iWAM and the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a real-life laboratory, one we could not have imagined a year ago.

The shelter-in-place movement has isolated millions of people with their families and sometimes with themselves.

So what?

Well, a large percentage of the isolated people are working remotely from their homes. If they have family, then there is some level of social contact. If not, then most of their social contact is via phone or screen-share application.

And your point is?

Not everyone responds to this lack-of-contact context in the same way.

Dilbert and Wally find a common bond in the loss (lack) of social contact.

Individual Orientation/Group Orientation

The iWAM has a set of companion patterns entitled Individual Orientation and Group Orientation.

Individual Orientation is an indication of the extent to which you are motivated by working alone. The higher your score, the more you might want to work with your door closed (if you have one) and find interaction with people, when you're "trying to get work done", to be de-motivating.

Group Orientation provides an insight into the your desire for social contact. That is, the higher the score, the more you want to interact with people while at work.

These two scales might provide some insight into a major motivational factor in people who are forced to work by themselves for long periods of time. A person who scores high in Group Orientation and low in Individual Orientation may well find the lack of in-person contact demotivating.

On the other hand, someone who is low in Group Orientation and high in Individual Orientation may turn out to be like Dilbert and Wally.

For someone who scores low in both, the work environment is probably not a major factor in their motivation. For someone who scores high in both, it may be easier to shift from one context to the other.

An Example

One example of a mismatch in contact motivation came up in a college course I taught a few years ago. The college incorporated the iWAM as one aspect of the course. The students were all full-time, working adults.

We were debriefing the scores as a class and talking about the Individual/Group Orientation patterns when, following an interpretation and the implications of high and low scores, a young guy raised his hand. He  scored very low on Group and very high on Individual Orientation.

He proceeded to tell the class that he was close to resigning from his job because they had rearranged the work area. It seems the manager drank the one-size-fits-all Kool-Aid concerning open workplaces and the value of social contact. The result was that this student now worked in an open area with three other people. The four desks were arranged in a square so that everyone faced everyone else. He was now "trapped" in a group of chatty colleagues.

He hated it and was ready to quit the job to escape. Based on our experience, he would not have been clear in an exit interview about why he was really leaving.

Using iWAM Information

The fact that motivational and attitudinal patterns are a significant variable in performance is not on a lot of managers' radar and since we tend to interact with people as though they were like us, it may not occur to a high-Group manager that some of her or his direct reports are just the opposite. In that case, the manager may both interact with the person and/or structure work in ways that either lessen motivation or actually demotivate the individual. The opposite would be true of a low Group/high Individual manager.

For example, when orienting managers to the use of the iWAM, we suggest that if you have a direct report or are dealing with a colleague who is high Individual Orientation and low in Shared Responsibility it might not be wise to assign them to a task force or a committee. If the individual happens to be a subject matter expert (SME) and the expertise is needed on the committee or task force, then ask the individual: "Since your expertise is crucial to the work of this group, would you like to be a member or have the group call on you when your knowledge is needed?"

You are more likely to get a positive response to the latter alternative.

Research Opportunities

It occurs to us that this would be a good time for professors and graduate students to study the relationship between the independent variables of Individual/Group Orientation (and some others) and dependent variables such as productivity and job satisfaction.

In consulting with individuals in a variety of settings over the last few months, we have encountered some who are delighted with the isolation and some who are close to "crawling the walls". For the latter, who have a lot of phone and screen-share time with colleagues, it seems to be the lack of actual human contact that is demotivating.

Although we've not seen the reasearch, someone a month or so ago indicated that some data suggest that productivity actually increased during the first month or two of remote work. These results, if true, are counter to the prevailing assumption that people would be less productive if not in the organization's physical workplace.

It's possible, if we were collecting data, that we'd find that those who prefer to work alone (high Individual Orientation) might be more productive and those who are high Group Orientation/low Individual Orientation might be less productive if the phone/screen contact media are not sufficient to fulfill the need.

In any case, it's something to consider as we lead on!