4 Hybrid Work Challenges Introverted Developers May Face (and 4 Ways To Address Them)
As we approach the second half of 2021, you might find yourself asking “What’s the deal with remote work?” Are we going back to how things were pre-pandemic? Or has telecommuting become, for lack of a better phrase, the “new normal?”
Well, there’s no simple answer to the question.
Sure, the CDC has issued new guidelines for fully vaccinated people, suggesting that they can now return to indoor spaces without implementing social distancing measures. However, survey data shows that not everyone is back in the office as of yet. According to Gallup, 72% of white-collar workers were still operating remotely (telecommuting for at least 10% of their workweek) in April 2021. Furthermore, they’re likely to continue doing so in the future.
Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work report shows that as many as 97.6% of people wish to continue working from home at least some of the time for the rest of their careers. So, it’s easy to conclude that the preferred model going forward might be hybrid work—a method that allows employees to choose whether they want to go to the office or telecommute.
Hybrid work opportunities certainly come with a multitude of benefits, like improved work-life balance and flexibility. However, it’s also true that they pose several challenges such as exacerbating loneliness. This is especially the case for introverted developers.
Are you wondering about the best ways to support your introverted team members as they work from home? Do you wish to find effective ways to address their most common difficulties? If that’s so, here’s everything you need to know about making hybrid work beneficial for every person in your organization.
Understanding the (Hybrid) Work Experience: How It’s Different for Introverted and Extroverted Developers
There’s plenty of data listing the different struggles remote workers come across when working from home. For example, this report by Statista shows that when working remotely:
- 47% of people struggle with managing distractions.
- 35% have trouble with collaboration.
- 35% feel lonely or isolated.
- 29% feel a lack of motivation.
- 28% deal with burnout.
This is valuable data for leaders looking to improve the performance and happiness of their distributed teams. Still, it’s essential to understand that not everyone has problems with the same things.
In fact, scientific research shows that work experiences and work-related challenges hugely depend on people’s personality types. That is, they’re determined by whether they identify themselves to be introverted or extroverted.
If you believe distractions are one of the biggest foes of productive work, your initial reaction may be to research all the possible ways of shutting out disturbances during work hours. But here’s the thing: Research shows that introverts and extroverts have exponentially different reactions to different types of distractions.
For example, a research paper published over two decades ago found that vocal and instrumental music had a widely different effect on the cognitive performance of extroverts and introverts. According to this study, introverts found their performance impaired by music. Extroverts, however, performed at a slightly enhanced level, especially on reading and coding tasks.
Moreover, further research finds that introverts get distracted by most types of overstimulation—auditory, visual, or social. While a remote work setting may seem the perfect solution to their woes, managers must remember that home working conditions aren’t necessarily calmer than those of a shared office. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us just how distracting working from home (WFH) can be.
A common assumption about productivity is that it’s positively impacted by collaboration. And, sure, some studies show a correlation between worker efficiency and social interactions (namely water-cooler talk) due to either knowledge spillover or positive peer pressure.
But it’s also necessary for business leaders and team managers to understand that there is a second side to the coin.
A research paper published in January 2021 found that the reason productivity levels seem to have gone up during the pandemic was that extroverted individuals had fewer opportunities to communicate. That is, they dealt with fewer unproductive distractions like casual chit-chat within their workspace.
Additionally, this paper found that introverted workers saw no significant change in productivity during the pandemic. However, their motivation did go down when forced to establish social interactions.
One way to explain this fascinating disparity could be by considering that introverts and extroverts react differently to small talk.
It turns out that extroverted individuals feel energized and inspired with every social interaction. Introverts, on the other hand, become exhausted by superficial topics. They appear to prefer in-depth, one-on-one discussions, which allow them to exchange ideas. In these situations, they’re likely to open up. However, put them in a big group, and the most probable scenario is that they’ll withdraw and stick to observing.
These findings are perfectly in line with research published in 2020. Studying the dynamics of collaboration on introverted developers, researchers proposed that most work environments provided sub-optimal solutions for introverted developers.
Their suggestion was to present software engineers with sufficient time to spend working individually. According to the researchers, this would allow introverted developers to be more comfortable in situations that required interaction and collaboration.
In other words, they wouldn’t have to deal with the social exhaustion of “meaningless” conversations. Instead, they could save their energy for brainstorming sessions that drive progress and innovation.
When we talk about the fact that almost three in 10 people deal with burnout when working from home, we must understand that not all remote workers have a 30% chance of becoming overwhelmed at work.
Research conducted in 2017 by Rahil Meymandpour and Zahra Bagheri shows a direct correlation between personality type and the occurrence of burnout.
According to this paper, the more extroverted a person was, the more likely they were to experience the symptoms of burnout when working from home. Moreover, the researchers found that the opposite was true as well. Meaning, the higher a person’s level of introversion, the lower their chances of experiencing burnout in remote work settings.
With this in mind, it’s clear that hybrid work models won’t affect introverted and extroverted developers in the same way. Consequently, managers working with distributed teams must understand the individual challenges for each personality type. Therefore, they must work to create an environment that will allow everyone to thrive.
Another interesting difference between extroverted and introverted professionals is their likelihood of rising through the ranks.
A 2018 research paper found that introverted individuals were less likely to emerge as leaders. This is mainly due to high levels of forecasted negative affect—put simply, self-identified introverted individuals shared that they would feel uncomfortable with the necessary extroverted behaviors associated with leadership.
What’s interesting about this research isn’t that introverts showed a lower level of adeptness for being in leadership positions. Rather, it’s that their negative affective forecasting prevented them from going after those leadership positions, even when they were fully capable of delivering an exceptional performance.
Fortunately, though, it’s entirely possible for developers to nurture influence and tap into their leadership potential despite preferring to spend time on their own.
Jennifer Kahnweiler’s book Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference, for example, identifies the six different strengths introverts have for making a difference. The author goes on to propose strategies for mastering those strengths and channeling them into influencer and leadership potential.
Or if you’re more interested in the place introverts occupy in today’s world, you might want to check out Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Both of these books are great resources for learning how to recognize and support the leadership potential of introverted individuals—for developers and their managers alike.
Helping Introverted Developers Thrive in Hybrid Workplaces: Ways To Address the Most Common Challenges
With the understanding that there’s a significant difference between the experience of on-site, remote, and hybrid work for extroverted and introverted professionals, it’s time to start thinking about the best ways to create a work environment that caters to both.
Move Away From Office-Centric Practices
One of the worst mistakes organizations make when switching to remote or hybrid business models is that they expect to continue with systems that used to work when employees were working on-site.
According to a newly released survey from Gartner, virtualizing the in-office experience comes with several negative consequences. It leads to a 33% decrease in productivity, a 44% decrease in feeling included, and a 54% higher likelihood of workers leaving their jobs.
But what does office-centric virtualization even mean? Well, the most simple way to describe this occurrence is to say that it’s the practice of literal translation from on-site to hybrid. For example, a business owner who no longer has direct physical insight into how much time their employees are spending at the office could be compelled to implement time-tracking software.
However, what these employers disregard is that not all time spent at work is fruitful. Research suggests that the average person is only productive for three hours during an eight-hour workday. This automatically means that a time-tracking solution could create pressure for employees to log on for longer than they’re capable of sustaining for prolonged periods.
A way to prevent this type of mistake is to make slight adjustments to the organization’s routines. In a hybrid environment designed to support introverted developers, this could mean:
- Allowing employees the flexibility to choose their work hours. This way, those susceptible to distractions could organize their workday around when their home is most likely to be quiet. Or those choosing to work remotely full-time wouldn’t have to sacrifice sleep and performance for the sake of being online at a given time.
- Providing on-site spaces that would support quiet work. These spaces will also allow introverts to focus without becoming overstimulated. Even something as simple as a cheap desk divider from IKEA combined with a pair of noise-canceling headphones can help introverted employees create a distraction-free workspace that aids concentration.
- Measuring outcomes instead of inputs. An introverted developer may not be comfortable with taking the lead during a company meeting. However, if their work shows excellent results and innovation, it’s essential to acknowledge and reward them in the same way that vocally-expressed ideas are rewarded.
Remove Excess Communication
According to Harvard Business Review, collaboration has pretty much taken over the workplace over the past two decades. According to their research, collaborative activities have ballooned over 50% during that time. Moreover, data from 2020 shows that things are getting more “connected.”
Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index Report pays special attention to hybrid environments. However, it points out a few things that could pose a problem for your more introverted employees. In terms of communication, the report points out that:
- The time spent in Microsoft Teams has gone up a staggering 2.5X.
- The average meeting is now 10 minutes longer than last year.
- The average employee sends 45% more chat messages per week and 42% more per person after hours.
- 40.6 billion more emails were sent in February 2021 than during the same month the previous year.
One of the causes of these increases could be the inherent sense of urgency found in virtual communication. Without in-person cues, people can become pressured and anxious to perform. Ultimately, this leads to exhaustion. Now add the element of personality type and how introverted individuals feel discomfort, and motivation drops with each additional social interaction. You’ll quickly realize that you’re on a fast lane toward communication overload.
Fortunately, there are things that business leaders can do to remove excess communication and the tension it causes to introverts (and the unproductive distractions for extroverts).
- Enforce boundaries. The easiest way to prevent collaborative overload is to set rules about communication times and channels. In addition to not emailing their employees at 2 a.m. on a Saturday, managers should also be vocal about not expecting workers to reply to messages during off-hours.
- Opt for non-intrusive collaboration systems. Choose software that doesn’t disrupt workflow. A simple solution such as notification grouping can go a long way in preventing time-wasting interruptions. Similarly, a project management software showing real-time progress could help teams work seamlessly together, avoiding unproductive daily progress meetings and repetitive sharing of information through email.
Adopt a People-First Culture
A great way to overcome the challenges of hybrid work for both extroverted and introverted developers is to nurture a people-first culture in your organization. By focusing on employee health and happiness, you can boost productivity and motivation.
To successfully do so, you will have to get to know your team much better. If you’re committed to nurturing an environment that works for introverts and extroverts equally, here are a few things you can do:
- Understand what inspires your employees. Is it a sense of being a member of a team? Is it the opportunity to solve problems with creative thinking? Is it working in a fast-paced environment that requires constant adjustment, the freedom to create their own work schedule, or a well-established routine?
- Promote trust. To ensure that your introverted employees reap all the focus and health-promoting benefits, teach your leaders about ways to keep in the loop without causing productivity-hindering distractions. Of course, that doesn’t mean giving up accountability. But it does mean trusting people to deliver the expected results without imposing on them policies that go against their optimal work surroundings.
- Optimize the experience for both on-site and remote workers. Hybrid work allows organizations to succeed regardless of their employees’ physical locations. Research shows that different personality types thrive in different physical environments. So giving employees control over their physical location, work hours, or even benefits could help you build a workplace that’s inclusive both for extroverts and introverts.
Finally, to successfully address the challenges your colleagues may be facing while working in hybrid environments, don’t forget that being introverted doesn’t mean preferring not to talk. It just means feeling less inclined to reach out or being more comfortable with one-on-one conversations.
Meaning, if you know that the introverted developers on your team won’t be likely to speak up about the problems they’re facing during team meetings, make it a habit to check in with them regularly. Something as simple as inquiring about how they’re doing, asking if they need help on a project, or even just having a short chat can help them do better.
Moreover, recognize that genuine human connection helps your organization function seamlessly. Plus, it could even boost immunity. And that’s always an advantage, especially considering that we’re just coming out of a pandemic.
By having an open-door policy or whatever you want to call the hybrid work equivalent of it, you’ll be taking the most impactful step toward creating a workspace that’s inclusive for all of your employees.
So, if you walk away from this guide with one single tip, let it be this: Do your best to build meaningful relationships with your team members. Even if they’re shy or feel reluctant to talk about their issues. Yes, it will take work. Still, it will be worth the effort.
Commit To Building a Diverse Hybrid Workplace Regardless of Personality Type
For the past few years, there’s been plenty of talk about the need to make tech more inclusive. But while gender and race play significant roles in ensuring diversity, so does personality.
Unfortunately, a lot of developers have to work against a predominant bias toward extroverted individuals. And while hybrid workplaces offer some solutions, they’re still not ideal.
Nonetheless, organizations can achieve progress with just a little bit of effort. In addition to addressing common challenges, they can also prioritize inclusive leadership that considers everyone’s differences. So investing in education, even if only through reading titles such as this one by Jenn Granneman, as well as nurturing empathy makes for excellent steps for helping introverted developers reach their full potential—regardless of their work setting.