With both Facebook and Twitter recently allowing staff to work permanently from home, remote work is now becoming more than an emergency measure. And it’s not only digital-born companies that are setting themselves up for a more flexible future. According to a recent study by GlobalWebIndex, over half of employees in the UK and the US report that their companies are equipped for a fully remote workforce.
As remote work evolves into a long-term reality, our discussions about it need to move beyond the deployment of digital technologies and the understandably awkward adjustment period to life outside of the office. It’s time to start thinking about remote work as a skill set that can be developed and honed.
As with any skills-building process, it helps to leverage any relevant personality traits that can serve as strengths, and to be aware of those that might detract. The advantage of seizing on that kind of knowledge is why personality assessments in the workplace have become increasingly popular and now represent a roughly $500 million industry. Managers are using the science of personality to optimize recruitment, to improve teamwork, and to help identify career paths. The Myers-Briggs Type Personality (MBTI) may be the most well-known, but there are hundreds of assessments available.
A global survey of remote workers highlights three unique challenges related to remote work: collaboration and communication, dealing with loneliness, and difficulties unplugging after work.
What are some personality traits that could help remote workers overcome these challenges?
Amber Burkhart and Jocelyn Hays of Hogan Assessment Systems—one type of personality assessment which examines behavioral tendencies of people within a given context—believe there are some common personality traits of effective remote workers. (Disclosure: I’m certified to provide Hogan assessments, but I am not involved in or paid for selling or marketing the system.) In a recent blog post, Burkhart and Hays suggest that:
Individuals who are conscientious and structured tend to be perceived as being dependable, generating a reputation to produce work in a reliable, consistent, and timely manner that facilitates collaboration and effective communication.
Those who are considerate, warm, and sympathetic are more likely to build collaborative relationships and be strong in relationship building, a competency that helps establish bonds and trust across distance.
And lastly, people who can handle daily stresses well and can build their own structure amidst ambiguity, by taking initiative and working efficiently, are perceived as being effective at self-management, a key remote-working competency that can help with defining work/life boundaries.
But what if the personality characteristics outlined for remote working do not resonate with your own working style?
There’s no need to worry. Many of us around the world have had to rapidly transition to different working contexts and norms; just remember that everybody is adjusting together. Like office norms, remote-working norms are built and reinforced collectively, and this process will continue to take time.
In the meantime, Burkhard and Mays essentially recommend asking yourself the following questions to better understand how you work remotely and how to be perceived as an effective remote worker by others.
- What are your ideal working hours, and what does your employer prefer?
- What impacts your own motivation and productivity?
- Who are your critical connections, and how can you create a plan for meaningful collaboration with them?
The idea is not to change your working style but to be aware that remote work is a different work context with different norms and expectations. Knowing how to adjust your behavior for remote work is similar to how you would tailor your presentations to different audiences, or how you might modify your language when responding to different questions.
Some will find remote work liberating while others will find it less enjoyable. The key is to develop an individual working style that helps you to continue being effective.
Tomoko Yokoi is a researcher at IMD’s Global Center for Digital Business Transformation, where she focuses on digital business transformations and tech entrepreneurship.