Jenny Baker / Tuesday, December 27, 2022 / Categories: 603 The Bridge: Connecting Science and Practice Apryl Brodersen, Metropolitan State University of Denver; Sarah Layman, DCI; Erika Morral, Indeed; and Jen Harvel, Amazon “The Bridge: Connecting Science and Practice” is a TIP column that seeks to help facilitate additional learning and knowledge transfer to encourage sound, evidence-based practice. It can provide academics with an opportunity to discuss the potential and/or realized practical implications of their research as well as learn about cutting-edge practice issues or questions that could inform new research programs or studies. For practitioners, it provides opportunities to learn about the latest research findings that could prompt new techniques, solutions, or services that would benefit the external client community. It also provides practitioners with an opportunity to highlight key practice issues, challenges, trends, and so forth that may benefit from additional research. In this issue, Suzette Jung proposes eight potential context-relevant competencies of high-performing remote workers, packaged as “the self-starter,” for organizations to consider assessing now that remote work is here to stay. The goal of her column is to provide a jumping-off point for thinking about how context is a relevant component to consider in the selection of remote workers. Initiative, Diligence, Resourcefulness? Proposing Context-Relevant Competencies of the Successful Remote Worker Suzette T. Jung, M.A. The University of Southern Mississippi Background: Responding to the Pandemic With Remote Work In 2020, organizations around the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by recognizing the necessity of geographically dispersed workforces and implementing work-from-home programs. The transition was difficult for those that had never attempted teleworking at this scale, let alone hybrid or flexible work arrangements. During this turbulent economic period, leaders felt unsure about their organizations’ capabilities to remain resilient and productive from home (Bersin & Spratt, 2020). Companies were also tasked with addressing work design and environmental obstacles to leverage workforce competencies predictive of resilient organizational outcomes (Hoopes, 2020). The availability of resources and equipment, as well as the visual appeal and ergonomics of office setup, varied among at-home workers. Environments conducive to productivity, for example, included access to reliable Internet service and an adequately sized computer monitor (Shockley et al., 2020). Variability in remote offices proved to be an important concern, as workers’ perceptions of their remote environments affected their sense of control over their work (Loignon et al., 2022). Task and process uncertainty were also concerns for remote workers who felt unclear about how to collaborate and complete work in their new at-home offices (Bartsch et al., 2020). Successful leaders remedied these concerns by providing clear directions, setting communication expectations, and establishing objectives and metrics for success (Bartsch et al., 2020; Shockley et al., 2021). Despite facing such obstacles and feelings of uncertainty while working remotely in 2020, the rate of U.S. labor productivity increased during this period (U.S. BLS, n.d.). Organizations were learning to quickly adapt to dispersed work by allowing for worker autonomy and flexibility in work processes, as well as providing equipment, training, and guidance to remote workers (Bartsch et al., 2020; Keller et al., 2020). Additionally, research showed that most remote workers during the pandemic felt at least as productive as they did prior to the pandemic (Keller et al., 2020). As the world left 2020 behind, organizations began re-opening their workplaces. However, the preference of most employees working in remote-capable jobs was to continue working in remote or hybrid arrangements over fully in-person arrangements (Parker et al., 2022). By 2022, the message on remote (and hybrid) work had become clear for many organizations: It's here to stay. A necessary next step became figuring out how to grow a thriving remote workforce. Today’s Challenge: Remote Worker Selection Offering remote and hybrid work options is a talent acquisition strategy necessary for employers to implement in competing for talent today. Gallup researchers have suggested that the fully face-to-face (f2f) work arrangement will exist as a “relic of the past” (Wigert & Agrawal, 2022, insight no. 2). Organizations are faced with the challenge of growing their remote workforces and thereby determining which of their positions should be fully in-person and which could be hybrid or fully remote. Sustaining a successful remote workforce will require a focus on employee selection – an area currently ripe for research. Despite the fact that organizations have seen success with work-from-home initiatives, the reality is that not all employees enjoy working remotely. A Pew Research Center study found that after workplaces re-opened and employees were given the choice of where to work, 22% of workers in remote-capable jobs reported they rarely or never worked from home. In addition, most of these individuals cited feeling more productive in person at their workplace as the major reason for their preference (Parker et al., 2022). Thus, moving forward, how can employers distinguish between job candidates who are likely to succeed as remote workers and those who are not? What makes productive people productive in remote settings? The Downsides of Working Remotely Though a preference for some, working remotely is not the favored work arrangement for all workers working in remote-capable jobs. Social interaction as well as perceived access to, and support from, leaders may be at the crux of remote work downsides. Remote work doesn't facilitate the level of social contact some desire and feel is necessary to be successful on the job (Baruch, 2000; Jamsen et al., 2022). Compared to working in a f2f workplace, some employees in remote arrangements feel more detached from peers and resources and perceive a diminished sense of community. They miss spontaneous interactions and taking breaks or eating lunch with coworkers. They may also perceive a greater amount of difficulty in soliciting information from remote coworkers, who would otherwise be a few steps away from them in a f2f setting (Jamsen et al., 2022). In addition, leader influence over work performance and workers’ perceived leader support tends to be lower in remote arrangements than in f2f settings (Baruch, 2000; Jamsen et al., 2022). Overcoming the downsides of working remotely can be easy, hard, or somewhere in the middle, depending on the skills and characteristics—or competencies—unique to the individual worker. Now is the time to solicit the help of available remote workers in investigating potential predictors of success in remote work environments. Meet the Self-Starter In considering the downsides workers tend to face in remote arrangements, here are eight potential context-relevant competencies of high-performing remote workers, packaged as “the self-starter.” Although these competencies are valuable to work performance irrespective of location, they may be essential to success in remote roles. Independent Independent workers are comfortable working autonomously. They don’t feel the need to have constant interaction with others throughout the workday to get work done. Teleworkers have reported “an ability to work on [one’s] own” as a major driver of their success (Baruch, 2000, p. 43). Additionally, highly autonomous remote workers tend to experience less work-related exhaustion and dissatisfaction than workers in need of frequent interaction (Perry et al., 2015). Shows Initiative Working proactively, rather than waiting around to receive instructions, characterizes the behavior of a person who shows initiative. Individuals with a high need for supervision are not likely to flourish as remote workers (Baruch, 2000). Initiative requires independently taking necessary first steps, such as searching for answers and figuring out what needs to be done (or what should or could be done) to complete a task or resolve a work-related problem. Led by innovations in technologies, our evolving organizational structures and roles may drive the need for initiative in the workforce (Frese & Fay, 2001). Tolerant of Ambiguity Individuals tolerant of ambiguity are comfortable figuring things out as they go; they don’t have to have all the steps of the process laid out from the get-go to perform competently. Research has found tolerance for ambiguity to be significantly related to both intellectual curiosity and assertiveness (Jach & Smillie, 2019). Individuals low in tolerance for ambiguity prefer to know up front which solution will be chosen to address a problem, and they tend to reject, or express an inflexibility to, unfamiliar approaches (Bochner, 1965). A flexible mindset may be particularly valuable to leaders (including remote and hybrid leaders) supervising remote workers (Bersin et al., 2021). Open to Learning A desire to learn and develop knowledge and skills is essential for the remote worker in our 21st century world of work, which is characterized by complexity, uncertainty, and rapid technological change. Learning may involve developing technical or interpersonal skills. For example, remote workers may need to interact with a new technology to learn how it can help them perform their jobs more efficiently, or they may need to develop human-centered leadership skills through taking scheduled, on-the-job breaks for reflection (Bersin et al., 2021). Learning and growth competencies are expected to be indicators of leadership potential (Finkelstein et al., 2018), and building a “learning agile” organization involves developing people who are willing to learn from their work contexts and experiences (Harvey & Prager, 2021, p. 145). Resourceful A resourceful worker finds creative and efficient ways of getting around barriers to get the job done. Organizations may see the fruit of resourcefulness, particularly during times of economic cutbacks and reduction of staff and other resources (Licata et al., 2003). Research has demonstrated linkages between resourcefulness and multiple performance outcomes. For example, one study from the real estate field supported significant linkages between resourcefulness and objective sales data (i.e., number of homes sold), supervisor ratings, and employee self-ratings (Harris et al., 2013). Resourcefulness may also be a predictor of customer orientation (Licata et al., 2003) and thereby could be of added value when the customer cannot see you. Knowledge Generous Individuals bring to the table varying proclivities for relaying information. It’s not advantageous to have a remote workforce of isolated workers who acquire and hold on to knowledge key to collaborative processes and problem solving. A knowledge-generous worker is forthcoming with learned information, task status updates, and changes in project direction or timeframe. Sharing information with coworkers, supervisors, and other points of contact is predictive of performance in remote and digitalized work environments (Deng et al., 2022; Shockley et al., 2021). In team settings, a willingness to contribute knowledge may affect team capability for innovation (Akhavan & Hosseini, 2015). Notable, though, are components of organizational culture, technology, and supervisory practices. A culture of growth and psychological safety, team use of technology that supports information exchange, and set communication expectations likely play important roles in preventing knowledge silos from forming (Coetzee, 2019; Shockley et al., 2021). Diligent Diligent workers act with tenacity. They tend to reflect on what they’re doing and see assigned work through completion, with careful attention to accuracy and quality. Diligent workers are likely to keep going when a task gets boring or tricky. Researchers suggest that diligence is associated with a lower likelihood of engaging in cyberloafing and greater productivity (Corgnet et al., 2015). Teleworkers have also deemed diligence to be a critical predictor of their success (Baruch, 2000). Capable of Decision Making Decision making can propel the remote worker from one step of a process or project to the next. A continuous need for leader or stakeholder opinions and approvals will impede the remote worker. You do not want the completion of tasks to be held up by an individual’s inability to, or fear of, making decisions appropriate within the scope of their responsibilities. The extent that decision making is performed on the job may depend, in part, on the complexity and decision-making authority of the role. It can also be influenced by the workload, ambiguity of the work context, and time constraints (Guzzo, 1995). However, a capacity for decision making may become increasingly necessary for employees working independently off-site and within dynamic organizational structures in which leadership behaviors are exercised in various directions aside from top-down (HR Directors Network, 2018). Also, Keep In Mind... Work and Organization Design The keys to the remote self-starter’s success and satisfaction are adequate role autonomy and flexibility in the structure of the system in which the individual works (Burr & Cordery, 2001; Chatterjee et al., 2022; Frese & Fay, 2001). Heavily hierarchical and rule- or policy-based operational environments are not likely to unleash self-starter’s capabilities, as such would impede these individuals from performing their best work. In addition, leader-provided communication and performance feedback are important to the success of today’s remote workers (Bersin et al., 2021). Worker Intrinsic Motivation Individual progress, even of a self-starter, could potentially be stymied over time when the remote worker doesn’t enjoy the work required of the role (Lawler & Hall, 1970). Research has supported that suitability for the job (i.e., person–job fit) influences employee job involvement through intrinsic motivation (Dari & Permana, 2018). Therefore, organizations should consider job candidate interest in the type of work performed in open remote roles. Prior to extending offers of hire, being truly honest with candidates about role expectations, including expectations for processes or how work will be performed, may help prevent the occurrence of problems involving worker intrinsic motivation. Moreover, a candidate’s curiosity or need to know about the role’s extrinsic motivators (e.g., pay, benefits, schedule) should not be taken as a sign of low intrinsic motivation (Derfler-Rozin & Pitesa, 2020). Conclusion Now that remote work is here to stay, organizations are creating more remote and hybrid opportunities, and practitioners are thinking about how to select candidates for such roles. This article hypothesizes context-relevant competencies employers may wish to explore in developing and validating selection measures for remote jobs. Additionally, these competencies may support the selection of hybrid workers, particularly for roles that allow most working time to be remote compared to f2f. Empirical research is needed to test the predictive power of these proposed self-starter competencies in remote work environments. As such, this article is a jumping-off point for thinking about how context is a relevant component to consider in the selection of remote workers. References Akhavan, P., & Hosseini, S. M. (2015). Social capital, knowledge sharing, and innovation capability: An empirical study of R&D teams in Iran. 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