According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about a quarter of the workforce telecommutes at least part of the time — but there’s a really good chance some of those workers are shopping on Amazon, watching cat GIFs on Buzzfeed or seeing what their friends are posting on Facebook.
Dubbed “cyberslacking” by social scientists, this kind of unproductive behavior is obviously easier to get away with if someone is working on their couch and doesn’t have to worry the boss will walk up behind them and catch them scrolling through Pinterest or playing an online game.
Having the opportunity to work when no one’s looking over your shoulder tends to magnify our natural inclinations, for better or worse. Thomas O’Neill, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Calgary, studied personality traits and came up with a sort of cyberslacker profile.
“Job demands such as an imminent deadline would likely lead a conscientious employee to focus and avoid cyberslacking at home,” O’Neill writes. “Job distractors such as the opportunity to plan a vacation on the Internet without anyone knowing would likely lead a dishonest person to engage in cyberslacking.”
He also found that a fairly significant number of people who telecommute can’t resist the temptation to goof off.”18% of the 150 teleworkers in our sample of employees across the U.S.A. agreed or strongly agreed to cyberslacking when working from a distance,” O’Neill says. “15% said they are more inclined to cyberslack when working in distributed locations versus working in the office.”
People whose personalities rank high in agreeableness, honesty and conscientiousness are less likely to be cyberslackers. “It was most important that those employees were low on procrastination and high on honesty and integrity in so far as minimizing cyberslacking,” O’Neill says. “Employees high on conscientiousness reported feeling the most productive.”
Procrastinators, on the other hand, are more likely to waste time instead of working, and a lack of job satisfaction and feeling like you’re not very good at what you’re doing also are potential red flags. “Employees who do not feel satisfied or perceive their performance to be high when working remotely are potentially at risk for cyberslacking,” O’Neill writes.
The good news, he says, is that you can avoid the tendency to goof off when you’re supposed to be working remotely. “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,” he says.
From there, plan and structure your schedule so you’re less tempted to get distracted by Doge meme pictures or an argument on a comments thread, he suggests. And be honest with yourself — if you “work” from home and find that you got nothing done, telecommuting might not be the best fit for you.