Remote Teams: Why some thrive and others wither.

by Keith Francoeur

As Vice President, he is responsible for training and managing PCI’s global assessment team, designing and updating the Talent Success Prediction™ process (including the research and selection of the test battery and interview format), and handling custom competency mapping.

Even when most of the population is vaccinated, it is safe to say that the new normal will consist of a much higher percentage of people working remotely than was the case before the pandemic.  This poses both risks and opportunities for organizations and their team members.

The Risks

Working from home is a much less structured and public setting than an office environment, and it becomes much harder for the company culture to penetrate it.  This means that differences in personality and leadership style are going to have an even greater impact on behavior.  In short, people get to be who they are when nobody is watching.  Depending on who the person is, this could be quite problematic.

Thankfully, much like with the pandemic, we have an opportunity to leverage science to guide our actions. Looking to what the science says, we know that:

  1. Personality has a significant impact on Organizational Citizenship Behaviors (OCBs)1,2.
  2. Personality plays an even larger role in influencing Counterproductive Work Behaviors (CWBs)3.

What are OCBs?

OCBs are discretionary behaviors that team members display that contribute positively to the performance and culture of an organization.  They can be directed towards the organization itself, such as job dedication and a willingness to work extra hours.  Or, they can be directed towards others, such as offering to help coworkers and being courteous.  They can also be directed towards change, such as proactively identifying creative ways to make things, (like remote working), more efficient. 

Whatever form the OCB takes, it is important to note that what they all have in common is being discretionary; they are not what the person was hired to do (i.e., task performance), but rather how they do their job (i.e., contextual performance).  The net positive impact that these behaviors can have on a company can be invaluable.

What are CWBs?

CWBs on the other hand, are voluntary behaviors that have a negative impact on the culture and performance of the organization.  They can be directed towards the company itself, such as goldbricking/cyberloafing, or directed towards others, such as engaging in intimidating or passive-aggressive behavior.  These types of actions can create a toxic environment and are estimated to cost organizations many billions of dollars annually.

Personality Traits that Predict OCBs and CWBs

The science is also clear on which personality traits are most predictive of one’s propensity to engage in OCBs and CWBs.  Individuals who are higher in the personality domains of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness are more likely to be good corporate citizens (i.e., exhibit OCBs) who avoid displaying negative behaviors towards others or the organization itself (i.e., CWBs). 

Being high on the personality domains of Openness and Extraversion are also likely important, especially as it relates to displaying change-oriented, proactive OCBs that help to facilitate remote working in general (e.g., discovering and using new digital tools to communicate with teammates).

The Impact of Leadership Style on OCBs and CWBs

People in organizations do not operate in a vacuum and how one behaves influences the behavior of others, which becomes magnified when that person has leadership responsibilities.  Here, the science also provides us with clear guidance. Self-reported leadership style adds value beyond personality measures in predicting leader effectiveness.  In particular:

  1. Laissez-Faire Leaders are more likely to have direct reports who are not satisfied with their jobs, so they are less likely to display OCBs and more likely to display CWBs.  Laissez-Faire leadership is when the leader does not exhibit important behaviors that are necessary to create a positive environment in which people are highly motivated and productive.  Essentially, the onus is on their team members to come to them when they need something.  So, the negative impact of this approach is often magnified within remote teams because of the physical separation between the leader and their direct reports.  Read more on this topic: Laissez-Faire Leadership – The Silent Killer.
  2. Leaders who exhibit a high degree of consideration for people, while providing a sufficient degree of structure, are more likely to have satisfied direct reports.  In turn, they are less likely to display CWBs and more likely to display OCBs.  Read more on this topic: The Secret to Effective Leadership: Keep it Simple..

Practical Implications

  • Use a psychometrically sound measure of personality traits to assess candidates to see if they are likely to thrive or wither in a remote setting before hiring them.
  • Use a similar assessment with current team members to identify who may be at risk for declined performance in a remote setting.  This can guide placement decisions and alert you to who may need developmental suppor
  • For current and future remote leaders, use a psychometrically sound, objective tool, along with feedback from direct reports to get a good picture of the behaviors they are exhibiting.  Match developmental resources to their needs to ensure to increase their likelihood of success leading remote teams.

To learn more about how PCI can help you hire and develop great leaders, contact Dr. Francoeur at: kfrancoeur@thepeoplecompanyintl.com.

Citations

¹ Chiaburu, D. S., Oh, I., Berry, C. M., Li, N., & Gardner, R. G., (2011). The five-factor model of personality traits and organizational citizenship behaviors: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96, 1140-1466.

² Judge, T. A., Rodell, J. B., Klinger, R. L., Simon, L. S., & Crawford, E. R. (2013). Hierarchical representations of the five-factor model of personality in predicting job performance: Integrating three organizing frameworks with two theoretical perspectives. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98, 875-925. 

³ Gonzalez-Mulé, E., Mount, M. K., & Oh, I. (2014). A meta-analysis of the relationship between general mental ability and nontask performance.  Journal of Applied Psychology, 99, 1222-1243. 

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