Choosing Who Can Work Remotely and Who Should Manage Them


Knowing the right competencies to hire for is so important no matter the context, but I would suggest knowing the right competencies are even more vital when it comes to hiring for, or transitioning to, remote positions. To be clear, when I say remote positions, I mean those positions or jobs that don’t require the worker to be at a centralized location on a regular basis.

So, why are competencies important, and how many competencies should organizations choose to focus on when hiring?

Let’s first clarify the meaning of competency. Human Resource Systems Group explains…

“…competencies describe the observable abilities, skills, knowledge, motivation, and traits, articulated in terms of the behaviours needed for successful job performance.”

The key here is that we can actually see people demonstrating competencies (vs character or personality traits).

Which Competencies Are Needed To Work Remotely?

As outlined in this video by HRSG, skills focus on WHAT is done, competencies focus on HOW something is done. In other words, I may be a skilled IT person, but if I don’t know how to actively listen (…the competency) to the customer, I may not be successful in the role as an IT Customer Support Representative. Determining the key competencies helps HR and hiring managers think beyond the job skills necessary, to the effective implementation of those skills…the result being successful performance of a job.

How many competencies are realistic to focus on? From an HR professional perspective, I would suggest no more than five to seven competencies. When you are asking behavioural questions that do a deep dive to ascertain if the candidate is adequately proficient in each competency, any more than seven would be insurmountable in a recruitment and selection process. On the flip side…if you are the remote worker wanting to ‘sell’ your ability to deliver on those same competencies the first place to start is in your resume. This article may help describe what this means.

When discussing specific competencies in a remote workforce, the respondents in our research identified seven they believe greatly contribute to their success: communication, self-motivated/self-directed, trust, discipline, taking initiate, adaptable/flexible, and high self-efficacy. When each is considered, it quickly become apparent that the need for self-leadership encompasses many of these competencies.  This podcast interview will provide an overview of the research results, and reflection on the competencies deemed to be relevant while working remotely. As well, these suggested interview questions may be helpful when preparing for remote worker interviews.

How To Manage A Remote Workforce

A focus on remote workers and the necessary competencies is also important to the conversation when choosing people to manage a remote workforce. Research shows that many of the management skills needed in colocated teams also apply to distributed teams. In the previous article, we outlined three different forms of remote work present in the workforce. All three embrace some form of remote working, showing that organization can have managers providing leadership for face-to-face or fully distributed teams. A more challenging scenario sees a manager supporting a hybrid team where some members are colocated while others are remote. What does it take to provide the necessary leadership and support in these scenarios? As Laurel Farrer outlines in her article, a great deal of intention, trust, and honest communication is necessary. When we consider what remote workers need from their managers, they were very clear: support and feedback. What does that look like?

  • Easy and timely access to both people, tech support, and communication tools.
  • Having barriers and roadblocks removed,
  • Fostering collaboration among the teams.
  • Respect and recognition for ideas, opinions…meritocracy.
  • On-going feedback and encouragement.
  • Emotional and psychological support.
  • Access to learning and development.
  • Clear vision and expectation.

Based on the needs of the worker, and the competencies needed for success in a virtual world, the competencies mentioned above would equally apply to those leading a remote workforce. However, the proficiency levels would be higher, adding empathy, strategic thinking, active listening, and other-focused.

Once more, high levels of self-leadership are vital for these managers and supervisors. A well-suited individual would know his or her strengths, be actively increasing their emotional intelligence, and be committed to the growth and development of those he or she supports.

In other words, the old mindset of command and control will not work. What this calls for is individuals who are willing and able to adapt a servant leadership mindset; an approach that puts the employee first, where the focus is on the success of the team members, and where the manager serves the worker. Micro managing will not be effective in this context, and will in fact create a great deal of frustration and disintegration of trust. As Daniel H. Pink writes about in Drive, organizations would be well served by helping employees attain autonomy, mastery, and purpose in their work…resulting in productivity, low turnover, and employee retention.

Read More of Roberta and Nathan’s Work



Roberta Sawatzky is a business professor and consultant, with 30+ years experience creating environments where individuals and teams can perform to the best of their abilities. Her current research is directed towards remote workers and how they can best be supported. Nathan J. Sawatzky is a researcher & business culture consultant with a particular interest in technology and its impact on society. Past experience includes Disney, Two Hat Security, and Facebook.

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