Struggling With Remote Work? Agreeableness May Help
The world’s biggest work-from-home experiment threw millions of people into remote work, many of whom were used to going into an office every day. And while both companies and workers have benefitted from being able to quickly pivot to working from home, the truth is that some people are struggling with remote work.
From having to suddenly share home office space with spouses, partners, and roommates to navigating the challenges of online school with kids at home, it’s no wonder that remote work has been a little challenging for some. But, have certain personality types fared better (or worse) with the transition to working from home?
Researchers from Harvard Business School sought to find out by surveying more than 600 office employees beginning in mid-March and following up with them every two weeks. Here’s what they discovered.
Go With the Remote Work Flow
At the beginning of the pandemic, many experts assumed the personality trait that would most accurately predict work-from-home success was introversion. After all, they thought, introverts don’t generally need as much social interaction and wouldn’t mind trading in a busy office for a quiet home environment.
In the Harvard study, though, extroversion vs. introversion didn’t play a significant role in whether or not an employee was able to adapt to working remotely.
Instead, researchers found that the personality trait that most determined a worker’s ability to adapt to the potential stress of working from home during the pandemic was agreeableness, which can be defined by a person’s ability to:
- Maintain positive relationships
- Feel the emotions of others
- Sympathize with others’ feelings
- Be interested in other people’s challenges
Researchers theorize that being “agreeable” and able to go with the flow makes employees more comfortable with adapting to new situations and circumstances. And when they’re more comfortable, they’re better able to collaborate with their colleagues when transitioning from an in-person to virtual work environment.
When Stress Gets in the Way
As it turns out, employees who were highly neurotic (based on survey results and written comments submitted by the respondents) ended up struggling with remote work the most. Although they showed higher levels of conscientiousness and self-awareness, they also experienced more fear, anxiety, and worry when under stress—which made the remote work transition that much harder.
All in all, this group of workers didn’t necessarily have the coping skills to adapt well to such a sudden and major change—and felt more anxiety as a result.
Household circumstances also played a role in who did and did not struggle with working from home. People with spouses, for example, had an easier time managing stress that came with transitioning to working from home, while people with children were struggling with remote work more.
It’s Getting Better
The good news is that, according to the study, all employees are faring better as time goes on. From March to July, employee stress, negative emotions, and task-related conflict associated with remote work were each reduced by at least 10%.
At the same time, employees reported increased self-efficacy and an improved capacity to pay attention to work. Most were starting to get into a good routine with remote work—and even enjoying it!
The employees also reported several benefits of remote work, including:
- More focus time
- Shorter meetings
- More flexible time with family
- Not having to commute
Not surprisingly, these work-life benefits echo those reported by respondents to FlexJobs’ annual Super Survey. This shows that even though the transition to remote work may have been tough, the benefits are largely universal to those working from home—no matter their personality type.
Whether you’re a work-from-home newbie or have been working remotely for years, when you look at your journey, where do you see yourself? If you feel like you’ve been struggling with remote work, it may be time to find a more agreeable you.
4 Agreeable Tips for Remote Work Success
In psychology, it’s widely accepted that the differences in people’s personalities can be broken down based on the five major personality traits—called the Big Five—depending on where they fall on the continuum for each trait. Agreeableness is one of the Big Five, so it makes sense to figure out where you land on the scale.
Even before the pandemic, research showed that agreeableness was positively associated with remote job satisfaction. So, as remote work becomes the new normal for companies and employees all over the globe, what can you do to stress less as you continue your work-from-home journey?
Although agreeableness can be somewhat genetic, it’s also a trait that can be developed and tends to increase as the years go by. That doesn’t mean, though, that you just have to wait until your agreeable gene kicks in later in life! Here are some tips for becoming more agreeable right now.
1. Expose Yourself to the Right Situations
You can flex and tone your agreeableness muscles by continuously putting yourself in situations where you have to be, you guessed it, agreeable. This is where remote work really comes in handy. Having to collaborate remotely with colleagues and managers on a daily basis encourages you to cooperate with others and go with the flow when communication snafus and other remote work challenges crop up.
If your job doesn’t require much collaboration or you find yourself feeling isolated and lonely, go out of your way to find those collaboration opportunities that will enable you to lean into being agreeable.
2. Surround Yourself With Agreeable Others
We’ve all experienced it. When we’re around people who are optimistic and easygoing, it’s hard to feel prickly and worried—and the remote work environment is no different. Seek out people at work who radiate that agreeable, collaborative vibe, and try to emulate their behavior. And if you feel comfortable, schedule a virtual meeting to ask them what they’re doing to cope. It’s likely that they’re also feeling some stress with all that’s going on but have found a way to keep it in perspective and roll with the punches.
3. Stay Positive
It can be really easy to get overwhelmed with any new way of working, especially if you’re also contending with extra caregiving duties and a full house. But it’s important not to let that overwhelm spiral into stress and anxiety that negatively impacts your remote work experience.
Do whatever you can to stay positive while working from home, including practicing gratitude, establishing a routine, setting boundaries, and accepting where you’re at. A shift in your mindset can make all the difference!
4. Find Some Stress Relief
If you do tend to be more neurotic (we all have our moments!), finding a way to reduce your stress levels can naturally put you in a more agreeable state and help make remote work feel like the perk that it is.
Whether it’s incorporating a yoga or meditation program into your daily routine or simply practicing mindfulness at work throughout the day, mitigating stress by proactively taking care of yourself and your emotional needs can keep you feeling in the zone.
Turn the Struggle Around
Fortunately, you can take some simple steps to shift your focus from any stress you may be feeling to enjoying all the positives of remote work.
As you continue to hone your remote work skills, FlexJobs can be a valuable partner in your work-from-home journey. For remote work resources, career advice, job search tips, and more delivered right to your inbox, sign up for the newsletter!
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