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GUEST BLOG by Mike Billington

Limitations on traditional workplaces created by the current COVID-19 pandemic have changed employers’ perceptions about how business will be conducted. Will centralized offices or traditional methods such as in-person sales calls need to adapt to remote or virtual workers? Are we missing quality work or time efficiency utilizing a remote worker? How do we manage a remote workforce? These are all relevant questions in an environment with little previous precedent.

Regarding these and other questions, there are multiple schools of thought circulating in the business world. Some articulate a permanent shift to remote workers, some a post-pandemic reversion to traditional methods, and some a hybrid of both paradigms. While the future is unknown, some companies are preparing for a possible fundamental shift of outlook, a paradigm shift, in the type of worker needed, how work is performed, where work originates, and how performance is measured.

Hiring successful virtual workers also require a paradigm shift. My research found that about 70% of the workforce that is not already remotely working is adaptable to virtual workplaces. Of this 70 percent, 50% easily adjust while 20% can acclimate with moderate training and supervision. Adapting the remaining 30% to virtuality will be a challenge.

Lack of adaptability to remote or virtual work may be a generational issue or a personality trait difficulty. Baby boomers (born between 1944 and 1964) and Gen X (born between 1965 – 1979) often fall into the challenging category. These age cohorts have experienced less computer-originated virtuality from communication to gaming and are may be uncomfortable with virtuality. Additionally, individuals that rate low in Openness and Conscientiousness, two of The Big Five personality traits, often fall into this category. Conversely, individuals that rate moderate to high in Neuroticism and low in Extraversion (Introversion) often do very well as virtual workers or virtual team leaders as they have an opportunity to exhibit their skill sets without hindrance created by the apprehension of face-to-face communication (forecasted affect). My research found little correlation between the traditional leadership trait of extraversion and existing virtual team leadership.

Other items to consider when screening for virtual workers are the person-environment (P-E) fit, person-organization (P-O) fit, person-job (P-J) fit, and complementary person–team fit within virtual teams. These concepts point to the need for personality trait testing or team member knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAO) testing to predict better if the candidate offers complementary traits or qualifications for the virtual team or the specific position.

Testing for the Big Five Personality traits or the “Great Eight” KSAO skill set can offer insights into the possible success of a candidate for virtual work. Generational considerations can also be a factor in the success of a person in virtual workplaces. But use these tools with an open mind; I am a baby boomer, and I have never played an X-Box game in my life. But I have successfully taught university classes online for years, and I am completing a doctorate in education primarily online. Age and traits are indicators but must be considered only as a part of the whole picture of a candidate.

Successful virtual workers will necessitate different management styles and performance measurements. The lack of cohesion between management style and virtual workers can lead to ineffective virtual teams with inadequate performance, deficient collaboration, lack of innovation, with inferior job satisfaction and social metrics. The inability to create trust within virtual teams or groups of remote workers is one of the most debilitating of all management-team issues.

In summary, individuals that succeed in virtual teams may not be the same as successful candidates for traditional work venues. Most candidates are adaptable to virtual work, but generational association or personality traits will hinder some from being successful as remote workers. Virtual workers are not traditional workers; their traits may differ dramatically from similar positions in the conventional workplace. Consider different standards when seeking successful virtual team candidates, keep an open mind, and prepare for a possible paradigm shift in what will be considered a successful virtual team candidate.

Mike Billington
Branch Services Manager, ILMO Products Company

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