Hiring Web Workers: Is Personality as Important as Skills?

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Organizations often opt to hire web workers from far-away locales in order to tap into specific skills that are hard to find close by. If you can’t find a fabulous developer in Dallas or Denver, thinking goes, then hire one who lives in Miami. But this focus on skills could be causing managers to miss a fundamental fact about dispersed teams: Hiring remote staff with the right personality is even more crucial than if everyone were sitting in the same office.

This conclusion sounds a little counter-intuitive. After all, if you’re sharing the same space, there seems to be more likelihood for a team member’s grating personality to drive co-workers up the wall. Who cares if the designer half-way across the country has an abrasive sense of humor or lax attitude toward personal hygiene?

But thinking like this fails to take account that physical distance multiplies the chances of miscommunication and demands workers who are sensitive to others’ needs and moods, as the MIT Sloan Management Review points out:

Many companies make the mistake of staffing [dispersed] teams primarily (if not solely) on the basis of people’s expertise and availability. Instead, managers must also consider social skills — a major prerequisite for good teamwork — as a much more pivotal part of the catalog of requirements.

Groups with increasing levels of dispersion are also progressively more dependent on their level of teamwork, specifically, their ability to perform key processes such as mutual support, communication and coordination. In order for virtual teams to achieve their greater potential … managers need to consider teamwork skills as a necessary attribute when selecting the members of a virtual team.

And it’s not simply an ability to keep in touch and stay friendly that’s key, according to a report by author David Bollier for the Information Roundtable at the Aspen Institute’s Communications and Society Program. Managers of dispersed teams need to look deeply at employees’ temperaments, weeding out those who are incapable of flexibility, continual learning and speedy critical thinking, he argues:

In the networked environment, the mindset and disposition of workers will matter more than ever. Employers must recognize that they are not just hiring a set of skills, they are hiring people based on their personal  temperaments.

Have you been giving personality short shrift when hiring for your dispersed team?

Image courtesy Flickr user DoubleM2

1 Comment


I totally agree. Between a genius, impossible to work with, and a “just good” and friendly fellow I prefer the second.

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