Introverts Working From Home: How to Help Them Thrive

06/08/2021 4 min read
Jennifer Kahnweiler, PhD
Jennifer Kahnweiler, PhD is a pioneer of the “introvert revolution,” international leadership speaker, and bestselling author. Her latest book is Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces: How to Unleash Everyone’s Talent and Performance.
Introverts Working From Home: How to Help Them Thrive

Do some of your team members sit silently in meetings or rarely speak up, even when colleagues or managers ask them to weigh in? Do they only occasionally attend social events, whether in person or on Zoom, and prefer remote to in-person work? Those colleagues might be introverts, people who recharge by spending time alone.

In contrast, their extroverted teammates relish the spotlight and draw energy from engaging with others. About half the US population age 40 and older are introverts.

My February 2021 survey of 200 introverts found that more than 85% are satisfied or very satisfied working from home. They reported feeling more focused at home, and appreciated a more flexible schedule with fewer interruptions. That wasn’t a surprise: Introverts are most productive and happiest when they can focus deeply on a task.

But introverted employees reported downsides as well, including virtual-meeting fatigue and a heightened sense of isolation and disconnection from colleagues. Introverts value connection, collaboration, and socialization—though they prefer to nurture relationships in small groups and be good listeners, not the life of the party.

As more businesses continue to operate remotely or embrace a hybrid model, here’s how managers can tap the full potential of introverts working from home.

Schedule Some Video-free Meetings

Extroverts are energized by social interactions, including video calls. Introverts, however, can feel overwhelmed by multiple or intense social interactions. They can handle only so much stimulation before they shut down and need to retreat to recharge.

A recent Stanford University study of more than 10,000 people found that introverts are more likely to experience “Zoom fatigue” than extroverts, and women are also more likely to feel drained by videoconferences than men. This mental exhaustion occurs because participants need to focus intently on thumbnail faces on a screen to absorb information and process others’ responses and body language.

The stress that introverted employees feel on video calls is layered on the attention we pay to how we’re presenting ourselves and how we and our home backgrounds appear to others. So it’s no surprise that introverts are exhausted. The Stanford researchers agree—they found that being stared at by faces while speaking causes physiological arousal and anxiety in video-call participants.

I’m not saying all Zoom meetings should become audio only. That’s simply not feasible, and it’s not ideal for more extroverted team members, whose brains crave the opportunity to decipher and process facial expressions.  

But why not try a hybrid approach? For instance, if you are hosting a training class, offer the option of camera-free time during the presentation, but ask participants to turn the cameras on for the breakout sessions and key moments, such as the closing event. Introverts appreciate managers who recognize that they don’t always want to be “on.” And this option prepares introverts to participate more when they are on camera.

Avoid Putting Introverted Employees on the Spot

Throwing questions at introverts in meetings can trigger anxiety and underwhelming results because they prefer to have time to consider their responses. Extroverts, on the other hand, use speech to process their thoughts, so they can quickly generate responses.

To ease performance pressure on introverts, send all team members a pre-meeting agenda and give plenty of notice about topics slated for discussion. Be clear about your expectations, so introverts working from home can feel confident and prepared. Further, when spontaneous discussions arise, managers should give everyone a few minutes to brainstorm silently or encourage team members to share their thoughts in the Zoom “chat” section before asking them to weigh in.

This approach benefits extroverted employees, too, because it forces them to slow down and be more deliberate about strategy instead of just winging it at meetings, which extroverts are comfortable doing. The result will be a more productive meeting for everyone.

Connect Introverts to Other Like-minded People

Because they prefer to make personal connections instead of working a room, introverts flourish in groups created to nurture shared interests and concerns. One very successful example is ITOPiA, a “utopia for introverts” group at 84.51°, a Cincinnati-based data analytics company. Often known as employee resource groups, these types of cohorts can be built around an identity, such as Pacific Islanders, or an interest, such as baking. ITOPiA hosts learning sessions for its members on topics like “How to Prepare for a Presentation” and “What Does Public Speaking Look Like?” Participants in such resource groups build relationships across departments and locations, fostering a sense of belonging, comfort, and engagement, which is key to employee retention.

Embrace One-on-one Meetings

If you are a manager who is coaching or leading introverts working from home, scheduled one-on-one check-ins will replace the spontaneous chats you would have had with them in the break room or cafeteria. Emails, texts, and internal communication channels like Slack are all useful, but they’re no substitute for conversation where you can provide support and solve problems together, so put some one-on-ones on the calendar.

Keep Meetings Small

Large team meetups don’t always allow introverts to showcase their deliberateness and thoughtfulness, so keep meetings small when possible. (How you define “small” depends, of course, on your team’s size and business objectives.) If introverted team members aren’t speaking up on Zoom, reach out and ask them if they feel more comfortable expressing themselves through writing rather than conversation. If the answer is yes, encourage them to weigh in via the chat function during virtual meetings.

Offer Opportunities for Communal Solitude

It’s a myth that introverts prefer to sit home alone all day in their offices. They often feel more creative and engaged when they can spend a few days a week in “communal solitude,” somewhere they can be around other people but not necessarily interact with them. Coffee shops, libraries, and the pods and small areas of coworking spaces allow introverts to work on their own but be among others.

Encourage Leaders to Claim Their Own Introversion

Seeing top executives embrace their introversion gives talent permission to do this too. Our workplaces are richer and more welcoming when we make room for everyone, and leaders can model that behavior. It is estimated that about 40% of top executives are introverts—and they are proof that effective leaders don’t have to be extroverts.

For example, when self-described introvert Doug Conant was President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company, he realized he shone in one-to-one conversations. And, in a move that has since become management lore, he decided to forge meaningful connections with employees by writing personal notes, which many employees saved and cherished. Leaders who share stories like these about how their introverted tendencies helped them succeed and connect give tacit permission to their direct reports and teams to embrace those qualities in themselves too.

Jennifer Kahnweiler, PhD
Jennifer Kahnweiler, PhD is a pioneer of the “introvert revolution,” international leadership speaker, and bestselling author. Her latest book is Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces: How to Unleash Everyone’s Talent and Performance.