When I was getting my Computer Science degree, everyone across the major took the Myers-Briggs test. When the results came in, there were two students in the entire department who scored as extroverts on the test—one who scored 12-10 or so…and me. I was 24-0 extroverted versus introverted.
Now I don’t dislike my coworkers; some of my best friends are introverts. But as I ventured into this career path, I realized 1) I might be an outlier and 2) there are probably going to be some ups and downs. While I soon learned the benefits of being an extrovert in a world of introverts—and the real asset a personality like mine can be in this industry—I also learned the real struggles when I started working for Agathon, an entirely remote company. I now love working remotely and the amazing flexibility and ease it offers. But it took me a long time to feel at all comfortable, and I still struggle from time to time.
For all of my fellow extroverts (or introverts who have to work with folks like me), here is what I’ve learned from my 12 years of beta testing in the field:
1. Build a routine where you leave the house AND finish working there
I list this first because it was the biggest revelation for me personally: When I finish up my workday at home, I’m in a miserable mood for the rest of the night. I feel like I never leave work; it’s just there all the time. When I changed my routine to always end my day at a coffeeshop or a restaurant, or really just anywhere else other than home, that feeling totally went away. Now I pack up my laptop and “leave work.” It seems so simple, but it’s such an effective mental trick that made my evenings much better.
2. Regularly connect with others in person or on video
At Agathon, we have a weekly standup call over video where we all talk about what we’ll be working on in the coming week. We’ll often have a little bit of small talk, or some short natural conversation that comes up over a project, but we keep it very focused so it typically only lasts 15 or 20 minutes. Even though it’s a short call, it’s made such a difference in connecting with the team. It’s easy to get sidetracked and focused on your own work, and the longer you do that as an extrovert, the more and more disconnected from your team you’ll feel. This brief moment of reconnection can be a big help.
I’m also fortunate to live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where 5 of my coworkers also live. This allows us to get together for Workday Wednesday. Every Wednesday (or as often as possible), we all meet up and co-work from the same space for a few hours. Sometimes we’ll discuss specific projects, but often we’ll just be in each other’s company while we work on different things.
If you don’t have coworkers nearby, see if there’s a coworking space in your area. You can often find groups on Meetup or similar services. Having a regular group you can work around will make a big difference.
If you’re anything like me, having primarily electronic/text communication can also lead to feeling like everything is negative. Even when my coworkers are not being sarcastic or mean in their comments, I start to read it that way by default, and I feel even more isolated. Having this regular connection can break that feeling and give me knowledge and confidence of my place on my team.
3. Don’t be afraid to take regular breaks and get out of the house
I’ve definitely had times over my 12-year remote working career where I’ve worked for five hours straight in my office alone to power through something. However, I’ve learned that I just don’t have the personality to work that way, and I’m only hurting myself and my work by trying to force it.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a break, walking to a coffeeshop, or even just going for a walk around the neighborhood. Anything that gets you out for even 10 minutes will be a big help. And don’t feel bad about needing to do that. There’s nothing wrong with those regular breaks, especially if they help you better focus once you’re back at your computer.
4. Put on background noise
For most extroverts, this is probably a no brainer. When I hear my coworkers talk about working in silence—or even putting on headphones with no sound coming through them so they can focus better—I am blown away. I am far less productive if I’m working in silence!
But I also know what I should listen to while doing various tasks. For example, I enjoy listening to music while I work, but it can also be very comforting and helpful to have some sort talking in the background. I personally find sports radio or television to be a great background noise. The chatter is something I can listen to here and there but tune out for the most part and know I’m not missing anything important.
As an extrovert, having the simulation of people being around, even if it’s turning on a TV in another room, can be a big help. Be responsible with your electric bill, but don’t be ashamed to turn on some sort of background noise. If it’s tough to concentrate, just leave it on and go in the other room.
5. Don’t try to force yourself to be introverted (you’re not!)
It can be easy in the tech industry to feel like an outcast—I know I have many times—but don’t try to make yourself an introvert. You might have coworkers or friends who are very comfortable working all day long in a basement office with no one around, but it’s perfectly fine if you’re not one of those. So don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you if you can’t do it. You’re not an introvert; don’t beat yourself up for not acting like one.
Your introverted coworkers and friends have their strengths, and you have yours. Although there will be times when you might get frustrated that you can’t marathon code or design for hours at a time by yourself, just remember who they’ll ask to go on stage and take a picture at a conference.*
*based on actual events
Are you an extrovert or an introvert?
How do you cope with the unique challenges of your personality and your work environment?
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