Skip to content

Working Remotely: Traits of an Effective Telecommuter

This series on “Working Remotely” is inspired by “Remote,” the book by the 37Signals guys, and by my own experience working remotely for many years.
Ask anyone who slogs through tiresome commutes day after day if he or she would like work from home, and you’ll get a near unanimous, “heck yes!” But do they – or you – have what it takes to work productively from home? The only way to find out is to give it a try.
But, before turning in your transportation pass, here are few essential traits to consider to determine if you’ll be an effective remote worker.
Good Communicator – You need to express your concerns and suggestions to bosses and charges alike. Sulking in the corner will do you no good. No one can see you! Same with “light-bulb” moments. Be proactive: recommend solutions, share new ideas and personal goals. A good communicator also means the ability to write well. You don’t need to be the next Hemingway, but as a remote worker, you’ll rely on the written word more than ever. Writing is a craft. Keep working on it.
Tech Savvy – You’ll need to communicate, collaborate and do your work using local and cloud-based technology. If you’re technophobic, working remotely is not for you. Dismiss the thought and get used to showing up at the office every day.
Trustworthy – Trust starts with the employer. There is no working remotely if an employer doesn’t trust his worker to not goof off and get the work done. The remote worker cannot breach that trust. Or else, it’s back to the office or out the door.
Results Oriented – Remote workers are judged on work produced, not face time at the office. You’ll need to deliver and account for your time on a daily basis. But don’t go overboard. Beware of being a perfectionist, as many remote workers tend to be – it can eat into your evenings and weekends and make you miserable. Just ship it. And, don’t be discouraged if perfectionism vs. shipping is a struggle. It’s something we all deal with. Just be willing to work at it. I find that moving lunch to later in the afternoon and getting the bulk of my primary tasks done before then helps.
Curious – This may seem like an odd trait to value, but it’s essential. You should always be researching and tinkering with better and more productive ways to work from home. Not sure about a procedure? Do some research and help build a “remote worker” policy manual for your company.

Motivated – Stay focused on current projects, and when you’re done, create new ones. There’s no desk or cubicle nearby with someone to help get you going or to keep you motivated and focused except yourself. Sure, co-workers and managers are a Skype call or message away, but it’s not the same as being in the office. If you need constant prodding, telecommuting may not be for you.
Independent – You need to be able to work without much guidance or supervision. As mentioned earlier, you need to be a good communicator, but don’t be someone who bombards the mother ship with the same questions over and over again. An independent worker will possess strong time management and organizational skills.
Optimistic – Like “curious,” this may seem like an unusual essential trait, but it’s important. A positive attitude goes a long way in dealing with working in isolation, managing stress, producing under deadlines- all without the typical affirmation you receive on a daily basis from managers and colleagues back at the office.
You don’t need to have an A+ grade for each of these traits on day one. Some you will excel at, and others you will work on. But you should have a solid handle on all.
If you’re a remote worker and have other essential traits to share, please submit in the comments below.
POSTS IN THE SERIES:
Working Remotely: The Many Benefits
Traits of an Effective Telecommuter
How to Manage Work-at-Home Employees
A Productive Home Office
Managing Solitude
Communication and collaboration
Managing Distractions
Managing Time, Boundaries, and Balance
Evaluating Employee Performance
Company Culture Beyond the Office Walls
How Lee Rosen Moved His Law Firm to an All-Remote Workforce
Working Remotely: Have Computer, Will Travel