How to support employees who aren't used to remote work

Shutting down the office for a while? Here's a guide to using personality insights to help your workforce adjust.

As public health concerns drive organizations toward telecommuting, employers have a new challenge. Working from home is importantly different than the daily routine of going into an office. Gone is the face-to-face dialogue, the structure, and the many passive ways in which we influence each other's moods, from afternoon yawns to an affirming nod from a collaborator.

In these uncertain times, data-driven employee engagement is as important as ever. Behavioral science can provide insights about managing remote workers. Consider how different personality profiles adapt well — or struggle — with the realities of telecommuting. The well-established Five-Factor Model of personality, also known as the "Big Five," provides a framework for this discussion.

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Adapting to the "new normal" is easier for some than others

High Openness: Individuals who are high in Openness seek out innovation and change. They're the ones who will find inspiration from the switch to remote work. They will be curious about new procedures and wonder about outcomes. Seek their feedback. The changed perspective of switching to a distributed workforce can inspire them to generate ideas and enjoy what is essentially a mental refresh.

Low Openness: Folks who are low in Openness are having a harder time this month. They prefer the tried-and-tested, so there's value in maintaining workday routines. If you have an all-hands staff meeting every Friday morning at 10:00, hold the same meeting remotely at the same time. A lack of physical proximity doesn't mean that workers should slip into communication isolation. Methods to set a virtual meeting should be easy and widely understood, as should the ability to solicit feedback or ask a question.



When the cat's away — results may vary

High Conscientiousness: Individuals who are high in Conscientiousness keep up with deadlines, pride themselves on producing error-free work, and have high expectations of themselves and others. When left behind closed doors, these High C workers will continue to self-police. Be aware that a downside of high Conscientiousness is perfectionism. When unobserved, these members of your team are prone to obsessing over details. They may need more short-term deadlines than usual to keep them moving along.

Low Conscientiousness: Meanwhile, these employees may be discovering that no one quite knows if they're starting work later than usual or have lost focus. You can't maintain eyes on everyone all the time, and you shouldn't try to do so. Encourage regular dialogue on a messaging platform, and consider having more frequent but shorter meetings distributed across the workday. But don't forget to treat people like grownups — try worrying less these days about butts in seats and more about getting the work done. Some thinkers do well working at odd hours and in unconventional ways. Let that flow happen.



For some, working from home is a risk factor for loneliness

High Extraversion: These people tend to be high in energy, and they like the stimulation of a shared workplace. Consider allowing low-risk personnel to work in pairs if they wish. Suggest that your team members vary where they set up their workspace to provide some variety, including backyards and balconies. Spontaneous one-on-ones and team meetings should continue via your preferred platform. Allow time for a bit of small talk after everyone dials in. It's the social connections and water-cooler talk that have gone missing, and many are likely craving those old familiar connections.

Low Extraversion: Some joke that the age of global pandemics means that the shy and reclusive people of the world are winning. All jokes aside, people who are lower in Extraversion tend to be more risk-averse, so the current global state may be producing stress in these individuals. While you can't claim to predict the future in a world of unknowns, you can help bring stability to the workforce. Communicate daily plans. Send your team "How's it going?" messages. And consider reminding workers of the value of self-care.



Keep an "eye" on each other from a distance

High Agreeableness: Being high in Agreeableness means that one is plugged into other people and motivated to help, guide, and support others. In uncertain times, those team members will be concerned about colleagues and the community. Advise these employees to limit the news they consume during the workday, lest their own mental health take a series of hits. Appreciate the value of comic relief, and think about team spirit. Encourage your workforce to post lighthearted content if they wish. When lives are disrupted, everyone can use a laugh.

Low Agreeableness: Remote communication can be misinterpreted more easily than face-to-face exchanges. Humorous intent can be hard to discern from written text, even with the benefit of emojis. People can start and stop communication on online platforms, unlike in-person discussion. Individuals who are low in Agreeableness are less inclined to give others the benefit of the doubt and may be prone to disagreements. Video chat formats can help. Daily team meetings, even just for everyone to check in, may help bring concerns to light.



Emotional Stability

Cultivate resilience in turbulent times

High Emotional Stability: People who are high in Emotional Stability are well suited to dealing with bad news. Their own moods remain fairly steady and they don't shut down when the going gets tough. This is an asset when you need folks to be the "calm in the storm." They are a good match for providing reassuring communication to others. While others might repeat "I'm so stressed," these are the employees apt to say "It's going to be alright.".

Low Emotional Stability: People who are lower here are more reactive. Do what you can to clear out some extra space for their wellness. An unexpected office shutdown is not the time to deliver employee feedback, for example, or push deadlines forward. Delay introducing staff to a new challenge, like taking on an added role or implementing a new policy. Keep it steady, and use ongoing communication to reassure your workers as much as you can.

In all, mindfulness of personality is essential as the workplace shifts. We're all different, and our differences — even in times of disruption — are an ongoing source of strength. Finding the best ways to tune into and engage with your diverse workforce from a distance can only benefit the bottom line.

Don't know your personality?
Find out for free


To better prepare for disruptive times like these, learn more about identifying and accounting for your workforce's strengths and weaknesses by scheduling a demo with Traitify.