Surprise! Working from home hasn't been easier on introverts. Here are some tips to boost your comfort, confidence, and success, even if you're "the quiet one."
In March of 2020, according to a Slack report on remote work during Covid, approximately 16 million U.S. knowledge workers began working from home. And likely that number is even higher today.
In the early days of the pandemic, every extrovert I knew, myself included, went into panic mode. How, we wondered, would we keep our energy tanks full without the ability to refuel by interacting with humanity?
And at that same time, I watched many introverts celebrate the opportunity to work at home, laps piled high with blankets and dogs.
These observations are, of course, grand generalizations. But they do illustrate the experiences I watched people have.
Fast forward several months and introverts in my network are sharing that they’re feeling the strain right now. CNN reports that introverts make up 30-50% of the population. That’s a lot of people struggling! So if you identify as an introvert, let’s talk about some things you can do to maximize your experience of working from home for as long as it persists.
The world may be telling you we’re living in an introvert’s paradise, but I’m giving you permission to feel otherwise.
1. Recognize the challenge you may be having
Success can’t begin with a belief that you’ve already failed. So if you’re an introvert who’s struggling, start by recognizing that it’s OK to not be OK. Maybe you’re not living your best life right now, but that’s nothing to apologize for. Many of the things you might do to forge stimulating, introvert-friendly connections just aren't available in the time of covid.
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, told Yahoo!:
While it's certainly true that… it's easier for introverts to stay home than it is for extroverts... each…has a sweet spot located with a very different amount of stimulation.
For Cain, an introvert herself, a favorite way to work is “alone together”—being in a situation where you can “feel the energy of other people around you but also have the freedom to go inside your own head.” An example of this would be working in a coffee shop surrounded by strangers, but this "alone together" dynamic is hard to replicate right now.
So, in the absence of that pressure release valve, start by honoring whatever experience you’re having. The world may be telling you we’re living in an introvert’s paradise, but I’m giving you permission to feel otherwise.
2. Communicate your experience to your colleagues
Introverts have a longer neural pathway for processing stimuli… In other words… as they process information, introverts are carefully attending to their internal thoughts and feelings at the same time.
What I’ve personally witnessed during the pandemic is that introverts tend to be much quieter on Zoom calls. According to Laney, it’s because they’re processing. But to us extroverts, it can seem like they’ve checked out or disengaged.
So introverts, this is your chance to school us! Don’t be shy about letting your colleagues know that "quietly processing" may be how you’ll show up.
Try something like:
Hey guys, if I seem quiet, just know I’m taking it in and reflecting. I may have less to say on this call, but I promise I’ll circle back with a point of view.
Notice there were a total of zero apologies in that example. It's just a statement of your experience so the extroverts around you don’t draw false conclusions.
3. Use varying modalities in virtual meetings
For me, 2020 was a year of learning to run virtual meetings designed to engage all sorts of personalities. I’ve learned that some people love—LOVE—having the talking stick in a Zoom meeting while others struggle to have their voices heard.
Polls, chats, whiteboards, and breakout rooms can create spaces that feel more comfortable for introverts.
One thing I’ve found is that some of the modalities offered by these videoconferencing platforms—things like polls, chats, whiteboards, and breakout rooms—can create spaces that feel more comfortable for introverts.
So if you’re struggling to break into what feels like non-stop chatter, ask your meeting’s host if they’d mind posing a question or two as a poll or a chat, rather than a verbal ask. Or suggest that your host pose a challenge and then pull up a whiteboard on which everyone can post their ideas at once.
These alternative means of communicating create a little more space for reflection and thought, which lend well to the reflective nature of the introvert’s mind.
4. Find ways to create connection that's meaningful to you
Some of my introverted clients have expressed concern this year that they're “falling behind.” I've noticed a sense of insecurity among them because they're exhausted and challenged by the constant influx of Zoom meetings.
I recall a conversation I had in the spring with a client named Leah. She expressed precisely this concern. She said, “Until this year, my star had been on the rise. I’ve always been seen as a quiet but thoughtful contributor to this team. But suddenly this year  has left me feeling insecure, like I’m not delivering value on these team video calls, and my boss is going to start questioning my seat at the table.”
I've noticed a sense of insecurity among my introverted clients because they're exhausted and challenged by the constant influx of Zoom meetings.
When I asked her why she seemed so comfortable engaging with me in the conversation we were having she said, “That’s easy—because it’s just you and me. There are no other voices for me to compete with.”
So I gave Leah a piece of advice I then went on to give to at least a dozen other clients in 2020.
“Then go out and do more of these,” I told her. We agreed she would reach out to her boss and a handful of other colleagues and be intentional about setting up more one-on-one time. These were the conversations that allowed her to thrive, but she was going to need to be proactive in setting them up.
For Leah this was a winning strategy. And I’d urge you to consider a similar one. If the full team meetings are overwhelming you, what’s your ideal way of connecting with the important people at work? And what actions will you take to make those connections happen?
5. Be the best listener on the team
Succeeding as an introvert isn’t about “overcoming;” it's about reframing. Not always having something to say in the moment may leave you feeling insecure. But having nothing to say doesn’t mean you have no value to add.
Succeeding as an introvert isn’t about “overcoming;” it's about reframing.
Remember, introverts process information differently—more slowly, but also more thoroughly. Which makes introverts, in general, outstanding active listeners.
As explained in this Time Magazine piece:
Extroverted people are more inclined to jump into a conversation before fully processing what the other person has said… because they process information interactively… Conversely, introverts process information internally [which] allows them to hear, understand, and provide carefully considered insight when they do respond.
So rather than trying to jump into a conversation before you’re ready, lean into your amazing ability to listen and reflect. Can you choose just a moment or two to pop in with an observation, or even send a post-meeting email, that your chattering colleagues may have missed?
Put your listening magic to work for you. You’ll add a unique value that is sure to be appreciated.
Maybe you’ve spotted a theme running through the conversation, or you’ve noted something critically absent from the discussion. Put your listening magic to work for you. You’ll add a unique value that is sure to be appreciated.
Successful teams need a diversity of thinkers, talkers, listeners, and reflectors. So, present your own unique combination of those things. Deliver value in a way only you can, and feel confident that your star is in its rightful place.