What sorts of people make the best remote employees? There's one important quality you should look for -- optimism. There's a second quality you should avoid -- people pleasing. Unfortunately, the two can seem very similar, and it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between them.
Here's why you want one and not the other, and how to tell them apart.
1. Why you should look for optimists.
The number-one quality most experts say to look for in a remote employee is self-motivation. And for good reason. Remote employees won't have you there to deliver a pep talk to them and they can't easily drop by to talk to you or a co-worker if they're feeling frustrated or unsure of themselves. Stuck home alone, they need to "arrive at work" every morning with the conviction that what they will do that day matters and that they can do it successfully. That takes optimism, according Sara Sutton, founder of the remote job search site FlexJobs.
If you're evaluating someone who works for you, or someone you know, you might already know if that person is an optimist or not. But what if you're just meeting a prospective employee -- probably by phone or videoconference -- for the first time? Sutton recommends asking directly if a job candidate is an optimist; you may get a truthful or at least a useful answer. And when you discuss a candidate's past work experiences, a tendency to either look on the bright side or the dark side may become clear. "That kind of thing never works" or "I knew the project was doomed from the beginning" can clue you in that someone is a pessimist. Compare that with more optimistic statements such as "We gave it our best shot but the timing just wasn't right. I'd love to try it that again someday."
2. Why you should avoid people-pleasers.
You never want someone who works for you to tell you only what you want to hear, whether he or she works remotely or onsite. But, Sutton says, in a remote work situation, it's harder for a manager to tell whether an employee is feeling confident or concerned. For your company to be successful, remote employees must be willing and able to speak up when they think something is wrong.
A second, more subtle problem is that remote workers who are too intent on pleasing their bosses or co-workers could waste a lot of time and mental energy fretting about whether they are liked. Because remote work situations don't allow for informal conversations, or for things like a colleague's asking them out to lunch, remote workers can't get many of the usual signals that would tell them who likes them and who doesn't. To be effective, they need to be able to function well without those signals.
It can be tough to tell if someone is a people pleaser. For example, ask employees or prospective hires if they can meet a tight deadline, and they may answer, "You bet!" But are they being optimistic or are they telling you what they think you want to hear? It's hard to know for sure. Once again, reviewing or discussing past jobs or projects might give you a clue. "I thought there would be a problem but I don't like to make waves so I didn't bring it up" could signal that you're dealing with a people pleaser.
Sutton also recommends asking prospective remote workers straight out if they are people pleasers. Someone who simply answers no could be a curmudgeon and no fun to work with. So look for a more nuanced response, for example someone who says that they try to get along with everyone, but if they disagree with you on an important issue, they will make sure to say so as nicely as possible. That's exactly the kind of remote employee you want.