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Summary:

You’ve narrowed down the applicant pool for a role you’re hiring to two equally qualified candidates. One is a shy, diligent type with an impressively deep grasp of the relevant skills. The other is more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants type, extroverted and energetic. Whom do you hire?

what personality type makes the best telecommuter

Imagine this: you’re a manager hiring for a telecommuting-heavy or even fully remote position and you’ve narrowed down the applicant pool to a couple of equally qualified candidates. One is a shy but diligent type with an impressively deep grasp of the relevant skills. The other is more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants type, extroverted and energetic. Whom do you hire?

With web work occasionally knocked for its isolation and the need for self-discipline, your first impulse may be to say the quiet, more plodding applicant. But you’d be wrong, according to research from Cisco and UK-based business psychology consultancy Pearn Kadola. Together, they conducted 35 in-depth interviews with remote workers around the world and discovered that those who are most successful in a virtual environment aren’t the introverted nerds of many telecommuting stereotypes. The report summarizes the most successful personality for web workers:

Successful mobile workers tend to be resilient extroverts. They are open to new experiences and highly adaptable. And, contrary to the stereotype of the harassed and disoriented road warrior, they are supremely organized and independent-minded.

It goes on to explain five top personality traits of successful web workers:

  1. Stimulation seeker. Mobile workers tend to be more extroverted than their office-bound colleagues. They get their energy and motivation from keeping in touch with people and going out and meeting with clients. While we might expect mobile working to appeal more to introverts because of its reduced contact with other people, the current research demonstrates that introverts are less likely to be effective in such roles as they are less likely to keep in touch with their team members.
  2. Tough survivor. Mobile workers need to be tough and resilient under pressure. They need to have low levels of neuroticism and high levels of emotional stability. Emotional stability refers to the ability to remain calm and relaxed (and therefore productive) even under stressful conditions.
  3. Curious explorer. For the majority of mobile workers, the ability to be creative and open to new ideas is key to their roles and more important than it is for office-based workers. Indeed, mobile workers tend to be attracted to such roles partly because of the unpredictable nature of the job and the variety of experience that this provides.
  4. Independent decision maker. Whilst mobile workers are energized by people they also tend to maintain an independent mindset. They appreciate being trusted to work independently and usually enjoy the flexibility that comes with the territory.
  5. Disciplined achiever. Conscientiousness and self-motivation are more important factors to the success of mobile workers than office workers.

The full report includes a lot of discussion on which cultures struggle most with which aspects of web work and how to support remote team members for success.

Are there some personality types you’d hesitate to hire for your virtual team?  

Image courtesy of Flickr user Thomas Hawk.

  1. I would disagree with the extrovert as the ideal web worker. I’m super introverted (not in the shy way, but in where I get my energy from… within, not without) and I totally enjoy working from home. Most of the extroverts I know actually go bonkers if they work from home for more than a day or two, because they crave face-to-face interaction with coworkers. Depending on the type of work you do, I think introversion is also a highly-sought after personality trait for web workers. Unless, by introversion, you mean shyness (which is actually very different from introversion). Shy people are probably not the best web workers because you do have to be able to start conversations and proactively reach out to your coworkers as a web worker.

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  2. I agree w/ Brie. Each of those five traits fits me and I’m “technically” an introvert. I’ve been very adaptable to working in diverse environments(including being incredibly effective as self-directed remote worker) throughout my career. Perhaps it’s semantics, but these descriptions don’t seem to have much to do with introversion/extroversion, rather they are tied to emotional intelligence and overall work-ethic.

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  3. I was listening to an NPR story this morning about how shyness is really a hypersensitive fear of the unknown. Researchers tested babies’ reactions to a jack-in-the-box and found that babies who grew up to be more “shy” were more distressed by the toy. As they put it “What is more unpredictable than a human?”

    It seems to go with the idea that “extroverted” people seek the excitement of the unknown, if shy people are those who fear unpredictability.

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