‘I don’t want to go back to the workplace’

A feeling of optimism prevails, on a bright sunny morning at the end of April, as the reopening plan for Ireland over the next two months is unveiled, in national and social media. The beginning of the end. Nobody wants the pandemic to continue, but for a cohort of the population there have been some marked improvements in their working lives over the past 14 months, and that primarily revolves around; working from home. Working from home has, facilitated individuals to balance other demands outside of work, but it also meets the often, unspoken needs of about 30-50% of the population who are introverted.

As an Introvert Coach, I have noticed a common theme from clients who proclaim they will quit their job if they have to return back to the workplace. I can hear fear in their voices. With overall statistics showing improvements in productivity the argument for bringing increased flexibility to the workplace has been won. Introverted clients who come to me, tell me they have increased energy, experience feelings of calm, and can’t imagine ever going back. Research statistics show, that introverts fare poorer in well-being and happiness studies and so it is important to recognise the challenges that many introverts face at work.

Our workplaces, cultures and processes have been designed with the extrovert in mind. Busy and noisy work environments are overstimulating for many introverts who have a higher sensitivity to the neurochemical dopamine. Fast responses and quick decision-making suit the internal processing systems of extroverts who, we now know from fMRI’s, process information differently. Continual meetings suit extroverts who prefer to talk to think than the introvert approach of thinking to talk. Many introverts who previously worked outside the home, tell me by Friday they were just spent, with nothing left to give the rest of their lives. The intricate neural pathways of processing in the introvert brain drive a level of intensity that seems to drain all levels of energy. People exhaustion, regularly cited as the number one challenge for introverts has become less of an issue.

Introverts benefit from quieter environments, more structured online meetings, where time is managed and interaction can be facilitated by chat options and formalised breakout sessions to encourage smaller groups and participation. Reflection time is easier and this promotes our creative thinking processes.

Many organisations are opting for a hybrid model and this balanced approach may work very well allowing for some face-face collaboration time, along with the option to balance this working remotely. Many managers and leaders may be wondering how best to manage this. Hoping to create an inclusive environment but also cognisant of the how difficult it might be to ensure people working remotely are not left out if others are in the office. The solution is in changing what you measure. Move away from time spent in the office as the gauge and focus on building the individual working relationships particularly in the area of trust. If people feel safe, feel supported, have the opportunity to use their strengths and have positive and productive relationships at work they will naturally be engaged and location becomes unimportant.

If you are a manager or a leader I suggest treading carefully in the coming months. Check in with each and every employee. If you can’t do that, authors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall say you have too many people in your span of control. Carry out engagement surveys. Find out what has worked and what hasn’t. The workplace of the future won’t be a one size fits all and will continually change. The platinum rule is; treat people as they want to be treated as opposed to how you would like to be treated. Temperament, whether you lean more towards the introvert or the extrovert end of the spectrum impacts how you engage with work every day and if we want to create workplaces that promote creativity, engagement and performance we have to consider the individual needs of employees and temperament should come high up the list.

Aoife Lenox is an Introvert Coach, Trainer and Consultant working with individuals and organisations to create meaningful work experiences built on strengths. Reach out to me for individual coaching, inhouse webinars or workshops or people and culture support.

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