Some employees thrive on social connection and employers need to remember isolation may have been particularly difficult for them.
Ancient philosopher Aristotle once said, “Man is by nature a social animal”.
Most people enjoy the company of others, but for some people socialising is an important part of their personality. We call these people extroverts.
Extroversion is a long-established way to measure personality. Extroverts tend to feel energised by being around others. They are often more social and don’t mind being in the spotlight.
However, COVID-19 turned the traditional workplace on its head.
Going into lockdown we assumed introverts would thrive in the remote workforce. But as HRM wrote previously they still need certain special considerations.
Despite introverts tendencies to avoid the spotlight, a lot of discussion around isolation has been about introverts. What we can learn from them and how, in many cases, they aren’t coping as well as many expected.
It’s not surprising there isn’t an abundance of research yet about how either group is coping (it has only been six months since WHO announced COVID-19 was a pandemic) but for leaders, they need to be acutely aware of how employees are handling remote work. Especially those with strong personality types.
For the workplace social butterflies, it’s possible they feel very caged in right now.
The pursuit of external happiness
It felt as if there was a collective moment this year when people began to realise Zoom drinks weren’t filling the void left by actual social events.
In May, US journalist and extrovert Anna Friedman wrote an op-ed for the New York Times where she describes attending a friend’s birthday party over video chat.
“Usually I leave a party energised. As I closed my laptop, I felt hollow,” writes Friedman.
Dr Andrew Spark from the Queensland University of Technology says extroverts are likely experiencing higher levels of frustration during isolation and employers should be careful that frustration doesn’t overflow into their work.
“If I was a manager managing an extrovert, I want to ensure that I am checking in with them on a regular basis,” says Spark, “making sure they’re getting the social contact and other activities that they need.”
Regardless of whether you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert, humans are social by default and when cut off from social networks our wellbeing can take a nosedive. For extroverts, especially those in cultures that reward social behaviour, they have the added disadvantage of not receiving the external dopamine hit they need.
Luckily, Spark says extroverts do have an ace up their sleeve. They’re very good at finding social connections.
“The initial expectation was that working from home is better suited to introverts, but the evidence suggests one of the things that extroverts are actually really quite good at, is building a social network,” says Spark.
“I suspect, with the ability to use social media and technology, extroverts have been able to maintain a lot of their social networks and contacts, which has enabled them to get that social interaction.”
Research out of the US supports Sparks hypothesis. According to the study extroverts have done a very good job at combating loneliness in isolation. Researchers surveyed 1,000 participants and found those who scored higher on the measure of extraversion were less likely to experience mental health issues associated with isolation.
Of course, when it comes to the workplaces that doesn’t mean employers shouldn’t be trying to create spaces for extroverts to thrive even when working remotely.
“The best definition I heard was extroverts are solar-powered and introverts are battery-powered,” says James Parnwell, managing director of internet marketing organisation TheOnlineCo, “Extroverts get their energy externally while introverts need more alone time to recharge.”
Parnwell says he doesn’t fit in either the extrovert or introvert bucket but he does manage several extroverts and says he’s learned a lot in his 11 years of remote work.
“One of the things we found very helpful was implementing a virtual office, so even though everyone is actually working from their homes it feels like we’re in the same space,” says Parnwell.
Parnwell took me on a tour of TheOnlineCo’s virtual office. It’s a 2D image on a screen and employees are represented by coloured circles, even so, just seeing where everyone worked and seeing their names on the screen made me feel like I’d met Parnwell’s employees.
The removal of incidental catch-ups in a remote workplace means Parnwell and his team have had to find ways to incorporate purposeful socialising into their way of working.
“Most companies have a work from home day, well we have the opposite – a ‘work from the office day’. We invite the team over to our place and they set themselves up at our dinner table or on the lounge and we hang out and work together,” Parnwell says.
If Parnwell and his wife aren’t hosting the team it’s common for them to work together at each other’s houses.
Parnwell says leaders should empower their extroverted employees to act as social champions.
“One of our employees is very much wired as an extrovert and so we recruited her to do daily Slack messages. They’re usually fun or silly and it really gives some soul to the place,” says Parnwell.
Parnwell says it’s easy for management to forget the social needs of employees, especially in a remote workplace. Intentional social events and social champions are important to keep extroverted employees engaged.
“Since I’m not necessarily an extrovert it doesn’t always occur to me that we need more catch-ups or time for staff to talk. But your extroverted staff are going to find ways to socialise and you can really help them find those avenues.”
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