At the APT XV International Conference, I had the privilege of meeting type professionals working in different fields around the world. It was very exciting to shake hands with some of the authors whose work I have studied and to meet people I’ve corresponded with through email, including some of my subscribers and clients!
One of the sessions I chose to attend was “Introduction to Working Remotely – Leading and Working in Virtual Teams”. As a Virtual Assistant, I often work with clients outside my geographic area, and consequently all of our contact is online. Although there are many benefits to virtual work, including the reduction of time required to travel to and from meetings, communication problems can sometimes arise when you don’t have the opportunity to establish an in-person relationship with someone you’re working with.
Susan Gerke, co-author of “The Quick Guide to Interaction Styles and Working Remotely” along with Linda Berens, explored the issues that surface when working remotely, how personality type relates to remote work, and how to build relationships with people of different types.
When we work with someone virtually, it is much harder to build relationships because we don’t have the same level or frequency of interaction. This is compounded by the fact that communication is more difficult without the verbal and non-verbal cues that exist when we interact in person.
Using the Berens’ Interaction Styles model, Susan discussed the strengths and challenges of the In-Charge Interaction Style, the Chart-the-Course Interaction Style, the Get-Things-Going Interaction Style, and the Behind-the Scenes Interaction Style, when working remotely. For those of us new to the Berens model, Susan indicated which four MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) types correlate to each of the four Interaction Styles.
The In-Charge Interaction Style (corresponding to ESTP, ESTJ, ENTJ and ENFJ) tend to be efficient independent workers, creating structure for themselves and making good use of technology. As Extraverts, however, they miss the casual workplace conversation which enhances their productivity, and without face-to-face contact, it is difficult for them to form relationships.
The Chart-the-Course Interaction Style (corresponding to ISTP, ISTJ, INTJ and INFJ) also work well independently, as Introverts work best without interruptions, and email and voice mail give them an opportunity to think about how they would like to respond. It is more difficult for them to stay connected with others and to make themselves heard. They may also tend to spend more time on email than is necessary.
The Get-Things-Going Interaction Style (corresponding to ESFP, ESFJ, ENTP and ENFP) excel in virtual work because they can work any time, day or night, and multitask to their heart’s delight, without being judged by others for their work style. Their challenges include loneliness and isolation, and lack of structure.
The Behind-the-Scenes Interaction Style (corresponding to ISFP, ISFJ, INTP and INFP) shares the Chart-the-Course Interaction Style’s strengths in terms of virtual work. Working remotely allows them to sit and think without people questioning them as to why they aren’t doing anything, and they tend to be more patient than other styles with the longer timeframes sometimes needed in this type of work arrangement. Being relationship-focused, they can be challenged by the loneliness of remote work and miss the body language that contributes to communication.
It is vital to building good virtual relationships that we maintain regular contact and provide updates on all issues and projects, and Susan offered a number of suggestions to help us do so, including:
- Taking time to discuss non-work issues
- Arranging regular meeting times (telephone or instant messenger)
- Finding out what frequency and format of communication they prefer
- Keeping track of your communications so you don’t lose touch with someone
As Susan described various communication styles associated with the Interaction Styles (directing versus informing, responding versus initiating) I had one of those “Aha” moments we all experience when learning about type. Some time ago, a client was not satisfied with some work I had done for him, and I was having difficulty accepting his explanation. Once I realized that what I had taken as “direction” was merely “information” I saw how the problem had occurred and will be less likely to make this mistake again.
To date I have used type as a tool to help people organize their time and work space effectively as a Professional Organizer, but I now see that it can be equally valuable to help me communicate with my clients as a Virtual Assistant.