A one-size-fits-all WFH policy isn’t the right answer, even if companies are switching from on-premise to remote working overnight due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

March 20, 2020

The recent outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has made work from home (WFH) a mandatory policy for most companies around the world.

Even companies like IBM that previously shied away from remote work are now eagerly adopting this policy. But this means that employees can no longer choose whether to come into the office or work from home. Regardless of their personality type and preference of work environment, remote work is literally the “new normal” at this time.

How can companies ensure that every employee performs optimally while working from home? How can you tailor your work from home policy for different personality types?

We spoke to John Hackston, head of thought leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company, on this topic. The Myers-Briggs Company is among the world’s leading psychology resources providers, pioneering in the field of personality tests and how they intersect with employee management. Before we delve into the insights Hackston shared, let’s quickly glance through employee sentiment towards work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

67% of respondents said they would support the employer’s decision to roll out indefinite work from home. They expect this trend to continue for a while until the pandemic is relatively under control.

Over 7 out of 10 employees across income brackets report some sort of response from their employer to coronavirus. This reflects the sheer magnitude of the impact, affecting employees of every personality type.

50% said that they would be equally or more productive as they would be in office. But it also means that half of the respondents weren’t confident about their ability to work remotely.

As you can see, remote work in the face of coronavirus has become the new status quo – and every employee is likely to react differently. “The way that we react to the unexpected demand that everyone works from home, and remains at home for the majority of their time, is likely to relate to our personality,” stated Hackston.

So, how can you tailor coronavirus-triggered remote work policies according to employee personality traits? Hackston discussed the various employee personality types companies should look at when designing their policies.

Employee Personality Profiles and How to Tailor Remote Working to Them
Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers first introduced the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in 1944. It proposes four ways to classify personalities, and each resulting type has its own needs/expectations from WFH. Particularly in the context of the coronavirus, the difference between these needs becomes stark as the transition from in-office work to WFH has happened almost overnight.

Here are the four classifications and how they should affect your WFH policies:

1. Introvert vs. Extravert

This aspect considers whether an employee prefers to focus on the outside world of events and stimuli, or on the inner world of thoughts and feelings. “Introverts, who enjoy a calm, peaceful environment, might initially enjoy working from home, as long as there are not too many people – particularly children – around to distract them,” said Hackston.

“Extraverts may have a difficult time with the transition, as they tend to enjoy a busy, lively environment that provides lots of opportunities for interaction – this may not be easy to achieve at home,” he added.

27% of employed parents were concerned about managing children, as they try to stay productive at the time of coronavirus. To aid Introverts, you can formulate clear work schedules with plenty of time for childcare so employees do not find it difficult to focus.

Extraverts face a different issue altogether.

22% of employees are worried about going “stir crazy” because they were mandated to stay at home, as per the Glassdoor report we cited. To alleviate this, you can leverage remote collaboration tools to hold town halls, virtual events, and impromptu chat sessions to maintain a feeling of community, despite the coronavirus outbreak.

“Conferencing tools such as Skype and Zoom can help [in] regular person-to-person contact, and facilitate more interactive remote get-togethers,” Hackston recommended.

2. Sensing vs. Intuitive

Here, we look at the kind of perception of worldview each employee experiences – do they want to deal with granular, tangible data, or would they rather intuitively perceive the bigger picture?

Sensing personality types would perform better when given outcome-focused, research-oriented tasks. They would also need steady access to coronavirus-related information, as they would need to make their own inferences and judgments about this crisis.

As an employer, you can make the company database as well as COVID-19-related knowledge repositories accessible to employees working from home, benefiting sensing personality types.

Intuition-led employees might be at greater risk of panic, especially when cut off from in-person interactions with peers. That’s why it is important to remember that social distancing does not mean social disconnecting. You can use free tools like Slack, Hangouts, or even WhatsApp to stay in touch with this employee group, gaining from their intuitive, creative ideas while providing them with accurate and verified information.

3. Thinking vs. Feeling

This is somewhat similar to the previous classification, but it zeroes in on the decision-making part of it. “Employee personality can be studied on whether we prefer to make decisions on the basis of objective logic (Thinking) or on the basis of our values and how people will be affected (Feeling),” revealed Hackston.

It is vital to let employees feel empowered, even when they are working from home. The coronavirus outbreak, with its attendant lockdowns, etc., is likely to diminish a sense of autonomy in a large section of the population, and autonomy is closely linked to employee engagement. In a study of 32 million employee profiles, LinkedIn found that empowered employees have a 47% chance of staying with a company after three years, compared to only 35% for those without adequate autonomy.

Companies should not let the coronavirus get in the way of employee autonomy/empowerment, and an effective WFH policy is integral to this.

You can strengthen the lines of communication between frontline employees and senior leadership via daily leadership newsletters, a chat thread for open questions, etc. You can even adopt an idea crowdsourcing platform – like Spigit or Crowdicity – to let every employee make their decisions heard across the organization, benefiting both Thinking and Feeling personality types.

4. Judging vs. Perceiving

This refers to the level of structure an employee follows in their day to day work. In a remote working environment, this personality trait comes into play in a big way. An employee can choose to follow a highly structured workflow, just like a 9-to-5 schedule, or opt for a more flexible and “spontaneous” route.

“People with a Judging preference enjoy a planned, organized life and may find the imposed change of suddenly having to work remotely to be fairly disruptive,” warned Hackston.

“People with a Perceiving preference may enjoy aspects of remote working such as the flexibility of hours that it affords. This can create problems for other employees. For instance, if they’re sending out emails after work hours, their colleagues may feel compelled to respond,” he added.

To make both personality types feel comfortable during a coronavirus-triggered remote working period, companies must strike a balance between flexibility and order. You can take simple steps like configuring the company calendar to show stipulated work hours, beyond which work-related communication is discouraged. An AI-based workforce scheduling tool (like Humanity) could also prove helpful, as it adapts your flow of tasks according to the preferences of the personality types.

#ProTip: Leave Some Margin for Error During These Worrying Times
While productivity via WFH might be a top priority, employee well-being must take center stage in such testing times. Social distancing and working from home helps maintain your workforce’s physical well-being. But tailoring remote working policies to various personality types is critical for their mental health.

To put this into context: 20% of remote workers struggle with loneliness, and another 20% face difficulties in collaboration, according to Buffer’s 2020 survey of 3500 remote workers. The steps we enumerated above can alleviate this significantly.

It is also important not to over stress performance during the coronavirus (or any) pandemic. Employees are already trying to balance personal and professional obligations, often without the help of their usual support system.

That’s why leaving some margin for error or marginal loss of productivity is so essential – it takes away the sense of pressure and allows employees of different personalities to enjoy the benefits of remote working, contributing meaningfully to your company’s growth even during this difficult period.

Read this article in HR Technologist