Remote Work And Personality
By | Dr. Neha Manchanda | Director | Head – Assessments & Training GreenThumbs
Been craving to go remote? Thought so! I’m yet to meet someone who enjoys traffic and commuting. Good news is remote work is becoming more the norm than the exception. Desktop and cubical farms are being replaced with app-enabled remote workspaces in many organizations.
In the past, remote work was often the domain of more menial positions – for example, customer service positions that relied on phone calls. Today, the average age of the workforce that opt for remote working is 46 years. Managers and leaders are now twice as likely to work remotely compared to individual contributors. So, work from home is not a non-serious adventure anymore. It is a well thought about professional step for most of the people who select it.
Employers are fast catching on to the various benefits of having a remote team. You obviously save money by having a smaller physical office. It increases worker productivity, reduces attrition rates and boosts morale. Remote workers have also been known to take less time off from work. The focus is finally on efficiency and not the number of hours you clock.
Rodolphe Dutel, founder of Remotive, puts it quite succinctly,“Employees don’t need ping pong tables or beer fridges at work. Employees need flexibility to do their best work and enjoy life. Please offer trust, not toys.”
While, the remote trend is slowly, but surely on its way to becoming the new normal, it’s not always all cupcakes and butterflies. Well, at least not for everyone. For some it’s an awful isolation rabbit hole.
So, what makes some people thrive and others suck at the lone-wolf working-from-home lifestyle? Research says a lot of it has to with your personality. Or it could just be your boss.
PERSONALITY OF AN AWESOME REMOTE WORKER
When you work outside of an office, a bad Wi-Fi connection or screaming kids in the background can put a real damper on your productivity. But tech difficulties and home distractions aren’t the only factors that make it hard to work remotely. In fact, many of the successes or challenges with working from home have to do with your personality.
Your personality affects just about every aspect of your day-to-day life and can, therefore, help you decide if remote work is for you or not. If you’re on the fence about going remote, below I’ve put together a (rather comprehensive!) list of personality traits of people who excel at working remotely. I pored over a huge set of research papers and publications, so all of this is scientifically corroborated and not just ramblings.
Self–Confidence / Autonomy
Working remotely also means working solitary. To be able to work alone, you need tons of self-confidence. And confidence comes from knowing your craft well. So that’s the first rule of remote work – do it only when you are confident you can deal with any surprises that may come up. Often you will be working with imperfect information, across time zones and you will be required to make a reasonably sound decision so that work can move forward.
Remote workers can’t be constantly connected to their bosses and have to make decisions on their own. It can be hard to prioritize and schedule for yourself when there isn’t a manager present to set expectations for you.
You will need the resourcefulness and savvy of an entrepreneur to deal with daily challenges. Say, your computer acts up – there will be no “IT Guys” to call on. You’ll just have to figure out how to avoid wasting several hours. You should feel confident enough to meet a problem head-on—without necessarily needing someone else’s confirmation or input all the time.
Self–Discipline / Work Ethic
Your home is your bed when it comes to work. Not only are there way too many distractions like –
“I’m hungry, maybe I’ll walk towards the refrigerator for the 33rd time today.” “I need to get the laundry done today.”
The real reason it’s hard to be self-disciplined at home is that no one is watching you.
Take the case of “cyberslacking”— a term used to describe the practice of using the Internet for non-work purposes while on company time. For some people, a remote work option is an invitation to waste business hours watching cat videos and shopping online; no colleagues or supervisors around to notice.
In an office environment, expectations are set. You know when your day is supposed to start and end. When you’re remote, all bets are off. You can start when you want. Finish when you want. Go for a walk when you want and do all your laundry, if you want. And, oh, these distractions will come! That’s guaranteed. If you’re not careful enough, every day could start to look like a weekend.
In the workplace, there are two things that keep you on track: 1) peer pressure from people who’ll notice if you’re goofing off, and 2) the fact that your boss can look over your shoulder to confirm you’re working.
Neither of those are present when you’re working from home, which means that you’ve got to be the proverbial self-starter and get stuff done, even though nobody will notice if you play video games for a few hours. You need to be fiercely self-accountable, especially because no one is watching you.
Now, it can certainly be argued that discipline can be an evolved skill, some people might be naturally more disciplined than others. The world of virtual work will definitely be easier for them to navigate.
With great flexibility, comes great responsibility. When you’re working from home, you don’t really have anyone else around to pass on the responsibility, in case you encounter an issue. You are ultimately responsible.
If you’re a naturally task-oriented, list keeping, deadline-demolishing worker bee who’s just as afraid of disappointing yourself as your team, you are God’s gift to the virtual workplace. But if you’re not, remote work can prove to be especially challenging.
One of the most important skills while working remotely is creating structure. A structure for your work day – what time does it start and end? A structured to-do list – what do you want to accomplish today? A structure of scheduled breaks – what time is lunch, how many coffee breaks, where does the school run fit in? A structured set of deadlines and how you plan to follow through on them.
In the absence of such structures and schedules it is very easy to lose not just track of work but also your mind. Someone with poor time management skills is unlikely to be productive unless supervised. This is even more true when you are a parent or have a lot of family responsibilities like caring for aged parents.
Bonus Read: 5 Reasons why personality tests have become popular for hiring.
Effective Communication Skills
When you’re working from home, you lose the casual conversations that happen as you pass by someone’s desk to go to the bathroom or get a drink. When all you have is a chat, you can send a message… and wait. And wait. And wait some more, wondering where the hell the guy in question went. Also, without the benefit of face-to-face interactions, a lot of context can get lost across the wires.
Out of sight can often translate the out of mind as well. This can quickly make you feel like an outsider. If you’re not careful, issues can fester. Emails can be misinterpreted as being rude or too direct and discussions can get sidetracked if a single word is misused.. And, with no visible body language, it’s tricky to convey your true intent.
Because of this, you’ll need to go out of your way to communicate. Whether this means getting on Skype instead of the phone or dropping into the office for important meetings, you’ll need to ensure that you’re not out of touch with the rest of the team or your manager.
Emotional stability is the personality trait that captures how even-keeled someone is or, on the opposite end, how fluctuating their emotions are. A person low on Emotional Stability is likely susceptible to rapid shifts in mood.
If a stressful situation arises at work, a person who is high on emotional stability would take such a situation in stride, remain positive, and figure out a way to address it. However, a person who’s low on emotional stability might get frustrated and discouraged, expending energy with those emotions instead of on the issue that is at hand.
Put simplistically, lack of emotional stability can make you more problem-oriented than solution oriented. This, coupled with the inherent lack of social support in remote work, can be a combustible combination. A successful remote worker is one who is able to chart these sensitive territories with maturity and flexibility.
You need to be adaptable and have a broadly positive attitude.
It is often noted that depression and anxiety are location agnostic, and happiness is an internal configuration, not something you acquire externally. But these pre-dispositions are put into sharper focus when working remotely.
Another factor that influences a person’s suitability to remote work is their need for social interaction. When working remotely, one of the things you miss most is the social element of working, the shared perspective, even the shared hatred of a boss.
Also, in a virtual environment there is a tendency to focus too much on tasks and too little on relationships. No wonder so many remote workers carry a feeling of “being left out”.
It only makes sense that the more extraverted (having a higher need for social engagement) you are, the more likely you are to resent the isolation that comes with going remote. You may find it difficult to be creative and productive without an office full of colleagues to bounce ideas off of. You may end up in an “energy rut” if you don’t get that face time they crave.
On the flipside, introverts adapt to working from home much easier than extroverts because they are peculiarly ill-suited for today’s open-plan offices. As an introvert, you would enjoy the opportunity to work in a quiet environment and concentrate on the task at hand.
This is not to say that extraverts cannot work remotely – they certainly can and do. But they just have to find ways to meet their social needs – with their teams or outside of work.
The work day of a remote worker is radically different from that of an on-premise worker. Of course, there’s more flexibility but being able to work in your pajamas does not guarantee a stress-free life. Work is still work even when you are home, it just comes with a different set of challenges that aren’t talked about as much. Of course, working remotely allows you to design your life in different ways, but ultimately will not bring you happiness on its own.
If you have the right personality characteristics to make it work, remote work could just be your chance to really thrive. If you don’t, an office environment is probably the best place where your talents would truly shine.
Eventually, your job should be about more than just paying the bills. You deserve a career that is fulfilling and makes you happy. And one of the best ways to ensure this happens is to choose a job that suits your personality.
Hopefully, this piece helped you get a better understanding of whether a work-from-home job is for your or not. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. For a deeper understanding of your personality, you may want to take a look at a personality assessment here.