Workplaces are still not designed with introverts’ needs in mind, and sometimes company culture outright alienates them.
Introverts make up anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of the population. In the workplace, they are often thoughtful, conscientious employees who put their energy into doing good work rather than playing office politics.
They may not always be quick to speak up in a meeting, but when they do, it’s often with a profound observation or useful contribution. In other words, introverts are valuable to the workforce, and can be the best employees a company has.
Yet, at most companies, introverts are an afterthought. Workplaces are still not designed with introverts’ needs in mind, and sometimes company culture outright alienates them — often stifling the productivity of the very workers who could otherwise contribute quite a bit. That’s a crummy experience for introverts themselves, and it’s a loss for the company, too.
A Mismatch Between Introvert Employees and Their Workplaces
The reason for this mismatch is that many companies and managers don’t understand introverts’ needs. Many rely on oversimplified stereotypes, figuring that introverts are happy as long as they don’t have to talk much.
But introversion is more complex than that — introverts are built to do focused work in quiet environments. Companies who fail to provide (and encourage) that will never get the most out of their introverted workers — and they’ll risk losing them.
So how do we turn that trend around and make a workplace more introvert-friendly? Here are some best practices, based on research, as well as my own experience on both sides of the table — as an introverted worker and an introverted business owner.
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5 Best Practices to Make Your Workplace Introvert-Friendly
1. The more private the workspace, the better.
Introverts work better when they have a sense of privacy from the people around them. (In fact, most non-introverts do, too.) This is not only because greater privacy means less interaction with other people, like chatty coworkers, but it’s also because privacy improves an introvert’s concentration. It allows them to do the deeper focused work they’re good at, and — to the extent that the introvert feels like they’re alone — it can even recharge their energy as they work.
Of course, not every workplace can afford to give every worker total privacy, but they don’t need to. Instead, think of privacy like a hierarchy: An actual private office is best, a cubicle in a corner or away from noise is pretty good, and any kind of individual desk area is still far superior to a shared table in the dreaded open-office design. If your company must use an open office, provide at least a few private or semi-private workstations that employees can reserve.
Privacy can also be psychological, and companies will find that nearly all workers — not just introverts — perform better (and stick around longer) if there are no intrusive surveillance measures, like requiring “mouse movement” every few minutes or tracking your productivity with software that “sees” what you are doing on your computer.
2. Encourage working from home.
Many companies (and individual managers) still suffer from the mistaken idea that people work better in person as a team. While some individuals may prefer this setup, the reality is, most workers prefer a work-from-home or flexible hybrid option. Plus, those who work from home are often more productive, not less.
This may be especially true for introverts, who strongly prefer working from home because it gives them more control over their workspace. At a home office, an introvert can have natural light, privacy, their preferred decor, and can even play background music if it helps them concentrate. They may keep their energy up better throughout the day, too. As a result, their social battery is fully charged when they need to do calls or remote meetings. It’s a win-win for employers and introverts.
3. Let the worker decide whether they prefer phone, Zoom, or email for check-ins.
Many introverts — and many younger workers in general — prefer to avoid phone calls, when possible. For internal check-ins, this is easier than ever with tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, or simply with good ol’ fashioned email. Most of the time, questions can be answered, and updates given much faster, by Slack or email than by phone. (As a bonus, the content is then searchable for later reference.)
Of course, not everyone feels this way. Many extroverts prefer to talk things through on the phone or by Zoom, and even some introverts feel this way, particularly for complex issues. (I’m a lifelong introvert and phone-hater, but even I have come to admit that sometimes it’s just easier to have a five-minute conversation.)
This range of individual preferences is why, when possible, managers should not dictate whether something should be discussed by phone or email. Instead, managers should tell the employee what they need info on and leave it up to the worker which way to deliver it.
This can be as simple as a Slack message that says, “Can you give me an update on the project? Fine to reply here or feel free to stop by my office today.” Likewise, when scheduling a standing weekly check-in, just ask the employee whether they want to send you an email update each week, or if they prefer to have a sit-down or phone conversation.
Do you ever struggle to know what to say?
As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.
4. Normalize turning video off for Zoom calls.
Zoom is an efficient way to get multiple team members on a call. However, the default assumption is that everyone will have their video on, meaning everyone will be seen, as well as heard. While there’s nothing wrong with this — and it can be a nice touch to sometimes actually see each other — video calls are far more fatiguing than non-video calls, according to researchers at Stanford.
In a 2021 study, the researchers found four reasons why video calls fatigue us:
- Video calls focus your field of vision on a person’s face, leading to more intense eye contact.
- Seeing yourself on video sucks up brain-power, like having someone follow you around with a mirror all day.
- Video calls reduce mobility. Many people prefer to stand or pace while on a phone call, or perhaps lie down on a couch — and normal phone calls can be taken hands-free, while walking. Video largely removes these options.
- Video calls give us a much higher cognitive load — even higher than seeing the same individual in person. Our brains simply have to work far harder to parse body language and social cues via a screen than in person.
For extroverts, chatting with people face to face may trigger enough dopamine hits to offset some of this mental fatigue. But introverts don’t get quite the same dopamine hits, and rather than getting energy from a video call, they may get drained and become less effective in the meeting.
The solution? Reduce the number of Zoom or video calls required, and when you do hold them, tell participants in advance that they don’t have to turn their cameras on — they are welcome to join with audio-only.
5. Give workers control over their workspace.
Besides privacy, when workers are in the office, allow them to control their work environment as much as possible. For example:
- In shared spaces, have workers claim a desk or seat as their own, so they can work in the same spot every day.
- Allow workers to “squat” in unused conference rooms (or other places) besides their official desk while they’re working.
- Allow the use of headphones, earbuds, etc. Wearing these at work is not rude; it’s a way to reduce noise and distractions.
- Encourage employees to bring their own decorations, plants, and other items to personalize their space.
- Don’t get married to bright overhead lighting. Poll your team and ask if they like the current lighting or would prefer softer light. If the latter, a few standing lamps with warmer yellow-white light can allow you to turn off some overhead lighting and create a much more welcoming atmosphere.
When possible, give workers control over their time, too. For example, allow people to come in later and stay later (or vice-versa), and encourage workers to set times during the day (or week) when they will be doing deep, focused work and not be available by email or Slack.
In order to truly get the most out of introverted employees — and give them the best work environment possible — you should treat these best practices as a starting point. You’ll get the best results if you talk with your own introverted employees and get direct feedback on what’s working… and what isn’t. In other words, let the introverts themselves guide any changes you make. (And, please, allow them to do it by email.)
Introverts, what would you add to the list? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
You might like:
- Why Your Office Introvert May Appear Rude (But Is Really Not)
- 4 Reasons Introverts Make Awesome Employees
- How Introverts Can Set Boundaries With Overly Chatty Coworkers
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