When employees were sent home to work remotely at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, most assumed they’d be back in the office within a few weeks. As the predicament drags its heels, predictions are being made that for many employees, working from home will become the new normal. Companies, large and small, are taking a hard look at their bottom line, as well as their work culture, and may stick with a remote workforce.
I must admit, my life hasn’t changed all that much during the quarantine. Since I’ve been working from home for 8 years, I’ve grown accustomed to not going out much. True, I now see a trip to the grocery store as an exciting outing where before I saw it as a chore, but that’s about it.
And I’m okay with that. As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert (94% introverted, 6% extroverted), I’d be perfectly happy to visit with family and friends via Zoom most of the time rather than meeting in person. The Voxer app has become my new favorite, as I chat with clients, colleagues, and friends on-demand for free.
But not all introverts are the same. Personality types aren’t cut and dried—they exist on a continuum. Some of my introverted friends are experiencing just as many unique challenges working from home as my extroverted friends.
Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, if you’ve been forced to work from home for the foreseeable future, you are likely struggling to get your bearings. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to stay that way for the duration.
Introverts and Extroverts Defined
At the beginning of the last century, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung coined the terms ‘introversion’ and ‘extroversion’ to talk about two distinct groups of people. Introverts tend to be quiet, thoughtful, and inwardly focused. They recharge by being alone with their thoughts and prefer a night in over a night on the town.
- Enjoy solitude
- Experience boredom rarely
- Want outings to be meaningful
- Appreciate deep conversations about topics of interest
The extrovert is quite the opposite. Their focus is outward, and they draw energy from being around people. Being in a busy, boisterous office is where they work best.
- Prefer to work with others
- Experience boredom frequently
- Think best out loud
- Enjoy networking and small talk
Tips for Introverts
While the world tells us that we’re lucky, we might not be feeling it. Working from home can be stressful for the introvert. Back-to-back video conferencing can prove exhausting and having family members who aren’t in tune with the introvert’s parameters constantly around can feel invasive.
Get Some You Time
It’s too easy for an introvert to get so caught up in work they forget to stop at the end of the day. I learned early on that working from home could quickly turn into working all the time. Now I keep a standard 9-5ish schedule, using an egg timer to remind me to take breaks. Once I leave the office for the evening, I don’t check emails or respond to questions from my staff via our project management system. If this feels impossible, try deleting those pesky notification-type apps from your phone. Ignorance really is bliss sometimes.
Set Firm Boundaries
Constant distractions from housemates, children, and spouses can make us crabby. Even though it’s challenging, setting firm boundaries for what you need to be productive is better than the alternative—losing your cool and regretting it later. Even if you don’t have an office door you can shut, put boundaries in place for when you can be interrupted, and when you can’t. Be loving yet firm when explaining why it’s mission critical.
Design a False Sense of Aloneness
Since introverts need quiet, uninterrupted time to work and think, it’s essential to carve out a dedicated workspace. If you don’t have a spare room, you can still create a make-shift space by putting a barrier between you and the rest of the household. In a pinch, you can use a walk-in closet or hang a blanket to give yourself some privacy.
If you need to drown out the sounds from others in the house, try listening to soothing music (without lyrics) using earbuds or headphones. It’s incredible how in the zone I get when I do this. I feel like I’m totally alone with my thoughts even though my home office is in the loft of our home.
Tips for Extroverts
Being forced into social distancing is difficult enough for the extrovert, but when they can’t even interact with coworkers, it can feel like a prison. While they look forward to Zoom calls, what they really need is a good old-fashioned team meeting full of brainstorming and lively energy.
Create a Work Schedule
Working alone and without their usual structure, extroverts can feel they’ve been cast adrift.
You will need to create a schedule and structure and keep to it so that you stay productive. If your job allows, design an unconventional work schedule that fits your preferences and needs. Or replicate as closely as possible the structure of your day when you went to the office.
Extroverts can become anxious if they have too much time to think and too little to do. One essential way to keep your mind engaged in your work is movement. Try using a standing desk so you can move about while you work. Bounce on a mini-trampoline or yoga ball during breaks. Take a walk around the block when you start feeling confined and unfocused.
One fantastic strategy for extroverts working solo is to pace while speaking their ideas into a recording app on their phone. True, no one is there to bounce ideas around, but talking your thoughts out loud will at least partially reconstruct the way you work best.
Manufacturer Work Sounds
Extroverts prefer to work in a hustle and bustle environment. They are the ones who work best in a busy coffee shop with movement and chatter all around them. You don’t have to work in a busy office to experience an energetic vibe—you can create your own. Try listening to background soundtracks like this one on Spotify.
Take Breaks with a Friend
If you feel isolated while working from home, set up virtual coffee and lunch breaks with friends and coworkers. Most likely, your friends are stuck in their make-shift home office as well, so it will be good for them too. Heck, you can do this every day of the week with different people if you want.
So Where Do You Go from Here?
No matter what you find yourself struggling with as a remote worker, this unpredicted situation is an opportunity to learn about yourself. Learning to accommodate other personality types we are stuck at home with also gives you a chance to learn how to live more harmoniously with those in your household.
Since you can’t change the situation, you’ll be happier if you decide to learn from the experience. In this way, you’ll open the door to new growth and opportunity, no matter what comes next. This holds true for introvert and extrovert alike.
What challenges have you experienced since being forced to work from home? Share in the comments.
Gilian Baker is a former English professor turned mystery author and writing coach. She uses personality theory and brain science to help intuitive writers embrace their unique writing process so they can overcome their creative blocks and write books readers crave. If you are an introverted writer who is struggling to get their book finished, go here to schedule a free Story Strategy Session. Together, we’ll dig into how you can crush your creative blocks!
Grab her first book, Blogging is Murder, for free on her website.
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K.B. OwenJune 9, 2020 at 11:45 am
These are terrific, concrete tips, Gilian! I love Ambient Mixer, which is free and allows you to create your own sound backdrops from their sound library. (It only costs money if you want to download the MP3 of what you created, but you can listen to it online for free).
I’m an introvert as well, so my day-to-day hasn’t changed much. However, in terms of establishing boundaries, I’ve had to do that (multiple times) with my mom, who lives 3 hrs away. She’d call as soon as something occurred to her to tell me, and it was – of course – during my writing hours. And believe me, she’s not an easy gal to hustle off the phone. I had to give her a “do not call unless it’s an emergency” time window (not before 4pm on weekdays). She mostly honors that, but there are still times…thank goodness for caller id, LOL.
Gilian BakerJune 10, 2020 at 11:18 am
I feel your pain with your mom’s phone calls. I think more people now understand that “working from home” doesn’t mean binge-watching Netflix and having a spotless house (in my case, it means the opposite!) I schedule times for calls with family and friends based on my schedule that week. They don’t love it, but have gotten better about it. We introverts get super frustrated when interrupted! It’s been interesting to have all 3 of immediate family members working from home, especially since my husband is an extrovert and my office is in the open loft of our house. 🙂 He likes to share his thoughts by hollering up to me.
I haven’t tried Ambient Mixer; I’ll have to check it out. I love Brain.fm to get my brainwaves working for me when I need to focus!
Kassandra LambJune 9, 2020 at 8:43 pm
Great tips, Gilian!! My biggest challenge is maintaining some sense of balance between work and play, but then that’s always been my biggest challenge. Before, I had scheduled events I went to on certain days, lunches with friends or to play cards or mah jongg. Now I have to work harder to create “play” at home so I don’t become a workaholic.
Gilian BakerJune 10, 2020 at 11:23 am
Ugh! Work & play balance is tough! I have to set timers to remind me to take breaks because I’ll go all day without eating or moving much and am then exhausted in the evening. Since I’m an INFJ, I love long focused blocks of time, and when I get in the zone, I don’t want to stop. One of my WAH friends keeps a puzzle set up in her office and when she takes breaks, she places a few pieces. I bounce on my yoga ball a lot during breaks. It must be a real challenge to create playtime at home when you are used to going somewhere to be with friends!