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Open office? Offer alternatives for the introverted worker

By ,
The open office concept may benefit the
extroverted worker at the expense of the
introverted one.
The open office concept may benefit the extroverted worker at the expense of the introverted one.

If you have been in business for any length of time, you may come across a push to enhance inclusion in your organization. Working with differences and enhancing diversity of the workplace are vital to engagement and the strength of the organization.

Recognizing and embracing differences are important to the health, bottom line and growth of any organization. Embracing differences in personality, work style, experience and more helps increase respect and decrease conflict among employees.

One important part of differences and diversity that many businesses overlook is the real and tangible difference between introverted and extroverted employees.

Being an introvert does not necessarily mean shy. Conversely, being extroverted doesn't necessarily mean outgoing and gregarious.

Where a person stands on the extroverted-introverted spectrum is more about how a person gets energized.

Extroverts tend to prefer activities that put themselves around a lot of people and situations that have a lot of external stimuli. Extroverts tend to crave activity and seek action to fulfill this need.

Introverts, on the other hand, prefer quieter surroundings with time set aside to contemplate in silence. They generally prefer situations with fewer external stimuli.

If introverts are in situations that have too much action, they can feel overwhelmed and overstimulated. According to Belle Cooper from Fast Company, a resource for businesses, “For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping and as nourishing as eating.”

The way each of these groups approaches its work, handles challenges and collaborates differs greatly.

Many companies are set up and designed to accommodate extroverts, leaving many introverts out in the cold.

A good example of this is the open office trend. According to The Washington Post, as many as 70 percent of companies incorporate open office layouts to some extent.

Google is an example of a private company that does this, while former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg famously incorporated an open office layout into what was dubbed “the bullpen” – an open layout office where cubicles were removed in favor of open desks and work spaces.

The belief is that the open concept provides clearer communication, openness and fairness, as well as allowing managers to keep a closer eye on employees.

A 2013 survey in the Survey of Environmental Psychology demonstrated that nearly half of workers believed that a loud work space led to stress and less productivity.

While extroverts may adapt more easily to this environment, these policies are harder on introverts, who routinely show more frustration with lack of privacy and quiet.

In these cases, extroverts often are more vocal about their preferences, while introverts are quieter.

Though open offices have their benefits, it is important to note that not all work styles and personalities do well with this sort of environment. Some ways to ameliorate the situation:

(1) Institute a change-management plan: Before you switch to an open office, develop a strategy that addresses the changes in work that will occur because of this.

(2) Have spaces for those wishing for quiet: If you are removing partitions or office walls, it is important to have spaces available for introverts to work quietly when they need that.

(3) Allow for alternative working arrangements: Working from home may be a possibility.

The first step to working with introverts in a world that often caters to extroverts is to respect the differences between the two styles. Here are ideas:

(1) Give space and time for reflection: Especially true for new projects. Introverts appreciate time to thoughtfully reflect on the problem before they act. Don't assume when they eat lunch by themselves that they are lonely. They could just be recharging.

(2) Play to their strength: Introverts often make great researchers, strategizers and good listeners. Use their inward nature to your advantage.

(3) Incorporate different styles into meetings: At training sessions or meetings, try to incorporate different methods of eliciting a response. When brainstorming, use alternative methods such as asking for written responses, in addition to verbal input.

The workplace is not just a collection of people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, but also a place where individuals with differing personalities come together.

Foster the special attributes of both extroverts and introverts and encourage them to work together. It can be uncomfortable at times and rewarding at others.

Each has strengths that will improve the professional development of the other, as well as contribute value to your projects.

Tom Bux is the director of the Center for Leadership and Workforce Development (workforce.lccc.edu) at Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville. He can be reached at tbux@lccc.edu.

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