Commentary

Twilight Of The Extroverts: Companies Must Change To Support The Chattiest Among Us

In normal times, being an extrovert is usually a benefit. Who would turn down the chance at less social anxiety? But these are not in normal times.

Looking back about a decade ago, when people still spent their days surrounded by human beings they didn't live with, new cultural conversations emerged about introverts and the need to adapt ourselves to better serve this less gregarious cohort.

The book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talkingthink pieces, and of course a host of Buzzfeed articles asked us to reconsider introversion not as something to be overcome but a thing to be celebrated -- or at least welcomed into public life -- like we do for extroversion.

This was undoubtably a good, empathetic dialogue to have. It also made sense to have in the first years of social media dominance, where FOMO and constant socializing gained enormous new social capital and introverts were in danger, culturally, of being left behind.

Now, the tables have turned, and extroverts are the ones who in these last many months have been in need of that extra cultural reconsideration.

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, there was indeed some discussion of how social distancing impacted extroverts specifically, but lately the topic has declined.

Speaking as an extrovert myself, it's easy to ignore the needs of outgoing, overtly expressive people because we are wired to be good at advocating for ourselves.

But the last year has really inverted the cultural equilibrium, putting introverts on top and making extroverts question their place in the world.

“Speaking up” for extroverts is of course a curious thing. In many ways, the world is run by extroverts; leaders from Churchill to LBJ and a lot of very famous people are classified as extroverts.

But what about the rest of us? With the world of work largely still remote, what's the solution for those of us not in power? -- those who thrive on person-to-person connection and social situations?

Ultimately, this extrovert unease may be a threat to a company's bottom line; company leaders who don't consider the needs of their extroverted cohorts could risk losing them.

The rise of the Delta Variant this summer scrambled many ambitious back-to-office plans.

While the COVID-19 numbers are down from their September peak, winter is looming and uncertainties about the return to the office are scrambling the kind of in-person work plans that extroverts find most satisfying.

A piece during the highs of the Delta wave in The New York Times profiled workers disappointed by cancelled back-to-office plans, but showed the problem confronting extroverts when it made no mention of extroversion as a cognitive and emotional identity, suggesting a cultural blind spot when it comes to considering personality types and working styles at a moment like this.

Even now, with companies taking baby steps back to normalcy, the emphasis seems to still be on adjusting to meet the needs of the introvert in the world of work, not the extroverted.

Dan Price -- the extroverted CEO of Gravity Payments, who is famous for his disruptive take on work culture -- argued on LInkedIn that leaders like him should not force their introvert employees back into the office.

And while it is commendable that Price is looking out for his introverted employees, there is once again little empathy for or attention paid to for those extroverted workers on the other side of the coin.

One might argue that the wisdom of taking cues from the tech world, a place where introverts often thrive, on the future of remote work may not serve all employees from other industries well.

It is also critical to acknowledge that remote workers 

It’s critical to acknowledge too that remote workers are a small minority of Americans -- for tens of millions of grocery store clerks, baristas, doctors and construction workers the nature of introversion and extroversion at work has not changed as radically.

What's more, this remote work conversation can also leave out Black and Brown workers who are less likely to be working remotely. This is clearly a privileged issue to have.

But if corporate America wants to live up to its major public commitments to inclusion -- in identity, background and in thinking -- it must consider cognitive diversity as well.

The goal is to truly provide a place where both can thrive. This does not mean a return to 5-days-per-week in the office. And company leaders should consider a few strategic changes to accompany this group:

- Be clear and empathetic in messaging; understanding that remote work is not ideal for all working types and speak directly to the extroverts among you.

- Speak directly about what your company's in-person working plans, whatever they are and wherever they stand, to at least let extroverted employees and candidates make good decisions for themselves.

For companies experimenting with coming back a few days per week, learn from extroverted work patterns to make the most of those few days in the office by prioritizing things like face-to-face meetings and mentorship along with team and culture building.

I am lucky enough to work at a company that is already implementing these culture-forward suggestions, but we study human behavior for a living. Other extroverts I know are eyeing the exits because they feel waning connections to their still mostly remote offices.

COVID is here and the world has changed. Why not use this moment to disrupt our thinking and develop more holistic approaches to work that not only includes more diverse talent and experience, but also considers a full range of perspectives and working preferences?

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