable skill. Though it can be daunting to approach more senior members of an organisation with suggestions or requests, particularly for junior members who might have never even met their coworkers in person, initiative is a valued skill that distinguishes the best remote workers.
Team working and collaborative skills
Though it can sometimes feel that your closest teammates are the coffee machine and the houseplant you’ve been meaning to water for the past week, the people on the other end of a Slack channel are there to support you! Recognising when your workload is becoming unfeasible and having the confidence to ask for help is crucial to being part of team. Equally important is a willingness to support your fellow remote workers when they need help. This skill is undoubtedly also very important in an office environment, but its importance has been emphasised by remote working.
More than simply adding ‘kind’ before ‘regards’ in your email sign-off, the importance of using the written word with economy but sensitivity has become even clearer during the pandemic. Because most contact with team members now happens over email or Slack, being able to communicate with others using the appropriate tone and with clarity is vital in maintaining a healthy working environment for all. It’s also crucial for working efficiently. An indecipherable email makes life a lot harder for whoever you are working with!
When your perception of another person is limited to a 3-inch rectangle and a pair of tinny earbuds, it can be easy to miss how other team members are feeling. Being able to pick up on someone else’s mood based on their text or speech alone is an essential skill in the remote workplace. What’s more, remote work expands the boundaries of a workplace to the whole world. Many teams are now spread across several timezones and cultures, which is exciting but presents its own challenges. Those who can empathise with people from diverse backgrounds and working environments make working in international teams possible and enjoyable. Looking to the future, working well with people who don’t share the same native language or culture is likely to become increasingly important as the net for new talent will be more frequently cast far beyond the traditional confines of a national border.
We can’t expect every individual to be a master of all of these skills already, but sharing techniques and receiving encouragement from colleagues sets us all on the right track. eSwapp’s platform matches you with people from within your organisation to share the skills that we all need to be at the top of our game.