If you had staff who were working virtually during the coronavirus pandemic, then you no doubt have heard the case for why so many of them want to continue to work from home, even if it’s just periodically. The common assumption is that introverts want to continue to work virtually, and it’s the extroverts who want to return to the old way of working in the office.
Today’s blog post is a case in point for why this assumption may be false. Rell deShaw is a manager in Canada’s federal public service. We have been friends for many years, since she first attended a learning event I presented at the National Managers’ Community Development Forum in May 2012. In fact, she guested on our blog shortly after that event, penning The top five reasons your employees won’t give you feedback. It’s taken ten years, but she’s finally back with a guest post again, this time explaining why, as an introvert, she’s actually looking forward to going back to the office in-person.
Some introverts are looking forward to working in-person again!
As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I may have weathered the pandemic isolation and working at home better than most. For all the concern sent my way, I wasn’t feeling horribly isolated or lonely during those difficult early months of the pandemic.
Many folks aren’t keen to return to the office as the pandemic stabilizes, and I hear and appreciate all the solid reasons why. I am a great fan of Anne Helen Peterson’s writing and she captures many of the key reasons why working from home is a balm for many:
- Reduced commuting times
- Less time and money spent fussing about appearance
- Potential for more work/life balance
- Private space to manage health related issues
- Less exhaustion/anger from receiving micro-aggressions
What I think what is being expressed more obliquely is that the office has become an arbitrary choice of location for getting work done. Home setups are often as good or better than open concept working. It is a definite upgrade when you need a quieter space for concentrating or writing, or need privacy to work on specific tasks.
In-person connections are important to introverts
But, even as an introvert, I am looking forward to some office time, to the possibility of connecting with my colleagues on a more meaningful level. Looking back to the pre-pandemic days, here are the important experiences that only came about because of in-person work.
- I have made life-long friends in work-adjacent situations. Having worked in open concept offices for most of my career, your cubicle neighbour is an important part of your work life. You talk about work and life, and if you are lucky, these evolve into lasting friendships.
- I have laughed so much with work colleagues. This almost never happens in the virtual setting.
- Recognition and celebrations created some many wonderful moments. Though I remember many lovely celebrations of various types, I also remember the joy of sharing the day to day “thanks”. I used to keep “thank you” cards and “kudos” post-its at my desk and was happy to buy many coffees for colleagues as thanks. I have sent a few e-coffee cards since 2020 and yet most have never been redeemed. I recently attended a virtual awards ceremony that turned out to be recorded. I understand why the world needed to operate this way, but so much potential connection is lost.
- Chats at the margins of meetings and of the workday used to be rich sources of information. This includes networking leads and information on “secondary” files. I miss the low stakes conversations that used to occur at the margins of meetings or in the coffee line. It was an easy conversation starter to ask “Where are you working now?” which might often lead to discussions of openings or updates on “secondary” files which could move into the spotlight sooner than later.
- Reading the room is easier. I have had opportunities to sit in on meetings with senior executives and the ability to observe was an incredible learning crucible for me. I remember one time an executive calmly told a more senior executive that a major agreement would not be signed before the agreement expiry date. The room went silent and every other person in my row started looking at their shoes. What followed was not pretty, but it was an important and visceral learning opportunity.
All that alone time isn’t great either!
For all the great things that I mentioned earlier about working-from-home, I’m well aware that some aspects are not working as well as I’d like.
- Some bad habits are creeping into my way of working. I am seeing some fraying at the edges in my work habits. I have more willingness to multitask in meetings. And I am more apt to do the virtual equivalent of passing notes in a meeting by having a backchannel chat (and true, sometimes this is necessary).
- Virtual onboarding is a skill I have not yet mastered. This gap relates to many of the others. I truly miss buying new employees a coffee or lunch to welcome them and say “I am glad you have joined us and here are the good lunch places”. But what I really miss is sitting face-to-face, giving the lay of the land, gauging reactions, and doing walkabouts to meet key players.
- And hardest to stomach is this last one – I can’t honestly tell how my colleagues are doing most of the time. We work in a space where the choice to have a camera off or on is left to the individual. The upshot is, that as a manager and colleague, I am less effective because my emotional intelligence abilities are plummeting. https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/emotional-intelligence-in-leadership
All in all, this introvert is looking forward to returning to the office!
In addition to being a leader in Canada’s federal public service (and a fine representative of introverts everywhere), Rell is also an avid learner and teacher, authoring her own blog Letter to a New Manager. You can reach her there.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about Rell’s post. Please share your perspectives by adding your comments below.