If you’re an introvert who is dreading the return to in-person work, you’re not alone.
Ahhh, peace and quiet. Just me, my laptop, the cat, and some plants. I settle into my workday, completely content. It would not be an exaggeration to say that remote work has suited me just fine: I could happily do this forever. I plug in my computer charger, gearing up for another Zoom call. I’ve got a few minutes before it starts, so I can gather my thoughts and calmly prepare myself to teach my class. (I teach ESL, English as a Second Language, to adults.) I can guarantee that no one will pop in unexpectedly needing my attention (and taking my thoughts away from where I need them to be).
And then I remember what it’s like to actually go to work. All the noise. Needing to prepare for class before I got to work, because once I was there I had to be “on,” faking it like an extravert, and that could make it really challenging to actually get anything productive done. Having to be ready to answer a plethora of questions — and in real time, not in an email where I could fully think out my responses. Doing my best to act pleasant and energetic, even when all I really want to do is sink back into my own head to recharge and think.
Letting go of the comfortable home routine that allows me to maximize my productivity while tremendously reducing the amount of anxiety I feel in most social settings won’t be easy. For the first time in my working life, I’ve felt far less anxiety, and I’ve been able to do my best work. In addition to a more general re-entry fear, the thought of the stress of commuting, and just generally having to exist in other people’s noise again, has me nearly ready to pull my hair out.
Go back to the office? I’ll take a hard pass on that one. While I know many people are eager to get back into the swing of things, the thought makes me shudder. Was there ever anything appealing about in-person work?
A survey from Truity shows that many introverts are actually dreading going back to the office. Here’s the data, and the populations who are most dreading the return to work.
Introverts Are Far More Likely to Dread Going Back to Work in Person Than Extraverts
When everything shut down in March of 2020, I thought I was crazy for feeling… relief? When so many people expressed annoyance, frustration, and even grief at the sudden stop in socializing, I was at first confused about why I felt so calm and comfortable working from home. Then it hit me: As an introvert, I really can do much of my best work when I have space and time to myself.
To that point, in April 2021, Truity recently surveyed 3,244 people who have returned (or are returning) to the office after a period of remote work. Specifically, they found that:
- 36 percent of introverted respondents said that they feel “very negative” or “mostly negative” about returning to the office (vs. just 18 percent of extraverts)
- 59 percent of extraverts said they feel “very positive” or “mostly positive” about returning to in-person work (vs. 36% percent of introverts)
So, see? If you’re an introvert who’s dreading the return to the office, you’re certainly not alone! But what can be done about this? Is it possible to make work better for introverts?
I, for one, vote we all just stay home forever. Unfortunately, that might not be as practical as I’d like it to be. Maybe… the entire workplace culture can change? Would that be asking too much?
Though it may seem like we are pushing back against the popular mainstream narrative of traditional workspaces (is it fair to call these introvert-battery-draining dread dens?), there are, in fact, things that can be done to help introverts succeed in the in-person workplace. If we’re going to have to hoof it back to the office once again, here are some ideas to make it better for us introverts.
How In-Person Work Can Be Made Better for Introverts
1. Understand introverts’ needs and change some aspects of in-person work.
Truity found that 86 percent of introverts and 79 percent of extraverts preferred either part- or full-time work-from-home arrangements, due to benefits such as more flexibility, a better work-life balance, and time saved commuting.
And why might such a high percentage of introverts be dreading the return to in-person work? According to Truity, 50 percent of working professionals identify as introverts and 96 percent of leaders and managers identify as extraverts. “While the population as a whole is pretty evenly divided between extraverts and introverts, it’s key to remember that extraverts are more likely to fill leadership roles — and, thus, more likely to make policies that suit their work style,” says Molly Owens, CEO and founder of Truity.
So, in other words, many of the things that make working from home so blissful for us introverts — quiet, alone time, and space to focus and think — are things that get overlooked in workplaces run by extraverts who may not be aware of these introvert necessities. While their practical listening skills and keen sense of observation can, of course, make introverts excellent leaders, much of the contemporary workspace is not set up for introverts to naturally succeed.
For me, one of the biggest issues with in-person work was that everyone just kept talking and making noise, making it hard for me to focus: Many office spaces expect everyone to work well under circumstances that are best suited to extravert experiences. So maybe certain elements — a long meeting that should have been an email, mandatory faculty meetings, cubicles, no down time — ought to go. (Take it from us introverts!)
Truity recommends that those in leadership roles take into account their introverted teammates’ preferences for quiet and focused work time. That way, it’ll help them adjust when they return to the office setting. “Managers who are looking forward to a return to work need to be cognizant that those benefits that may make the transition manageable for them are not always available to their employees — and as a result, their workforce may be experiencing quite a bit more hesitation and doubt about what’s ahead,” adds Owens.
2. Make work about meaningful social connection.
Here’s a surprise: Introverts don’t actually hate people, or love complete and total isolation. We actually value social connections very highly, and thrive when we are in the right (read: quiet) environment with people we care about. In fact, Truity found that both introverts and extraverts cited “social connection” as the thing they most enjoy about in-person work: 60 percent of introverts and 78 percent of extraverts. Truity states that prioritizing social connections would help reduce stress and burnout, increase loyalty, and cultivate more creativity and teamwork among employees.
Personally, after a long year of the pandemic, I am missing social connections… but what I’m not missing are the hours spent trying to dodge mindless chatter, long-winded meetings, and the feeling that people are talking so loudly around me that my thoughts disintegrate into thin air. Now connections, on the other hand, such as finding a person who “gets” me and bonding over shared experiences, are incredibly valuable — and maybe even worth returning to work for. Maybe…
3. Put a greater emphasis on mental health.
Ever since I’ve been able to work from home, I’ve felt far less performance anxiety associated with my teaching job, and I’ve been less nervous in day-to-day tasks, as well. This is a big part of what I’m dreading about going back: While I really do like my job, I haven’t missed the stress and frustrations of working in a traditionally “people-y” career. As Truity found, over one third (36 percent) of introverts surveyed cited “better mood” as a top perk of working from home. Twenty-nine percent of extraverts, on the other hand, reported looking forward to their mood improving when they return to the office.
If workplaces can make adjustments that respond to different personality types and allow introverts to better prioritize their mental health — such as flexible hours, quiet spaces, or even small-group meetings as opposed to larger ones — it may help to alleviate some of the dread introverts feel when returning to in-person work.
“When you understand your team members’ personality differences, you’re able to create and maintain a work environment that prioritizes each employee’s well-being,” Owens told me. “Adopting more flexible policies creates a more productive work environment for everyone on your team. And when each employees’ individual needs are met, the entire company benefits.”
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Leaders and Managers Experience Less Dread Than Those Without Management Titles
Alright, I’ll throw this question out there: Who exactly are those people who are looking forward to going back to the noisy, crowded offices? Interestingly enough, those in official leadership roles tend to be more excited about going back than those with “coordinator” or “assistant” titles. According to Truity’s findings:
- 53 percent of those with management titles (executives, directors, or supervisors) reported feeling “very positive” or “mostly positive” about returning to the office (vs. 42 percent of those with individual contributor titles (coordinator or assistant)
- 62 percent of those with “director” titles feel “very positive” or “mostly positive” about it (vs. just 42 percent of those with a “coordinator” title
Women Are Dreading In-Person Work More So Than Men
Not only do the numbers of men and women dreading going back differ, but the reasons men and women dread returning to work differs, as well:
- Of women surveyed, 28 percent expressed feeling “very” or “mostly” negative about going back to in person work (vs. 23 percent of men)
- The reasons differ, too: Women are more likely to be concerned about disrupting the work/life balance, while men’s top concern is commute time.
In their survey results, Truity mentions that women are often the caretakers, whether this be childcare, eldercare, or even the care of daily household chores. Yet a more flexible work model — including working from home — enables the caregivers to balance both work and home life.
Truity also states that we’ve all learned a lot from our year of remote work, including the fact that hybrid and remote work does not seem to impact productivity. Plus, the disproportionate caregiving burdens — which were greatly increased during the pandemic — have driven women out of the workforce in record numbers. If return-to-work policies reflect those learnings, and needed flexibility is given to those who are caregivers, it’ll likely boost retention and productivity.