Personality and remote working: what the Big Five can tell us about how we cope

By Hogrefe Ltd’s Principal Psychologist, Liz Hey

There has been an abundance of media content and psychology articles published recently about how to adapt during the Covid-19 pandemic to remote working. Many of us are now full-time home workers and some people are experiencing this for the very first time. Remote working will affect how we work, how we relate to co-workers and how we can maintain a healthy work-life balance in the weeks and months ahead.

By exploring our personalities, we can look at how well we are able to manage all of these. There is no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ personality type and different personalities are better suited for different types of jobs in different sectors. But some research has shown that particular combinations of personality traits are better suited to a more remote way of working and it may be interesting for individuals and managers of teams to look at why this might be the case.

Of the ‘Big Five’ traits in the five-factor model of personality (Costa & McCrae, 1999), O’Neill, Hambley & Chattlier (2014) found that Conscientiousness, Extraversion and Agreeableness were the best predictors of distributed work behaviour (that is, teams working remotely from each other). Those individuals who score highly for Conscientiousness are likely to show commitment towards their work obligations. They are motivated by personal achievements and have a self-belief and control over their work. Extraverts are social and active and will tend to take the lead in conversations, asking how everyone is before going straight into the business of the day, and therefore putting people at ease. More introverted individuals might be more focused and attentive in conversations, but can also learn from their more extraverted co-workers. Those who score highly for Agreeableness are sympathetic, trustful and altruistic. They do not tend to have ulterior motives and they take people at face value. In remote teams, trust and straightforwardness are critical to effective communications.

Other research which has looked at the remote working environment has found that those who exhibit the trait of Emotional Stability – including self-reliance and autonomy –and who are goal-oriented and friendly, are most likely to thrive (Suedfeld & Steel, 2000). Self-efficacy and Emotional Stability are found to help with managing negative emotions (Alessandri et al, 2018) which is important to avoid work burnout. Similarly, Conscientiousness and Openness correlate highly with strivings for perfectionism (Stricker et al, 2019), but concerns with perfectionism can be found in individuals who have lower scores on Emotional Stability.

It is therefore important for individuals and managers of teams to recognise that a certain level of work commitment is healthy and productive, but this can easily tip over into workaholism if not managed properly (Gillet et al, 2017). Monitoring this remotely can be challenging for managers, so strategies to improve the effectiveness of remote teams should include regular communication, self-management tactics and conscious socialization (O’Neill et al, 2014). And, in times of heightened uncertainty, those who tend towards anxiety should be self-aware and supported as much as possible.

For organisations or managers trying to implement remote working, perhaps for the first time, it is helpful to put good communication and trust at the heart of their teams and encouraging individuals and teams to use structure and organisation in their work as much as possible. It also worth remembering that individuals have different personalities and will therefore adapt to a new work environment in different ways. Any support which can be provided will help this transition and ultimately lead to a happier and more productive workforce.

 

References:

Alessandri, G., Perinelli, E., De Longis, E., Schaufeli, W. B.,  Theodorou, A.  Borgogni, L.,  Caprara, G. V., &   Cinque, L. (2018). Job burnout: The contribution of emotional stability and emotional self‐efficacy beliefs. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 91(4), 823-581.

Costa, P. & McCrae, R. R. (1999). A five-factor theory of personality. The Five-Factor Model of Personality: Theoretical Perspectives, 2, 51-87.

Gillet, N., Morin, A. J. S., Cougot, B., & Gagné, M. (2017) Workaholism profiles: Associations with determinants, correlates, and outcomes.  Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 90(4), 559-586.

O’Neill, T. A., Hambley, L. A, & Chattlier, G. S. (2014). Cyberslacking, engagement, and personality in distributed work environments. Computers in Human Behavior, 40, 152-160.

Stricker, Buecker, Schneider & Preckel (2019). Multidimensional Perfectionism and the Big Five Personality Traits: A Meta‐analysis. European Journal of Personality, 33, 176-196.

Suedfeld, P. & Steel, G. D. (2000) The Environment Psychology of Capsule Habitants. Annual Review Psychology, 51, 227-253.

 

 

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