Why Personality is so Important in the Age of Remote Work

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Remember when having a job meant that you pretty much lived with your co-workers 8 or 9 hours a day? Not only did you see them at their workspaces, you had a chance to understand them on a personal level, you saw how they organized their space, who came by to chat with them, what emotions they expressed, how often they went for breaks and how they took their caffeine.

Aside from feeding the voyeur in us all, this exposure and insight into each other’s lives played a huge role in our ability to work together productively. The fact that we were likely to run into the same person in several different contexts across the course of a day made it so much easier to manage any conflicts that arose. If you had an argument over a work issue, you were likely to see the person in the lunchroom. Over a bite to eat, you could get into a conversation about most anything casual, which gave you a chance to repair any emotional harm done and gain a broader perspective of the other.

Now we have Zoom

This is not intended to be one more Zoom-bashing blog. Rather, the indisputable fact to be made is that with remote work, we have lost much of our ability to observe and engage with each other in a dynamic social environment.

Zoom may allow us to see some facial microexpressions we could not see when we were seated across a table, and we may get a different look into our co-workers’ personal space, even with the occasional kid, pet or spouse drifting across the screen, but by now we have all pretty much figured out Zoom etiquette.

Not only do we know how to use virtual backgrounds for those days when the house is a mess or even switch off the camera if we’re looking too ragged, we can literally present our good side to the camera.

Gone is a sense of shared place, of a complete visual perspective of others, of how we navigate the interpersonal space of one another. And forget about any ability to use our senses of touch and smell. In a world where we depend on our ability to accurately understand each other, we’ve had to surrender many of our best tools, many of which have been developed over millennia.

Enter the value of personality assessment

So much of what we understand about others by interacting with them is, in fact, their personality; the behaviors, thoughts, and emotional patterns that define our individuality.

Generations of psychologists, and philosophers before them, have struggled to identify the traits that distinguish us from others. In the early 2000s, a rather remarkable degree of consensus on what the core traits of our personality are was reached. The age of HEXACO began.

To give HEXACO context, think about the key traits we need to understand about each other in social settings. We want to know if someone…

  • Is genuine or plays the game (Honesty/Humility)
  • Leads with emotion or logic (Emotionality)
  • Is friendly or reserved (eXtraversion)
  • Is gentle or uncompromising (Agreeableness)
  • Is organized or laid back (Conscientiousness)
  • Is intrigued by everything new or happy with tradition (Openness).

In other words, we need to know each others’ HEXACO.

Over the coming months, I’ll be sharing more about HEXACO, its significance in the research field, and more about the evolution of personality as a whole. The point of today’s post is to emphasize that valid personality assessments will help us tremendously in this transition to a new way of operating online, with empathy at the forefront.

The personality insight HEXACO provides is an untapped opportunity to explore your unique strengths and understand how you, as an individual, best fit into your teams at large.

As well, please consider two final points before you get started using personality to help understand each other in remote work.

1. All personality assessments are NOT created equal.

There are so many different personality models and assessments available and many, if not most, lack the needed scientific foundation. HEXACO and its precursor (the Five-Factor Model, or OCEAN) meet the psychometric standards of reliability and validity and are proving useful across the behavioral sciences.

2. There are no bad personalities.

We contend that personalities evolved for the primary purpose of allowing groups to succeed. While some personalities may find it more difficult to fit into specific groups or even cultures, the truth is we need diverse personalities to be successful.

If we keep that idea first and foremost in our minds in using personality assessment as a way to better understand the people with whom we work, we can be assured that, along with Hippocrates, we will “first do no harm.” Furthermore, the potential of using valid personality assessments to facilitate team understanding and growth is only now being realized.

3. Next up: Thriving

This is just the beginning of the value of HEXACO as a tool for developing remote teams. Dr. Laura Harrison and I have developed a course — “The Science of Thriving” — that lays out our plan for using awareness of your own and others’ HEXACO as the foundation for developing resilient teams. Sign up here to learn more.