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The big office reopen is a neurodiversity dilemma

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If some of your team seem less than enthusiastic about returning to the workplace, there may be a very good reason why - their neurodiversity.

If they are introverts, they may have found working from home this last year beneficial.  Introverts are over-stimulated mentally, so additional stimulation causes overwhelm then burnout. Extraverts, by contrast, require that external stimulation to recharge their mental batteries, so they’re probably hankering to get back to the office.

 

Personality types in the pandemic:

HR could benefit from approaching remote working by personality

What makes a high-potential remote worker?

HR should offer more support to introvert employees

 

An introvert’s reluctance is not because they’re shirking, disengaged or lacking ambition. In fact, they are likely to have been more productive especially if they live in an introvert friendly household.

Working at the dining room table in a busy family home will have been as draining as working in an open plan office with its inherent distractions, but with a quiet office space to call their own, where they can avoid interruptions will have been perfect for them.

These quietly self-motivated, resourceful and focused individuals would have been able to concentrate completely on the task at hand and with a degree of ease not possible in a busy office setting.

Introverts are more likely to have experienced virtual meeting fatigue and might have preferred to keep their camera off.  They may have found the incessant check-ins entirely unnecessary, believing that if they needed help or a sounding board, they would ask.

This is one of the misunderstood qualities of an introvert; they happily engage in meaningful, generative conversations, but don’t enjoy the small-talk or idle chit-chat that many expect of their colleagues. This leads to the perception that introverts are shy, socially inept or arrogant loners with nothing to say for themselves when they’re actually preserving their mental batteries. 

The following are three of my top recommendations for leaders to help introverts do their best work going forward.

  1. Implement hybrid working authentically so people can choose where they work best

    Don’t demand everyone comes back into the office if the work can be done effectively from somewhere else. For those of you who think teamwork suffers - global teams have been functioning very well for some time and in our ever-shrinking world, with advanced tech solutions and tech savvy team members, great teamwork need not rely on being in the same office. In fact, I’ve worked with many dysfunctional teams who occupy the same office space.

  2. Take time to get to know what makes your people tick.

    Not all introverts are the same. Or all extraverts for that matter.  Whether people identify as an introvert or extravert, it doesn’t define them, and we know how people hate being put in a box. It’s just useful categorisation and as I was taught, your type is not an excuse for your behaviour. Find out what makes them unique and what lights them up.

  3. Check for extraversion bias

    Review your practices and processes through this lens so that you can honour equity and inclusion.  We know quiet introverts can be overlooked and with hybrid working there is a very human tendency for out of sight out of mind to be an issue. Presenteeism has never been an accurate measure of who is doing great work.  I’ve heard too many reports of quiet ones being selected for redundancy as they make less fuss and don’t blow their own trumpets.

Ultimately, introverts are not asking for special treatment, just a level playing field.

 

Joanna Rawbone is founder of Flourishing Introverts and director at Scintillo.