An introvert’s survival guide to the virtual office

As we navigate video call debates, pinging notifications and unpredictable working conditions, The Introvert’s Guide to the Workplace expert Thea Orozco shares some tips

You might think that the remote-working revolution has been heaven for the world’s introverts. Plenty of quiet time to work on projects alone, arm’s-length interactions in video meetings, and most conversations typed out in silence? You’d think it would suit introverts down to the ground.

But studies show that team members identifying as introverts have actually suffered more from the isolation of home working, partly because they rely on their time in the office for spells of social interaction. “Don’t confuse introversion with being antisocial,” says Thea Orozco, an expert on introverts in the workplace. “Introverts want to feel part of the team, they want to know their coworkers”. However, they can find the trappings of the virtual office more draining than their extrovert colleagues.

As remote working and virtual interactions become a permanent part of our working lives, what are the challenges facing the introverts on your team?

Tackling Zoom doom

Video calls, particularly with large groups, are not the introvert’s friend. “Introverts may become distracted by the many things happening on screen; it’s harder to pick up on body language, or to interrupt,” explains Orozco, “and introverts already have difficulty speaking up in a meeting.” She recommends using the chat function on the video call to contribute thoughts at your own pace, as well as discussing any anxieties around virtual meetings with your line manager or team. “You might benefit from seeing a copy of the meeting agenda in advance, so you can think carefully about what you want to contribute and prepare, rather than being put on the spot.”

Cutting notification noise

One answer to reducing the number of video calls is to use group-chat software, such as Slack or Teams, to have ongoing conversations that don’t require being ready for your close up. But in fact, constant notifications from chats, email and calendars can prove overwhelming for highly sensitive or anxious introverts, one of the four types of introvert identified in recent research. “It’s not so much the tool as the way that you use it,” explains Orozco. If too many notifications are impacting your work, ask your manager or team if you can switch them off for the majority of the day, checking in to team discussions at specific points instead.

Social starvation

According to a Harvard Medical School report, introverts are missing the bursts of social interaction that come with being in the physical office. “They often get just enough engagement without feeling overwhelmed,” says Dr Steven Schlozman, assistant professor of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Harvard. So make an effort to join in with virtual socials such as video-based drinks or quizzes, says Orozco. “These can benefit introverts, because there’s a control factor. We can show up to these occasions and we’re in control, in a way we wouldn’t be in a bar or at the office.”

Remote first impressions

Joining a new company without setting foot in the office, or meeting your colleagues, is surreal at best – and scary at worst. Introverts often approach making connections differently to their extrovert colleagues. “Introverts generally do better one on one than in groups, so reach out to people individually for a Zoom coffee and a chat,” she advises. “Suggest getting to know each other in a way that feels comfortable to you. Some introverts prefer the phone, others like video in order to be able to pick up on body language cues.” Organising regular catch-ups with a line manager can also help introverts express concerns in a low-pressure environment.

Finding a calm workspace

There’s an assumption that home is the quiet, stress-free place to work, and the office is the opposite. But not everyone is in the same boat: parents of young children might rely on the office as a calm, professional alternative to home, as will younger flat-sharers. “Ideally introverts would have their own space,” says Orozco, “somewhere quiet, away from the crowd, where they can go and focus on important tasks.” Having the option of a local workspace for some of the week is a great third option for introverts without a calm or spacious home work environment, allowing them to stay close to home but equipping them with a professional set-up.

Making work work for you

Employers are increasingly understanding of different personalities and communication styles, Orozco believes. But introverts who want to raise the challenges of virtual work with their boss will get further if they focus on an outcome of better performance and productivity. “Managers ultimately want to know how they can get the best work out of you,” says Orozco. “Some introverts want to be called on in a meeting, for example, to have that outside prompt to contribute.” Opening up a discussion on how different team members work best can play to the strengths of both introverts and extroverts, and ensure everyone can participate with confidence – from wherever they are in the world.

Thea Orozco is the author of The Introvert’s Guide to the Workplace: Concrete Strategies for Bosses and Employees to Thrive and Succeed.

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