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When working from home isn’t working

The concept of remote working has been around for a while – first introduced by IBM in the 1980s – but it skyrocketed in popularity in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This option has gone from being a novel, sought-out benefit for many workers to becoming the norm, with some companies choosing to go fully remote in order to keep costs down and reduce the chances of infection. However, as top human resources experts have argued, this isn’t always the best-case scenario for some employees.

“Many employees have observed an uptick in their level of productivity since being given the option to work from home – and this behavioural shift has been widely reported in the media,” said Innovate Learn managing Ddirector, Hazel Stewart. “But others have expressed feeling overwhelmed and distracted, without a clear separation between their professional and personal lives; a separation that naturally occurred when they work from the office.”

Your remote working environment plays a significant role
While some employees have access to both a quiet working space and the technical resources required to work from home, others battle with disruptions, juggling childcare, technical difficulties and intense feelings of isolation.

“In cases where workers cannot create the same conditions at home as they have at the office, there is often an active struggle to maintain the same level of productivity and performance,” Stewart said.

In addition to the practical challenges of working from home, many are finding themselves longing for the excitement and stimulation that comes from in-person interaction with their colleagues. Research shows that people working together in the same room tend to solve problems faster than remote collaborators, and that team cohesion suffers in remote work arrangements.

Link between social styles and an aptitude for remote work
Stewart says that the distinction between those who embrace remote work and those who struggle with it often comes down to personality rather than environment. “It’s no secret why these employees are struggling to adjust to remote working – their social style is people-focused rather than task-focused,” she explains.

In the 1950s, psychologists David Merrill and Roger Reid came up with what they termed ‘The Social Styles Model’- that people fell into one of four social styles when interacting in the workplace.

The four social styles:

  • Analytical: Task-focussed, fact-orientated, cautious and looks to avoid group work wherever possible to protect their orderly system of working.
  • Driver: Competitive, decisive, result-orientated and dislikes inefficiency.
  • Amiable: Relates well to others, good at listening, prefers to follow and dislikes change.
  • Expressive: Creative, intuitive, outgoing, embraces change and doesn’t work well in isolation.

Those with a task-focused Analytical or Driver social style are more likely to experience increased productivity while working remotely, whereas the people-focused amiable and expressive social styles are likely  to find it difficult to achieve the level of productivity and output they are accustomed to when required to work on their own.

“As people adjust to working from home, it’s not only normal but expected that there may be communication issues between different social styles and a diminished level in productivity from those who thrive in a collaborative work environment,” Stewart said.

“In almost all cases, these issues can be resolved by the presence of a communicative and versatile manager.”

The managerial element
In any work environment – not just remote work – there will be employees with different social styles, which means different working preferences. These employees will require different management styles in order to operate at their best levels.

Unfortunately, it appears that many managers have failed to translate their versatile management style to a remote work environment. “We’ve observed many instances where managers with a more traditional, rigid approach have been accused by employees of bullying and insensitivity because of their excessive monitoring and unrealistic expectations,” said Stewart.

Hazel suggests that the quickest and easiest change that managers can make to support the different needs of the various social styles of their employees is promote flexibility and support.

“Remember that working from home doesn’t suddenly mean that they’re available to work every minute of the day, and that this isn’t suddenly an opportunity to squeeze the maximum amount of productivity from your employees. Instead, they need your support in finding the work-life balance that suits their individual social style.”

She also suggests that managers shift their work expectations away from ‘activities’- how they choose to spend their time when they’re on the clock- and towards ‘output’ – whether they’re achieving their specific deliverables. “This approach embraces flexibility and ensures that each social style can maintain their productivity while working remotely.”

Avoid ‘The Blanket’
Finally, Stewart cautions against a blanket approach: making everyone stick to the same system and doing away with collaborative workspaces entirely.

“Every social style has its unique strengths, and different styles thrive in different environments. It’s tempting for many employers to go permanently remote to save on costs after the pandemic, but this may be extremely damaging to your team once the crisis subsides.”

” Remote work has been praised for its flexibility. But the ideal working environment for your employees is one that is flexible and balanced enough to take their individual needs into account, not just the needs of their team or the overall business,” said Stewart.

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