How can we support introverted employees during lockdown?


Introversion is a personality type that typically characterises an individual who prefers a more solitary and subdued experience.

This isn’t however, to be confused with shyness or loneliness, which can be often characterised incorrectly as. Those who identify and reflect with this personality type are likely to take joy from their own company and inner world as opposed to busy social events which may over stimulate their nervous system.

Typically, they will often prefer environments which are calmer and more reflective, which allows them to thrive. However, it is worth noting that we are, by nature, a social species to some extent. This doesn’t mean that introverts don’t enjoy or need the company of others but are likely to experience this in ways which are often 1 on 1, or more individualised.

The terms ‘introversion’ and ‘extroversion’ were popularised by the Carl Jung who defined them as more of an attitude type, extroversion being characterised as interested in the external object and the introvert interested in the subjective, internal world.

How has remote working impacted introvert personalities?

Kirsty Lilley, mental health specialist at CABA, the wellbeing charity explains that getting used to working remotely and the reduction in physical and social contact, will take time, for some more than others. It is likely that introverts will prefer this style of working, potentially blossoming as they work at their own pace without interruptions or over-stimulation but, the additional demands to take part in video meetings and calls may prove quite stressful for an introvert or they may not engage beyond dialling in.

There can be a sense of pressure to ‘perform’ and engage in large group video meetings, and it isn’t always possible to have a direct and meaningful conversation with every participant. This may prove overwhelming and for some, over stimulating, particularly those with introverted characteristics. Speaking up and sharing comments within online spaces can be stressful and tiring for many people – especially introverts, and research has suggested that we pay attention to stimuli in a slightly different way within online communication. This can result in people becoming hypervigilant to social cues as we are missing the ‘in the room’ visceral sense of another person. The brain’s job is to respond to the environment and scan for cues of relational safety, which is of course harder to do when we may not be able to see other participants faces during online interaction. Add to that the social pressure to be ‘positive’ and ‘motivated’ during lockdown and the online world may be a challenge for many to be their authentic best self.

There is some research to suggest that introverts are more reflective by nature, consider data more thoughtfully and this can be of great benefit to business and organisation. Motivation which is fuelled on inner reliance and preparation is a great asset within the workplace and the ability to take in different perspectives also a much-needed skill. Introverts can also make good listeners and tend to exude a calm and steady presence. With things moving at such speed in the present ‘always on’ culture the ability to stay focused and attentive is a great asset, especially in an age of constant distraction and over stimulation. It’s certainly essential for workplaces to have a wide variety of personality types which offer diversity of thought and opinion.

How can employers and managers support introverts in our new remote working environment?

It’s well known that the key influence on a persons’ wellbeing and performance within the workplace is the quality of the relationship with the line manager. Enabling introverts to play to their key strengths and work in a style and at a pace that suits them as much as possible are key ways of ensuring we continue to get the best from our people. Having open, honest and meaningful dialogue is essential and building meaningful and respectful relationships is cructial, especially at a time when we are socially apart in many ways.

Honest communication is vital to help a person prepare for how they may deal with any alterations and changes to working practices. Perhaps try and limit the number of online meetings for the entire team and look at how each member will be able to get involved. Ask about methods and frequency of workplace communication and checking in with people in a way that they feel comfortable with and supported. It’s important for a manager or leader to avoid assuming they know how well their employees are getting on.

Employers also need to provide clear expectations of what is to be reasonably expected of their employees during this time. Laying ground rules for online group interactions with the whole team and avoiding putting people on the spot without preparation will go a long way in ensuring the comfort of all involved. Having the courage to ask individuals what they are finding most difficult at this time, what support they might need and how you might work together to ensure that things run smoothly is vital in building up meaningful and responsive workplace relationships.

Keeping an eye on your employees

The key to noticing whether an employee needs any additional support during this time is to pay attention to any changes in the individuals’ typical behaviour patterns and workplace performance. Is the individual withdrawing more than usual? Is it more difficult to maintain contact via the usual helpful channels? Do you notice that they are uncomfortable with an increased number of online meetings? Or just not engaging?

Rather than looking for ‘signs’ it’s important that we strive to create an environment where individuals feel able to share their concerns, worries and individual working preferences. Whilst it’s important to focus on the individual, it’s also vital that we acknowledge the environment in which they are operating and offer support and understanding about those issues too.