The importance of virtual work skills
We often hear about the virtual work skills needed for remote workers to be successful, but many of those skills are needed by all employees in the modern workplace. It’s not uncommon to have working relationships with coworkers whom you seldom meet in person, and many companies offer employees telecommuting options.
Research consistently indicates that virtual work skills – such as the ability to proactively manage media-based interactions, to establish communication norms, to build social rapport with colleagues, and to demonstrate cooperation – enhance trust within teams and increase performance. Our surveys indicate that only about 30% of companies train employees in virtual work skills, but when they do, the training is more likely to focus on software skills and company policies than on social and interpersonal skills. Our findings are similar to those of a 2006 survey of HR leaders on the training of virtual teams, suggesting that while technology and virtual work itself has advanced dramatically in recent years, our preparation to work virtually has not. Adding these virtual skills to your professional toolbox will make your relationships more effective and make you more employable.
1. Establish Preferred Ways to Communicate
This is a skill that you’ll want to develop because you’ll use it with any coworker that you need to stay in regular contact with, whether it's to touch base, hash out project tasks, or exchange documents. Even when you work on the same floor of a building, you’ll discover that each person has their preferred way of communicating because of their personality and work style. Some respond quicker to emails than voice messages because they are away from their phone most of the time. Others have an inbox that's overflowing with unanswered messages but will usually pick up their phone. Negotiating the best way to communicate and share information will make interactions with your coworkers go more smoothly.
2. Stay Organised
Staying organised doesn’t just mean keeping your workspace clean and sorted. It also means staying on top of your roles and responsibilities. Remote workers often need to pay more attention to this skill because they have fewer interpersonal cues during the day, but everyone struggles with the organisation as their workload increases. In today’s workplace, responsibilities pile up and move from worker to worker at an ever-faster pace, which can create a feeling of chaos. A good way to counteract that feeling is to make a habit of reviewing all your projects and schedule at least weekly, if not daily. You'll make better use of your work hours and be a more productive asset to an employer.
3. Schedule Meetings that Work Best for Everyone
This is a skill that anyone organising meetings in a large organisation will need to develop. The most challenging aspect of choosing meeting times is finding the time that works best for most if not all the essential people on a project. Someone may be able to attend a meeting at a given time, but it won’t be the best time for them to be an effective participant, such as remote team members who are in different time zones than your local team. When it’s impossible to schedule good times for everyone, rotate the meeting time periodically to accommodate those who are in different time zones.
4. Be Assertive
Assertiveness is one of the key skills that will make you more effective in most workplaces, but it’s also a nuanced social skill that takes time to develop depending on your personality. Some people are naturally retiring, and others are overly aggressive. Assertiveness is the happy medium that ensures your needs and views are known without impinging on those of others. Assertiveness will also help you be more proactive on projects. Assertive workers keep each other on task by checking in or making requests without waiting for someone else to do it.
5. Leverage Technology
Technology continues to make work relationships easier to manage both at the office and remote locations. Remote workers especially can benefit from video conferencing and other internet technology skills that make frequent face-to-face meetings possible without being physically present. Stay on top of the latest technologies as they become available. Not only will it increase your value to potential employers as a remote worker, but it'll also improve your productivity overall. Employers value lifelong learners who actively improve their technology skills and bring new ideas to the table.
6. Stay Motivated
Staying motivated can be a challenge under any circumstances over the long term, but it can be more difficult when working remotely. Many people are motivated by social interaction with team members as they tackle a project’s challenges together. Those interactions often serve as reminders or offer ideas when you’re stumped by a problem. When these natural social motivators dwindle because of working remotely or a lack of enthusiasm on a team, being able to jump-start yourself is a valuable skill to employers. It'll help you stay productive, and your own enthusiasm can be an asset to a project manager who needs someone to inject energy into their team.
7. Keep a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Remote workers can have surprising challenges when creating a healthy balance between work and their personal lives, especially if they telecommute from home. Work-at-home team members need to create well-defined boundaries between their work and family to be at their best each day. This is true of all employees, however, especially salaried workers who take work home or need to be on-call outside of normal business hours. They can suffer the same issues and are at greater risk of burnout because they are working extra hours. Learning how to maintain a healthy balance will ensure you maintain your productivity in the long run and provide a good example for coworkers.
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