Many people mistakenly assume introverted people are shy, reticent folks who opt to not contribute during group meetings. While bits and pieces of this perception ring true for some, the determining factor that makes a person introverted is the unique manner in which they draw their energy and interact with their environment. Introverts tend to be most productive when they can work in quiet, solitary environments with minimal sensory stimulation (i.e. colleagues constantly moving around the office or chattering at the group of desks over).
I am an introvert. Despite acting as CEO for Robin, with duties ranging from speaking at events to leading company-wide meetings, I definitely feel most at home in a solitary environment. Working in the workplace experience industry, creating an environment which supports people doing their jobs as productively and comfortably as possible is what I’m most passionate about. From my personal experience and having seen what really makes offices tick, here are a few specific workspaces you can incorporate in your workplace to help introverts thrive.
When you picture a room of software engineers, what comes to mind? Rows of people wearing noise-canceling headphones, sitting silently in the dark, typing furiously. Something like that? People attempt to make their individual workstations as close to sensory deprivation tanks as possible. In reality, what brings a sense of productive security isn’t just stripping all external stimuli, but creating a space that facilitates introverts to emanate and receive their own energy.
Introverts need a workstation that makes it feel like their own energy is bouncing back towards them. It may sound odd, but a cave-like environment with round features and a low ceiling or awning overhead is the ideal environment for some introverted employees. BCG utilizes boomerang-shaped desks which gives the sense of being in a cockpit as opposed to a traditional rectangular desk that inevitably leads to awkward, direct eye contact and a sense of exposure.
We all know the open office floor plan isn’t going anywhere. Thinking about its key characteristics though — like promoting spontaneous, in-person collaboration and creating physical transparency — it’s pretty clear the open office was designed with the extroverted employee in mind. That being said, there are definitely ways to make a flexible, open office comfortable for the introverted employee too.
Taking an office and breaking it up into bite-sized pieces is a great way to accommodate introverts. This format can help reduce the anxiety introverts feel when walking into large spaces filled with social variables. Organizing an open office by neighborhoods based on departments or projects makes workplace navigation a more obvious and intentional ritual while serving the dual purpose of giving people a sense of ownership over a specific area in the office.
“Collision points” are natural spots in an office, like a staircase, cafe or frequented lobby area, that organically bring people into casual contact during the day. The best part about these collision points is that they are easy to either opt-in or out of in a natural way (no surprise here, extroverts tend to opt-in). See someone you’re working on a specific project with sitting on the stairs and need to catch up with them? It’s easy to go talk right then and there or walk on by and sync up offline if your head isn’t in a social space at the moment.
Introverts have a ton of value to offer in meetings yet oftentimes go unheard. Without the necessary acclimation to a meeting, it’s difficult for introverted employees to get over the initial hump of anxiety associated with collaborative group meetings. Introducing touchdown spots in your office to be used before, during and after meetings can help introverts fully participate.
We have several of these in the Robin office that people use constantly. Right outside our largest and most frequently used conference room, we have a high top counter that my coworkers pause at to either gather their thoughts before or debrief right after a meeting. For introverts, touchdown spots right around popular meeting rooms are especially important as they can be used to mentally prepare for the imminent meeting or to sync up with a colleague afterward and air any thoughts they weren’t able to communicate during the meeting.
Being an introvert in the modern workplace, especially in an open office, isn’t easy. Trust me, I know. My seat is usually a couch in the middle of the office and my desk is my lap. With a quiet corner to escape to for a bit or specific areas to regroup throughout the day, the Robin office is a comfortable place for me.
The future of work indicates offices will only grow more flexible and more complex so it’s worth the effort to make these potentially overwhelming spaces navigable and comfortable even for the most introverted employees. The future of work is moving fast, let’s make sure we bring all our employees with us as we journey forward.