Remote work and introverts: Consider the challenges
Thursday, January 28, 2021
Remote work has moved from an experiment to the norm for millions of office workers around the world. Late last year, our company conducted a survey to discover how introverts, in particular, were responding to working from home full time. We had almost 200 responses. Do they thrive in quiet and solitude or are they also feeling disconnected and lonely?
The Positives of Introverts Working at Home
Though over 85% of respondents were very satisfied or satisfied with the arrangement, many strong opinions surfaced about the challenges they face when working from home.
The three key challenges that arose were virtual meeting fatigue, stress and disconnection from people.
Virtual Meeting Fatigue
Over 56% of respondents listed “virtual meeting fatigue” as a problem.
“Extroverts want everyone to turn on their videos!”
“Setting boundaries to avoid more meetings in the virtual environment became important to manage fatigue.”
“I’m much more drained at the end of the workday from communicating either by mobile phone or in virtual meetings.”
Despite a reduction in stress being seen as a working from home benefit, at least 25% of introverts in this sample rated working from home as stressful.
“People feel they can contact you any time of the day or night.”
“There are no breaks between meetings now. Before I had time built into my schedule to walk/bike/drive between buildings and that was a wonderful time to think. Now I'm lucky to get a quick walk to the bathroom and back to the computer.”
“As an introvert, I have actually found it difficult working from home all the time. I have always enjoyed working from home when I had major projects/policies, etc. to work on, but quite frankly working from home full-time has affected me mentally.”
A number commented that they were working longer hours and that the expectation was that they would be more available to their teams and bosses.
Over half of the respondents expressed concerns about communication and connection. Almost 25% felt it has been challenging communicating with people outside their teams and fewer than 20% felt disconnected from their teams. There were many comments indicating that introverts miss the face to face connection and organic connection that comes from working in an office.
“While I tire of social pressure and engagements I also value 1:1 conversation and I miss that.”
“As an introvert, I love working from home, but it increases my isolation on some days.”
“I miss the socializing, which is the glue of relationships and opportunities to listen to employees for hidden topics.”
“As an introvert, you're easily forgotten and left off of meetings you should be on. I get very lonely sitting at home alone all day.”
“I miss spontaneous interactions. There are more scheduled interactions, and I am less able to ask a question in passing.”
“I was much more adept at managing the drop-ins and need for my attention when we were in the office.”
“Introverts need meaningful connection with others, which is often hard to have when you're on a time schedule in a virtual meeting. The unplanned times that create the opportunity for real connection are missing.”
Moving Forward With Remote Work
It is evident that working from home needs more consideration by organizations as they consider introverts and integrate remote work into their plans. Here are some recommendations.
1. Ask introverts what they think. In making decisions about evolving work arrangements post-COVID-19 it is important to ask introverts what they think. Honor the introvert preference for written communication and conduct ongoing surveys.
Different stressors (ex. the grief of losing family members to COVID-19, extended remote schooling, job losses of spouses) have emerged over the past year and will likely continue to evolve. You will learn a great deal and can dig deeper with interviews and focus groups.
2. Manage virtual meetings. Meetings have long been a sore point for introverts and as indicated in this survey, virtual meeting fatigue is real. Think through whether a meeting with several people is needed or if that same work can be done using some of the communication methods mentioned earlier.
You can agree, for instance on having certain times that no meetings are scheduled. Consider one-on-one conversations over the phone for both tasks and relationship building.
When video calls are necessary, give people the chance to turn off their cameras as leaving the camera can be overstimulating and draining. Consider distributing pre-work, which allows introverts to prepare and contribute more thoughtfully. Use the chat and break out room functions to get higher introvert engagement. Check out many more meeting ideas in “Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces” in the chapter on Building Teams.
3. Intentionally build connection. There were strong concerns in our research around a lack of interaction and connection. We may not be able to replace the office “watercooler” conversations that happen spontaneously.
However, knowing how important it is to strengthen relationships between team members, leaders can be more intentional in making them happen.
Random matches of people for virtual coffees and internal mentoring programs are getting positive reviews. These opportunities offer small group and one-on-one interaction play to an introvert sweet spot. Book clubs like at Synchrony Financial convene people globally who may never have met. Introverts can also be encouraged to take initiative and schedule purposeful time each week for check ins with people in their network.
Whatever direction you or your organization decide to go, considering the current experience of introverts should factor into those key decisions.
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