Managers are rapidly adapting to leading from a distance, but they mustn’t forget their employees who are happy to fade into the background.
When the country went into lockdown there was one group who most figured would thrive in social isolation – introverts.
Introversion and extroversion are popular ways to categorise people based on their social preferences. Introverts are those who prefer less social interactions. This doesn’t mean they dislike other people, but it means socialising can be emotionally and mentally draining.
Therefore, it seems obvious that those who require little social interaction, and perhaps dread office small talk, would find themselves in their element working from home. But does that mean they can be left to their own devices, blissfully working alone?
While introverts might perform better working from home that doesn’t mean they should fall off your radar. HRM spoke with some experts about how to best remote manage introverted employees.
Hidden in plain sight
Dr Andrew Spark from the Queensland University of Technology self identifies as an introvert and says they probably make up around 20 per cent of the population. So there is likely one in your organisation.
“Everyone sits somewhere on the extraversion continuum. At the high end you have the extrovert, they like activity, they’re drawn to social interaction,” says Spark. “And then introverts are a lot more quiet, more reserved. They seem to stand back more from social interaction.”
Spark says most people actually sit somewhere in the middle and there is no need to define yourself as one or the other, but recognising introvert traits can be an important part of understanding how you best work.
According to Spark, introverts often work well in detail-oriented positions – they might gravitate to roles that are more analytical or based in written communications (like your friendly HRM writer).
While this can work well in certain situations, it may mean they struggle in other parts of their role like speaking up in meetings or needing to step into the spotlight on occasion. This also means they are often looked over when it comes to promotions as they spend more time in the background, not grabbing the attention of management.
“It’s important for managers of introverts to perhaps work with employees to look at ways that they might be able to get the best out of the employee,” says Spark.
“That’s more likely going to be one-on-one interactions, and building up that rapport with the introvert.”
Unfortunately, remote work hasn’t necessarily promoted introverts to be more outspoken in meetings. With the option to turn off their camera during video conferences it’s even more likely they’ll fade further into the background.
“If we have a large group on a Zoom call, an introvert is still going to need some kind of mechanism to encourage them to speak out,” says Spark.
In terms of practical strategies, managers can look at alternative communication tools.
“Rather than relying on large groups, meeting one-on-one, face-to-face via video can be a really good option as well,” says Spark.
If introverted employees have a good rapport with their managers they’ll likely let their manager speak up on their behalf.
However, that requires a level of trust where the employee is willing to share their ideas or concerns with you in the first place, but also trust you to bring them up in meetings respectfully – in a way that isn’t going to embarrass or negatively impact them.
Introverts at a distance
Lauren Piro, people and culture director at community management organisation Quiip, is an introvert who has been working with her distributed team of introverts for over a decade.
“I think it plays well to my strengths that I understand a little more about introversion and that it’s not a lack of social skills or a lack of communication skills. To get the best out of a team member, we require a little more space, a little more time,” says Piro.
Piro says Quiip is the first organisation she has worked for where the idea of introversion and extroversion was discussed openly. That has benefited the workplace as they have built their work habits around employee personality types rather than trying to fit them into preexisting moulds. Though, she does note this is easier with a smaller team.
“Every couple of years we’ll do a bit of a communication style survey. That really helps us learn how each person prefers to communicate so that there is no misunderstanding or taking things the wrong way,” says Piro.
It is like a personal situation plan for communication. Employees can decide the medium they prefer, for example, a phone call or email, and also note how they might respond. So, a colleague who sends you one-word emails isn’t trying to be rude, they might just not be interested in writing fluffy responses.
Piro champions asynchronous communication.
In the modern world, there is an expectation of an immediate response to emails or Slack messages (it is called instant messaging for a reason) but many introverts might find that overwhelming and prefer a little time to craft their response. This goes for in-person or virtual meetings too.
“I think moving to written communication wherever possible is helpful. If you are going around the meeting and asking everyone to talk, perhaps don’t start with the introverts. Give them more time to consider their answer,” says Piro.
“Avoid putting them under the spotlight directly wherever possible. I know many introverts are not comfortable with being the focus of attention.”
Both Spark and Piro say working from home has brought many benefits for introverted employees and employers can make the best of that by allowing them to continue working in ways that suit them.
Like all employees, they need support and direction, but they might just take a little longer to answer your emails.
One area introverts can struggle with is interviews. You can improve your interview skills with AHRI’s short course Behavioural Interview Skills. Learn how to find the best talent, even if they’re a wallflower.