Essential Soft Skills for Remote Workers

See also: Managing Remote Teams

During the COVID-19 pandemic, office and knowledge workers around the world moved to remote working, often at very short notice. This happened even in companies that had been resisting remote and flexible working arrangements for many years—and it very much let the ‘remote working’ genie out of the bottle. It is very hard to argue that jobs cannot be done remotely when it is now obvious that this is untrue.

However, remote working brings some serious challenges for both employers and employees. It is particularly difficult when some of the workforce work remotely and others are office-based. Many people also find that they simply do not like remote working. Before you decide to ask to work remotely, it may be worth considering whether you have the essential soft skills required for doing so. There are five that are particularly important.

1. Communication skills, especially written communication skills

When you work remotely, you have to work twice as hard to communicate with your colleagues.

Almost all your communication will be in writing, either by email, or using collaboration tools such as Slack. You need to be able to communicate clearly, unambiguously and concisely, to avoid any misunderstandings.

It is also important to remember that in person, some 70% of communication is not about the words that we use. Using telephone or video calling, your body language and other non-verbal communication will be less clear than in person. You may therefore need to emphasise your tone of voice or facial expressions more, which can feel unnatural.

2. Relationship-building skills

Much of the relationship-building that goes on in an office environment is through casual conversations in the coffee area, canteen or even corridors. It is much easier to build rapport when you have these opportunities to chat to your co-workers about their interests and families.

Remote workers therefore have to work harder to build relationships with their co-workers because they do not have these opportunities.

To build stronger relationships, try to use video calling rather than telephone or email to communicate with people. It is much more personal. You should also try to initiate opportunities to chat. For example, ask if you can have a few minutes at the start or end of a team meeting (either in person or on video) to catch up with each other’s work areas or any issues going on. It may also be worth going into the office more often when you first start to work remotely. If you start a new job working remotely, it is certainly worth doing this in the first few weeks, so that you meet all your new colleagues face-to-face.

3. Self-Regulation

When you work remotely, there is nobody standing over you, forcing you to work.

There is therefore a certain amount of suspicion about whether remote workers actually work most of the time (and a recent survey—see box—suggests that this suspicion may be justified in many cases).

How much do remote workers work?

A recent study by ExpressVPN found that over two-thirds of remote workers said that they spent time on non-work tasks during their nominal working hours:

  • 66% said that they checked personal emails, accounting for an average of four hours per week;
  • 59% admitted to online shopping, spending an average of three hours per week; and
  • 49% were looking for new jobs, spending an average of three hours per week on this.

Indeed, in a 40-hour work week, men spent an average of just 12 hours working, and women 15 hours. No wonder that many companies would prefer their workers back in the office.

An essential skill for remote workers is therefore self-management or self-regulation.

This is part of emotional intelligence, and is defined as the ability to manage yourself, and your abilities, emotions and impulses. People with good self-management are generally considered trustworthy and conscientious. When they say that they will do something, they do it. They take responsibility for themselves, and ensure that their performance matches their ability.

With growing suspicion about the productivity of remote workers, it seems likely that in future, you may need to build a reputation for being trustworthy before you are allowed to work remotely.


In an office, it can be hard to get your head down and work. There is always a cup of coffee to be made or someone to chat to. In your own home, or a coffee shop or café, the situation is even worse.

The ability to push yourself to get your head down and get on with your work—self-motivation—is therefore essential for remote workers.

Self-motivation is the force that drives us to do anything. It is a little like self-regulation, not least because it is defined as an element of emotional intelligence.

In emotional intelligence terms, it consists of four elements: personal drive to achieve, or the desire to improve or meet standards; commitment to goals; initiative, or readiness to act on opportunities and optimism or resilience, the ability to keep going in the face of setbacks.

Ultimately, however, we tend to be motivated by three possible factors: wanting to do something (intrinsic motivation), doing it for the rewards (extrinsic motivation), and feeling an obligation to do it (obligation motivation). For many remote workers, the ability to continue to work remotely, and be able to manage your work–life balance, is perhaps the most important motivation for productivity.

5. Time Management

Remote workers often have much more freedom than their office-based colleagues to organise their own time. Their workdays are less likely to be micro-managed, and they are more likely to be judged by whether they complete work tasks than the hours spent sitting at a computer.

This means that remote workers need to have good time management skills.

Time management is a combination of using your time efficiently, and prioritising tasks effectively. Most of us have more to do than we can fit into our time—so the key is to do the most urgent and important tasks first. Once those are complete, you should move onto the important but less urgent. Urgent but less important tasks can be delegated or done later (or not at all, if the urgency has passed by the time that you get to them). A grid like the Eisenhower Matrix or priority matrix can help you to classify tasks by urgency and importance.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Self-Employment and Running Your Own Business

The Skills You Need Guide to Self-Employment and
Running Your Own Business

If you are thinking about running your own business, or already do so, but feel that you need some guidance, then this eBook is for you. It takes you through self-employment in easy steps, helping you to ensure that your business has more chance of success.

The Skills You Need Guide to Self-Employment and Running Your Own Business is the guide no new or aspiring entrepreneur can afford to be without!

Based on our popular self-employment and entrepreneurship content.

A Final Thought

Remote working is not for everyone. Some people find that they prefer the buzz and casual contact with other people of working in an office.

However, if you have these five skills, and you wish to work remotely, then it is likely that you could do so successfully.

About the Author

Melissa has been writing content for SkillsYouNeed since 2013. She holds an MBA and previously worked as a civil servant and now with a young family, she is learning all about applying her skills to real life.