CXO

How to create an introvert-friendly workplace: 10 tips

As open office plans become the norm, it's important to take into consideration how both introverted and extroverted employees are most productive.

The needs of introverts have received much more attention in recent years. However, the tech industry's penchant for open plan offices means that managers must ensure that they are enabling workers of all personality types to be their most productive.

"An intentional focus to develop a work culture that is inclusive and supportive of all individual differences will allow all employees, including introverts, to feel more engaged, valued, and nurtured—thus mining the full capabilities of all employees' knowledge and talents for enhanced team and organizational effectiveness," said Ozias Moore, assistant professor of management at Lehigh University. "Managers and team leaders must realize that the personalities of individual employees do influence group interaction and outcomes."

Here are 10 tips for creating a more introvert-friendly workplace.

1. Provide privacy options

Though the tech industry has embraced open plan offices, all workers say privacy is what they need most for productive work, according to Chris Congdon, global director of research communications for Steelcase. "Lack of privacy is workers' number-one complaint about their workplace, and the imbalance between collaboration and privacy at many offices has reached crisis proportions," Congdon said. In a study of 10,000 professionals across 14 countries, Steelcase found 95% of workers said they need quiet, private places in the workplace for confidential conversations—yet 40% don't have them.

"Give introverts in your office permission to be alone and provide access to private, quiet spaces away from distraction and interruption," Congdon said. "These spaces should support focus and innovation and give introverts a place to go to get away from the often overly stimulating office environment. Having private options for introverts signals that you value and understand introverts' need to work differently."

SEE: The top 6 reasons why employees leave, and how you can stop them

2. Split your office into zones

Lee Bierton, a marketing assistant at Rap Industries, suggests splitting your open plan office into different zones: A quiet zone, a collaborative zone, and a group task zone. "For introverts looking for an escape from distractions, they are free to utilize the quiet zone, allowing them to focus without constant interruptions of a busy office," Bierton said. "Meanwhile, when necessary group tasks arise, they can simply switch to one of the other zones to participate."

One feature that does not help? Conference or privacy rooms that are entirely glassed in, said Melissa Pesci, associate principal and associate vice president at HGA Architects and Engineers. "This puts users on display and provides little acoustic privacy," Pesci said. "This popular design trend promotes fluidity in a space, but when considering an area that appeals to both introverts and extroverts, we recommend a blend of glass and hard-wall."

3. Offer flexible work options

As long as employees still have the ability to collaborate with their colleagues when necessary, trusting employees to work from home or another quiet area may promote productivity because introverts tend to feel more comfortable in that environment, Pesci said.

"Not all introverts are the same," Pesci said. "Some introverts prefer visual privacy to focus and recharge, thus, a booth or screen can provide the needed barrier for added comfort. On the other hand, introverts and extroverts alike require audible privacy to focus, yet prefer not to be isolated." This has led to the popular concept of library settings, where employees can work in silence in a shared environment, she added.

4. Create an online meeting space

At web marketing firm Blue Corona, a company intranet mirrors almost everything the company does face to face, including all-hands and department-wide meetings. "This way, if someone is too shy to get up in front of the group to share, they can comment or post online," said Ben Landers, president and CEO. "As you might expect, our written shares and heartfelt shout-outs to teammates outnumber verbal shares about 3-to-1." The company also relies heavily on instant messaging for feedback, he said.

Introducing a messaging system such as Slack can act as an alternative to unnecessary face-to-face meetings, said Evan Harris, co-founder and director of HR at SD Equity Partners. "Using a messaging system at work not only reduces email, it allows everyone to stay connected at their desks. Many introverts find this extremely agreeable," Harris said. "It is also a major bonus to provide another outlet for introverted people speak up and share ideas with the team."

5. Retool meeting structures

Team meetings should not only take an open forum format, in which extroverted employees tend to dominate the conversation, Moore said. "Provide employees with multiple ways to provide their input, and request input from all employees before team meetings," Moore added. "This will provide team members with the ample time and mental space to reflect on the planned topics and decisions."

Breaking meetings into smaller discussion groups may encourage quieter employees to speak more freely, said Colleen Hill, director of human resources at Merritt Group and Cutline Communications. In large meetings, employees can practice "brainwriting," a method that involves having people jot down ideas during the meeting that are then shared with the group, Hill added.

Providing an agenda or questions prior to the meeting gives introverts time to think over their responses, said clinical psychologist Jo Eckler. Another option is to present a question to the team, and then ask them to submit their ideas at a later time. "Introverts sometimes struggle with providing an answer on the spot and tend to prefer some time alone to produce a well-crafted reply," she said.

Scheduling can also make a difference, Eckler said. When booking meetings, lunches, or other social activities, leaving an hour or two between them can give introverts time to recharge, she said.

SEE: How to improve work-life balance at your company

6. Create "do not disturb" signals

Implementing an office protocol for when not to interrupt someone is helpful for introverts, said Gary Hoke, founder of CubeShield, Inc. This might be wearing headphones as a signal to not disturb someone. Employees should be able to broadcast when they are busy, using the presence feature in workplace social tools such as Slack and Skype, or even on their calendar, he added.

"Establish social norms for what type of request or issue might warrant being interrupted," Hoke said. Most things can be handled through asynchronous communication like email. "If chat/IM is used, the presence indicator should be respected," he added.

7. Rethink social events

Consider smaller social events, said Jim Sullivan, senior director of IT at Pharmaca. "Not every person needs to know every other person in the company. This is very important the larger the company," Sullivan said. "Introverts socialize at a slower pace, so constant efforts to introduce them to everyone has the opposite effect desired, forcing them back into their shells rather than drawing them out."

Tech leaders should also think about social activities beyond ping pong and beer drinking. Tish Squillaro, founder and CEO of CANDOR Consulting, recommends arranging small group lunches on set dates with different office groupings. "This will give introverts a chance to mingle and get to know other employees in a smaller, more comfortable setting, than in a large and more formal meeting," Squillaro said.

8. Tailor your feedback

Introverts typically prefer direct communication, said Gregory Pontrelli, CEO of HR management consultancy Lausanne Business Solutions. They also tend to need feedback less often than their extroverted colleagues, who may compare themselves to others more often, he said.

This also plays into incentives and opportunities for growth, Pontrelli said. "Some employers find old fashioned incentives systems ineffective for introverts, as they are less motivated by external rewards," he said. "Extroverts, who are competitive in nature, love overt rewards—because they signal that they are ahead of the competition. However, when it comes to motivation, introverts are internally driven. They don't necessarily care if others give or see them getting external rewards." To motivate introverts, it is important for a manager to provide challenging, meaningful work that allows them to apply their expertise and feel a strong sense of belonging, Pontrelli said.

Introverts often prefer being acknowledged quietly, according to Deidre Woollard, co-founder of real estate public relations firm Lion & Orb. "For extroverts, being praised in a room full of people is bliss. For some introverts, that can be torture," Woollard said. "Reward them in their own currency, through one-on-one acknowledgements and small rewards that don't draw attention."

9. Meet regularly with all employees

Managers should meet with all employees one-on-one on a regular basis, ideally once a week, said Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks. "This gives extroverts and introverts an equal chance to communicate on their work, ask questions, and have ample time to be coached in their position and career," Duggan said.

10. Offer coaching

Communication skills coaching can be beneficial for both introverts and extroverts, said Evan Thompson, founder of Evan Thompson and Associates. "Consider internal mentoring or reaching out to a communications coach," he said. "By working with both introverts and extroverts, you can help them learn from one another about adjusting their respective levels of intensity."

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Image: iStockphoto/Rawpixel

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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