Network shortages during lockdown may make some people feel more isolated

Over the last fortnight, the COVID-19 crisis has forced organisations to suddenly shift their employees from working in the office to working from home.

This has put a strain on UK mobile phone networks, which are struggling to cope with the rise in activity as millions begin to work from home and need these services to keep in contact with colleagues, friends and family.

The upsurge has caused difficulties for many people, and providers such as EE, O2 and Virgin Media have all suffered outages recently. While social distancing remains in place, this is likely to be an ongoing issue.

However, this lack of connectivity will impact some personalities more than others. Working from home might sound great, but many people find it quite difficult at the best of times. In the current crisis, and with the relatively sudden imposition of remote working, it will be even more stressful.

Add to this worries about friends and family, the loss of face to face social contact, the closure of pubs, cinemas and restaurants, and a lack of clarity about how long it will all last.

It is clearly important for managers to think about how employees with different attitudes and personality preferences may cope with this stress and uncertainty, and with any blurring between work and home life.

Today, digital communication by smartphone, tablet or computer permeates every aspect of our lives. Businesses have encouraged employees to get connected and be able to work remotely to make communication quicker and easier.

But when this becomes the only or primary means of communication, when face to face contact is suddenly severely restricted, that can be stressful.

And when network failures mean that even digital communication falters, this adds to the pressure. However, if individuals know their personality preferences, they will be much better prepared.

For instance, within the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality framework, people with a preference for judging – an inclination for living a planned and organised life – are likely to be particularly irritated by the uncertainty brought about by failing network connections, and may in any event be unsettled by the imposed change of suddenly working from home.

To help them to cope, it will be useful for them to get into a new routine as soon as they can, and important for their managers to facilitate this.

In contrast, people with a preference for perceiving – who like to keep their options open and enjoy the buzz of doing things at the last minute – are likely to enjoy the flexibility of working from home.

However, by leaving things to the last minute, they may find themselves in a hole if they are not fully prepared and then the network goes down.

Equally, those with a preference for extraversion focus their attention on the outside world, while people with a preference for Introversion focus on the inside.

Extraverts are energised by interacting with people and things, and they generally prefer to talk things through.

As a result, the lack of ability to do so may have a negative impact on their work and well-being. Having alternative ways to communicate, online as well as by phone, will be important and managers have a role in making these available and encouraging informal virtual meetings and get-togethers.

Introverts, meanwhile, prefer to think things through and are refreshed by time spent in reflection and therefore are likely to place fewer calls, so may not be as affected when connectivity goes down.

However, having prepared for an important call it can be particularly frustrating when their chance to contribute is taken away.

There is another, perhaps less obvious issue for Introverts in this time of self-isolation and social distancing. We all, even Introverts, are to some extent social creatures, with things we need from other people.

We all have a need to belong, a need for influence and structure, and a need for intimacy and connection. The extent of these needs varies – typically they are greater in extraverts – but they are there even in introverts. The catch is we do not always express these needs as much as we want to have them met by other people.

This can cause problems when people are thrust into a situation where communicating their interpersonal needs is more difficult – suddenly having to work from home, for example. Tools such as the FIRO framework, which look at this difference between expressed and wanted behaviours, can be very useful here.

By taking the time to understand how employees work in communal workplaces and at home and how they relate to others, employers can equip their workforce with the tools required to manage stress, remain engaged, and be productive through these trying times.

John Hackston is head of Thought Leadership at the Myers-Briggs Company