Extroverted values have long defined the workplace, but now, there’s no denying the benefits of telecommuting.
As an introvert, it’s hard for me to thrive in certain jobs because I detest the disproportionate amounts of social interaction. Yet, I still worked as a cold-calling salesman and a receptionist for many years. I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it felt to spend the majority of my day on the phone talking to a never-ending stream of callers. On the most extreme days, I’d deal with up to 80 calls — many placed by the same person, who, for some reason, couldn’t reach customer service.
Luckily, I’m no longer a salesperson or a receptionist. Instead, I’ve embraced working from home during the quarantine by focusing on my career as a freelance writer. For me, this time is an introvert’s dream come true. I no longer have to make small talk or deal with uncomfortable networking events. And I don’t have to deal with the endless distractions that result from working in an open-plan office.
Workplaces tend to be designed for success on extroverted terms, but more workplaces should take a page from our book. After all, the best workplaces might be the ones that promote introverted values to help employees be more productive.
Here’s why more workplaces should embrace telecommuting post-quarantine.
Distractions are probably the biggest inhibitor to any worker’s productivity. A study by RescueTime found that a little over half of respondents were interrupted during their workday. Additionally, 64 percent said face-to-face interruptions were the most common form of distraction. That means a majority of office workers lose critical time throughout their workday.
Because introverts are more easily drained by social situations, a non-stop parade of water cooler talk interrupting us throughout the day makes it that much harder to be productive. Once distracted, it’s hard for an employee — introverted or extroverted — to get back on task. According to The Muse, it can take up to 23 minutes to refocus.
For most workers, face-to-face interactions are the most urgent and hardest to ignore of all distractions. After all, you can’t turn your back on a coworker standing next to your desk. But working from home has transferred that immediate communication to messaging platforms like Gchat and Slack. Now, employees can finish working on a task before responding — similar to how they might approach email, which is easier to put off until you find the time to get to it later.
Speaking of meetings, companies would benefit from having fewer pointless gatherings. A recent study found that 15 percent of a company’s time is spent in meetings, and that number rises to nearly half for upper management. But the vast majority of those meetings are unproductive, and executives consider 67 percent of meetings to be failures.
There are plenty of ways to make meetings more productive — setting goals beforehand, beginning and ending on time, making sure participants don’t multitask (which makes a meeting more likely to be unproductive), and so forth.
But what if you eliminated some meetings altogether? Telecommuting has shown employees which meetings could have just easily been emails because we’ve had to shift the way we communicate about priorities. As a result, it’s allowed people to read and digest necessary details on their own time instead of carving out time — usually at least an hour — to go over that same information in person.
Fewer Unnecessary Distractions
Imagine an office full of introverts. There would be less small talk, loud conversations, or music. Workplaces might feel like temples full of monks, all silently praying and working toward a shared goal.
Noisy offices, which tend to be an open-plan design, can reduce a worker’s productivity by a staggering 66 percent. And, because many workplaces encourage employees to socialize with one another and develop connections, it often seems as though having constant conversations throughout the day is expected. That means if you overhear a coworker’s conversation — indirectly or directly — that takes up mental energy, which in turn leaves you less focused to finish the task at hand.
Drowning out noise with music isn’t much better. Putting in headphones and listening to music, especially music you enjoy, can also decrease your ability to retain information. Perhaps the one exception is wordless music as it’s less distracting. (If you do need to put in headphones, try jamming out to classical music, spa music, nature sounds, or binaural beats.)
But working from home has all but eliminated the cacophony of the open-plan office. Sure, we have new kinds of distractions. For parents working at home, there’s the added task of taking care of your children. And if you live in a dense city, neighbors can be their own kind of distraction. For the most part, though, there are fewer unnecessary distractions.
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Could Working From Home Be the New Normal?
While many employees are getting used to telecommuting for the first time ever, working from home was already the norm for a large number of the global population. A 2019 survey by the International Workplace Group found that 53 percent of employees around the world already telecommute for at least half their week.
Some companies might worry that telecommuting employees will be less productive, but research begs to differ. A two-year Stanford University study found that employees who work from home are much more productive. In fact, they produce an extra day’s worth of work.
It helps that employees love telecommuting. At least 80 percent of U.S. employees would gladly work from home for a few days a week, if possible. Those who work from home report feeling less stress and having more free time. Remote employees often use the extra time to exercise or take care of their families.
Telecommuting workers would also save plenty of time and money each year. The average commuter spends almost an hour a day and $2,600 a year going to and from work, according to a 2017 Gallup Poll and the Citi ThankYou Premier Commuting Index. Less commuting also helps save the environment. Since New York essentially shut down, the city has seen a 50 percent decrease in carbon monoxide levels and a 5 to 10 percent decline in CO2 levels.
Imagine if more companies learned from quarantine and began increasing work-from-home initiatives. Employees would be happier, wealthier, and more productive.
What the Future Holds
Although the quarantine has shed a new light on how workplaces can be more introverted, this isn’t to say it’s been beneficial for every worker.
Yet, I believe in seeing the silver lining. What will corporate America look like when the virus is finally under control? Will companies and employees alike see the upsides to a more introvert-friendly workplace? Will they make cultural changes that benefit employee productivity in the long run?
Extroverted values may have long defined the workplace, but once this is all over, there’s no denying how small “introverted” changes can make working life that much better. It’s a win for both parties.