Thanks to the pandemic, 50% of Americans are working remotely. Introverts are ecstatic. With less social interaction, more opportunities to quietly recharge, and space to focus on deep-thinking tasks, introverts are set to thrive.
As the vaccine slowly disperses, organizations are debating their return-to-office strategies. Introverts have anxiety over the impending change—and for good reason. Not only are modern, open office designs overwhelming for introverts, but extroverts are primarily in charge of the reentry plans. With 98% of top company executives and 88% of supervisors being extroverts, introverts are worried that their preferred, newfound work styles will be dismissed.
The evolution of an extrovert-friendly environment
In Susan Cain’s New York Times bestseller, Quiet, she explains that the turn of the 20th century ushered in big businesses, city life, and a need for proving oneself in interviews and sales. Simultaneously, the film industry was growing exponentially, and charismatic movie stars were highly visible and strongly influencing our culture. All of these trends fit the extroverted ideal. But in this pandemic-induced remote work environment, we are starting to reevaluate whether our workplaces need to be hotbeds of socialization.
As explained by economist Tyler Cowen, introverts have traditionally been undervalued. Moreover, business travel and meetings (two extrovert-friendly domains) have been grossly overrated. He argues that “having the highest-productivity individuals in a company be free to do what they want, to have a Zoom call with the people they want; that’s going to drive a lot of innovation and productivity growth.”
Organizations’ positions on who should return to the office post-pandemic are wide-ranging. For example, consulting firms seem more comfortable with work staying primarily remote. Alternatively, big-name companies like Microsoft have stated that associates must be present in an office 50% of the time or more, citing the need to balance business demands and culture-building with attracting talent. But for the most part, research suggests that employers are still determining what their ultimate work-from-home policy will look like.
Key considerations for a return to the office
It’s important that organizational leaders conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of remote work options before reverting back to work environments that are geared toward extroverts. For example, some organizational leaders are choosing to keep remote work as an option simply because it saves money on office space. But there’s also a soft-cost argument.
Employees are more engaged and committed when they can be their authentic selves and work in ways that align with their tendencies and preferences. For example, in a two-year study across 500 employees, Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University found that compared to employees working face-to-face, employees opting to go remote were 50% less likely to leave the company and had a 24% productivity boost, primarily because they didn’t have a commute and had far fewer interruptions.
Notwithstanding these benefits, connecting with others in person is at the core of the human experience, and not having that ability could cause some to feel lonely and isolated. Additionally, virtual interaction will never be a perfect substitute for face-to-face communication. For example, research illustrates that the richness of face-to-face communication makes it easier to develop a shared understanding of team and organizational objectives.
Regardless of where the organization settles—face-to-face, hybrid, remote, or a combination of these options—there are four things organizational leaders should be doing to address the long-silent concerns of their introverted employees.
Use assessments to take a pulse
Assess introversion-extroversion within your organization. Get data on where your employees fall on the scale, where they rank compared to their peers, and what their attitudes are toward remote versus in-person work. Just like organizations track and monitor surface-level diversity such as demographic differences, they should also be tracking deep-level diversity (such as traits, values, and preferences), because it can help facilitate feelings of inclusion and belonging.
Integrate training initiatives
Introverts prefer working one-on-one or in small groups, having agendas in advance of meetings, communicating over email, and having more time for deep-thinking tasks. They typically like to wait for a pause in conversation and speak up only when they have an idea that is necessary and novel.
Extroverts crave group settings and gain energy from being around others. They process their thoughts out loud and commonly perceive silence as awkward. The more we can understand each other’s tendencies and preferences, the better chance we’ll have of working more effectively together as team members.
Low-stimulation environments like private huddle rooms and quiet spaces are key for introverts to thrive. Open office floor plans are fine, but with a few tweaks. Employees who disappear into conference rooms when they need time alone to process and recharge shouldn’t be judged or ostracized. Noise management is also a must. Cover the cost of headphones, especially if employees are seated near cafeterias, break rooms, or other common spaces.
Create a community for introverts
Introvert communities can help instill a sense of inclusion and belonging. Some companies have rolled out internal initiatives that allow introverts to share their perspectives in a more comfortable environment. These tailored groups give room for introverts to share and feel as recognized and acknowledged as their extrovert counterparts.
For example, 84.51°, where Meagan is a consultant, created a group called ITOPiA, a community that allows more reserved employees to feel more comfortable as well as create a space for extrovert managers to hear feedback on how to better communicate with introvert employees.
But first, start the conversation
After a year of social isolation, extroverts might be anxious to get everyone back together in the office, but they should do so with caution. A strong business case can be made for allowing employees, especially introverts, to work from home—including more quiet time and fewer distractions and drains to motivation. However, if you are in a manager role, you will still want to audit the effectiveness of long-term remote work for your more reserved employees, because for many introverts, their home is not an ideal workplace and video meetings can sap all their energy.
Whatever the remote work policy might be, there is still room for improvement in the inclusion of introverts. All organizational leaders should begin assessing introversion, incorporating introversion into development initiatives, creating an introvert-friendly environment, and establishing a community for introverts and extroverts to learn how to work better together. These are the types of considerations that everyone—regardless of their personality—should be talking about.
Scott Dust, PhD, is a management professor at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University, and the chief research officer at Cloverleaf, an HR-tech platform that helps organizations create amazing teams.
Meagan Connley is lead consultant at 84.51°, a data science and management consulting company owned by Kroger. She is one of the founding members and a current co-lead of ITOPiA, a community that focuses on balance between introvert and extrovert personalities.