Beyond the Pandemic: Finding Opportunities to Create Introvert-Friendly Workplaces

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Keeping people engaged, focused, and able to perform has become even more urgent in these challenging times of the pandemic and economic and social unrest.

Organizations can look at this period as an opportunity to make long-overdue workplace changes. Remote work, for example, has succeeded in ways many organizations never imagined. Team leaders can reach out in new ways to their team members, implement practices that play to each individual member’s strengths, and offer flexible work arrangements to ensure that everyone knows they matter.

In particular, this is a time in which organizations can rethink their workplaces to become more inclusive, more introvert-friendly, and capable of unleashing everyone’s talent. Use these seven key organizational practices to create more inclusive cultures for introverts — while keeping the needs of all types of workers in mind — now and into the future.

1. Reach Out to Prospective Talent

In a 2019 survey of mostly introverts, 38 percent of respondents said their organizations demonstrate a willingness to hire and promote introverts. The technology available today makes it even easier for employers to tap the pool of introvert talent.

For example, companies can take advantage of technology like YouTube videos to offer prospective employees the chance to see ahead of time what it’s like to work for the company. Additionally, potential hires can now interview virtually, which provides introverts an added level of comfort.

2. Invite Introverts to Share

In a typical group session, the ideas of quieter contributors rarely surface by themselves. You can help change this by observing when people aren’t contributing and purposely asking their opinions.

One sales leader I worked with realized that none of the introverts on their team proactively shared during weekly conference calls, so they decided to make the space and give people a chance to speak.

“I intentionally waited for at least five comments before I spoke up,” the sales leader told me. “It was hard, but worth it because we heard many new voices.”

3. Share Communication Preferences

Talk with members on your team about their preferred ways of interacting with others. Leaders can use this information to create safe environments where people are comfortable opening up. Employee resource groups (ERGs), like those established at 84.51°, provide forums where introverts can meet to address specific topics. These groups also sponsor company-wide discussions to help a broader audience understand introversion and each other in new ways.

4. Investigate Unconscious Bias

This time out of the office provides a chance for us all to reflect on our unconscious biases. Without even realizing it, some of us perceive introverts as meek, indecisive, and antisocial while overlooking their typical strengths like preparation, good listening skills, and the ability to build deep connections. If you are unaware of having this bias, it will impact the types of opportunities and support you offer to introverts.

5. Create More Effective Workplace Settings

Many organizations have witnessed a highly positive response to remote work, but for companies reopening their offices or whose employees never left, it may be time to rethink office spaces. Open plans can be just as effective as traditional private offices when they offer the option of quiet pods and other locations where conversation is off-limits and employees can focus. Lack of privacy and noise were perennial complaints from introverts responding to our workplace survey cited earlier. Ask introverts what office plans they prefer, and listen to their ideas about how to best utilize shared spaces.

6. Customize Hybrid Work Arrangements

Working from home offers increased autonomy that allows introverts to do their best work, but don’t assume that people who are introverted automatically want to work remotely.

As Zillow’s Chief People Officer Dan Spaulding noted in a recent interview with CNN, “[T]here is a balance between where people can be most effective, and that balance is unique for all of us. For some people, that may mean coming into the office a couple of days every month, and other people may want to come into the office three or four days a week just because of how their situation sets up.”

Aim to customize work-from-home and in-office arrangements in order to fit individual employees’ needs.

7. Advocate for Introverts

In many workplaces, introverts are expected to adapt to the mainstream corporate culture of yielding the floor to extroverts who are comfortable with speaking up. Organizations need leaders who include everyone’s voice. Become the catalyst to create a culture in which quiet, calm contributions are as welcome as expressive, energetic ones.

To better understand where your organization stands with introvert employees — and what it can do to harness introvert talent further — I recommend starting with a workplace assessment. This can help you gain insights that will prove invaluable in your effort to build a workplace where introverts — and others — can thrive. That effort will pay off in huge dividends during the quarantine and long after.

Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, PhD, is an author, Certified Speaking Professional, and one of the top global leadership speakers on introverts. Her new book is Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces: How to Unleash Everyone’s Talent and Performance (BK Publishers, June 16, 2020).

By Jennifer B. Kahnweiler