Four Characteristics of the Best Virtual Employees

January 16, 2015 by

Working from home
Let’s face it. If you’re at the office right now, you would probably rather be at home. Turns out, so would most of your coworkers. A recent survey showed that 70 percent of people would rather work from home than spend time at an office. That number increases to 81 percent for people 35-44 years old.(1) This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with cubicles or “modern” open floor plans… OK, maybe that’s exactly what I’m saying. No matter how nice an office is, home will probably always be nicer. (There’s a reason why “the comfort of your own home” is a saying.)
As an employer who offers virtual roles, this creates a tricky hiring situation. Since so many people are eager to trade in whatever they’re doing now to work from home, how can you be sure you’re hiring a candidate who is actually a good fit for virtual work?

The answer is that the right candidate for the job is not the applicant who has a strong desire to work from home. The right candidate is the applicant who wants the job itself, no matter where it’s located, and who has the right traits for success in a remote environment. This is the employee who is much more likely to be engaged.

Some of the best predictors for onsite employee engagement are the same for employees in a virtual position. Passion, loyalty, professionalism, and applicable skills and knowledge are all essential characteristics for contributing to a magnetic culture. But a virtual environment is vastly different from working onsite, and a predisposition to be engaged is often not enough.

Virtual employees are on an honor system, more or less. As a manager, you need to trust that you are hiring people who work when they are supposed to work. The employee-manager relationship in a virtual work arrangement requires more trust, which is why virtual employees not only need to embody the essential characteristics of engaged employees, they also need to demonstrate in abundance what I call the four “self” characteristics. The best virtual employees are:
• Self-starters
• Self-motivated
• Self-disciplined
• Self-sufficient

Let’s take a look at each characteristic on its own.

Self-starters don’t have to be reminded to work, nor do they call their boss and ask what to do next. They seek work. Whether in the office, at home, or at a café, they don’t need their boss working in the next room to keep them on task instead of on Facebook. Self-starters recognize it is their job to contribute to a magnetic culture, and therefore they always strive to perform their best work. Their assumption is that they should be doing something at all times to earn their paycheck.

Self-motivated employees don’t need a carrot dangled in front of them to do a good job. They are intrinsically driven by a big-picture goal. While the goal can be anything from getting a promotion to paying off student loans to taking pride in a job well done, self-motivated employees have an extraordinary sense of purpose. This makes it easy for them to ignore the distractions of their remote office, zero in on the tasks at hand, and deliver top-notch results.

Self-disciplined employees have superior long-term focus, stellar time management, and a strong sense of what’s most important in reaching goals. They are able to forego immediate pleasure and instant gratification (like watching TV or taking a mid-afternoon nap) in favor of a more meaningful outcome. They spend time on activities that bring them closer to accomplishing their goals, and their workdays are highly structured. Hiring self-disciplined employees frees you from watching over virtual shoulders and breathing down virtual necks.

Working offsite makes it harder to get support and feedback from colleagues. While this reality can be incredibly tough for some, self-sufficient employees do just fine. These individuals are engaged despite very little social interaction with peers and managers. They do not need to sound their ideas out loud with a manager, toss a question over the cubicle wall, or pop into a colleague’s office for a conversation. They are remarkably adept at figuring things out on their own, and when they can’t, they’re content emailing or calling. Self-sufficient employees are easy to manage remotely because they need little assistance and they don’t rely on coworkers for a boost of morale.

You owe it to yourself and your organization to find the best candidates available. When interviewing for a virtual role, make sure to ask behavioral questions to assess these four “self” characteristics. (In my next post, I’ll cover some options to consider.) You’re likely to find many people who are excited about a virtual position, but markedly fewer who pass the “self” litmus test.

This post was derived from The Virtual Manager by Kevin Sheridan


Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For five years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017.

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement. His first book, Building a Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to most effectively manage remote workers.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.