One of the most frequently noted 2021 trends is the move to at-home work, already common among digital workers but catapulted forward for many others by the pandemic.
Completely in psychology’s wheelhouse, successful home and remote work calls for a complex blending of employee self-direction, methods for coordinating with colleagues, and integration with family and family life.
Employers know that remote work can mean challenges for productivity. The adjustment requires a keen understanding of the complexity of workers’ traits,
knowledge of work environments, and types of supervisory skills.
Two psychological scientists are focusing their expertise to help employers and their employees to bridge the gap between the old and new work situations. Bill Costelloe
and Jim Stodd have founded a new consultancy, called ThriveRemote, LLC. Their new firm is dedicated to applying and sharing expertise about the psychology of remote work scenarios. Costelloe’s and Stodd’s goal is to facilitate remote work solutions for the benefit of client organizations and their employees, as well as mitigate some of the predictable difficulties often associated with the transition to remote work.
The two consultants and their team members at ThriveRemote bring a range range of services to help solve a variety of problems encountered by both employers and employees. These include employee selection, development, engagement, leadership training, retention strategies, performance management, compensation programs, and in particular reward methods for remote workers.
Both Costelloe and Stodd, with advanced degrees in industrial-organizational psychology, bring a rich background of seasoned experience in organizational
leadership and human resource management to the task.
As well as his association with ThriveRemote, Dr. Costelloe serves as President of Costelloe and Associates, Inc., located in Metairie, Louisiana, a firm he has maintained for over 30 years specializing in the industrial application of psychological assessments,
candidate selection, career planning & development, and employee morale surveys.
During the 2020 shutdowns, employers scrambled to find ways to cope and maintain some level of productivity. “As we all know,” said Stodd, “the pandemic has forced us to accept new circumstances, terms, conditions, and situations that most of us would not have wished for.
Included in that has been the necessity for millions of people to work from home,” he said.
“While most business leaders and their employees were extremely reluctant to embrace remote work as a norm, the pandemic just has not given us much of a choice. Yet, as more data comes in regarding this once unwelcome circumstance, it’s not looking all that bad, at least for most,” Stodd said. “In fact, this forced change may end up being one of the few silver linings to come out of all this disruption, tribulation, and
suffering with many believing that remote work is here to stay.
Jim Stodd is the Principal of JT Stodd & Associates, located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and specializes in compensation and rewards, organization planning, change
management, and general human resource management.
Costelloe and Stodd note that others are debating the relative merits of remote work. However, they choose to simply acknowledge that remote work is likely here to stay.
“It is a new norm for much of our industrial society, at least in ways and numbers that were just not foreseeable prior to the pandemic,” Costelloe said.
“We believe that remote work should become a greater focus for applied behavioral scientists––such as ourselves––and that we can continue to better understand, shape, and influence the factors and circumstances that contribute to individuals thriving in remote work situations versus languishing, coping or just getting by,” said Costelloe.
Psychological scientists are trying to keep pace with the urgent needs to understand and help people adjust to the pandemic environment.
“While a lot has yet to be learned regarding these factors and circumstances, amazingly a lot has been learned in a fairly short period of time,” said Stodd.
“Much has been written on this topic over the last several years, but science-based evidence regarding what makes remote work productive and sustainable has been limited. We want to share what is already known about the predictors of remote worker
success,” said Stodd, “so that business leaders can use that knowledge to better predict who is most likely to thrive within a remote work circumstance, understand why they thrive, and use that knowledge to better design, situate, and manage their remote work programs for the mutual benefit of both the worker and the organization.”
Costelloe and Stodd describe findings from one science-based study, a recent investigation undertaken by psychologists associated with the Universities of Georgia and South Florida.
The researchers described “remote work effectiveness” in terms of three areas:
Overall Adjustment (to the remote work situation); Stress Level (during performance of remote work); and Job Performance (relative to pre-pandemic/normal-office performance levels).
The researchers looked at 62 possible predictors of remote work effectiveness and found eight strong predictors.
The first three of these eight predictors had an inverse or negative relationship to
one’s ability to thrive in a remote work situation. And, these three all pertain to
the internal characteristics––for example, personality traits, competency or skills, or
habits of the worker, Stodd notes.
These factors were: 1) Feelings of Social Isolation; 2) Stress Levels Before Engaging in Remote Work; and 3) General Proneness to Anxiety.
Stodd explained one example, saying, “Feelings of social isolation were found to
hurt a person’s overall ability to thrive in a remote situation, including their overall
adjustment to remote work, stress levels during remote work, and job performance,”
Stodd said. “The negative impact of social isolation may even be greater based upon one’s personality. For instance, folks that are extremely extraverted, and normally energized by frequent social contact, or those with strong affiliation needs, may be even
more negatively impacted by the social isolation that frequently comes with remote work.”
The next five factors were found to be positively associated to remote work effectiveness. These five pertain to situational factors exterior to the person
that an employer can influence directly and rather significantly.
These were: 4) Sleep Quality During Periods of Remote Work; 5) Organization’s Support During and After the Transition to Remote Work; 6) Workspace that is Comfortable, Well-Equipped & Conducive to Productivity; 7) Technology that Facilitates Productivity, Communication and Social Interaction; and 8) Job Design and the Variety of Tasks Involved in the Job.
“It was found that characteristics of the work itself mattered, including how demanding the job is, having increased task variety, and job-related information exchange,” Costelloe explained. “Also found to be important are situational factors including, family interruptions of work, spousal/family respect of boundaries, and the proportion of
childcare the worker is doing during remote work relative to a partner.”
Costelloe and Stodd are in agreement about the importance of individual differences, which has lead them to closely examine other characteristics that may influence an
employee’s productivity or success at remote work.
They point out another example, a study related to important characteristics for success in remote work, where researchers measured characteristics with the 16PF, a well-established personality assessment tool supported by decades of academic and applied scientific support.
In this study, researchers concluded that “employers need to consider the individual differences in remote workers’ personalities and identify how to best support and
development them to realize their potential as remote workers.”
The researchers identified three core competency areas which are important for individuals to “thrive” as remote workers.
The three are: Agility – How people respond to change and handle challenges independently; Achievement – How people adapt their work practices to drive action and ensure accountability; and Affiliation – How people deal with the absence of having other people in the same physical space to support them.
“The researchers found that remote workers need to possess a mix of Agility, Achievement and Affiliation to be highly effective in a remote work environment,” said Stodd.
“That is, while these characteristics may be important for many if not most jobs, they become even more important for thriving in remote work scenarios given remote work
frequently presents specific challenges around social interaction, communication, and work style.”
Another element of how successful employers and employees will be in adapting to remote work is the relationship to supervision and management.
“Research and professional practice draw attention to the importance of effective supervision and management in the support of remote worker success,” said Costelloe.
“Studies confirm the criticality of effective leadership and supervision in creating reasonable expectations and goal clarity, providing organizational support, ensuring
resource availability, maintaining work-life balance and the effective management of stress levels, nurturing employee growth & development, facilitating necessary
social interaction and support, and conveying the trust necessary to create a true sense of belonging,” he said.
“Of course that’s a lot of stuff,” Stodd said, “which has led researchers to conclude that remote managers also need to possess special competencies in the areas of Agility,
Achievement, and Affiliation, including the ability to coach and develop others, extend individual concern and compassion, and build & maintain effective teams.”
Overall, helping companies and employees adjust to the new normal is exciting for the two consultants, an area that combines their talents and psychological science to
help others deal with the consequences of the pandemic.
“The ability to thrive in remote work involves a complex set of factors, some of which are innate to the individual, some of which are situational, combined with the need for
leadership that is well-honed to the remote work circumstance,” said Stodd.
“While complex, employers who want to do well need to develop an appreciable understanding of all these factors as well as establish programs, processes and procedures that will maximize the benefits of remote work – of which there are many –for both the organization and its remote workforce,” said Costelloe.
The two intend to continue educating their clients and the public about the possibilities for adjusting to changes and challenges in the new work environment. More information can be found at their website.