Remote Work Best Practices Part 4 – Ideal Characteristics

Discover the type of person who is best suited to remote work and their characteristics.

We look at the key questions to ask about someone before starting them working remotely.

And we also cover some of the key cognitive and personality traits that are ideally suited to remote work, and those that make it more difficult.

Watch the next video in the series here:

Part 5 – Communication Challenges of Remote Work & How to Address Them

and the previous video here:

Part 3 – Two Key Measures of Remote Work Success

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

What makes someone suited to remote work?

Welcome to video number four in our eight video sequence about remote work, an exploration of the psychology of remote work and how to do remote work really well.

These are the topics that we’ve covered so far, and this one in particular is about what makes someone alluded to remote work.

Classic psychology question this, it’s the individual difference question. Why is a certain person likely to succeed in remote work whereas somebody else doesn’t?

How to know if someone is ready for remote work

The first question we’ve got to ask is, is this person ready to work remotely?

Now, what we mean by that is that if somebody starts in an organisation and they are brand new, this model, by the way, is called Situational Leadership, the old Hersey and Blanchard model, which says that as people join an organisation, they need much more intensive supervision early on in the period of their tenure than they do later on, when it’s more a matter of delegating to them rather than directing and guiding them.

One of the questions that I’m asked all the time by clients is, is there a good time to send somebody remote? Well, clearly, if somebody knows the job, if they’re skilled up, if they’re experienced, they’re far more likely to be able to take that job and do it well remotely than, let’s say, if they’re on their first day.

Induction into remote working

So it’s easier if somebody’s already been inducted to be able to cause them to be able to do the job well remotely.

Now, I’m going to talk a little bit later in this sequence of videos about inducting people to work remotely, something that almost no organisation is doing right now, but I’ll bet a few years down the track people will do this. You get inducted into the organisation, but then you need to be inducted into methods of working remotely.

So I think that’s going to become a very important aspect of leadership of remote employees in the future.

Characteristics important in remote work

Let’s look at some characteristics that have been shown to be important in working remotely.

Cognitive ability, intelligence. So we know that people who are smarter tend to be able to adapt and learn more quickly. Cognitive ability is a good predictor of the speed of learning.

So in general, if you’ve got challenges of new technology, challenges of new ways of working, people who have higher cognitive ability are more likely to be able to adjust more quickly to that than people with lower levels of cognitive ability.

Personality traits that affect remote working

Then there are some personality characteristics which have a big impact on people’s likelihood of working successfully remotely.

This is the SACS 6 (refer to the video). This is a HEXACO model of personality, a six-factor model of personality. This instrument is all work-worded. All the questions are to do with work, and this has been normed against the HEXACOPI-R, which is the instrument that was created by Kibeom Lee and Mike Ashton out of Canada.

A number of these things reflect on whether a person is likely to be suited for remote work, but I’ll pick out a couple of ones that are really important.

The role of emotional stability

One is the degree to which this person is emotionally stable or emotionally unstable. Now, you’ve all known people who are emotionally stable and emotionally unstable. A person who’s emotionally stable tends to be resilient and able to cope.

A person who is emotionally unstable is somebody who will tend to become stressed and upset when they experience things that they consider to be difficult. And so this is a predictor of a person’s likelihood of successful remote work, particularly in combination with their score on extroversion.

Extroversion and introversion

This is extroversion here (refer to the video). So if you have a person who is highly extroverted and emotionally unstable, in many ways I think that’s about the worst combination you can possibly have for remote work.

Emotionally unstable means that this person needs a lot of care and attention and recognition and support from leadership and from colleagues. The extroversion component means that they like to get that in a social setting.

Now the opposite is, let’s say, somebody who is an extremely emotionally stable introvert, and the introversion bit means I don’t care about being by my own. I’m quite comfortable to be on my own.

The emotionally stable bit means that the person doesn’t need much support or help. And of course, the additional benefit for the stable introvert is that they don’t have to expose themselves to all the stress of things like travelling to and from work, commuting, jammed into trains with lots of people, those sorts of things.

So the unstable extrovert is the big risk. The stable introvert is the person who will love working from home. When we talk about emotionality, we’re touching on a thing called resilience, and a resilient person tends to be emotionally stable.

Resilience and conscientiousness

But another component of resilience is this here (refer to the video) conscientiousness. So a person who is naturally conscientious tends to be more successful in working remotely, largely because a person who is emotionally stable and conscientious well, that’s two of the key components of resilience.

So if the person hasn’t done it before, they’re much more likely to be able to cope well if they are resilient in this way. Another thing about it is that we spoke in a previous video in this sequence about what makes a person productive when they’re working from home.

A person who’s highly conscientious, their performance is likely not to vary much between working from home or working in the office. In other words, they don’t tend to need scrutiny to motivate them to work hard and to focus on the job at hand, and also they tend to be organised.

So conscientiousness can be a good predictor of whether a person’s likely to succeed and be productive working remotely.

Openness to experience

Then we have openness to experience and openness to experience is the personality characteristic of tending to be welcoming of new ideas and new ways of doing things. If a person is working remotely for the first time, the speed at which they will become comfortable with it is affected by their score on a measure of openness to experience.

And the reason for that is that people who are high in openness to experience, they tend to welcome new things, whereas a person who is low, they may well be stressed or may be uncomfortable with new things and in particular, if they’re emotionally unstable.

So you can imagine a person who is emotionally unstable, who is a strong extrovert and who is low on openness to experience. If they haven’t worked remotely in the past, then being sent to work remotely may well be a very stressful experience for them. They’re losing their social contact, and also they’re naturally kind of stressable if you want to put it that way.

Personal values that impact remote working

Let’s turn our attention to values, and remote working.

Values tend to be largely learned in the course of life and can change quite markedly in the course of life. This is a measure of the SACS Work Value scale (refer to the video).

Now, the difference between cognitive ability and personality in comparison with values, cognitive ability and personality tend to be very stable over the course of life, and they have a strong genetic streak to them.

Values, on the other hand, tend to be acquired in the course of life, and they are, in effect, goals. These are the things that I believe are important, and in fact, a researcher by the name of Sagiv from Israel defined values as trans-situational goals.

They’re goals that are pervasive and apply in a range of different settings. If you look at the diagram about goals (refer to the video), you’ll see that a number of these things tend not to have that much impact on the concept of remote work.

So you see (refer to the video) that this candidate is very strong in a commitment to social justice and very strong in a commitment to environmental sustainability.

So that’s not much of a clue as to whether they would be suited to remote work or not. But if we look at the top here (refer to the video), you have this value of autonomy. And if a person believes that it’s important to be autonomous, that may well suggest that they’re a better values match for working remotely than, let’s say, if they were really low in autonomy.

The value of autonomy says, I believe that it’s important for me to make my own decisions and to be independent in the way that I do that.

Testing for suitability to remote work

So at SACS we tied a bunch of this research together to create an instrument which would measure whether people are suited to working remotely, and this instrument here (refer to the video) focuses on the key things that are important for working remotely. A combination of cognitive ability, personality values, and competencies, and this makes it easier to predict whether a person is suited to remote work.

And some organisations use this when recruiting people who are going to have to work remotely. But some also use it when somebody who’s working with the organisation already is considering going to work remotely, either from their own volition or maybe the organisation needs them to work remotely. Running them through this instrument just gives an indication about the kinds of risks that might occur if that happens.

So that’s the question of whether somebody is suited to remote work.

The types of people best suited to remote work

And I guess in summary, what we would say is that if you’re lucky enough to be an emotionally stable introvert who is conscientious and hardworking, then you’re likely to be the sort of person who’s well suited to going to work remotely.

If you’re an emotionally unstable extrovert where you need a lot of contact and in particular, if you’re not particularly conscientious driven, naturally hardworking, then maybe there’s a risk for the organisation and a productivity sense to send you working remote.

Next in the sequence will be the communication challenge of remote work. As I like to say about remote work, you lose the water cooler or coffee room conversations, that spontaneous stuff that just happens.

So what can we do to ensure that communication remains effective and robust when people are not in the same geographical location as we are?

Watch the next video in this series:

Part 5 – Communication Challenges of Remote Work & How to Address Them

Or watch the previous video about remote working:

Part 3 – Two Key Measures of Remote Work Success

And if you’d like some help assessing whether your current employees or your future hires are suited to remote work, contact us for a free trial of our Remote Worker Test.