Remote Work as a Skill and Hiring Manager Perceptions
Remote work was already steadily gaining traction in the U.S. and worldwide, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work took (virtual) center stage and may change the future landscape of the American workforce as we know it. As many workers shifted their existing jobs to home offices, the country and the world alike are realizing it may take a new type of worker to thrive with the challenges that can come with working from home. While some maintain focus easily, others perhaps work better in an on-site office. Parents are balancing day care in tandem with work, while videoconferencing has already provided some infamous hiccups during the pandemic. The perks and downsides of remote work certainly aren’t going unnoticed, so we wanted to dig deeper into this topic.
We surveyed 1,006 people across the country who are currently employed remotely. Of this group, 206 were hiring managers whose experience specifically included hiring remote workers. In order to help current remote workers as well as those looking for remote work, we discovered what it takes to succeed in today’s new virtual work environment. If you’d like to understand more about the skills it takes to work from home, please keep reading.
Work From Home Skills
Our study started with a look into what hiring managers felt was necessary for a successful remote career. Most hiring managers (63%) reported the ability to work remotely was an asset on its own. Even more hiring managers (79%) said they were currently training employees in specific remote skills and techniques, with time management and independent work skills topping the list, among others.
According to hiring managers, time management was the number one skill needed for successful remote work. And, according to Forbes, this particular skill requires some complementary tools that include setting boundaries, both with co-workers as well as family members at home who may be distracting. That said, 19% felt it was necessary to constantly communicate while remote, suggesting they too agreed that setting boundaries was highly important.
Communication and other skills likely improved, however, when an employee had the opportunity to try both in-office and remote work. According to hiring managers, employees who experienced both sides of the coin were particularly desirable. In fact, 57% said those with dual experience worked better in-office than those exclusively with office experience. More studies and experts extoll the virtues of the remote worker each day; we’re learning that their improved productivity and health certainly makes them a great addition to the office. Moreover, hiring managers can reach into a wider ranging pool of applicants. Given these discoveries, remote work has clear benefits for both hiring managers and employees.
Productive at Home
Productivity has been a major topic of conversation with regards to remote work. Before the pandemic, preliminary numbers suggested that remote workers were often more productive than their in-office counterparts. That said, many in-office employees are now working at home for the first time and may have yet to reach their in-home productivity groove.
According to our respondents, productivity could certainly increase while remote, but the practice required a few essential skills. Entry-level employees, as well as midlevel and managers, all agreed that time management was crucial for maintaining this productivity. While time management may once have been relegated to others in the office, the lack of supervision (or even deskmates) can present a barrier to productivity. Some experts suggest that in order to stay productive, you should continue to match your schedule with others at the company. This way, co-workers have a sense of accountability and camaraderie.
Managers and executives emphasized the need for self-motivation, while midlevel employees focused the most on independence. Though the two seem related, there’s an important distinction: While self-motivation has always been a desirable skill that managers notice, the independence that midlevel employees reference places more emphasis on the ability to keep working with less help from others.
For productivity’s sake, the importance of managing expectations increased with job seniority, as did having a sense of urgency about project deadlines, while proactiveness and time management were more important to productivity for entry-level employees or associates.
Hiring Remote Employees
Next, we asked the hiring managers to share their experiences in hiring candidates for remote work. We also asked them to consider specific work skill sets and whether they believe in-house employees or remote workers are stronger in each to ascertain any potential skill gaps by employee type.
Most often, hiring managers told us they found employees by posting job listings on a general job board. Indeed, one such general job board, currently lists nearly 40,000 remote positions available, while Monster lists roughly 20,000. Some HR reps said they even used job boards specifically related to remote work, like WeWorkRemotely.com, which charges $299 to list a job and presumably may provide access to higher caliber selections.
Referrals were also popular sources for hiring managers (48%) looking to find remote employees. Without a traditional in-person interview, a referral could be a better way to vet someone whose first impression will ultimately be a virtual one. Ironically, considering past candidates for a remote job was only considered by roughly 1 in 4 hiring managers.
When we asked hiring managers to compare remote and in-office employees, hiring managers were more inclined to indicate that remote workers were better at working independently and came well-equipped with related skills like self-motivation and self-sufficiency. In fact, they were 63% more likely to say a remote worker excelled at time management in comparison to an in-office worker. That said, 38% said the two types of employees had a similar skill level in this regard.
Perhaps the largest difference in skill sets were those subtle interpersonal skills that make people great bosses, co-workers, or individual contributors today. Effective communication and understanding are key to healthy working relationships, which many worry are at risk in the remote lifestyle. Experts in the field suggest scheduling additional one-on-one time with your boss, as well as prioritizing video conferencing over emails when possible.
Our study shows that hiring managers valued a sense of self-directed motivation and work ethic in their remote employees. Likewise, remote workers agreed that these skills, along with time management and organization, were important to their productivity. But it may not always be easy, or efficient, to develop these habits effectively, and perhaps it can prove more difficult for those who are used to working in-office under the guidance of a supervisor. For hiring managers, it’s useful to consider the skills remote workers have more difficulty developing. For this analysis, we asked remote workers to weigh in on which skills they felt were easily self-taught, and which were best with more formal training.
Remote employees felt the most confident about teaching themselves to work independently, versus receiving more formal training in those skills. The similar notion of self-sufficiency was, as its name would suggest, best when self-taught according to 94% of respondents. Organization and time management were also things people believed could be learned best through their own practice.
The most difficult skills to learn without training were two forms of communication: proactive and personal. Sixty percent said proactive communications would be best taught via training as opposed to self-taught. Interpersonal skills were reasonably difficult to self-teach in a remote position, given the more solitary nature of working remotely or from home. As COVID-19 has pushed more employees to work remotely, communication skills and styles are more important than ever, and the data shows that fostering these skills can help team members stay engaged. Our study also found that remote workers valued technology as a useful tool for productivity, yet, in this analysis, remote employees reported technology skills were some of the most time-consuming to learn on their own. Considering employees might have varying levels of technological competency, it may be useful for hiring managers to consider basic training on the technologies most commonly used on the job.
Adapting for the Future
Our study wrapped up with a look at some personal stories and anecdotes that hiring managers shared with us regarding remote employees. As one hiring manager explained, “Having a remote worker gives me less worry because I feel that person is self-disciplined and doesn’t need as much guidance to do their job.” Another hiring manager echoed a similar sentiment, explaining “I generally consider them to be more adaptable.”
The quality of being “adaptable” has been a defining one for those weathering the impacts of COVID-19 in their jobs and in their businesses. Hiring managers and employers have also had to adapt to the numerous challenges of a shifting workforce, which may continue into the future as we endure the impacts of the pandemic. These are challenges Paychex was designed to help with, providing the software, tools, and guidance to keep your payroll and HR solutions on track. If you’re uncertain about evolving your business into a remote one, head to Paychex to access expertise and resources on how to help your company adapt to these uncertain times.
Methodology and Limitations
We surveyed 1,006 employed people in the United States on their experiences with remote work in order to explore strategies and techniques most useful to working off-site. The survey was run between May 29, 2020 and June 2, 2020. Of the 1,006 employees we surveyed, 206 were hiring managers or managers/supervisors involved in the hiring process. The remote employees we selected for this analysis also indicated they were at equal or better productivity levels compared to their in-office experience, if applicable. We asked hiring managers to talk about which skills were most important in remote work and the hireability of remote workers in general. We asked our remote employees the skills they found the most useful for remote work and to identify which skills are best when self-taught or best with in-office learning/training. Ages of our respondents ranged from 18 to 71 with an average age of 38 and standard deviation of 11 years. Our survey collected responses from employees, supervisors, and managers, with 27% identifying as entry-level or associate-level employees, 29% as midlevel employees, and 44% as managers or executive-level employees.
Survey data has certain limitations due to self-reporting which may include exaggeration, telescoping, and selective memory. We did not weight our data or statistically test our hypotheses.
Fair Use Statement
There’s no doubt that recent events and the current state of the economy have been difficult for businesses of all kinds to navigate. If someone you know would benefit from the information in this project, you are free to share for any noncommercial reuse. Our only request is that you link back here so people can view the entire project and review the methodology. This also gives credit to our hardworking contributors for their efforts.