Any introvert can tell you that living in an extroverted world can be difficult at times — especially when it comes to working in an open office. Endless background noise, nonstop interruptions, no visual privacy, and extroverted co-workers who monopolize meetings — it’s enough to drive an introvert mad.
It’s not that you don’t like your co-workers; you’re just better when you’re working independently. And you have plenty of ideas, but you need time to mull them over before you can properly articulate your thoughts. Moreover, you absolutely need periods of blessed silence to be productive.
So how is an introvert supposed to survive — let alone thrive — in an extroverted and open office? Why, with a little preparation and a good dose of resourcefulness, of course!
Take Multiple Breaks
As obvious as this tip is, it’s often overlooked thanks to the pressure we’re under to socialize with our co-workers during breaks. Now, I’m not saying you can’t have lunch with your friends — you can and should! However, it’s important your take one or two breaks a day where you spend some time alone. Go for a 10 minute walk, lie down in the backseat of your car, grab a cup of coffee, hide out in a bathroom stall — whatever it takes to get a few minutes to yourself. It’s also a good idea to plan for short periods of solo time before and after work so you can prepare and recharge before moving on with your day.
Schedule Time for Your Co-Workers
Let’s be honest here: If we introverts were to be allowed to do as we pleased, we’d probably sit at our desks and focus on our work all day. But, as lovely as that sounds, it’s only part of the equation when it comes to being an office rock star. To be a truly valuable employee, it’s absolutely crucial we forge connections with our co-workers.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to schedule a time to walk around the office and socialize with your co-workers. Choose the time of day that you’re normally the least productive and use it to your advantage. You can mentor new employees, have a quick chat with colleagues, or even sit down for a conversation with your boss. Turning relationship-building into a daily habit is sure to help you form the bonds needed to go far in your career.
Use Your Introvert Superpowers in Meetings
We’ve all been there. You’re in a conference room absolutely full to bursting with your boisterous, extroverted co-workers, and the very thought of voicing one of your own ideas is laughable. They’re all “thinking out loud,” and anytime you try to speak up, you’re steamrolled. What’s an introvert to do?
Well, you can use your introvert superpowers! Start by listening. Take notes on what you’re hearing — both the information being shared and the opinions/ideas of your co-workers. Then, once you’ve retreated to a quiet place, start problem-solving in your head. Using the information disclosed in the meeting, you can work independently and come back to your boss later with a well-thought-out solution.
Another way to shine in meetings is to prepare for them ahead of time. If you know what the focus of the meeting is, do a little research and jot down a few notes. Then, take some time to outline your ideas and some talking points. If you have your views on the subject laid out in front of you, it’s far easier to pop into the conversation ahead of your extrovert co-workers.
Pop On Those Headphones
Author Susan Cain says headphones are “an impoverished solution for the fundamental human need of privacy,” but sometimes they’re the only tool we have at our disposal when we need some peace and quiet. Invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to drown out the clamor of the office. You can listen to music, podcasts, or nothing at all! The headphones will also (hopefully) work as a signal to your co-workers that you’re busy and not available for conversation. If all else fails, try some industrial-strength earplugs.
Look for a Quiet Space
If headphones aren’t your thing — or they aren’t working — it might not hurt to go hunting for a quiet space in the office. When you have work that demands some rather intensive thinking, pure quiet is often needed. Some places that may work as a temporary quiet zone include conference rooms, outside patios, or even the lobby.
Ask to Work Remotely
Though open offices can support organizational transparency, a recent study found that open-plan workspaces cause high blood pressure, conflict, and increased staff turnover. For
introverts, these offices can be especially damaging to health and morale.
If you’ve found that you’re having trouble getting your work done and your stress levels are rising, it’s time to talk to your boss about remote work. In the next 10 years, it is believed that as much as 38 percent of America’s workforce will be working remotely — so it’s not like you’ll be asking for the moon.
When discussing remote work with your boss, demonstrate at least three ways that working from home will make you a better employee. Talk about your availability and how you can be held accountable for your work. Be prepared to alleviate any possible concerns in your proposal. Finally, ask to work from home one or two days per week at first. This will help both you and your boss adjust to the change, as well as function as a trial period of sorts.
It’s not easy being an introvert in an extroverted office, but it is manageable. If you put your mind to it, you can find ways to thrive — and to hide. That said, it’s also important to know when to throw in the towel. If your job is making you sick — and management isn’t willing to make accommodations for your needs — it may be time to look for another gig. No job is worth destroying your mental or physical health.
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