You know what’s great about working from home? A lot, actually. You can make a coffee without offering to make one for 12 other people. You can write a report in half the time it would normally take. And you can minimize the social interactions that make you want to crawl under your bed and never resurface.
Despite the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the sharp push into remote work was a blessing in disguise for introverts. That’s because being an introvert in the office can be tough. Unless you’re someone who eagerly awaits invites to office potlucks or genuinely enjoys watercooler chats, a vibrant workplace is not for you. Open-plan offices and introverts don’t exactly go together like apple pie and ice cream. The ease with which your colleague can drop by your desk unannounced is a form of mild torture for the introverted employee.
Self-confessed introvert Ethan Hauser wrote in The New York Times that a simple phrase such as “Let’s brainstorm” can cause him to break out in a sweat. Indeed, having your colleagues in close physical proximity can often lead to more group projects and impromptu get-togethers, which would strike fear into the heart of any introvert.
That said, being an introvert in the office has its advantages. In fact, psychological expert Stephanie Sarkis wrote in Forbes that introverts can actually be the “most valuable employees” in an organization. Their set of skills is more subtle than an extrovert’s but no less powerful. Throughout school and college, we are encouraged to join social clubs and reap the rewards of an extroverted personality, but it appears our teachers might have missed an opportunity to extol the benefits of being an introvert.
The benefits of being an introvert
It’s no surprise that introverts have excelled at remote working over the past year. The pivot to a fully online workspace took the spotlight from extroverts — who may have commanded attention in a room full of people — and placed it on introverts. Over the past year and a half, extroverted employees have been unable to fully capitalize on their strengths while introverts have thrived in a quiet and distraction-free environment. Netflix’s former chief talent officer, Patty McCord, told Bloomberg that the pandemic made many companies recognize the value of certain employees they had overlooked before: “people who just quietly put their head down and delivered.”
Here are some introvert traits that make a valuable employee:
- Good at listening: If an interviewer ever asks you a question about communication, they are looking for one thing: to find out if you are a good listener. Listening is key to effective communication, which is a highly desirable skill. As noted by Psychology Today, “the best orators are not necessarily the best communicators.” Sure, extroverts can talk the talk, but introverts excel at the most integral part of communication.
- A great eye for detail: Try taking a five-minute walk with a friend and then doing the same walk on your own. On the second time around, you’ll probably notice a lot more about your surroundings. That’s what life is like for introverts. Because they tend to stay silent in social gatherings, they observe a lot more about the world around them. This means they have a better eye for detail, making them a great asset to the fields of editing and graphic design.
- Strong written skills: Introverts often prefer to communicate their thoughts in writing. Rather than make up a speech on the spot, they take time to gather their thoughts and express it on a page. This can sometimes be a more successful method of communication — the extra time and consideration spent on a written text mean important facts and sentiments are rarely left out. Also, introverts get the opportunity to say what they really want to say rather than blurting out some garbled sentences to get out of an awkward situation quickly.
4 steps for embracing your inner introvert
1. Focus on your strengths
As seen above, introverts possess a wide variety of skills. You may not have all of them, but it’s highly possible that you excel in different areas. Maybe you’re a self-starter who doesn’t need your supervisor to walk you through every task? Or maybe your preference for one-on-one chats over large presentations means you build a greater rapport with clients? Make a list of all the strengths you have as a result of being introverted. Link these to your role to remind yourself why you don’t need to be the office chatterbox to do your job well.
2. Accept your weaknesses
Though you should always strive to improve at work, sometimes you have to just accept there are some things you don’t do as well as others. And that’s OK. Why do you think your office is split into departments such as HR, sales, and IT? Each employee has unique talents — trying to be a Jack of all trades will ultimately lead to failure. Rather than chastising your inner introvert for not heading the social committee, praise yourself for the projects you thrive at under the radar.
3. Create a flexible schedule
It’s a common misconception that introverts are antisocial beings. Many want to forge close connections with their work colleagues — they just don’t want to also endure stilted small talk over wilting canapés. The key to managing your social commitments is to create a balanced schedule with enough downtime to balance out group activities. Susan Cain, author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts," advises spacing out meetings over the week rather than a full day of energy-zapping Zooms. If you know you have a two-hour strategy meeting with your CEO, be sure to schedule in a free hour afterward to decompress. Add these recharge slots to your calendar to ensure you won’t be disturbed.
4. Learn how to say no
Just because you were invited to something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re obligated to go. Let’s say you’re feeling socially drained, and you get invited to an after-work event. You can just say no — and not feel bad about it. Try to stick to the mantra of “No is a complete sentence.” You don’t need an excuse to decline an invite. If you’re worried about missing a chance to connect with your colleagues, send an online message and try to make the next event.
As you prepare to return to the office, remember that being an introvert is an asset, not a hindrance. Just because you’re not the center of attention doesn’t mean you’re not a valued employee at your organization. Stop trying to fit into a world of social butterflies — carve out your own niche and embrace your inner introvert.