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Is remote work bad for introverts?

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Traditional business culture, with its emphasis on networking, meetings and pitching, doesn’t generally favor introverts. And as Susan Cain argued fairly recently in The New York Times, the current management mania for collaboration, is making matters worse for the quiet ruminators among us. Is remote working the solution to the problem?

We tackled this question in relation to the coworking movement previously, soliciting opinions from space owners and users. Many of them argued that, though coworking spaces have a social element and stress togetherness and connection, the fact that the user sets their own level of contact, as opposed to having interactions dictated by a boss, means coworking provides a good balance of interaction and alone time for introverts.

But how about remote work itself, without considering coworking as a mediating factor – does work location independence further isolate the already socially distant or help them better modulate their level of connection? That’s the question an interesting post on Workshifting by Natalya Sabga tackled recently. In it Sagba focuses on her personal experience as an introverted “workshifter,” relating her ups and downs as she’s attempted to strike the right the balance between solitary work and social interaction:

I’ve been dipping my toes into the workshifting pool since 2009. It’s been an ideal set of circumstances for an introvert like me, as I work in a quiet space where I can control my daily dosage of interruption and interaction. Ideal, that is, until too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.

Introverts need interaction, too. That is just human nature 101… Introverts who work in a standard office setting get their daily dosage of interaction by default. Introverts who workshift have it harder – it’s too easy to focus on a project or assignment and forget that there is an external world that we need to be part of, too!

So, after basking in every introvert’s dream for the past three years, I realized that I needed some balance. Sometimes, my workdays are intense, and I really can only focus on work. I don’t fight my introverted habits on those days as that would adversely affect my productivity. Other days, when my schedule is lighter, I remind myself to explore new spaces to workshift from, make time to see friends or volunteer.

A couple of points are worth noting here. One is the danger that the ability to work from anywhere might enable more withdrawal than is healthy among introverts. While loneliness is an often-cited drawback of working from home, the idea that someone could like the alone time but suffer for it professionally and psychically in the longer-term is a subtly different point that’s worth bearing in mind.

The second aspect of Sabga’s post worth pondering is the fact that she has both the awareness to notice her own excess of solitude and the freedom, due to technological empowerment, to correct it. Too often, many have argued, we choose our work environment on autopilot and fail to both recognize the degree to which the location of our work affects us and manipulate how we work by manipulating where we work.

Do you think remote work presents special challenges for introverts?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Pascal Maramis.

4 Responses to “Is remote work bad for introverts?”

  1. Shaleen Shah

    I think that there’s more pros than cons for introverts who choose to work remotely – as they now have an environment free from office distractions, which can mean more productivity and better work results. At least, they’ll be far from the emotional trauma of having to fit in a corporate culture, getting picked on, or worse, not getting heard in brainstorming sessions.

  2. Lea Green

    Enjoyed this article a great deal. As an INFP who telecommutes part-time, I agree that the solitude can sometimes feel isolating; however, for more creative tasks, it can liberate and empower focus. I’d like very much to add to this conversation by contributing a link from the PGiGreen blog that I wrote discussing a similar topic, asking the question of whether or not there is a telecommuting personality type:

  3. jpaine

    Balance is definitely a must for introverts like me. Coworking and workshift is indeed a good way to “disappear” into our “workspace”.

  4. Jack W. Parks, IV

    As an Introvert (INTJ), working remotely is a godsend. The typical office environment spends all of my emotional energy and then some. I agree that as social creatures we need interaction, but some people are just too much for me.

    I think we all must work to find a balance in our lives. Some do it better than others. In a sales role, customer interaction is key, but don’t be surprised when I disappear after dinner to “recharge”.