How to Help Introverts Thrive in Your Workplace

In today’s work environment, we regularly hear the value of teamwork and collaboration. Some companies swear by open office plans for this reason. These things are great if you are an extrovert who thrives off of such interactions, but for introverts like me, it can be a nightmare. Teamwork is essential to a successful business, so how do you manage your introverts to make sure collaboration in your workplace inspires their style of working?

I’m not a big fan of working on a team. I would not go so far as to say I hate teams, but given the choice, I would much rather be given a task and then run off to work in a quiet office by myself. I do some of my best thinking when I am alone, and I do not usually draw energy from collaboration. In the rare event that you’re looking for me at a party, look for the person hiding in the corner with a book in her face despite the loud music and incessant buzz of conversation.

There is No I(ntrovert) in Teamwork

I once had a boss who preached teamwork as though it was the only way to work. If I brought up that I would like to go work on something on my own before bringing it back to the team for input, she would say, “No, you need to stretch out of your comfort zone.” So, I would suck it up and work on an entire project sitting at a table with a group of people. My ability to come up with new ideas was stifled, and I would complete projects feeling exhausted and defeated.

If you do not give your introverts at least a little bit of alone time, you will end up with exhausted, cranky employees. Not everyone works in the same way, so develop a mix of ways to foster creativity in your workplace that do not always rely on the idea that teamwork is best.

Shh…Why Silence is Sometimes Golden

Teamwork is unavoidable on many projects, but you can build some alone time into your projects to give introverts some space to shine. Once you have gotten past the initial brainstorming phase of a project, and you break it down into pieces, you will find there are some tasks that are best assigned to a single person. Your introverts will gladly volunteer for these tasks, and your extroverts can handle the tasks that require multiple people. Then have regular check-in meetings with your team where your introverts can share what they have been working on and ask for input.

When you are having team meetings, provide the agenda prior to the meeting. This gives your introverts time to think about what they will bring to the table. Even if there is discussion at the meeting, your introverts will feel more comfortable participating if they have had a chance to think through ideas on their own prior to the meeting.

The Value of Electronic Communication

I prefer communicating with people through email, text and social media. I know that some things are best handled with a phone call or in-person meeting, but I prefer to go with those methods of communication only when necessary, and I have a lot of introvert friends who feel the same way.

Remember this with your introvert employees. Rather than popping into an introvert’s office, send quick questions or requests for project status updates via email or instant message to give them a moment to think and process before responding. This also has the added benefits of not interrupting the quiet time introverts like to have when working.

Creating an Environment Where Introverts Can Grow and Thrive

It is good for us to sometimes stretch beyond our comfort zones. For introverts like me this may mean going to networking meetings, attending conferences and collaborating with a team when such things are necessary to move a project forward or to make connections. But it is also important to find the right balance between asking employees to step outside their comfort zone and fostering an environment where they can thrive. So, if you want your introverts to pitch in and collaborate with the team, remember to also give them some moments to work in the quiet space they need.

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Stephanie Hammerwold

Stephanie Hammerwold, is the founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a Southern California nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find and maintain employment. She also blogs on a variety of HR topics as the HR Hammer. When not volunteering for her nonprofit, Stephanie has a day job in HR at a tech startup in Irvine, CA.


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