Environmental Preferences: why are some people better at working from home than others? The PCM Perspective

WFH; Work from home; PCM; PCM Training; Magda Tabac

In the new reality of Work from Home (WFH), and after months of using more or less improvised working spaces as our offices, meeting colleagues only through Zoom/Teams or other media, it’s clear that this routine works for some of us and does not work for others. There are a number of ways of looking at this, but today I will approach this issue through the prism of PCM (Process Communication Model), namely, by looking at the concept of Environmental Preferences.

Environmental Preferences and the Assessing Matrix

According to PCM, each of the 6 PCM Base Personality Types have a preference towards working with groups of people, preferring to work alone, preferring to work with one other person, or preferring to work with groups of people, with the flexibility to move from group to group.

The Assessing Matrix Preferred Environments Magda Tabac 1024x576 - Environmental Preferences:  why are some people better at working from home than others? The PCM Perspective

Let me explain the Assesing Matrix:

The vertical axis

…is the axis of goals, or the person’s ability to be self-motivated to initiate and complete tasks. Its two ends are Internal and External. A person more inclined to be a self-starter fits at the Internally Motivated end of the vertical axis, while those who tend towards the Externally motivated end of this axis need motivation from the environment or others.

Each of the two approaches function very well, they are just different. For example: lions are passive in hunting (they spend less energy in hunting), while cheetah/jaguars – are active hunters (they chase their pray down). They have different approaches but both animals are successful at procuring food.

The horizontal axis

…is representing people involvement or the person’s desire to be in a group or part of a group effort, and this one is more relevant for our WFH discussion. Its two ends are Involving and Withdrawing. A person who prefers to be with two or more people fits to the left of the vertical axis, while a person who prefers to be with one other person or to be alone fits to the right.

As we can see in the image above, for those of us with Thinker or Persister Base Personality, we prefer the “One to One” environment, where we can easily exchange information, data, opinions and reach conclusions or solve problems. It’s easier to get organised and we have more control over things being done. In a social context, we would talk of factual matters or discuss politics with one or two people. At the office, we would work well alone or with one other person and we are usually intrinsically motivated to complete jobs successfully.

Those of us with an Imaginer Base Personality, prefer to be alone, so that we have the space and time to reflect and to use our imagination. This is how we function best. In a social context, we would withdraw and prefer to spend our time in imaginative reveries. At work, we might be the ones that prefer to be given an assignment and then be left alone to do the work. As long as we have clear instructions about what is expected of us, we can do the work by ourselves and be more efficient at it.

Those of us with a Promoter or Rebel Base Personality, like to move from “Group to Group”: exchanging ideas, networking, selling, being part of the action, or simply having fun. It’s ok for us to move from one group to the other, as we find stimulation in diversity of interactions. At work, we like to be part of several groups (teams) and we may work best when offered a creative challenge.

Finally, those of us with a Harmoniser Base Personality, like to be part of a group. We like to create a space where everyone can feel comfortable and cared for. In a social context, we will be the ones to move toward people and enjoy being in groups. In a work setting we will prefer to work with groups, enjoy projects that are shared with others and that provide involvement and harmony.

Environmental Preferences and WFH

It’s a reality of life that we cannot always choose the environments we work in. Let’s just take the idea of an open space office:

How many Imaginer, Thinker and Persister Base people cringe at the idea of open-space offices, which they experience as a drain on their energy. Always someone passing by and interrupting their train of thought, their imaginative reveries or their one-on-one discussion with a colleague, where they get to exchange their thoughts and opinions. It’s tough to get back to focus with so many interruptions.

On the other hand, open spaces can seem stimulating and exciting to Harmoniser, Promoter and Rebel Base Personalities; this is where they experience being at their best. They have a group to care for and feel cared by, colleagues to network with and share ideas and get some stuff moving, or, respectively, someone to have some fun with.

Well, all this has changed with the Covid-19 Pandemic and we are now all working from home (most of us, at least), with no clear end-date in sight.

Our take on the situation will be significantly impacted by our Base Personality Type and thus, our natural environmental preferences.

The right side of the People/Relationships Axis

As you would expect, those of us with Base Personality Types situated on the right side of the People/Relationships axis (the horizontal one), might respond more favourably to working from home.

That is because those of us with Imaginer, Thinker and Persister Base Personality will normally prefer to work alone or in a one-to-one environment. We therefore might actually feel very comfortable working from home, as long as we have a quiet environment, where we can focus on the things we need to do, have Zoom calls with the relevant colleague(s) when needed (so that we can get more direction, advance in our tasks and solve problems, or maybe share our opinions about what should be done and how). In such an environment, we would feel energised.

As you can imagine, if we also need to take care of 2 homeschooled kids, feed them, manage their time and behaviour and get involved in their school activity, while also taking care of our workload in an efficient manner… it would not be as easy, and actually could become draining for us.

(Don’t get me wrong: of course, we love them, and we’d be happy to spend more time with them. It’s just, after a while, we are likely to notice our energy reaching critically low levels).

The left side of the People/Relationships Axis

Let’s look now at the left side of the People/Relationships axis, where we have those of us with Harmoniser, Promoter and Rebel Base Personalities: we learnt that if we have one of these personalities at our base, we enjoy working in groups or going from one group to another. Connecting through a Zoom call might not be enough for us now, as we might miss the face to face interaction and warmth that this used to bring to our days.

We might miss the fun of talking to people, sharing jokes or the challenge of getting things done in no time, when we could use our charm and our “just-do-it” attitude. It is very hard for us if we live alone, as we do have a need for interaction with others and being alone can be draining for us. Video calls and meetings could help with that when it comes to work, and the same could be done with the friends and family, when it’s not possible to see them face to face. On the other hand, living with family or friends would most probably be a good thing for us, as it would offer us the group interaction we need.

As we say in PCM: we are all OK, just the way we are. However, it’s important for us to be aware of our natural environmental preferences and use them to our advantage. And also, to understand why some of us might be in our element working from home, while others might struggle.

I hope you found this article useful and thank you for reading!


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