Working from home is the new reality, and will be for the foreseeable future. It is also bound to have a profound impact on the way we work in the future.
With many companies restructuring the way their workforce is physically deployed, new skills becomes paramount:
Are you able to work from home?
Not whether you have the facilities to do so, or whether the nature of your work allows it, but will this environment enable you as a person and employee to function optimally? A new set of skills becomes important as companies may need to decide who to keep in the office and who to send home. Employees who are very productive in the office may struggle to work from home, while the opposite might be true. This blog explores the personality traits which may be related to successful remote work.
In the latest Buffer survey on the state of remote work in 2020, 98% of respondents indicated that they would prefer to continue working from home for the rest of their careers. However, the fact remains that and every employee is likely to react differently to working from home, and that this reaction is likely related to their personality, amongst other things. Although it is, of course, impossible to make corona – related policies personality specific, there are ways in which employers can accommodate this so some extent.
Extravert or Introvert?
The most obvious trait that comes to mind is that of extraversion vs. introversion. While introverts may find it easy to work in a more isolated environment, since they expend energy with social interaction, extroverts receive energy from this. Some extroverts report going “stir crazy” due to the lack of social interaction. Employers can alleviate this to some extent by creating opportunities such as town halls, virtual events, and impromptu chat sessions to maintain a feeling of community. Although not the “real thing”, conferencing tools such as Skype, Zoom and Teams can facilitate regular person-to-person contact, and facilitate more interactive remote get-togethers. Apart from formal work-related contact, employees, especially introverts, report to miss informal contact – the typical chance encounters in the corridor, or camaraderie-building chats around the water-cooler. One employer created a session every Friday afternoon, for example, where employees could have a chat about topics which are not work-related, such as movies they saw, or how their personal life is going, to address this need.
This opens up another aspect of remote working, namely the ability to “switch off” from work. One of the main challenges of remote working that people report is not being able to “unplug”. People who are naturally more tense than relaxed, may find this difficult. The same goes for individuals who need a lot of external structure and are not comfortable with ambiguity. They may find it difficult creating structure for themselves. It is recommended that individuals typically create some rituals that demarcate a separation between work and home – working in one room only, if possible, or going for a walk “after” work. Interestingly, it was found that individuals with children tended to find this easier, as children must be collected from childcare, or a sitter has to return home.
Conscientiousness is another trait that was found to contribute to remote working success. This trait relates to the motivation, ability to plan long-term, and discipline of an employee. Remote workers with higher conscientiousness are generally more motivated and can organize their schedules while meeting their deadlines without guidance. They also most likely have a reputation to produce work in a reliable, consistent, and timely manner that facilitates collaboration and effective communication. Employers may have the sense that they do not have to “check up” on these individuals as much as others.
However, contrary to the intuitive expectation that the introvert-extrovert personality dimension was most important for remote work– after all, it’s well-established that extroverts thrive with chance for plenty of face-to-face socialising - it was actually the key trait of ‘openness’ (which is related to being imaginative and having a love for trying out new things) that was most important in predicting satisfaction with working from home. High scorers on openness were the happiest to embrace virtual teamwork – presumably because of their general willingness to experiment with new ways of working, while lower scorers tended to find the transition more difficult.
As can be expected, individuals with low emotional stability may have a harder time thriving in remote work settings. People with high emotional stability may be more “even-keeled,” meaning they are not easily knocked down by challenges that arise, such as those posed by remote working. They are also more likely to find alternative solutions or proactively make plans should things go awry. These individuals are the most able to make tough decisions in light of challenges.”
Speaking of decisions, decisiveness is another trait found to be related to remote working success. Individuals who are likely to make quick decisions prefer virtual teams more than those who like long conversations. Given the less rich environment of virtual teams, decisions are typically more abbreviated, which appeals to these types of individuals.