How to Manage Introverts in the Digital Workplace
Just under half of the world's population is introverted. To be exact, 44 percent are, according to data from personality profiling firm Myers-Briggs Co. If you're a manager, chances are you have at least one introvert on your team.
Unlike their extroverted colleagues who are energized by social settings, introverts thrive by being left alone. Remote and hybrid work with its focus on distributed teams, powerful digital workplace tools and asynchronous work would seem to suit them well. Less need for social interactions in the office or work site is a good thing, in many introverts' eyes.
But introverts come with their own management needs, and managers can take steps to help them thrive. Here's what experts had to say about how to manage introverts in the digital workplace.
What Are the Qualities of Introverts?
One of introverts' best qualities in the workplace is that they are self-starters and work well independently. In fact, that's often when they're happiest.
"Introverts need to be managed differently because, unlike extroverts, they don't do better work with managers checking in often and trying to pump them up with motivation," said Perry Zheng, engineering manager at San Francisco-based ride share company Lyft. "Instead, they feel most valued when managers give them a longer leash and some more autonomy at work."
Another strength of introverts is their honesty and capacity for deep insights. "Introverts provide the honest and direct analysis you need," said Adam Pearce, CEO of Alcester, England-based Blend Commerce. "In digital marketing, for instance, a lot of time is spent on creatively dreaming, but having introverts in the workplace helps question the viability of these ideas."
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Why Do Introverts Need to Be Managed Differently?
Introverts thrive in the digital workplace. In fact, many of them dreamed about being able to work remotely long before it became a widespread reality. Nevertheless, that preference for independence doesn't mean they should be left alone. But treating them like their more extroverted colleagues won't get them to perform to their full potential.
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It's essential to manage introverts differently because they open up differently. They have many ideas, much like extroverts, but they have a different way of sharing them. Also, since conversations with introverts can often be difficult, confrontational leadership styles might do more harm than good.
"Just being conscious of the fact that they would rather stay away from these types of conversations is something other leaders should try and do," said Yeelen Knegtering, CEO at Groningen, Netherlands-based Klippa, a provider of automation for document management. "I would try and message them in a setting they are more comfortable with and maybe send an additional message to make sure everything is going well."
Related Article: Coaching Employees in the Remote and Hybrid Work Environment
Tips for Managing Introverts in the Digital Workplace
Introverts aren't concerned with being the loudest voice in the room, but that doesn't mean they don't want their input to be heard. In the remote, hybrid and digital workplace, this can be a challenge. Try to find ways to make meetings or group settings more comfortable and engaging for them. Here are some tips for managing introverts in the digital workplace:
- Try Self-Reflection: "If a self-reflection is done before they send their report or check-in with you, the chances of identifying areas where you can step in to assist is much higher," Zheng said. "Introverts have a lot going on internally that isn't always shared, compared to their extroverted counterparts."
- Pair Extroverts With Introverts: "I've had a lot of success pairing introverts with extroverts on projects together, as both have different strengths that lead to a killer team. One covers all of the social and communication aspects of the project, while the other offers great ideas and creates a solid delivery plan," Zheng said.
- Respect Their Boundaries: Introverts love their space and boundaries, so respect them. It's best if you can offer a quiet space where they can work. Although teamwork is needed, respect that introverts work well on their own.
- Don't Drop in Unannounced: It's not that introverts don't like communicating with people, but they prefer to know when these interactions will happen. Tell introverts well in advance about meeting so they have time to prepare for the interaction.
- Be Patient: Managing introverts requires patience. Managers can't push them to talk or express themselves. Instead, encourage and lure them out of their shell. The right tone is important: Aim for a certain amount of firmness tempered with empathy.
For many introverts, the rise of remote working and digital workplace tools is a dream come true. They have the tools and capability to be productive and contribute asynchronously and at a distance. But that doesn't mean managers should assume they're doing well.
The best advice to manage introverts in the digital workplace is to leave them to their own devices as much as possible and let them know the door is open if they require assistance. While managers should give introverts room, it's crucial to set a solid foundation and check in periodically so they feel neither micromanaged nor ignored.