Working from home is a not a new experience for many employees. In the United States, 50% to 70% of jobs can be done from home, but the number of remote workers is actually much lower. This trend is mirrored around the globe. That is, the actual number of remote workers trails the number of jobs that can be done remotely. At least, this was the trend before the current situation we find ourselves in with the COVID-19 crisis. What we have seen recently is that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many workers and organizations to officially make the shift to a remote working environment.
During the initial influx of new remote workers, organizations focused on ensuring that these workers had the necessary resources to work remotely effectively by addressing technology and infrastructure concerns (e.g., availability of smart devices, video conferencing platforms, internet security, etc.). However, it is important that we do not overlook the behaviors and characteristics that will be most important for individuals to be effective as they move to remote work.
Critical Competencies for Working Remotely
The current situation presents an opportunity for us to revisit what we know about effective remote workers. First, we know that being an effective remote worker requires the following:
- Self-managing by demonstrating self-control and motivation without direction from others.
- Communicating effectively with others.
- Working in a dependable and timely manner.
- Being able to adapt to different situations, approaches, and ideas.
- Developing collaborative relationships to achieve key objectives.
Personality Characteristics of Remote Workers
Our research shows that there are some personality characteristics that are more closely linked to these effective remote working behaviors. Individuals who are seen as reliable, structured, and conscientious tend to be more successful remote workers because they work in a predictable and dependable manner. Additionally, those individuals who are perceived as considerate, warm, and sympathetic are more likely to build the collaborative relationships that are important when working remotely. Self-management requires individuals who can handle daily stressors well, while effective communication is not just driven by extraverts but by those who are seen as taking initiative and working efficiently.
Qualities that might detract from effective remote working behaviors are those characterized by volatility, timidity, and avoidance. People who cope with uncertainty and stressful situations by moving away from others and disengaging might have a harder time being effective while working remotely.
Maximizing Success in a Remote Environment
At Hogan, we know that context is everything. To understand the elements of an individual’s personality that may be strengths at work (or conversely, weaknesses), you must understand the person’s work context. In our current situation, it is safe to say that everyone’s context has changed. Many people who used to spend their days in bustling offices interacting with coworkers are now spending hours working in solitude at home. Others have traded their coworkers’ banter and cooperation for their children’s conversation and education. Even those who worked remotely previously are significantly impacted as they may now have (1) family members intruding upon their previously sacrosanct home office spaces, or (2) teammates who are new to working remotely. As we all adjust, we can offer a few practical recommendations based on our research into the competencies and characteristics that promote success in a remote work environment.
Take Care of Yourself
Engage in self-care. While this storm may be lighter for some and heavier for others, it is a storm for us all. The stress associated with unexpected changes and an unknown future is likely impacting you and everyone around you to some degree. Tune into your own emotions and make sure you are utilizing healthy, effective coping mechanisms that work for you. Work with your team to recognize the volatility and ambiguity currently impacting your organization, locale, and industry and determine how you can navigate this storm together.
Establish a Schedule
Consider how your schedule and productivity might change in this new season. What would your ideal working hours be in your work-from-home environment, and what does your employer prefer? If you can work with your boss and team to establish and communicate a clear schedule — when you are likely connected and available, versus when you are likely to be out-of-pocket — it will help you build your reputation as a predictable, accessible resource.
Maintain Your Motivation
Identify the triggers that impact your motivation and productivity. In what situations do you find it difficult to work with tenacity and resolve? Define and act on things that you can do in your new context to maintain your motivation and engagement at work. This may mean volunteering for special projects, pursuing development opportunities, or offering to help others. Think of what really motivates you at work and try to create opportunities for yourself.
Adapt Your Objectives
Revisit your individual and team goals and how they align with the organization’s overall goals. What has changed in the season of COVID-19 and what remains the same? How do you need to adapt your objectives or those of your team? Collaborate with key stakeholders to set new expectations. Then make sure these are clearly communicated so everyone understands what you need to accomplish and how you are likely to get there.
Make Relationships a Priority
Reflect on your relationships at work and identify steps you can take to network and connect in this new, fully virtual environment. Are there past or currently unaffiliated colleagues with whom you could collaborate to achieve mutual goals? Are there individuals or teams with whom you could communicate to provide support or guidance? How can you help lift others’ morale? Once you have identified your critical connections, create a plan for meaningful collaboration. Take care not to overschedule people, which can happen too easily when people are trying to stay connected without physical proximity.
Some people may enjoy working in remote environments and find success easily. They might be naturally suited to a more distanced, independent approach to work. Others find remote work more difficult and less enjoyable, and they count down the days until they can get back to the office and their teammates. What is important is that we find ways to be effective during this time. This likely means we need to put more conscious effort into how we work, and it requires that we engage in honest self-reflection and self-evaluation to ensure we are leveraging our strengths and compensating for our weaknesses. But together, we can all get the job done.
*This is post was authored by Hogan Senior Consultant Jocelyn Hays and former Senior Consultant Amber Burkhart.