As organizations reopen their offices, informally classifying individuals as introverts or extroverts might provide some insight to help employers welcome their staff back to the office. However, abandoning such labels and engaging employees in the process may be more beneficial.
As businesses begin to welcome staff back into their offices, the return to face-to-face work environments is being welcomed by some and dreaded by others. After two years of remote work, many introverts worry they'll struggle with being around their co-workers again. Meanwhile, extroverts may view the reopening of offices as long overdue and a welcome change from months of isolation. How can organizations keep introverts and extroverts at work happy while also meeting the need for a productive and engaged workforce?
It's important to note that employers do not have to classify employees as introverted or extroverted officially. That designation isn't in employment law or human capital management systems. Additionally, there are no compliance, legal or regulatory concerns around introvert/extrovert designation either. And, as we'll learn, classifying individuals as introverted or extroverted can be overly simplistic.
Uncovering introversion and extroversion with personality inventories
To understand and communicate with employees more effectively, many organizations use personality inventory and training. This can help leaders learn individuals' communication preferences, how they act when they're stressed, their usual style of working, etc. When these tools are utilized, there's usually some indicator of extroversion or introversion in the inventory results.
Yet, classifying individuals as introverts and extroverts at work does have its limitations. "Like so many of the ways we attempt to create order by categorizing people, there is no fixed person who is an introvert or who is an extrovert," says Martha Bird, ADP's Chief Business Anthropologist. "People are multidimensional, and assigning a static identity has the effect of flattening the fullness and flux of being human."
Bird adds that, in her view, it's best to consider these tendencies as existing on a continuum where in some contexts introversion might be more prominent, while in others extroversion might dominate.
Helping employees return to the office environment
Regardless of their personal style and personality type, returning to the workplace after several years away will feel strange and unsettling to many people. As organizations look to assess old processes and define new ones, it's important to bring employees into the discussion wherever possible to ensure that everyone feels welcomed and heard.
Bird encourages organizations to involve employees in the design of the policies and procedures they use. "I'm a big believer in asking people first and designing processes with people, not for them," she says. "You might find that what you assume is important to your employees isn't. By asking first, you help mitigate the risk of tone deafness."
To make the process easier, Bird provides specific recommendations:
- Avoid categorizing people as either an introvert or an extrovert, as context contributes to a more fluid range of personality styles.
- Ask members of your team what they feel is a welcoming environment.
- Be open to experimenting and learning as you go.
Bird also notes that reopening a physical office isn't easy in practice, and she stresses the benefits of seeking advice from the experts themselves: people returning to the office. "What do they feel they are missing?" she advises asking. "What does it feel like to be in the office? Do they have suggestions on what would make the work environment more appealing to them?"
Moving forward as a unified team
Above all, Bird believes that organizations need to be explicit about the value of employees being in the office.
"As the routine of a commute and a fixed set of hours in an office is no longer a taken-for-granted way of life, people feel permission to ask 'why?'" says Bird. "Why do I need to be in the office? What is the purpose of my presence there? How does it benefit me?"
Bird also notes that if a position's work can be done remotely, it will be a hard sell to require people to return to an office."You'll need considered and compelling answers to their 'why,'" she explains.
While informally classifying individuals as introverts or extroverts can provide some degree of insight, reopening an office and making everyone feel welcomed requires a more nuanced and engaging approach. There is no substitute for asking employees to play an active role in facilitating their return to the office.
In the post-pandemic world of work, the organizations that prioritize people first will rise to the top. Find out how to make HR more personalized to adapt to today's changing talent landscape. Get our guide: Work is personal