As an introvert, I’m primed to love time alone, yet I’ve found working from home to be a huge bore. Other than getting extra sleep in the morning, and having a private bathroom, I fail to see the pluses. A recent article in Forbes notes the importance of keeping both introverts and extroverts happy in the new hybrid workplace in which teams are in-person at least part of the time. It presumes that introverts have mostly been thrilled with the pandemic’s at-home work routines, but that may only be partially true.
It’s nice to have solitude and quiet—up to a point. When the alone time and silence become monotonous, even an introvert could use the stimulation of an in-person workplace. In my office’s open-plan layout, I required coping tactics that included noise-cancelling headphones and a giant David Bowie poster propped in front of me as a privacy shield. However, even with all that, I would say I found value in the in-person experience. It was stimulating to see people, and—when I chose to take my headphones off—to interact. There also was the chance for spontaneous run-ins with the kind of casual conversation that I find more comfortable and natural than the forced conversation of planned meetings or social events. I’m probably not the only introvert who dreads cocktail party banter, but who enjoys impromptu conversations that spring up naturally in the course of a day.
The main points of angst for an introvert are not tied solely to the in-person workplace. The big irritants can happen just as easily virtually as in-person. The aggressive, domineering person(s), who takes over a meeting, making it hard to get a word in, is a feature of online meetings, too. In fact, in an online meeting, it can be even harder for a soft-spoken person to provide input. In a recent meeting, I finally had to rudely interject over other people talking to give a response to the information provided. The funny part was the people I interrupted seemed offended, yet these were the same people who had spoken uninterrupted, like an unstoppable train, for an hour. Was I not supposed to speak at all? When you’re a soft-spoken person, domineering personalities can take it as a privilege to lead and own the conversation. When the soft-spoken person finally loses patience and tries to ease into the conversation, the domineering personalities can feel usurped.
When people are around a meeting table in-person, it’s harder to forget everyone who is present. Whether online, or in-person, the meeting leader would need to do the same thing to make sure everyone gets a chance to provide input. Instead of throwing a question out and seeing who pipes up first, like throwing food scraps to a group of hungry animals, the meeting leader would need to take a deliberate, organized approach, and go around the table one by one, asking for comments.
Many colleagues are poor correspondents by e-mail, text, and voicemail. Many are even more likely to ignore a less domineering co-worker by those means as they would be if that co-worker were able to drop by their workstation to ask a question or offer information. I thought it wouldn’t matter whether I was soft-spoken or aggressive when communicating by e-mail, text, or voicemail, but it does. I’ve found that I’m usually not at the top of the list for getting responses from colleagues.
Introverts typically have smaller social circles, favoring instead a few close friends rather than a wide circle of more distant friends. That means in-office relationships are especially important in providing socializing and interaction that can offset loneliness and heightened anxiety. An introvert may enjoy an impromptu gathering with friends for drinks or coffee at the end of a long workday in a way they would never enjoy a planned party or meeting. The virtual workplace means that every interaction is a planned one with time limits. That setup can make introverts feel like they will have to put on a performance rather than just be themselves. The online “social” world is stilted and controlled compared to in-person interactions.
An in-person experience at least a few times a week, buffered by workstations that offer noise control and privacy on at least a few sides, can be just as conducive to the happiness of introverts as that of extroverts. With well-run meetings that give everyone a chance to offer insights, you might be shocked at how enthusiastic your introverts are about your reopened office.
Is your organization thinking about how best to help both introverts and extroverts flourish in your reopened office? What ideas have you come up with to ensure both personality types enjoy a renewed in-person work experience?