A recent poll on Twitter found that 44% of respondents would take a 10% pay cut in order to work from home permanently. That is interesting, but as interesting, is the fact that 56% said they would not. These statistics line up nicely with the suggested introvert/extrovert divide.
Are introverts really more suited to remote work? With my small Instagram following, I asked that very question. 82% said introverts were suited to remote work. I don’t know if introverts or extroverts answered my poll and I would caution that there is often a misperception of what introversion is or isn’t held by introverts themselves, as well as by extroverts.
Introversion is not the opposite of extroversion.
Visualize an extrovert and you may imagine an outgoing, chatty, friendly, smiling and charismatic individual. So, what is the opposite of that picture? Reserved, quiet, unfriendly, unhappy and boring person. You see what I mean? This is neither fair nor true.
Introversion and extroversion differ on two levels; how we process information and how we manage energy. Developments in neuroscience inform us through MRIs of the introvert and extrovert brain that they are, in fact, built differently. Introverts process information through long and winding neural pathways traveling through long term memory and planning functions. It takes us longer to process information and make decisions but introverts can often gain perspective and drive solutions not realized by quicker decision makers.
Our energy levels also differentiate us. Extroverts are energized and fueled up by people and large group situations stimulating high levels of dopamine in the brain, introverts, due to their sensitivity to dopamine, will get drained much quicker and need time alone to recharge. Both personality types are needed or we wouldn’t have managed to exist this far.
As organizations adjust to incorporating more, if not all, remote work going forward, diversity in personality may become more profound. Rarely recognized as a factor in diversity and inclusion policies our differences in remote work become more highlighted. In fact, where the office environment can mask good communication and team effort remote work can highlight deficiencies.
Introverts may naturally be suited to remote work but extroverts can tap into their more creative and quieter side while utilizing their social skills to also execute the remote work function just as well. Remote work provides introverts with large chunks of time uninterrupted (assuming you have a quiet home office which for many of us now isn’t a reality), this actually increases the productivity of introverts as we do our best work when left alone to dive deep into projects. This is also when we tap into our creativity and can provide innovative solutions organizations need. As introverts, we also prefer structured meetings which now need to happen virtually, so no last minute calls into the conference room, but at a pre-determined time with a specific purpose. The quietness of a home environment can also suit the up to 70% of introverts who are highly sensitive people (hsp’s). These HSP’s have an innate ability to take in everything from their environment, sights, sounds, smells, even emotions. They are empathetic and feel the world deeply. A busy open plan office environment can be overstimulating which is tiring, draining and not good for the mental health or productivity of sensitive employees.
However, remote work is not just replicating the office environment. When a team moves remotely it requires a different structure. One challenge for introverts is staying connected to the team. This is where extroverts can shine. Extroverts will be great at maintaining those vital social connections, they won’t be afraid to communicate how they are feeling, or what they need. They can be heard within the team.
Introverts, if not properly supported, can become disengaged and disconnected. Extroverts will gladly share projects completed and update the team of the status, the humble introvert may hold back from sharing accomplishments and will need to be specifically asked. Extroverts talk to think and introverts think to talk. A careful balance will be needed where extroverts have the opportunity to brainstorm ideas and get feedback while the introvert needs to be provided the time they need to process and only share ideas when ready. The lack of social cues in virtual communication can make this challenging.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ), our ability to recognize, understand and manage our emotions, is regularly cited as more important than IQ. EQ is very important when working in a remote setting. Introverts with their introspective nature tend to be more emotionally aware due to their desire to take reflective time but I suggest extroverts will be better at communicating their emotional needs.
Personality matters but it does not define success in any area. Both introverts and extroverts have opportunities to embrace and thrive at remote working. Leaning into their strengths provides a roadmap for both personality types designed to create effective solutions to an alternative but necessarily challenging way of working and opens up a world of possibilities for organizations and way of life for its members.
Aoife Lenox, Introvert Coach and Change Facilitator, empowers individual introverts to harness the power of their personality and facilitates the design of inclusive and positive work environments within organizations.