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The Remote Work Competency Model - Creating Success at Every Stage of Remote Work

Updated February 26, 2020

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 55 seconds 


Remote work, telecommute, live/work—whatever you want to call it—the concept isn’t new. Humans have been making their living outside of co-located offices for years. The resurgence of the “workhome” came on slowly, but it’s reached a fever pitch and the writing is on the wall for businesses and job seekers alike; remote work is here to stay.

However, in our mad dash out of the offices, there hasn’t been much time dedicated to addressing the skills needed to be successful at working remotely. Hiring managers the world over find themselves now in situations of back-filling competencies that haven’t been comprehensively considered. Hiring remote workers isn’t just about the bullet points on a resume—there are layers of innate and learned skills that are often difficult to suss out or even control for when hiring and evaluating team members. 

And that’s just the beginning. It’s just as important to understand what skills need to be mastered throughout various career stages of a remote professional. It’s why Workplaceless created the Remote Work Competency Model: a comprehensive framework of the skills needed to be successful on every rung of the remote work ladder.  


Navigating Remote Success Competencies

Our team of instructional designers, curriculum developers, and subject matter experts identified the sets of skills in which workers need to demonstrate proficiency in order to succeed in a remote environment. 

First, the Workplaceless Remote Work Competency Model columns classify core strands of competencies that are industry- and function-agnostic for which all remote professionals need to master. 


  • Digital proficiency and communication
  • Performing, managing, and improving work
  • Culture and growth

These are followed by strands for roles that require additional specialized skills sets:


  • published: remote education, people operations/HR
  • in development: business operations, customer support, sales, development, and marketing roles. 

Second, the Workplaceless Remote Work Competency Model recognizes that competencies need to grow and evolve as one enters at or progresses through different professional levels. The model categorizes these career phases across the rows: Remote Workers, Remote Team Members, Remote Leaders, and Remote Executives. 

Skill development throughout a remote professional’s career is cumulative, meaning that as someone progresses through their career, they will need to demonstrate proficiency in the foundational skills from the Remote Worker phase AND skills from additional phases. For example, as a Remote Leader you will encounter challenges leading your remote teams if you have not mastered the Remote Worker classified foundational skills of the language of remote work, time management, and autonomy. 

The Remote Worker

When someone performs work in an environment outside of a co-located office, they are classified as a remote worker. The competencies in this phase are the foundational skills that a worker needs to have in order to independently produce work. In the Workplaceless Remote Competency Model, we focus on key skills such as: 

  • Channel and Mode Switching
  • Autonomy
  • Time Management

Success as a remote professional requires the fundamental mastery of these skills, predominantly because they set the foundation for understanding the distinctions required for working in virtual vs. office environments. For instance, an individual may be an experienced professional yet still not possess the level of autonomy (think motivation and proactiveness!) required to perform a job function without the physical guardrails and cues provided in co-located office spaces. 

The Remote Team Member

At this stage, individual workers are collaborating with others, either in a fully distributed or hybrid team. At the remote worker stage above, professionals accomplish their work independently, whereas at the remote team member stage, individuals must be able to communicate and accomplish work as part of a larger team, department, and organization. An individual may need to frequently shift and flex their skills back and forth between “Remote Worker” and “Remote Team Member”. Our Remote Work Competency Model recognizes these team dynamics through core competencies, including:

  • Intercultural communication
  • Collaboration
  • Adoption of remote communication tools
  • Self-advocacy

Remote Team Members need to have the skills to communicate and collaborate without being able to tap a co-worker on the shoulder or meet everyone in the conference room—this includes across global time zones and cultures. It’s easier than ever to do this nowadays with the multitude of applications built for keeping distributed teams as close as possible, like Slack, Asana, Zoom, and Remo. However, without guardrails for when, where, and how to utilize these tools within your team, you’re set up to actually be misaligned, miscommunicating, and underperforming. Additionally, without the face-to-face opportunities to advocate for your work, remote team members need to be well versed in self-advocacy—armed with the skills to ensure they aren’t just understood, but also respected.

The Remote Leader

Remote Leaders can be defined in two ways: either a manager who is physically located away from their team members, or a leader who sits in a co-located office but some or all of their team members operate remotely. Not being physically connected introduces some challenges to existing leadership standards and strategies. Our Remote Competency Work Model identifies some of the key skills to adapt to those environments such as:

  • Managing communication
  • Leadership & development
  • Sponsorship & mentorship

Being a Remote Leader is all about managing team members you never see. How do you evaluate performance when there's no visible clock-in, clock-out. How do you probe on your team's overall or individual morale? How do you resolve conflict? Especially if you don't see it? These questions can be answered through uniquely remote skill-building. And in mastering Remote Leader competencies you have the ability to strengthen the skills of your Remote Team Members.

The Remote Executive

Startups and small businesses are increasingly turning to distributed business models in order to scale and employ needed talent. Leading and scaling a fully distributed or hybrid company requires its own set of competencies. Remote Executives need to simultaneously be Remote Workers, Remote Team Members, and Remote Leaders while ensuring company remote culture and operations continue to stay in sync with the goals and objectives defined for the business. Remote Executives are responsible for ensuring that a distributed or hybrid model will actually work for the business, set the guardrails and tone for remote effectiveness, and managing those principles during times of growth or change. These skills include:

  • Remote Implementation
  • Setting Company Goals
  • Company Culture

Setting a clear vision for company growth and developing a strategy to get there are critical within every C-level role, but when teams are far-flung, how do you communicate that strategy? How do you ensure workers are aligned and working towards the same goals? If a distributed team isn’t aligned or performing optimally, the Remote Executive needs to step in, diagnose, adjust, correct, communicate, and build it back up. Our Model focuses on resolving these key questions and keeping a company and team working in sync.


Translating Skills into Steps for Building Remote Success

There is no shortage of content available online about remote work: between blogs, videos, and articles, people in the remote work community are actively sharing their experienced ideas and helpful advice on how to work in a distributed environment. But effective skill-building is about so much more than watching videos on any given topic. A learning experience that drives impact should be curated and intentionally designed using best practices in learning and development in order to gain and implement those skills. That’s how we’ve translated all of these skills into our competency-based learning programs. Download our Program Brochure.

Using the Remote Work Competency Model as a framework, workers at every stage of their virtual career can evaluate and strengthen themselves—whether the goal is to enter the remote workforce, reach the next stage of their remote career or establish their own virtual business. 

Companies can also quickly use the model to evaluate remote performance: 

  • During the hiring process: as an evaluation matrix to screen for skills needed by candidates, especially those without prior remote experience
  • For succession planning: share internally with team members about the skills expected to grow from one career stage to the next
  • For creating learning & development plans: use as a framework to assess current skill achievements and gaps, then map out a personal development plan to get there.

This is our first publication of the Remote Work Competency Model and we welcome your input!

Download a PDF version here.

Share your feedback here!

Ready to start strengthening the remote work competencies of your team?

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Tammy Bjelland, CEO at Workplaceless

Having worked remotely since 2011, Bjelland founded Workplaceless in 2017 after recognizing the need for remote-specific professional development opportunities. With her background in higher education, publishing, edtech, eLearning, and corporate training, she is committed to driving and supporting the future of work by developing people.

Follow her on LinkedIn

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