Sorta Maybe Miss You: Confessions of an Introvert
This article was written by Erika Collins, Carmichael Lynch Senior Director of New Business.
Over the past year, we’ve all read articles about how much introverts love the new work-from-home situation brought on by the coronacoaster debacle. Cute headlines like “For Introverts, Quarantine Can Be a Liberation” probably make you think that introverts are thriving in a world of 6-foot distancing rules and Teams-mediated meetings. It’s an introvert’s dream, right? Like washing up alone on a deserted island, but with high-speed internet and Amazon delivery!
Well guess what, friends and colleagues? Introverts – me among them – really miss you!
Introverts are often misunderstood, tagged as reclusive, shy, or antisocial. It’s a bad rap I’ve personally been trying to shed since I realized my own introversion. But I’ve also come to understand I’m simply wired this way. There’s no universally accepted definition for what it means to be an introvert. Susan Cain, the highly regarded author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, summarizes our breed as “People who prefer quieter, more minimally stimulating environments.” I think that’s pretty close. Personally, I view introversion as a set of common traits: enjoying time alone to recharge, being most creative and productive when working alone, and preferring deep conversations and sustained connections with a small group of people to a looser and larger network of friends and acquaintances.
Defined that way, even extroverts can begin to understand why working from home indefinitely has actually been a struggle, even for introverts. Here are the challenges I’ve encountered:
I’m still surrounded by people. Now it’s just the same people 24/7.
If I lived alone, I might be singing a different tune here. But my household includes a husband, two young kids, and a dog crammed into a modest-sized residence. Frankly, there’s nothing quiet about it. And unlike when I’m in the office, I can’t slip off into an empty conference room or put on my big noise-cancelling headphones when I want to get some work done. When my 5-year-old wants a kiss or needs lunch, everything must stop!
Introverts like to focus. Outside the office, life is full of distractions.
While we introverts can juggle a lot of things in the office, we get just as burnt out as anyone else when it comes to managing the overload of simultaneous work, parenting, homeschooling, and household management. Really, does it work for anyone?! Anyone who thinks I’ve got time to work on my bread-baking skills or re-read Crime and Punishment is fooling themselves. For introverts, working from home is like living Crime and Punishment.
It’s hard to get a word in on a Teams call full of extroverts.
Nobody loves video calls. But for introverts, they’re particularly painful. That’s because we hate interrupting others and believe that listening is often the best path to the truth. We also rely on subtle social cues to signal our entry into conversations – clearing our throats or raising an eyebrow to tell our colleagues we’d love to chime in with a word or two if it’s not too terribly inconvenient, thank you very much… Such subtleties, however, can get lost in transmission on video calls. Fortunately, my colleagues know me well enough to ask for my thoughts explicitly and make sure that I’m included.
Can you really know your colleagues if you’re not eating bad nachos in airport restaurants?
With business travel pretty much shut down, introverts like me are at a disadvantage. I realize now I’ve relied on layovers in distant airports to get to know my colleagues. Most introverts relish the opportunity to have a one-on-one chat over a plate of soggy nachos – it feels focused, deep, and worthwhile. One of the best things about my job is that I work with ridiculously nice and talented people, and I love learning about their families, their career paths, and their most embarrassing client presentation moments. None of that ever happens on video chat.
I know, I know. It’s not all doom and gloom. I’m aware that this once-in-a-lifetime event is layered with potential benefits: the saved time and frustration of a commute, the option to do a status call while walking the dog, never putting on mascara (maybe that’s just me?). And perhaps one of those benefits is teaching introverts that they are not actually completely self-sustaining. I’ve come to realize that my coworkers make me better at my job. Their comments, views, and even antics shape how I work and think – even when I am away from them, alone, focused, and in my introvert happy place.
I look forward to the day we can have big, messy meetings and solve problems together in person again. I look forward to face-to-face conversations, crowded rooms, and even (maybe) interruptions that hijack my focus. I hope we meet again soon, dear colleagues. I’ll bring the nachos.