Staying home under lockdown has given introverts the edge over extroverts – right? They have, after all, prepared for this scenario all their lives.
For sure, introverts who live solo can concentrate on their work and no longer need to find excuses for not mingling with the office crowd. But those who are housebound with an extroverted partner 24/7 may find this time particularly challenging.
The Conflicting Needs of Introverts and Extroverts
I spoke to Hile Rutledge to find out more. He's president and principal consultant of organization development firm OKA, and author of numerous books on personality assessments. He told me: "Working from home is hitting a bullseye on the core differences between those of us who prefer extroversion and [those who prefer] introversion.
"Extroverts fret over their introverted partners' foot-dragging over a conversation or small social check-in, while introverts low boil over their extroverts’ seemingly bottomless need to 'plug-in.'"
Rutledge reminded me that, "Introverts tend to feel that parallel play is binding." That is, "I can be here doing my work while you are right there doing your project, and even though we're not talking directly, we are 'together.'" Rutledge recommends that we, "Allow, and even invite, others to have space and quiet time from each other."
How to Be Together, Apart
A coaching client of mine, who is a professed introvert, has created what he calls a "mental sanctuary." This is an agreed-upon time where everyone sharing a cramped apartment can don their headphones and lose themselves in reading a book, listening to a podcast, meditation, or taking a virtual tour of a museum.
He said, "In our house, we have set up a blissful mental escape after dinner every evening." It's working well, and each person is looking forward to their hour and a half of quiet time, while in the same room.
Looking ahead, increasing numbers of employees will be working from home permanently, and others will adopt a mix of home and office.
This emergence of hybrid workplaces is revealed, for example, in a recent Gartner CFO survey. It shows that 74 percent of respondents intend to shift some employees permanently to remote work. And Deutsche Bank’s survey of financial services workers found that 57 percent thought they would work from home between one and three days a week once the lockdown has ended.
Socializing as an Introvert
There's been an uptick lately in online office social activities. These include virtual happy hours at the end of each day, movie nights, virtual team-building and board game exercises, and recipe swaps.
They can be a kind of a lifeline for extroverts who may be getting cabin fever, but are often a minefield for introverts.
Another client of mine, who is an avowed introvert, made a remark at the start of the pandemic that surprised me. He said, "My anxiety level has been at its lowest in years."
He explained that the constant face-to-face interactions in an office teeming with people broke his concentration. It invariably spiked his anxiety at some point every day. In contrast, working from home, he can deal with issues more effectively by email, and he can concentrate. "Overall," he explained, "my productivity is up, and my anxiety is down."
But he's finding the recent increase of invitations to team social events somewhat troublesome. He mentioned two of the latest ones: sharing of bucket lists in a Zoom party and a video peek into one another's homes. These types of well-meaning requests are intruding on his routine and mental space.
Yet he is somewhat uneasy about declining to participate, for fear of being judged as a less sociable team member.
Designing the Virtual Workplace With Introverts in Mind
Jennifer B. Kahnweiler is the author of "Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces," and I asked her what's going on. She said, "Companies don't want to lose touch with their teams, and are concerned about relationships suffering and motivation dropping.
"However, what they need to realize is that introverts working at home crave quiet time where they can think and decompress. Adding another social "to do" to the list is actually having the opposite impact."
But there are solutions. Kahnweiler continued, "I heard about one global company that matched people up randomly with each other for the phone call. They called it 'Mystery Caller.' Introverts liked it because it was low-key, they could do it on their own schedule, and it allowed for a deeper, one-on-one conversation."
Remember, introverts may be observant and reserved, but they are not anti-social! They value social connection as everybody else does. They just don't like to overdo it.
Tips for Managing Digital Overwhelm
Here are a few other suggestions to consider in the "new normal" of working from home:
- Don't expect a colleague's digital door to be open at all times. Instead, make an appointment for a call. This can go a long way to help both extrovert and introvert team members manage their day.
- Schedule enough breaks between online meetings so that people don't feel overwhelmed.
- Make it acceptable for people to turn off their camera during group video calls if they so wish.
- Make it known that it's OK to use the old-fashioned telephone instead.
- Frame virtual fun or team building events as a choice, not an obligation.
- Make it OK for people to drop in and out of social events. For example, don't pressure people to stay for the duration of the happy hour.
We each have our preference for ways of working and interacting. Making space to accommodate these preferences will help everyone to operate better – and to feel understood and cared for in these challenging times.
You can discover more top tips for keeping well and productive, whether you're an introvert or extrovert, by reading the latest Mind Tools guide to working from home.