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Remote Work Week: Qualifications

Thursday, July 9, 2009 by Slaughter Development

Today’s issue of Remote Work Week discusses who in your organization is best suited for telecommuting.

Back on Tuesday, The Methodology Blog reported on major findings from decades of research on working remotely. To quote ourselves:

Translating from academic-speak: overall productivity and satisfaction for telecommuting have nothing to do with age, gender, education, job title, job function or how much the employee prefers to work from home. Effectiveness for telecommuting is controlled by other factors beyond these simple criteria.

So, the best telecommuters are neither men nor women, PhD’s or high school dropouts, accountants or graphic designers, managers or subordinates. The best telecommuters are not people who love to work remotely, or even people who love to work at the office. Who makes a great telecommuter? According to a recent article from BusinessWeek—people who crave the social component of work:

[The] chief researcher, a kindly and upbeat psychologist named Stuart Duff, was shocked at the findings. He assumed it would be the quants, the introverts and the shy types who would thrive in a virtual work situation. After all, they’re the ones who keep their heads burrowed in cubicles at work. Turns out it’s the extroverts among us who are better suited [to telecommuting.]


[Researchers] found that it’s the employees who chase socialization who thrive in the land of virtual work. The office gabbers. Those who are life of the break-room party. Left on their own, these types of workers are the ones who work closely with clients, chum around with colleagues, and talk it up with bosses. They stay connected no matter where they are. It comes naturally to them.

Shy, disorganized types are better kept in-house. Turns out the office environment is more forgiving of the disorganized. Its structure helps provide external reinforcement. There’s also much to be said for social vibrations that naturally abound in an office. It doesn’t require much work to keep up basic relationships when you’re all in the same place.

This may sound like a final answer from well over a quarter century of analysis. Send your chatty extroverts  home to work, where their aggressive, organized personalities will thrive without structure. Keep your quiet introverts at the office, where they can be nurtured and supported by routine and procedure. And as a bonus, those who need noise and activity and those who prefer peace and quiet won’t annoy each other any longer.

Unfortunately, deciding when to work remotely is more complex than following this rule. The argument is against expectations, which will create friction. Employees who are outgoing tend to measure their success and satisfaction through developing great relationships; sending them home to work will deflate morale. Heads-down workers tend to measure their success by silently completing tasks. Telling them they must clock in regularly in a noisy, distracting work environment will communicate a lack of trust.

Instead, management should use the introvert/extrovert criteria as a leading indicator. When combined with employee ownership of the work environment and individual workflow, selecting the right venue for the worker is a true collaborative process. Some people do work better from home while some work better in a shared office, but everybody works better when they have genuine engagement, actual authority and a sense of responsibility.

Enjoy this post? It’s part of Remote Work Week at Slaughter Development.

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Remote Work Week: Opportunity - For our final post in Remote Work Week, we wrap up the discussion with advice on advocating telecommuting at your organization.
Read on »
Remote Work Week - This week, The Methodology Blog at Slaughter Development will be covering the latest perspectives on  working remotely. Read on »
Remote Work Week: Research - As part of Remote Work Week, yesterday’s edition of The Methodology Blog introduced the relationship between telecommuting and happiness. Today we will discuss the major research into telework. Read on »
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