Working from home is going to be hell for introverts.
It’s only a matter of time before they take to the streets, a ragtag army in coffee-stained pajama pants, demanding human contact, even if it is from a social distance.
Yes, I know: the corona-virus-imposed heaven that is working from home is their dream. They’ve been preparing for this all their lives. The crafters are giddy with the prospect of boss-directed time inside, with their fabric, beads and endless unfinished projects. The book-addicted swoon at the notion of curling up with their stack of to-reads and a bottomless pot of Earl Grey. The Netflix-addled are in heaven at the notion of binge-watching from the sofa, laptop open, remote in hand.
But sinking into a crumby cocoon is an overcorrection. Introverts have to work harder to connect with people. Those who fantasize about their virtually people-free nirvana are going to find that going to work actually created the social equilibrium that makes them love being alone.
I know and love many introverts. I married one. I gave birth to two. One of those gave birth to another one. But as a confirmed extrovert who has worked from home for 39 years, and who studies and writes about career growth, I give introverts a week before home purgatory turns into home hell.
Extroverts love to work from home, too, and they are better at it because distance is no barrier for a determined extrovert. They’ll talk on the phone, they’ll burn up Slack, they’ll text, email, and videochat all at the same time. In my ongoing exploration of lateral career moves, I talk all the time with employers trying to figure out how to respond to employees’ requests to work from home. People who most successfully work from home are extroverts, who are naturally propelled to connect with others. Introverts don’t do themselves any favors, professionally, by giving into their urge to hide.
Working from home frees up commuting time that can be used for career development, professional learning, and to connect with people in other departments. Smart organizations will rally short-term assignments that both solve virus-inflicted operational problems and convert the suddenly-virtual workforce to an opportunity for cross-functional collaboration that pulls everyone together in new ways. You’d think that introverts would lead the way so they could further the business case for working together separately, but it’ll be the extroverts who pioneer ways to bridge the distance.
When we all emerge, blinking and sun-blind, into that brave new day, when corona virus is something we work around, extroverts will simply transfer their ongoing conversations to real life. Many of them will claim that they were more productive than ever while they worked from home. That’s because they found ways to be with others, alone together, in some newly created virtual space. Church groups, study groups, bowling leagues, golfers, gardeners, runners, not to mention work teams, will all pivot, led by extroverts, to virtual meetings, group chats, and instant Facebook groups.
It won’t be long before the new normal will be established. I’ll wave to my introvert neighbors as they head back to their offices and I’ll look forward to hearing about their reluctant re-entry, over a pitcher of margaritas on my front porch….for about twenty minutes, before they go home to recover.