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I Took an Office-Personality Quiz, and it Turns Out That as a Remote Worker, I'm a Caged Butterfly

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By: Rebecca Knight

  • The New York Times' "what's your office personality?" quiz explores different people's work styles.

  • Turns out, I'm a "break-room butterfly" who thrives on teams and doing in-person work.

  • That's hard to pull off as a full-time remote employee, but I've learned to adapt.

I'm a child of the 1980s who spent her early adolescence filling out quizzes in teen magazines: What type of a friend are you? What kind of a flirt are you? Are you boy-obsessed? Don't judge — I was a prepubescent tweenager (before that word was invented), and my self-absorption knew no bounds.

It seems I've not completely abandoned my navel-gazing tendencies. When a colleague forwarded me The New York Times' "what's your office personality?" quiz, my interest was piqued.

The quiz's creator, the always excellent Emma Goldberg, writes about the future of work for The Times, and I do the same for Insider. She designed the quiz, which explores different work styles, based on interviews with dozens of workers and in consultation with a psychology professor. 

At a time when a growing number of organizations use personality tests in their human-resources departments, and employees themselves are wrestling with how and where they do their best work, Goldberg's idea was a great one. I wish I'd thought of it.

I took the quiz in under a minute and learned that I was a "break-room butterfly" — someone who's "highly collaborative," "thrives doing in-person work," and makes contributions "to office culture," according to the quiz.

The results were accurate, if momentarily disheartening. I'm a full-time remote employee. And wah! It's hard to let your inner break-room butterfly soar when the only break room in sight doubles as your kitchen.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized I was OK with it. I've learned to make compromises and adapt — like a lot of people who work from home or have a hybrid schedule. After all, what does an "office personality" even mean nowadays? 

The 4 office-personality prototypes

Many personality tests are a sham. They're misleading and unscientific, not to mention biased and sometimes discriminatory.

But there's also a body of research suggesting that our personalities can be accurately measured and predictive of work outcomes— provided the assessments are well designed and based upon the "five-factor model of personality": extroversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. 

Goldberg said she designed her quiz by paying special attention to two traits that play an important role in molding our behavior at work: extroversion, the degree to which social interactions energize us, and openness, which refers to our desire for new experiences.

Her quiz is cutesy and lighthearted. It has nine multiple-choice questions, such as: "Your colleagues are making March Madness brackets and they invite you to join. You know nothing about basketball. What do you do?" and, "As your team starts a new project, your manager divides up the tasks and assigns you the easiest one. What do you do?"

Quiz takers are then divided into one of four office prototypes:

  • Cubicle cats, who like structure in their workdays and benefit from being around colleagues but are happiest when given space to focus.

  • Corner-office creatures, who crave in-person work to develop their leadership but benefit from time alone.

  • Couch koalas, who thrive when given space to work alone and like focusing on projects that demand imagination.

  • Break-room butterflies, who prefer to focus on tasks that are pragmatic and team-oriented and benefit from relationship building.

The quiz is by no means a gold-standard assessment, but based on my informal poll of colleagues who took it, it's accurate enough. My gregarious editor is a fellow break-room butterfly, our tight-ship boss is a cubicle cat, and another free-spirited, somewhat reclusive colleague is a couch koala. 

A social butterfly with no one to talk to

I didn't need The Times to remind me that I'm an extremely extroverted person who works all by herself all day. 

Sure, being a Chatty Cathy who enjoys the people parts of work gets lonely sometimes. Loneliness is consistently rated by employees as one of the biggest struggles of working from home, according to Buffer, a social-media-tools company that publishes a report on the state of remote work each year.

But I'm willing to make that trade-off, and I'm guessing that many people who work remotely are, too. For me, there are lifestyle factors. For the life stage I'm in, working from home is a godsend that enables me to be more available to my family, while having a fulfilling career. There are also questions of job availability. My employer is based in New York, while I live in Boston. Commuting to an office is not an option for me.

Besides, as a gadfly work-from-homer, I've learned to adjust. I don't need a real break room to chat up my colleagues. There's Slack for that. And I can still collaborate with my team on Zoom and Google Meet — and, occasionally, IRL when I'm in New York. 

The fact is, the "office" that many of us remember — or, perhaps, more accurately, all living generations apart from Gen Z remember — is a relic. Office buildings are only half full, which is a pandemic high, according to swipe-card data tracked by Kastle Systems, and many workers aren't eager to work in one again.

By extension, the very notion of an "office personality" is becoming outdated. So rather than mourn the fact that I can't spread my wings in an office, I'll channel my extroversion in other ways, like Slacking with my butterfly buddies and making sure my cubicle-cat boss knows about the latest TikTok trend I should write about.

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