by Sarah K. White

Tips for creating an introvert-friendly workplace

Sep 27, 2016

Introverts and extraverts work differently and the environment they work in can ultimately affect their productivity. If you haven't already, reconsider your company culture to see how it helps -- or hurts -- the introverted workers in your office.rn

Talk about the differences between introverts and extraverts has increased in recent years, dispelling the stereotype that introverts are shy and extraverts are outgoing. Instead, introversion and extraversion are determined by how you get your energy. Extraverts typically thrive in social environments and with a busy active schedule, while introverts need quieter environments and enjoy regular alone time.

And, of course, an introvert can be outgoing and social, while an extravert can also be shy and more reserved — it’s not about being the life of the party or a wallflower, it’s about how you recharge and destress when your energy gets low. However, a person can also straddle the line between the two — often referred to an “ambivert,” someone with qualities of both an extravert and introvert.

But the nature of the modern office — with open environments and cubicles instead of offices — can often work against an introvert’s nature, leaving them mentally and emotionally exhausted by the end of the work day. However, an extravert might thrive on this type of environment where they can get regular feedback from coworkers, all the while, unintentionally exhausting their introvert neighbors.

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For introverts and extraverts, preferred communication methods often vary greatly. Typically speaking, you will find that your office extraverts prefer talking in-person or on the phone, whereas an introvert might prefer to gather his or her thoughts and send an email or a quick message on a chat platform. It’s smart to encourage multiple avenues for communication — so that employees don’t simply avoid communicating entirely. “It’s important to embrace the idea that there can be multiple types of communications styles between different people,” says Dan Cox, vice president of engineering at Polyvore, which was recently acquired by Yahoo.

At Polyvore, Cox says they’ve maintained a “culture of openness and transparency” by ensuring that all managers understand the employees they’re tasked with managing. He says that managers need to understand it’s not a “one-size-fits-all approach.”

For example, he says that management at Polyvore often encourages group discussion and white-boarding sessions for employees who prefer that type of collaboration, while allowing other workers to collaborate other ways, such as by sending out a documents for feedback. Either way, management doesn’t restrict or encourage one or the other — they trust employees to know what communication method suits them best so that they can thrive in their position.

Getting out of your comfort zone

There is something to be said for pushing yourself outside your comfort zones — within reason, of course. At Polyvore, management has bridged gaps between personality types with an informal and casual weekly event called “Demo Day.” Its internal, and it gives engineers a chance to share what they’re working on. The more extraverted employees are the ones who will typically jump up on stage and “engage the audience,” while the more introverted employees will still get up on stage, but stay a bit more behind the scenes and “drive the demo.” No one is forced out of their comfort zone, but it gives a regular opportunity for the introverts to get their ideas out there, in a fun and less structured environment.

[ Related story: 9 networking tips for introverts ]

Think about company culture

Typically speaking, startup culture includes a fun, high-paced environment with a lot of work and team bonding events, often involving alcohol. But your introvert workers might not have the energy to hit the bar with their teammates every Thursday, and that should be OK. The last thing you want is for these workers to feel like they have to go to events, or that they’ll somehow miss out on team-building. Most importantly, it’s key that employees never feel judged for their choice to participate or skip out, says Steve Benson, founder and CEO of the tech startup Badger Maps.

For Benson, it was important that his startup didn’t reflect the stereotype of Silicon Valley, which focuses on more of a “party” culture. Instead, his company is dedicated to hiring diverse people, with half of the company being women, something relatively unheard of in the tech industry.

“I believe that the excessive drinking and partying of most startups in the Silicon Valley — I know some play beer pong and other drinking games regularly — creates a very uncomfortable atmosphere for introverts and this is why we have created a different environment. People can participate in our casual activities but they don’t have to and nobody is judged if they don’t like playing foosball or don’t join the Friday board game nights,” he says.

And that’s the key point: Whatever your company culture is, no one should feels as though they’re being judged for not participating in non-work related activities. Or even for performing their job in a way that suits them best, but isn’t how everyone else is getting work done. As long as your employees are happy, comfortable and productive, you should trust them to know what works best for them at work.

Rework your workspace

Open-office cubicle settings can often work for extraverts, but typically work against introverts. An introverted employee might need a quiet environment away from desk conversations in order to focus, whereas an extravert might be able to maintain a side conversation with a coworker while getting tasks done. Either way, you want to make sure that everyone can work in a way that allows them to be the most efficient as possible.

You might opt to offer flexible work-from-home opportunities, which would appeal to your introverted employees, or even create private rooms that employees can book for the day or for the afternoon for when they need a distraction-free environment.

Peter Arvai, CEO and co-founder of Prezi, and self-proclaimed introvert, says that his company has focused on creating an inclusive environment that considers the needs of different personalities. The office incorporates both private work spaces and open environments, so employees can easily find a quiet spot to work or to immerse themselves among colleagues for inspiration.

“We think that both introverted and extraverted people are looking for an inspiring environment where their work has impact on the world. The thing that makes each person different is how they reach their individual goals. The cornerstone of our philosophy is we can only have a truly creative work environment if we build appreciation for different approaches,” says Arvai.

The best way to figure out what your introverted and extraverted employees prefer at work? Just ask them. At Prezi, Arvai says they consulted employees to figure out what would help them be the most productive and happy at work.

“We provided a budget and design consultancy, as needed. This not only encouraged [employees] to create a cozier space, but they could also make special requests on design and decor that would help them be more creative and effective — and suit their personality types,” he says.

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