Edición 51, Human Resources

Cyberslacking, Engagement, and Personality Issues in Distributed Work

By: Gina Chatellier, B.A., University of Calgary
Tom O’Neill, PhD, University of Calgary
Laura Hambley, PhD, Work EvOHlution

In today’s world where technology is advancing at lightning speed, the opportunity to work away from the traditional office becomes increasingly more accessible. With applications such as Skype, Google Documents, and Drop Box, many office jobs have become doable from outside the conventional office, such as home, coffee shops, or libraries. We refer to this as “distributed work.”

Unfortunately, with this freedom comes the risk of decreased productivity through cyberslacking, which involves getting distracted with Internet activities when employees should be doing their jobs (O’Neill, Hambley, & Bercovich, 2014). Indeed, in that study we reported that cyberslacking appears to reduce job performance during distributed work. In a follow-up study, we investigated the link between personality traits, cyberslacking behaviour, and an employee’s level of engagement during distributed work (i.e., working away from the traditional office; O’Neill, Hambley, & Chatellier, 2014), reported on below.

Results indicated that Honesty and Procrastination were personality traits that accounted for significant variance in both cyberslacking and engagement during distributed work. Accordingly, how honest, sincere, and genuine a person is accounts for 22% of their cyberslacking behavior, so someone who is very honest is unlikely to lose a lot of time “getting lost” on the internet when they should be working. Honesty also accounts for 31% of a person’s engagement in their job, meaning that people who are more honest tend to be more energized, focused, and excited by their work.

In terms of Procrastination, we found that the extent to which people have a tendency to delay and put off work can account for 37% of cyberslacking behaviour during distributed work. In other words, people who tend to procrastinate more are much more likely to waste time on online pursuits when they need to be working. When considering engagement, Procrastination accounts for 30% of variability during distributed work, which means that individuals who tend to Procrastinate also report lower engagement during distributed work.

We also examined the role of three sets of behaviours that may explain the link between personality traits and how effective an employee is when working away from the traditional office. These three sets of behaviours were: regular upward communication, self-management tactics, and conscious socialization efforts.

Regular upward communication refers to an employee’s efforts to keep their superior informed on their work progress, whether it be through e-mails, phone calls, or progress reports. Individuals who were high in Conscientiousness tended to engage more in upward communication, which lead to less cyberslacking, as well as more engagement in their work outside the office. Thus, individuals who regularly update their superiors on their work are less likely to waste time cyberslacking and will also be more engaged by their work.

Self-management tactics while working remotely include: setting start and end times, planning breaks, setting and achieving goals, as well as any other planning/organizational activity that is done in order to stay on track. Like upward communication, highly conscientious individuals used more self-management tactics, which lead to less cyberslacking and greater engagement in their work. Our research suggests that employees who think ahead and explicitly plan out their time are less likely to cyberslack and are more likely to feel engaged by their work.

Conscious socialization efforts refer to an individual’s efforts to keep in contact with other people while working away from the office. This would include Skype lunches, going to networking meetings, and staying in touch with team members virtually. Individuals who were high on Extraversion and Agreeableness were more likely to use conscious socialization tactics, which lead to a higher level of engagement in their work. Therefore, our research suggests that individuals who make an effort to network, have lunch meetings, and find different ways to keep in contact with colleagues are more likely to be engaged by their jobs when working away from the office.

Our research found the most successful combination of personality traits involved high Honesty and low Procrastination. This combination of trait levels leads to the least amount of cyberslacking, and the highest amount of engagement when working away from the traditional office. Further, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Extraversion were also important for various sets of distributed work behaviors.

Other traits examined in our research program have been linked to distributed work outcomes (O’Neill, Hambley, Greidanus, MacDonnell, & Kline, 2009). In that study we examined employees from variety of organizations in which some employees participated in telework and others did not. We found that there were differences between traits that wree needed for success in telework compared to work conducted in the conventional office. For example, we found that sociability exhibited a negative relationship with job satisfaction in teleworkers but not-non teleworkers. This is because of the impoverished interpersonal environment that characterizes much distributed work. Even in distributed teams it seems that the higher the team’s level of sociability, the worse their ability to form a cohesive and collaborative work unit (MacDonnelly, O’Neill, Hambley, & Kline, 2008). Yet, if “high socials” can reach out using conscious socialization efforts, they would be more likely to adjust and achieve a more satisfying outcome. In O’Neill et al. (2009) we also found that Need for Autonomy and high Organization were particularly important for teleworkers. When individuals work from a distance, they need to be comfortable with the reduced structure and increased need to actively self-manage and build structure into the work.

In sum, we believe that personality is extremely important for engagement, satisfaction, cyberslacking, and performance during distributed work. By identifying the links between personality and success during remote work, we can better select, develop, and support employees who work remotely. Additionally, we can contribute to increasing the efficiency and productivity of distributed work thereby helping to make it work a more viable, satisfying, and successful option for everyone. As Dr. O’Neill pointed out in a media interview with Time, “Knowing yourself and your personality, however, can help you better manage yourself and others when working from a distance, so part of the puzzle is figuring out your own personality and where you have strong and weak fits with telework” (White, 2014)


  • MacDonnell, R., O’Neill, T. A., Kline, T. J. B., & Hambley, L. H. (2009). Bringing group-level personality to the electronic realm: A comparison of face-to-face and virtual contexts. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 12, 1-24.
  • O’Neill, T. A., Hambley, L. H., & Bercovich, A. (2014). Prediction of cyberslacking when
    employees are working away from the office. Computers in Human Behavior
    , 34, 291-298.
  • O’Neill, T. A., Hambley, L. A., & Chatellier, G. (2014). Cyberslacking, engagement, and
    personality in distributed work environments. Computers in Human Behavior
    , 40, 152-160.
  • O’Neill, T. A., Hambley, L. A., Greidanus, N., MacDonnell, R., & Kline, T. J. B. (2009).
    Predicting teleworker success: An exploration of personality, motivational, situational, and job characteristics. New Technology, Work, and Employment, 24, 144-162.
  • White, M. C. (2014). Are you too lazy to work from home? Retrieved November 8th, 2014, from time.com: http://time.com/42161/are-you-too-lazy-to-work-from-home

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