Remote Work Best Practices Part 6 – Key Skills & Competencies
What are the most important skills people need to be successful when working remotely?
We discuss the key competencies that are correlated with effective remote work.
And we cover how to develop the necessary skills, in both employees and leadership, and the importance of having an induction to remote work.
Watch the next video in the series here:
and the previous video here:
And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.
Skilling up people to work remotely
Andrew from SACS and welcome to video number six in our eight video sequence on how to manage staff remotely.
We’re looking at the psychology of what happens to people when they work remotely, but also some really practical tips about how to optimise leadership of remote working employees.
So these are the topics that we’ve covered so far, if any of them interest, you don’t hesitate to find the videos and watch them.
And in this one we’ll be talking about skilling people up to work remotely, and we’ll be finishing off talking about role clarity for remote work workers and how to keep engagement and wellbeing high for remote workers.
Remote work suitability and the Great Eight competencies
When we are raising the question about whether somebody is suited to do a particular job or not, we’re really raising the question about competencies.
Whether a person possesses the competencies necessary to do that job, and remote work has its own competencies.
And so there’s been some research done, particularly using standard competency models, like the Great Eight Competency model developed by Bartram in this publication in 2005 (refer to the video), which said that there was a range of competencies, and these are held to apply to almost any job – leading and deciding, supporting and cooperating, and so forth.
But research into remote work has identified that there are a couple of these competencies that are particularly relevant to remote work.
Analysing and interpreting; written communication using digital media effectively; as well as leading and deciding, were found to be more important in virtual teams than traditional teams. Why?
Analysing and interpreting
Analysing and interpreting? Well, I guess in a workplace where you have colleagues around or your manager is available, you can simply turn to them and say, what does this mean?
But the greater competency of analysing interpreting is required more strongly. If you’re working by yourself, because you have to be more self-reliant in coming to your own conclusion.
Leading and deciding
And the competency about leading and deciding. This is all about demonstrating initiative, autonomy and setting goals for yourself.
And again, if you’re not being provided with that on a day-to-day basis by a supervisor or a leader or colleagues who are close to you, then once more it’s about self-reliance.
More recently, Wang and Haggerty in 2011 talked about individual virtual competence for working remotely, and they said that there were three that were really important.
The first is virtual self-efficacy. Let me talk about virtual self-efficacy. The concept of self-efficacy came originally from a psychologist called Albert Bandura many, many years ago, and the idea is that if you have self-efficacy, this is a belief.
“I can do it.” “I can cope.” It’s a kind of resilience. “I believe that this challenge is not beyond me.” That’s virtual self-efficacy.
Virtual media skills
Then you have virtual media skills, and that’s pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it? A person who has virtual media skills is a person who can cope with Zoom, meetings, Webex.
Maybe they can also cope with other technologies like SharePoint which is collaboration software, which allows people to work together even though they’re not in the same office.
Virtual social skills
And the third competency was virtual social skills. Now, that’s really interesting.
So an example of a virtual social skill might be where you have three colleagues from one organisation meeting three colleagues from another organisation.
It comes time to do introductions. You turn up on time to this meeting. Have you ever seen it where people all try to introduce themselves at once? Well, it’s a virtual social skill to say, okay, how are we going to introduce ourselves? How are we going to make sure that this happens professionally and not in a kind of a log jam, embarrassing kind of a fashion?
That’s a virtual social skill.
Another virtual social skill is how can I be sure that I know what you mean? If I’m watching your non verbals from a metre away in an office, it’s a totally different thing from watching people through a screen.
By the way, you may have seen the research that says that people get much tireder through video conferences, largely because they’re focusing enormously heavily on another person’s nonverbals, trying to figure out what their nonverbals are. In a face to face meeting it’s much clearer so you don’t have to concentrate so hard to pick that up.
So a virtual social skill might be asking clarification questions. A virtual social skill might be a way of including people in your work. So, hey, let’s do this together, rather than simply turning off the camera and doing it yourself.
So all of those virtual social skills have to be learned in order to be a really effective remote worker.
Telecooperation, creativity and independence
Another way of putting this was identified by Hertel and colleagues in 2006 (refer to the video), and so they were talking about this characteristic called telecooperation, and they found that creativity and independence strongly contributed to the prediction of team performance.
Which is to say that telecooperation does rely on a degree of creativity. You have to be creative in the way that we can work out how we’re going to collaborate most effectively.
But in addition to that, it does also require independence, and that’s a really common feature that’s coming out of this competency style research.
That being able to work, being able to decide, being able to prioritise yourself without relying heavily on other people can be very important, and it appears to be important to how people cooperate.
People who are not good at this stuff don’t seem to be able to plan out a mechanism of cooperating with other people virtually in the way that people can when they do have this competency.
Key skills and attributes for remote work
So if we summarise the research in this area, there are some key skills and other attributes which seem to be really important to remote working.
One is this concept of leading and deciding, so I can take an initiative, I can act with autonomy.
Analysing, and interpreting. I don’t have to depend heavily on other people to help me to communicate, to use digital media.
Telecooperation, creativity and independence.
Virtual self-efficacy, which is where I believe that I can cope with these things.
Virtual media skills? Can I use the technology and virtual social skills?
This seems to be the summary of competencies that are necessary.
Assessing key remote work skills
Of course, when people go to work remotely, we don’t say, well, look, how are your virtual social skills? Typically. I mean, some organisations might, I just haven’t seen one.
We also don’t tend to look into the question of how creative are you? We don’t look into the question very often about what are your skill levels for being able to use this technology?
A key thing that we understand from the research into engagement, engagement being I am positively committed to my work, I’m optimistic about my work, I’m energised by my work.
One of the things that we know is crucial to that is self-confidence. When a person lacks self-confidence, they’re much less engaged, and that’s where you remote workers can become dispirited.
Because when people are low in levels of engagement, they tend to be more change averse and even change fatigued. They tend to be less spontaneous in trying to improve things. And frankly, they have lower levels of energy.
So engagement we know correlates with the quality and quantity of work and also is a really good proxy for people’s wellbeing, so we’re looking to keep levels of engagement high.
And the last video in this sequence will be devoted specifically to that topic.
How to develop key remote work skills
So that then raises the question of how we develop these competencies.
One of the things is that you might consider running a learning needs analysis based on the competencies that we gave you on the previous page, and then you could build a development programme that helps people to develop these virtual skills.
Develop organisational “how to” materials, in other words, how to work remotely. Develop relevant performance development materials. Evaluate the capacity for working remotely. In other words, is this person suited to working remotely?
And earlier in this sequence of videos, we look at the question of what types of people are suited for working remotely and how you might assess that.
360 Degree Feedback for remote leaders
One of the things that you also might like to consider is using 360 degree feedback to evaluate the capacity of leaders to lead to remote teams.
You know, leaders who can be fantastic in a face-to-face environment may simply not yet have the skills that are necessary to be a really optimum leader in a remote workplace.
So think about the skills and competencies that we’ve mentioned and think about what we’ve said earlier about leadership, and more of that to come in the following videos.
If you’re able to assess for these characteristics, it creates a situation where you can train your leaders to be better at remote leadership and also provide a situation where your employees are more likely to succeed.
And build the competencies by coaching, training, and development. Once you’ve identified the learning needs, then it gives you a chance to close the gap on both the skills of staff and the skills of leaders.
Induction programs for remote work
Now, I think one of the big challenges for organisations is that very few of them have induction programmes for remote leadership.
Many organisations have induction programs for welcoming people into the company. But when people work remotely, that is such a totally different skillset and such a different challenge from a technological point of view that I believe that we should begin to develop induction programs to induct people to work remotely.
Now, I haven’t seen one yet, but certainly in our research agenda, that’s something that I’m putting on our agenda to work out and to begin to research methods of induction which are remote, which can be more effective.
We’ve spoken to many organisations that have inducted people during the COVID-19 crisis where they started working for the organisation entirely remotely.
And there’s certainly some challenges in that. And the research shows this as well. Induction in organisational socialisation.
You know, when people join an organisation, they need to be socialised into that organisation. That means that they get to know people, they get to build a social network, a social context that they fit into.
But as well as that, they learn behaviours that are acceptable and they learn behaviours that are unacceptable. And so this is a brand new world, how to train people to be acculturated if you want to put it that way, into a new organisation.
I think this is something that’s really important and does need a lot more research.
So it’s all about learning the ropes, but it’s also about socialisation strategy to give people not just work mastery but also social context in their employment.
How to build an induction program for remote work
There are a number of pieces of research on this topic, but here’s a really interesting one where Bauer and colleagues built an induction program which was focused on new employee information-seeking behaviour and organisational socialisation strategy (refer to the video).
So they built an induction program which was focused specifically on both of those things. Not just causing people to know what to do in a work sense, but know what to do in a socialisation sense and also to build social networks.
And what they found was that this was very beneficial to the adjustment of new employees. They had higher role clarity, they had higher self-efficiency and self-efficacy.
They were accepted more by other people, and that resulted in a range of really useful outcomes – performance, job satisfaction, commitment, lower turnover and intentions to remain with the organisation.
Induction into an organisation is really important, but I think equally important, if they are going to work remotely, we have to skill them up to work remotely, and we also have to provide them with the social knowledge of the organisation, the cultural knowledge of the organisation to ensure that they succeed.
That combination will be very powerful in ensuring that they have high levels of wellbeing and high levels of productivity. So there’s some information about skilling people up to work remotely and providing people with the competencies and capabilities necessary to work remotely.
The next video in the sequence is about role clarity for remote employees.
I think one of the main reasons that employers have resisted sending people remote or getting them to work from home in the past is the fact that they’re concerned about whether they will perform or not. What will they do?
I believe if you define measures of success effectively, you don’t care whether the person is sitting next to you or in another country, for that matter.
Good role definition, good role clarity is incredibly important when people are working remotely because you don’t have that day to day interaction and guidance.
So the next video is all about that.
Join us to find find out more about role clarity for remote employees”
Or watch the previous video about remote working:
And if you’d like some help assessing whether your current employees or your future hires are suited to remote work, contact us for a free trial of our Remote Worker Test.