While Buffer’s survey is more focused on white collar workers than ours is, ability to handle loneliness and the challenges of remote communication are consistent with our findings as two of the biggest barriers with remote work.
The psychology of one’s fit to a job is all about individual differences. Which differences are most critical for success depends heavily on the level of the job and the role itself. For instance, most white collar professionals are going to have computer skills, connectivity, and the ability to manage their time; but virtually everyone working remotely will need to be able to have the ability and desire to work in isolation and manage the social issues that arise via the lack of ability to communicate face to face.
“Google found that the most important quality was “psychological safety”—a confidence that team members wouldn’t embarrass or punish individuals for speaking up.”
Thompson further elaborates on this important finding-
“Beyond lost creativity and companionship, the gravest threat to many companies from remote work is that it breaks the social bonds that are necessary to productive teamwork. But online communications can be a minefield for psychological safety, according to Bill Duane, a former Google engineer who now works remotely as a corporate consultant and researcher. “Whenever we read a sentence on Gchat or Slack that seems ambiguous or sarcastic to us, we default to thinking, You fucker!” Duane told me. “But if someone had said the same thing to your face, you might be laughing with them.”
Office banter, bad jokes, and even unctuous corporate talk in the hallways can be dismissed as empty blather. But Duane calls these things “the carrier wave for psychological safety.” Almost everything that doesn’t feel like work at the office is what makes the most creative, most productive work at the office possible.
Individual differences such as ability to manage social distance and loneliness make some workers much better at handling remote work than others.
The right talent strategy
Success with remote work requires a talent strategy that is tuned into signals that indicate where individual job applicants and workers alike fall on critical factors needed for success. Assessment provides a reliable and accurate signal on individual differences required for success and is a critical ingredient in any talent strategy. Remote work is no exception to the assessment’s proven value proposition for both hiring and development and provides the information needed to determine if a worker has the right stuff to handle the psychological hardships of remote work.
Looking towards the future
An increase in remote workers is inevitable and navigating the pros and cons requires employers to keep their eyes on the macro trends that will shape the future of remote work. Key trends include:
Remote meeting technologies-
According to Thalia Wheatley, a professor of psychological and brain science at Dartmouth who studies the difference between face-to-face and online interaction (as quoted in Time Magazine
“The thing that has to get solved on the tech side,” says Wheatley, “is the tech needs to kind of disappear so that you believe that you are in the room.”
The gig economy- The gig economy is real and it will continue to grow. It is likely that in 10-20 years companies will routinely assemble teams made up of independent remote workers who lend their expertise and skill on a project basis to multiple organizations. Remote work is essential for the gig economy.
Millennials, Generation Z
, and Generation Alpha
, are already used to interacting virtually. This trend will continue
and such that the workforce of the future will no doubt have an easier time with remote collaboration. Employers should tune into what these generations are doing now in order to stay ahead of the trends and provide an easier on-ramp to employing the workforce of the future.
The writing is on the virtual conference room wall- remote work is coming and, like it or not, employers need to be prepared. Our current experience with Corona will accelerate the curve and if handled correctly will lead to increased productivity, profitability, and worker happiness.