4 ways to turn your extraverted workplace into a productive space for all

Published on 04-02-2020

Large open-plan offices and an emphasis on collaboration and brainstorming sessions are signs of an extraverted workplace. If your organisation is set up that way your organisation might miss out on a lot of creativity and productivity. Read here why this is and what you can do about it.

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Many people think of introverts as people who silently sit in a corner during parties and the extraverts bustling all around them, making loud small talk. Reality seems to differ.

What are introverts, extraverts and ambiverts?

The terms introvert and extravert have been mainly made known by psychiatrist Carl Jung and his personality types. Extraversion (sometimes written as extroversion) is defined by social, adventurous and talkative behaviour. Introverted people, on the other hand, display hesitant, cautious and tacit behaviour.

Introversion – creativity through isolation

That doesn’t mean that introverts don’t have anything to say. In fact, they are not always calm or quiet. Introversion simply means that people have a preference for doing things on their own. This is because they get easily tired, impatient or distracted by the company of other people. Because of this they try to avoid external stimuli. That does not mean that when they socialise, they immediately feel uncomfortable or shy. However, it may happen that they need to step out for a bit during a party or gathering. This enables them to reduce the external stimuli and to recharge mentally.

Introversion in the workplace

Reducing stimuli not only helps them in social situations, but also at work. Introverted employees perform better and are more creative if they can work in a low-stimulus area. There they can think deeply about their projects and thus deliver high-quality work.

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Extravert – not just talk

Extravert employees often need people and incentives around them to do their job well. For example by exchanging ideas or using others as a sounding board, and thus achieving a better result. Or they listen to music during working hours in order to receive enough external stimuli. Yet there are also extraverts that like to surround themselves with people, but prefer not to be the center of attention.

Ambivert – the largest group

You can see intro and extra version as a spectrum. People who are not extraverted are not automatically introverted, and vice versa. Only a small number of people are 100% introverted or extraverted. In fact, around 68 percent of people are ambivert. Ambiverts have both introverted and extraverted sides. Meaning, that ambiverts lie closer to the middle, while introverts and extraverts are at the extreme ends of the spectrum.

Let’s say that the remaining 32% are equally divided between introverts and extraverts. That would mean that most workplaces are designed for only 16% of employees.

Most workplaces are extraverted, while this group accounts for only 16% of employees

In her Ted Talk The power of introverts, Susan Cain, author of Silence – the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, tells us about introversion in a world of extraversion.

The disadvantages of an extraverted workplace

Because it is a spectrum, many employees in your organisation will be centered around the middle of it. This means that a completely extraverted workplace won’t fit most of your employees. To make this issue more clear, let us look at three fictional employees, “Martin”, “Ellen” and “Carlos”.

Martin loves to chat with his colleagues while having lunch and during after work get-togethers he’s often the center of attention. But, while he’s working, he prefers to be left alone so that he can focus on his tasks, deliver good quality work and reach his deadlines.

Next to him sits Ellen. Ellen prefers to stay in the background during after work drinks and often goes home early. She feels very at home in her close-knitted group of colleagues and gets her best ideas by sparring with her team members. Martin gets distracted every time Ellen wants to involve him in a conversation about their assignment and Ellen is frustrated because she lacks the necessary input from Martin.

Martin and Ellen work in a large open office space, surrounded by 50 colleagues. One of them is Carlos. He is extremely thorough, productive and always manages to reach his targets with time to spare … provided he can work in total silence. Unfortunately, he sits directly next to the Customer Service Team that can be reached by telephone 24 hours a day. This effectively reduces Carlos’ opportunity to excel in his work. An unnecessary loss for both Carlos and the company.

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This is how your employees can reach their full potential

“Do you have everything to do your job well?” This was the first question I was asked during a performance review with one of my previous employers. By this my manager referred to a variant of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This Employee Hierarchy of Needs contains, among others, the basic tools needed by an employee to do their work well, such as a desk, a working computer and a fair salary.

An example of what such a pyramid of Employee needs might look like. Source

Basic need No. 1: the ability to do your job well

What if an ambivert workplace could be included in this list? Martin, Ellen and Carlos can’t reach their full potential at their current workplace. So a workplace that is more geared to introvert and ambivert needs could already ensure that at least these three employees perform better.

4 ways to create an ambivert workplace

So how can you organise your workplace in such a way that not only extravert, but also introvert and ambivert employees can reach their full potential?

1. Provide a quiet place that people can retreat to

For people who are easily distracted by the stimuli around them, it is important that they have moments when they can work undisturbed on tasks that require their full attention. Think of quiet rooms or quiet sitting areas on the edge of the workspace, or the possibility to work from home.

2. Schedule both moments for quiet time and interaction

Ensure a good balance between human interaction, such as meetings, and times when everyone can work alone and undisturbed. For people like Martin and Ellen, who have opposite needs, it is useful to make agreements about contact moments and quiet time. For example, in the morning everyone works alone at their desk and people who want to brainstorm go to a different place for a while. In the afternoon the team members are free to come to Martin and consult with him. This way, everyone has several hours during the day when they can work at optimum efficiency.

3. Encourage people to open up about workplace problems

It is best for your organisation if everyone can do their work optimally. That is why it’s essential to listen to an employee that has problems with the office space arrangement. For example, someone like Carlos should be able to discuss his unfortunate placement. Ideally, he should be moved to a quiet area. If this is not possible, then silent rooms or working from home may be options that could work for both parties.

4. Ensure flexible working hours where possible

And finally, see if it’s possible to make working hours more flexible. People who love silence could start their work at 7 or 8 AM, or arrive later and work partially in the evening, when everyone else is home.

The happy medium

In short, compromise is the magic word in solving this work dilemma. Be open to feedback and suggestions from your employees and try to create a workplace together. A place where employees can reach their full potential, whether they are extraverts, introverts or ambiverts!

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Header photo by Avi Richards

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