How to Support Introverted Remote Workers
Much of the concern for employees who are still getting used to working from home has been directed to extroverts. How are the naturally gregarious faring without the treasured coffee break or water cooler chitchat they depended on when they worked in an office with all their colleagues?
To respond to these folks and make sure they’re coping with working in isolation, many companies initiated social engagement rituals via video conferences and other digital communication technologies.
These rituals, however, can feel like torture to your other team members. Don’t forget about your introverts. They’re born to thrive in a work-at-home environment, away from the forced camaraderie of a crowded office. Here’s how you can support your introverted team members while working remotely.
Understand what introversion really is — and isn’t
Being an introvert isn’t the same thing as being shy, aloof or disinterested in others. Introversion and extroversion are about the kinds and amounts of interpersonal interactions that a person can tolerate, and which energize or enervate that person. Introverts usually feel drained, frazzled and unable to focus when forced into socializing in large groups of people, whereas that same kind of social gathering energizes and excites an extrovert.
It’s also important to recognize that introversion and extroversion aren’t static, permanent states. Most people fall somewhere along the spectrum of responses between these two opposite states of being.
Moreover, many people find themselves shifting along that spectrum in different circumstances. Even the most confirmed introverts can sometimes find themselves feeling rather social and outgoing at a particular gathering or party. And even the most gregarious extrovert sometimes needs a few hours alone.
Neither extroverts nor introverts have a solid advantage over the other. Each type of personality means slightly different working and communication styles. In the healthiest corporate cultures, having extroverts and introverts on your team is the best possible world, where each can complement the other and expand your team’s core competencies.
Minimize group meetings
Instead of forcing all workers to attend lengthy group activities and meetings, try to minimize your professional group time. Only hold those virtual meetings on video conferencing apps when they’re absolutely required.
For any potential meeting topic, ask yourself whether it can instead be resolved via a short email or telephone conversation. Often a leader can maximize the team’s time by first requesting written input through email or other digital communication channels, then later distilling that input into a briefing document for the team’s review and consideration. Holding a meeting at this point, once everyone is on board and familiar with the underlying idea or project outlines, can be vastly more effective and efficient.
When you do schedule a necessary team meeting, keep it strictly regulated with a short agenda and a tight schedule. Appoint a team leader or secretary (on a rotating basis) to adhere to the agenda and bring the meeting to a close at or before the specified time. You can always authorize additional small paired or group meetings for those who work best in a more social atmosphere.
Make group social activities optional
In our new exploration of remote work, some well-meaning managers and consultants recommended taking the office happy hour online and creating virtual social events. Companies that embraced the remote-work philosophy before the health crisis had lots of ideas to offer for hanging out socially with distant colleagues. While well-intentioned, and probably a great idea for the extroverts on your team, such forced joviality outside work hours can feel like torture to the introverts on your team.
Instead, create a shared social calendar for your team, then encourage your team to add social events, invite others and participate in turn. However, requiring or mandating participation — or even letting workers assume that a lack of participation will be judged negatively — sends the wrong message to your introverted team members. You’re essentially telling them that they’re not good enough the way they are and must conform to this other way of being if they want to be accepted. That’s neither kind nor useful.
In short, don’t make an introverted worker participate in trivia, happy hour or other virtual group activities. It’ll probably be agonizing to them. By all means, provide the opportunity but make participation truly optional.
Implement a buddy system
The above points aren't to say that introverts can’t benefit from a friendly check-in from time to time. Many introverts find it much easier to connect with one or two other people instead of a group, where they feel pressured to “perform” social extroversion. So by all means, implement a one-on-one buddy system and ask each participant to check in with their partner at specific intervals to make sure all of your team members are thriving — or at least surviving — in this new work environment.
Give all your employees a choice
Allow employees to choose their preferred contact methods, style and frequency. Some folks really don’t like video conferences and feel completely drained by it after awhile. Others hate text-based communications platforms, especially if they feel messages are intrusive and distracting from real work.
Introverts, in particular, can feel easily overwhelmed by chat platforms where comments go whizzing by quickly or in virtual group chats where there’s no clear agenda or speaking order.
Give some real thought to which apps best solve specific problems for your team, and then evaluate the way these apps fit together from the perspective of your more introverted team members to make sure everyone can feel comfortable on the job.