The rise of the introvert

Working from home is giving introverts a chance to thrive
by Bethan Rees


The American Psychological Association defines introversion as an "orientation toward the internal private world of one’s self and one’s inner thoughts and feelings, rather than toward the outer world of people and things". A Business Matters article says that it is important not to confuse being an introvert with shyness or loneliness. "Those who identify and reflect with this personality type are likely to take joy from their own company and inner world as opposed to busy social events, which may overstimulate their nervous system," the article says.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced people to stay home and limit socialising and physical contact, with some people working from home for the first time. In a blog for Psychology Today, Berit Brogaard PhD, professor and director of the Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research at the University of Miami, says that in times of crisis like this, "introverts may have the upper hand".

Why might introverts fare better?

According to Brogaard, "When forced to stay at home, introverts can continue doing what they do best". Indeed, "they may even breathe a sigh of relief, now that they don't have to pretend to be extroverts in order to succeed".

The Business Matters article quotes Kirsty Lilley, a mental health specialist at wellbeing charity CABA. Lilley explains that working remotely and the reduction of physical and social contact will take more time for some to adjust to than others. "It is likely that introverts will prefer this style of working, potentially blossoming as they work at their own pace without interruptions or over-stimulation," she says.

An article for The Guardian by Jess Denham quotes London-based psychologist Natasha Tiwari, who echoes Lilley's point. “Introverts often enjoy having their own space to process ideas and work undistracted,” she says. “The lockdown is proving that working from home and being in one’s own space is not to the detriment of wider business interests and can, in fact, lead to a boost in productivity and wellbeing.”
"You may feel less anxious addressing big groups when you’re in your own space secretly wearing your slippers"

Denham quotes a 29-year-old English teacher from Bristol, Ellie Grout, who identifies as an introvert. Grout reportedly feels that self-isolation is similar to her normal experience, and that "there is no pressure to arrange social events and no guilt about cancelling plans".

Denham explains how the modern-day office is more geared towards extroverts than introverts. "Working in an open-plan office, taking part in daily meetings, public speaking and networking are all activities that are geared towards the extrovert’s need for stimulation, while introverts struggle to make themselves seen and maintain their energy reserves," she reports.

Introverts have been calling for a revolution for at least a decade, writes Kesewa Hennessy in a Financial Times opinion column. She explains that introverts have been seeking to "remake the extrovert-dominated workplace". She continues: "Stop penalising the third of us who don’t fit the loud, highly sociable ideal fostered by open-plan offices; create a more inclusive culture equally suited to those who work better alone, with less outside stimulation."

Public speaking turned private

For introverts, public speaking and taking part in big group discussions can be anxiety-inducing, according to Hennessy. Therefore, working from home and participating in videoconferencing calls can help with this. "You may feel less anxious addressing big groups when you’re in your own space secretly wearing your slippers. I do. Which is why I’ve accepted online speaking invitations I would have dodged otherwise," she writes.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic started and employees shifted to their homes to work, "an introvert-friendly etiquette has evolved", writes Hennessy. "For the first time it is perfectly acceptable to say nothing unless you have something constructive to contribute. In fact, it’s encouraged in the name of efficiency."
"Remote communication requires the kind of planning that introverts relish"

In an article for Management Today, communications specialist Shola Kaye says that the ‘chat’ function on virtual calls has been a game-changer for introverted people. She explains how introverts no longer have to physically interrupt a speaker, or try and be heard on a call. They can use the chat function to make themselves heard. "Now, they have the time and space to pop their thoughts into the chat without worrying if they’re interrupting or whether their tone of voice is too hesitant … sometimes when someone is particularly overpowering or strident during an in-person meeting, it can be hard to stop them from dominating. Chat takes care of that."

Kaye reports that she posted about this subject on networking site LinkedIn recently, and someone responded to her post explaining that she had made a comment in a chat in a meeting of 100 people, which influenced a key decision. "She confessed that she would never have dared to voice that comment during an in-person conference of such a size," Kaye writes.

Introverts are well-trained for working from home, says Karl Moore, professor in the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, in a Forbes article. "Remote communication requires the kind of planning that introverts relish: gone are the impromptu check-ins with your supervisor or team, videoconferences and other remote professional communications have to be planned and scheduled in advance," he writes. "While extroverts like to think out loud, introverts often prefer to plan out their contributions to a conversation or meeting. The highly regimented nature of communication during this period of social distance and remote work affords introverts that time and space to think and prepare."

Moore explains that remote communication is important for those with the predilections of introverts. "Connecting with others online is the introvert’s equivalent to chatting with colleagues at the water cooler. Small talk gives our brains a break. Deep talk keeps us from feeling isolated. Both are important, and emotionally vital," he says. 

Not 100% resilient

Being introverted doesn't mean a person prefers to live without any human connection, especially during the pandemic. "The constant barrage of alarming headlines, rising contamination figures, and forced separation from friends and perhaps loved ones render the experience of hiding away inside the confines of our homes stressful, even for introverts who might otherwise relish the opportunity," Moore writes.

In a BBC article, Meredith Turits explains that there are some downsides to being an introvert and working from home. "Even though they may thrive working alone, introverts can find video calls difficult due to discomfort with being the sole focus of a camera as well as speaking up in group chats," she writes. The Business Matters article adds that "the additional demands to take part in video meetings and calls may prove quite stressful for an introvert or they may not engage beyond dialling in".

In The Guardian article, Denham quotes psychologist Tiwari, who says it's important to recognise that introversion and extroversion exist on a fluid scale. Tiwari says, “Introversion and extroversion are not binary concepts … Many of us flick between them depending on our mood, environment and the people surrounding us. The key is to work out how to attain the right balance in your lifestyle to support your mental health."

Tips for introverts and their managers

If you identify as an introvert, there are some things you can do to make your working from home, self-isolation or lockdown life slightly smoother. A Bloomberg article by Jess Shankleman quotes John Hackston, head of thought leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company, a business psychology provider. Hackston shares some tips for introverts, including that they should find a quiet place to work, be more "playful with colleagues and take opportunities to chat", but also sit down and reflect on what's happening.

In a Reuters article, Chris Taylor has some advice for employees and managers who may be working with introverts. He recommends making video optional on calls. "Video chats can make you feel like you are constantly on stage. Hold occasional meetings that are audio-only, or where the camera can be directed away so you are not always on screen," he says.

He also recommends limiting the number of meetings held. "Being more selective now can preserve your energy, and improve your contributions for the ones you remain in," Taylor writes.

The Business Matters article reports that by empowering introverts to work to their strengths and in an environment that suits them, this will ensure that a business is getting the most from its people. "Having open, honest and meaningful dialogue is essential and building meaningful and respectful relationships is crucial, especially at a time when we are socially apart in many ways," it says.

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Published: 20 Nov 2020
  • Training, Competence and Culture
  • Soft Skills
  • leadership
  • Career advice
  • introverts
  • videoconferencing
  • working from home
  • Covid-19

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