how to know if someone’s really suited to working remotely

Whether you’re considering a staff member’s request to work remotely (some or all of the time) or you need to hire a new team member who will work off-site, it’s key to know how to tell if someone is well suited for remote work or not. Many people assume they’ll thrive work remotely but then encounter problems with motivation and productivity. And managers are sometimes too quick to assume that if teleworking works for the team, anyone on the team will be able to do it successfully.

But in reality, some people excel when they’re working remotely, and others crash and burn. Here’s what to think about when you’re contemplating whether someone is the right fit for remote work.

Has the person ever worked remotely before? People with experiencing telecommuting are more likely to have a good understanding of its difficulties and demands, and of whether they do well in that context. That doesn’t mean first-timers can’t do it, but it does mean that you should spend extra time talking about challenges and expectations with a remote newbie.

Does the person have realistic ideas about remote work? Do they understand that they can’t regularly care for young children while working remotely, or do they see it as a child care plan? Have they thought about how they’ll remain connected to the team, and what work habits or processes they might need to modify? Or do they just imagine themselves getting laundry done while they work and figure the rest of the details will work themselves out?

Does the person thrive when working autonomously or have a high need for interaction?Remote employees can certainly collaborate virtually, but someone who draws energy from being able to grab a few coworkers and bounce ideas around may go stir-crazy working from home. Make sure you have a realistic view of what conditions help the person operate at their best, and that being physically isolated won’t make them feelisolated, or dry up their creativity and energy.

How’s the person’s reliability and drive? Obviously, you want anyone on your team to be conscientious, reliable, self-motivated, and accountable. But these things are absolutely crucial when someone is working remotely – or you’re likely to find yourself having trouble tracking them down during the day, not hearing back in a timely fashion, and eventually doubting how they’re actually spending their time during the day.

How would you rate the person’s communication skills? Do they seek out input, relay their thoughts clearly and reasonably concisely in writing, understand instructions and nuance without a lot of hand-holding, and reach out proactively when something needs to be hashed out? You’re also going to need to rely on all this when someone isn’t working down the hall from you.

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase’s blog.

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. Jake*

    I know I couldn’t work from home. Some days I’d get double a normal office day worth the work but if my deadline was way out there, there is no way I’d stay motivated.

    1. Kairi*

      I’m the same as you, which is why I’m happy that my job requires me to be in the office. Even when I was in college, I did all my homework at the library to ensure that I stayed motivated the entire time.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I don’t mind if I have enough to do, but sitting on the sofa for days at a time with no one to talk to makes me stir crazy. It probably wouldn’t bother me as much if I had someone else to talk to at home. I like going into the office, even though I HATE driving here.

    3. INTP*

      I work 100% remotely and timelines for my work can range from 30 minute turnarounds to days or weeks. I’ve found that with the larger projects, while I do always get it done by the deadline, I tend to have difficulties being disciplined to work as many hours as I planned to and wind up pulling a few late nights or work-only days (i.e. no breaks except an hour for each meal). When I worked partly in the office and partly from home, I might lag a little in getting into the office, but once I was there I managed to concentrate.

      I do think the pros of WFH outweigh the cons, but if you aren’t someone who has excellent willpower about working, it can be difficult.

    4. I'm a Little Teapot*

      I’m pretty bad about that too, though trying to improve. My day jobs require me to be on site, but I’m also a freelance writer; people always ask “So you write every day?” and I say “Um, no…. I should, but….”

  2. BRR*

    I think a lot more people think they could thrive working from home than actually can. On the simplest level the number of times I have heard “I would love to work from home so I could spend more time with my children” but also the things Alison lists. I certainty think there are benefits to WFH but I’m not sure people realize everything it entails and requires (which is a post somewhere).

    1. Bwmn*

      While obviously the problems of working from home and childcare are present – I do think that sometimes that statement has more to do in reference with how their commute impacts time at home. I have a friend that lives in an area that includes a 2 hour train commute one way to work. While she doesn’t have kids, for her neighbors – the more telework days they have, that’s 4 hours they’re not spending getting to/from the office. Also, as a number of them have early arrive/early leave days (i.e. show up in the office around 7, leave around 3) – when they telework, it can actually mean slightly more accessibility during the afternoon via email/phone.

      While the substitute for childcare obviously does involve the eye roll, I do think that sometimes the “time” people are talking about isn’t always about that.

        1. Rat Racer*

          And for women in formal office environments and who have difficult hair: the time avoided getting ready in the morning is a HUGE save.

          1. Anon for this*

            Yes. I work from home, which saves me approximately 3 hours per week in hair and makeup and 10 hours per week commuting. I still get ready, but don’t have to go all out…

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yes, this! I loved the days I could telecommute – because I spent about 90 minutes total in commute on days I went in (sometimes more if I was unlucky). And right now I’m being grateful it wasn’t four hours! Yikes.

    2. INTP*

      The myth about childcare (or other domestic duties) being easier for a WFH person drives me nuts because I’m currently going through having to set boundaries for family members that expect me to assist during my workday (adult-sitting in my case, not baby-sitting – I have an autistic brother and a frail grandmother with mild dementia). I did a few times for major things like a surgery, and now I’m recruited for every doctor’s appointment. Even the adult-sitting is so distracting that I don’t feel right being “on the clock” with my company for that time unless it’s an emergency – I can’t imagine how someone would work with small children around! (I know *how* to set the boundaries, it’s just uncomfortable, so I’m annoyed at the whole myth of working from home being a great way to work while performing family duties because it creates the expectations that I have to set boundaries against.)

  3. AMG*

    I would love it. I actually would find it hard to step away from the computer when I did it in the past. It would put 2 hours back in my day, allow me to nap in my own bed at lunch, save on gas for my car and dining out….it would be a dream come true.

  4. Jenniy*

    I’m finishing my B.S. 100% online and I’m 3 weeks ahead in all my classes. Spring term I took 19 credits, was done 4 weeks before the term ended (except the 2 tests I couldn’t take until finals week) and got straight As. I just have to find a job that would allow 100% remote work

  5. Ad Astra*

    The childcare point is huge. There are many freelancers who “work from home” while taking care of their kids because they’re working irregular hours at their own discretion. A standard job that happens to be remote is not going to allow the same flexibility.

    I might be ok with WFH if I had a designated office in my house, but I hate the idea of working from my couch/kitchen table/bed. I need to mentally separate work and home or they begin to feel like intrusions.

    1. jmkenrick*

      When I started taking online classes, I had to purchase a desk for our little 1-bedroom apartment…just working on classwork at my couch was not a good mental fit. I get more done sitting at a desk, I just do!

      In that same vein, I’ve found that I’ll accomplish no real work if I just roll around in my pajamas. Even if I’ll be at home, I actually have to get in the shower, put on some real clothes – then review my to-do list and make a little schedule. Exactly as I would do in an office.

      1. Allison*

        Exactly. I can’t work if I’m sitting on the couch in my pajamas. I wish I had room for a “real” workstation with a desk and office chair, but I really don’t, so I sit at the dining table and make do. I’ve tried to work from the couch on days where I’ve been sick, but I never get anything done.

      2. Cajun2core*

        *Exactly*. My move was the main reason I started working from home. When my wife and I were looking for a house, we specifically looked for a house that had an “office” in it where I could work from. We found the perfect house. My wife and I shared a “home” office (spare bedroom) and I had my “work” office (a room that really could not be used for much besides an office).

        I got up at the same time every morning, did my normal morning routine, put on my “work” clothes, and was sitting in my “work” office by 8:00 every morning. At around noon, I left my “work” and either at lunch at home or went out to eat. At 5:00, I left my “work”, closed the door to the “work” office behind me, and never went back in until the next night. With few exceptions and for lunch, between 8:00AM and 5:00PM I was in my “work” office sitting at my desk.

        It worked out very well for me but just as jmkenrick and Allison said, I had to have my routine just as if I was going to work in an actual office. I had to have an “office” which was dedicated to my work. If not, either I would have gotten nothing done or I would have work way too much.

        Working at home was wonderful for me. I have since been laid off from that job. I do miss it (working from home and that job.)

    2. INTP*

      Definitely true on childcare. I actually have a couple of adults in my family who require care (not terribly high maintenance, but they can’t be home alone) and I’ve had to set some boundaries about my family expecting me to be available to stay with them while I’m working. It seems like people think it should be no big deal as long as I’m not on an incredibly tight deadline, but I found it impacts my productivity to the point that I felt it wasn’t ethical to be on the clock with my company while doing it (I am paid hourly, but set my own hours according to project needs). If I were keeping children who need more constant supervision, I don’t know how I’d get anything done.

      If I were freelance, I might be okay with taking twice as long to do a project every so often, but I still wouldn’t be able to do it on a regular basis while working full time. If you’re distracted for half the day, your 8 hour workday becomes a 12 hour day because you can’t just not finish your projects on time.

  6. kac*

    I’ve been working from home for about 2 years now. I’m a huge extrovert, so that can be an issue (especially in the winter), but overall it’s been an incredibly positive experience and I’ve been very pleased with my overall productivity. (Of course, some days are better than others!)

    As a motivated person & a perfectionist, I tend to get really caught up in work-related stress. Poor planning, miscommunications, difficult personalities, etc tend to get me too wound up. Working from home has really helped me to keep from getting too caught up in that sort of stuff. And as a result I’m more productive and focused. Now I just shrug it off; because I’m in my own home it reminds me of my real priorities–which are about doing good work, but also enjoying my husband’s company, valuing my friends, reading my books, etc.

    Anyway, I think it’s made me much better at my job–because all that other stuff is just distracting!

  7. Sascha*

    I really like the blended set up that I currently have – two days in the office, three at home. The home days allow me to decompress from being “on” when I’m at the office, and also had long blocks of uninterrupted time for concentration. The office days allow me to have meetings and some in-person time with people when we need to work on something together where email or phone just doesn’t cut it.

    1. justsomeone*

      I want the reverse of this! Three days in office and two days WFH. I need people around and do a lot of my “checking in to see how stuff is going” in person with my boss, but she’s OOO 2x a week anyway, so if I could just remote in those same days I’d be over the moon.

      1. 42*

        That’s exactly what I have now – 3 days onsite, 2 from home (home today). And they’re staggered so I don’t have to commute in (NYC) on any consecutive days. I’m very grateful for this.

        I have separate home office, 2 monitors and all that, and I’m just as productive at home as I am at work. I don’t want to blow a good thing.

    2. MaryMary*

      I used to work from home in Mondays and it was great. I had a couple standing conference calls scheduled with people/teams who didn’t work out of my home office that day, one of which was at 8am. It was great to roll out of bed, make some coffee (a must) and check my email for emergencies before having a Monday morning call.

      I tried to schedule webinars or company-wide infoshare calls for my work from home day too, so I wouldn’t be interrupted or distracted. I did not feel bad about doing some home multitasking (like folding laundry) to keep me from checking email or IMing during the webinar.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Oh, I’d love this. I could roll in on Tuesday–Thursday, and then be home again on Friday. I bet my boss would let me. My entire team works from home or on the road anyway. :)

  8. mskyle*

    My workplace is pretty flexible about WFH arrangements but I find it very difficult – partly due to the way the office works. If I’m working from home, there’s a significant chance that when I call in to a meeting no one in the office will remember to call in, so I just end up listening to hold music for 15 minutes… pretty frustrating! Also although we sometimes use a chat program, it’s not especially well supported, and there’s not a lot of give and take during the day. And most of my work (software development) is done on a server and when I’m using my home internet connection there’s a lot of lag.

    There is also the loneliness factor, and after last winter I still mostly associate working from home with snowstorms and freezing cold weather, so even if we were better set up for it I’m not sure how into it I would be. Of course for me work is only a 20 minute bike ride from home, and we get free lunch, so the barrier to coming in is low and the incentive to do so is high!

    1. Rat Racer*

      Yes, loneliness is definitely the downside to working from home. Even if I’m on conference calls all day long, I still feel kind of blue when I realize that it’s 4:00pm, I’m still in my pajamas and have yet to venture outside of my house. Still, I will take the isolation over headache of commuting – I live in the SF Bay area and traffic here has always been bad but has become UNBEARABLE in the past 3 years. And the BART train at rush hour is like being in a can of angry, disgruntled sardines.

  9. Jerzy*

    My current position allows me to work from home as needed, which is great for days when my car is in the shop, or even when I just need quite to get some writing done. I hate working from home on days when I have lots of calls. For some reason I prefer the office for that.

    And I DO love the ability to have laundry going while I’m working, but I usually work more than 8 hours when I work from home. I read and respond to emails late into the evening. I never considered using this as a way to spend more time with my son. He goes to daycare whether I’m working from home or the office. The point is, I’m working, and I can’t give him the attention he needs and get my job done at the same time.

    Once I’ve been here a year, I have the option to request a regular WFH schedule. I’m also considering asking for a part-time schedule, but if I decide against that, I’ll opt for 2-3 days WFH.

  10. A. Thrope*

    I used to WFH, for two years. Recently my company basically decided that no one was allowed. I was doing fine WFH, my metrics and numbers worked fine. Having to be back in the office has greatly affected my satisfaction with this job. Not that I’d have to WFH to be happy, but it was basically the only thing that made this job bearable.

  11. Susan the BA*

    As an EXTREME introvert, not just in the “being with a lot of people is exhausting” sense but in the “I do my best work in a very controlled low-stimulation environment” sense, I think I would thrive working from home a few days a week. It’s hard to make that argument to management without it coming off as “I’m not good at dealing with people” or “I’m too easily distracted by even the low levels of conversation and noise around here”. Sure, I *can* be a friendly colleague and I perform at a very high level, but I could be even better AND happier!

    I’m still relatively new at my current job, so I’m focusing on demonstrating my performance right now with a goal of asking for flexibility down the line.

  12. Allison*

    I get to work from home once a week, which is great for doctors appointments, car maintenance/repairs, salon visits, etc., but my big problem is the discipline to get outta bed! I give myself permission to sleep in a little, since I don’t need to beat traffic I sleep while my roommate gets ready for work (might as well stay out of the way), but then it’s 7:30 and I know I should start working by 8 . . . but . . . 10 more minutes can’t hurt . . .

    And I’m almost always tempted to take a 90 minute nap in the afternoon.

  13. Harryv*

    I don’t think it is a good idea to let someone expect and allow to be able to WFH from the get-go. I would first start the person to be working from whatever office is most reasonable then slowly allow them to become full time WFH. With services like airbnb, this shouldn’t be an issue as they can find reasonably priced accommodation. Otherwise, you will never get a grasp of their work load, persona, and character.

    I have personally WFH full time since 2007. While it is convenient especially when my boys were born but I feel it has hurt my career as I get passed up for promotions when I am less visible in the office. Now my wife is SAHM, I am looking to find a job that puts me back into the office.

  14. Rat Racer*

    I have worked from home full time for about 3 years now, and it is seriously the best job perk I could imagine. It’s not just the time spent commuting – my commute was only about 30 minutes when I had an office job – it’s the time spent getting dressed and getting out the door too. Working with a team on the East Coast, I start my workday at 5:30 am (in my PJs, cuddled up with a cup of coffee and my sleepy dog) and by 3:30 in the afternoon the email has died down more or less completely, and I’m able to pick up my kids from school, drive them to activities, make dinner, take dog for a run, etc. If I need to hop on again at night after they go to bed, I can.

    This is the only way I can imagine having the kind of full-blown high powered career I’ve always wanted and have some balance in my life.

    Our employee satisfaction results just came back, and I saw dozens of comments from other working parents expressing their gratitude for the ability to work from home. I think people worry that working parents will try to take care of their kids and work at the same time. That is utterly impossible. However, working from home with flexible hours allows me to work as hard as I need to and still be there for my kids when they need me. I wish more companies would hop on the bandwagon.

  15. baseballfan*

    I like working in the office, because that’s when I have my game face on and the environment is most conducive to being in work mode. I’m a lot more productive there. But I love that technology has made it possible to work remotely when necessary. I used to travel a lot, and I could get plenty of work done in airports, hotels, Starbucks, inflight, wherever. One time I had knee surgery and couldn’t drive for a month – so I worked from home the entire time. I didn’t love it and felt a little isolated, but I got things done.

    I got in a small argument once with someone who insisted it was possible to work and take care of children at the same time and took the suggestion otherwise as an insult to her parenting. It was on FB on a post by the local radio station or some such, so I didn’t prolong the discussion as there was no point, but I considered her seriously out of touch – particularly when it came to light that she worked as a waitress!

  16. dh37*

    My firm was acquired a few months before I came on board. So we work remotely with the people at the parent location.

    From my experience, one of the most important requirements for remote work is the ability to email. The guy who manages our team isn’t able to send more than one-sentence emails. He prefers phone conversions. I’m in tech, and constant phone meetings means no work accomplished.

  17. Student*

    I can’t work from home. I get distracted by other, non-work things too easily. My husband also makes it difficult for me to work from home, because if I’m around he wants to talk to me, but he works very different hours than I do.

    My husband loves working from home. In his job, he gets constant interruptions if he’s in the office, so being inaccessible (or just less accessible) allows him to concentrate more on long-term work instead of fielding constant, disruptive minor questions. It seems to work out quite well for him when he does it.

  18. Noah*

    I can work from home once or twice a week but I cannot do it full time. For one thing, in my position I miss a lot by not being in the office to hear the conversation flowing around me. Also, at home it is way too easy to get distracted and start a load of laundry or something.

    I do have a scheduled WFH day every Wednesday. It allows me time to focus on projects that need quiet and no interruptions. I usually block the day out completely on my calendar to prevent meetings.

  19. Key to the West*

    My company (well, maybe more my department) has a pretty flexible, “do what you like”, WFM policy.

    No one abuses it, it’s mainly used for being able to go for appointments, wait in for parcels etc. and sometimes if you don’t want to go in to the office. However, our jobs are very meeting heavy so most people need to be in the office 90% of the time! You don’t need permission either, you just tell your boss not to expect you in.

    Likewise, we have pretty flexible working hours, though the majority stick to 9-5. So, for example, if I have an appointment in the morning but have a meeting in the afternoon, I can come in at 11am and still leave at 5, or there abouts.

  20. Doriana Gray*

    I could never work from home. First, I don’t have Internet in my apartment, so I’d have to go use the free wifi in my apartment building’s very swanky, but very loud, common room. Then my job requires me to make a bunch of calls every day and I don’t have a home phone (and the common room doesn’t have one), so I’d have to call people from my cell – that’s another no-go. Finally, I’m easily distracted so I’d wind up watching Sons of Anarchy reruns or working on one of my books all day. Needless to say, I wouldn’t have my day job long.

    I envy those with better resources/attention spans than me who can do this. I think I’d like my job much more if I didn’t have to physically be in the office every day.

  21. gnarlington*

    I just accepted a part time telecommute job that’ll have me WFH three days of the week. So far I’m just trying to figure out the ethics of logging hours /:

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