Tips to Survive Going Back to the Office When You’re an Introvert Who Doesn’t Want to

An introvert back at the office

As an introvert, you may dread the idea of going back to the office — but there are ways to make it more introvert-friendly.

For the last two-and-a-half years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been working from home some or all of the time. And, for many people, that’s been just fine. In research that The Myers-Briggs Company carried out earlier this year, we found some interesting insights:

  • Only 3 percent of people said that their ideal was to be entirely office-based
  • 19 percent wanted to work entirely remotely, never, or hardly ever working in the office
  • 78 percent preferred a hybrid work style, mixing home and office in a way that suited them
  • Among remote and hybrid workers, extraverts and introverts both agreed that they enjoyed working from home and appreciated the peace and quiet of doing so, but introverts agreed more emphatically

The study also showed that those who were forced to be office-based were much more likely than others to say they were looking for a new job. 

Despite this, however, many organizations are insisting that staff go back to the office all — or most — of the time. If you are an introvert caught in this trap, what can you do? If you are forced to return to the office, how can you make it a less anxiety-inducing, and more welcoming, place for you to work in? Here are some suggestions.

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Tips to Survive Going Back to the Office as an Introvert

Try to persuade your boss to let you work from home.

Let’s start by taking a step back. If you can persuade your boss to let you work from home, then you will be much less concerned about creating a more congenial office environment. Of course, your boss may not have a say in this. Some organizations will have blanket “back to the office” policies. But if the decision is ultimately down to your boss, then maybe you have a chance of avoiding the move back. 

In a previous article on this site, about how to ask your boss to let you keep working from home, I talked about how you could use an understanding of personality to increase your chances of success here. In summary, I’d suggested the following:

  • First, find out your typical communication style. A good way to do this is to find out your personality type. We all have a natural tendency to try to persuade others in a way that would work for us. So understanding personality helps us flex our style in a way that will work for people who are different from us, too. Otherwise, our coworkers can think we’re being “rude,” but we really just put on our headphones to focus while we finish up a project.
  • Second, spot clues in your boss’s behavior. This will give you an idea of what their personality preferences and communication style might be. 
  • Third, tailor your approach to a style that will work for them. Of course, you want it to work for you, too!

Create an introvert-friendly office environment.

If you cannot continue working from home and do have to work in the office, how can you create a workplace environment that works for you? Based on our research, we found certain factors that introverts prefer, others that extraverts prefer, and factors they both agree on.

Introverts like:

  • Working with a small number of people

Introverts don’t like:

  • The distraction of having lots of people around
  • Having a moving office or desk space

Extraverts like:

  • Working with lots of people
  • Working with other loud extraverts

Extraverts dislike:

  • Sitting at a desk for too long

Introverts and extraverts like:

  • Having their own work space
  • Personalizing work area
  • Access to quiet areas

Neither likes:

  • Hot-desking (having no set desk)

So this means there are some changes that can be made to the office environment that will work for everyone. In other words, changes that are likely to be more easily accepted and implemented. This way, everyone can be happier and more relaxed in the office (or at least try to be).

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Have your own dedicated workspace.

Both extraverts and introverts like having their own personal workspace, ideally one that they can personalize. Neither like hot-desking, where you don’t have your own dedicated desk, but instead have to use one of several desks, workstations, or areas that you share in common with other workers. In our research, introverts generally disliked it more than extraverts.

So, what can you do to get around this? First, question the need for shared or “hot desks,” pushing for one of two possible outcomes:

  • Eliminate hot desks altogether. Many organizations reduced headcount during the pandemic, and if that’s the case for you, maybe there is enough room now for everyone to have their own desk or workspace. Perhaps your company is just clinging onto the idea of hot-desking by inertia and has not thought of making a change. And it may be that having a COVID-safe office means that hot-desking becomes less popular. For example, should people now clean their own desk spaces and communal phones? You may be pushing at an open door in suggesting this change.
  • Adapt by securing your personal space within a hot desking environment. Of course, organizations are often like supertankers — it can take them a long time to change course. So if hot-desking persists, turn it to your advantage. Identify a workspace that suits you (maybe in a quieter area of the office), and, if you can, get in early and take that desk every day. Over time, people might see it as “your” desk and avoid sitting there even if you get in later.

Choose your desk location wisely.

If you do manage to have your own desk, choose the location wisely. Introverts generally prosper in less noisy locations, with fewer people milling around. This means a desk next to the water cooler may not be the ideal place to work. 

  • If you know that you are going to have to return to the office, don’t put off choosing your desk. Go in, identify where you would like to sit, and put in your request early. And remember that you don’t necessarily have to sit where you did previously. 
  • If you don’t get to choose, ask where you will be sitting. If you don’t think it will work, say so — giving specific reasons (i.e., you cannot concentrate by the water cooler and the constant talking that goes on there, etc.).

Find, or define, quiet areas in the office (or building).

Both extraverts and introverts like the idea of having quiet areas in the office, but introverts often need them. 

  • Work out where the quiet areas are and ensure you make full use of them. You aren’t necessarily looking for rooms, just informal quiet spaces. (Also, look on other floors — get creative!)
  • If there aren’t any, can you create some? Point out to your boss how useful having a quiet space is for you when you really need to concentrate on getting a task done, and how this could make you more productive. 
  • Don’t hold back from making full use of that quiet area. When you need some “me time” to recharge your batteries, so that you can re-engage with what’s going on, use your “introvert zen zone” as often as you need to.

Make your workspace more personalized and intimate.

Even in an open-plan office, you might be able to make your workspace seem more secluded and intimate. 

  • Literally make it your own space. Partition spaces using storage, ask for acoustic paneling to quiet things down, and create nooks and crannies. Plants, too, can help make a “wall,” of sorts (and help reduce anxiety).
  • Try to avoid building a deliberate barrier, though. If you have your own office, leave the door ajar, except when you really do not want to be disturbed. (Similarly, don’t make a plant fortress around your open-office area either!)

Agree on everyone’s rights and responsibilities.

To create an effective working relationship with your extraverted coworkers, especially those you share an office with or who work near you, try sharing rights and responsibilities. There are a few ways to do this.

  • You might assert that you have the right not to be disturbed when you are busy on a task. And you have the responsibility of making it clear when you are available. At that time, you will engage as fully as you can. 
  • An extraverted coworker might have the right to discuss an issue with you. But, they have the responsibility of not interrupting you as soon as that idea comes into their head. 

By creating a list of each other’s rights and responsibilities, you can work out a set of ground rules that will help you work together more effectively and with less conflict (which introverts generally are averse to).

Going Back to the Office Doesn’t Have to Be Awful

Going back to the office doesn’t have to be anxiety-inducing or awful for introverts. But creating a congenial environment might take some work and planning (which is an introvert superpower, anyway). 

By following these tips, your return to the office can be pleasant and beneficial, both for you and your extraverted coworkers. As a result, you can enjoy your job more, too.

If you’re interested in finding out more about your specific personality type, you can start by taking the official Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® instrument (MBTI®)

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