Competencies for Success in the Remote Workplace

Competencies for Success in the Remote Workplace

By: Roberta Sawatzky MA, CPHR

As a business professor and remote worker in the consulting and coaching world, I am currently doing research on what it takes to be successful as a remote worker based on the reflections of remote workers themselves. Specifically, I’m looking at the tech industry and the necessary competencies.

When speaking of this with some students, one asked me for clarity around what a competency is. A valid question. How do you differentiate basic skill know-how from a competency? This is important to clarify as we consider those key to remote work. I like this definition from University of Nottingham:

Competencies are abilities or attributes, described in terms of behaviour, key to effective and/or highly effective performance within a particular job.

A competency goes beyond knowing the technical aspect of a task. For example, I may know how to sell a good pair of shoes and what information to provide the customer (i.e. proper fit, potential for stretching, proper care.) This is easily learned. However, that doesn’t mean I know how to sell a pair of shoes in such a way that loyalty and ‘relationship’ has been seeded with the customer. Did I discover why the shoe is being purchased? Did I learn anything about the customer and his/her likes and dislikes? Have I created a shoe shopping experience for the customer that they will come back for AND tell their friends about? We are talking about behavior here. What kind of behavior would you be able to observe as I served the customer? Perhaps excellent customer service? Perhaps some level of empathy? Those behaviors are what we call competencies.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve had such experiences in three shoe stores. One even served cappuccino, and the other wine! @shoeembassy (Brighton, England) @strut (Kelowna, BC, Canada) and @ladifferencia (Vancouver, BC, Canada).

In preparation for further work on this research, we will be sending surveys to remote workers, specifically those in the tech industry, to get their feedback on the accuracy of the competencies we’ve identified, and to prioritize the degree of importance for each.

Knowing that different aspects of tech remote work may place different values on each competency, we want to end up with a list of 5-7 top core competencies that truly reflect the worker in their respective areas. Armed with this knowledge, those hiring for remote work, can create more effective behavioral questions to discern the ‘fit’ for potential hires. As well, those considering remote work can self-evaluate if such a work arrangement is a good fit for them.  

Based on information gathered from remote worker interviews conducted in Finland, Netherlands, Germany, England, France, and Canada (and review of relevant literature) this is what we have learned so far (in no particular order), and want to prioritize through the survey:

  • Self-directed (making your own decisions and organizing your own work)

  • Disciplined (showing a controlled form of behavior or way of working)

  • High self-efficacy (high belief in your own capabilities to produce quality outcomes)

  • Trustworthy (able to be relied on as honest or truthful)

  • Empathetic (showing an ability to share the feelings of another)

  • Adaptable (able to adjust to new conditions)

  • Curious (eager to know or learn something)

  • Flexible (ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances)

  • Taking initiative (an act or strategy intended to resolve a difficulty or improve a situation; a fresh approach to something.)

  • Self-motivated (motivated to do or achieve something because of one's own enthusiasm or interest, without needing pressure from others.)

  • Focus (concentrating attention on the most urgent problems)

Many of these are simply good competencies to possess in any work context, however, I believe it’s fair to say that the level of proficiency needed for remote workers in each area is higher; their very success depends on it!

Willing to contribute to this research? You can take the survey HERE. Then, watch for the results of the survey to be shared here with the Yonder community!

Roberta Sawatzky is an avid learner who is passionate about equipping and encouraging individuals to bring the best of themselves to all they do. Armed with a Masters in Leadership and Management, Roberta's career has afforded her the opportunity to be in leadership and training roles in both non-profit, and for-profit organizations, as well as the world of academia. Currently teaching Management and HR courses in the Okanagan School of Business, BC, Canada, Roberta also facilitates on-line business courses, and coaches college competition teams in Design Thinking. As well, she is a coach/consultant for individuals and teams around training and development. Her current area of research focuses on Remote Workers; she’s doing this in collaboration with her son Nathan who is working remotely while traveling across Europe with his wife and 6 kids.

For more, check out Roberta’s blog at