The Psychology of a Remote Worker

Chatty workers are the best telecommuters claims a recent MSNBC article and on first reading I felt I had to agree. The basic premise of the article is that some of us have the right mindset for remote working and others don’t: “Some of us are simply not — by temperament, psychology, or personality type — wired for the life of the digital nomad.

Extrovert vs Introvert

The assertion is based on some research carried out by Pearn Kandola for Cisco. Prior to the research they assumed that it would be “the quants, the introverts and the shy types who would thrive in a virtual work situation” but they found that in reality “it’s the employees who chase socialization who thrive in the land of virtual work“. Those who were better at communicating in the office were also better at communicating out of the office. These were people who “stay connected no matter where they are. It comes naturally to them.

My Twitter Class by Mallix (Flickr)

My Twitter Class by Mallix (Flickr)

Now I’m really into communication and most people who know me will say that I’m quite a chatterbox so this research suits me. I know that as a remote worker I’ll do my best to keep in touch with people (using Twitter, Skype, email, anything that’s going) because I like to chat. However I’m not entirely sure that it means I’m being more productive than someone who doesn’t chat as much and I’m also not sure how this can be measured. Maybe I’m just dealing with remote working in my own way. The person who doesn’t chat may be getting along just fine working from home, but just isn’t as vocal about it. I suppose what I’m saying is that supporting a remote worker is about making sure that they are getting what they require communication wise. If they feel isolated because they are home alone then an organisation needs to make sure that they have access to social networking tools and the like. However if they prefer to be left alone then as long as that suits their team and is the right approach for the work they are carrying out then that’s OK.

I guess one could argue that those who chat more make their manager’s lives easier because they lend themselves better to being measured by output rather than attendance. Personally I feel there needs to be some serious retraining of managers to deal with more flexible ways of working; discounting a personality type to make their lives easier isn’t acceptable.

Organised vs Disorganised

The Pearn Kandola research also found that remote and mobile workers “are far more organized, personally, than their office-bound counterparts“. This does make sense. To make it work working from home or out and about you do need to be organised. However some organisation skills can be taught.

The post concludes with some comments from Stuart Duff, Pearn Kandola’s chief researcher:

In offices across the world, Duff saw managers struggling with managing their remote workers. “It’s not as easy as simply pushing workers out the door,” says Duff. The wrong personality types will flounder. Extroverted curiosity seekers who are quick decision makers and super Type A personalities tend to thrive. “It almost requires a super person,” says Duff.

Does that make me and my remote working colleagues super people?

I think not. I just want to make it work, mainly because I have to!


I do agree that there needs to be some assessment of personality when considering if someone can work out of the office. This selection criteria should all be well documented in a remote working policy. However I don’t think that those who are less extrovert should be discounted.

On reading the article I did start thinking about my recent attendance of a one-day conference on Improving Services and Reducing Costs Through Flexible Working for the Public sector. It became apparent during the day that Local Authorities are moving lots of people off-site through necessity (space and cost restrictions). Many of these people might not have chosen, given the option, to work in this way and many may not have the right personality for this different way of working. Lets hope that LAs bear this in mind when they make their decisions or it could be an accident waiting to happen.

So what psychology do you think it takes to be a successful remote worker?


2 thoughts on “The Psychology of a Remote Worker

  1. This is really interesting. From my own perspective this makes sense — individuals who are social will find ways to translate that need for community into their home-working. When I work from home, I stay in touch via email, twitter and IM, as do several of my staff (but not all).

    From a managerial perspective, I’d say that for me it is much easier if the remote worker is actively motivated to stay in touch through these mechanisms (but this is because these individuals have the same learning style as me, which is not an entirely fair way of approaching this issue). I would say that this depends on the type of work that the individual is tasked with. Certain jobs/tasks will lend themselves to more autonomous and isolated ways of working (although we have to be careful that we don’t cultivate an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality, which is very easy to do when you are in the office reacting to immediate issues and challenges).

    I think if you are an integral part of a collaborative, learning team, and especially if you have responsibilities for performance management, working remotely can be a challenge (but certainly not an insurmountable one). Managers do need to think carefully about what types of mechanisms can be used to make sure remote workers are still very much part of a team, and understanding your own and your staff’s learning styles can help enormously here. Ultimately, for me it really needs to be a two way thing — but this isn’t the same as saying that everyone has to conform to the same learning/interaction style.

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