It’s long been known that major global events create winners and losers, and the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns have resulted in more than enough tragedy and hardship, whilst further lining the pockets of billionaires and various sectors of the commercial market.
But one group of beneficiaries who have stayed below the radar – and that probably suits them just fine – are the introverts amongst us.
For many introverts, Covid has been a huge relief.
For them, the harrowing strain of social expectation has been lifted; they no longer have to face being pressed up against strangers in pubs, and there are no nightclubs, gigs and festivals to miss out on.
Indeed, the FOMO (‘fear of missing out’ for the uninitiated) has been eradicated at a stroke, because whilst the pubs, concert halls and festival fields are out of bounds, there’s simply nothing to miss out on!
For those who are involved in business, there’s respite from the uncomfortably crowded business meeting, the pressure to be heard, the stress of making small talk with strangers at drinks receptions and dinner, and the endless burden of networking.
Each day in lockdown is a day they don’t have to suffer excruciating interactions, and yet they can still be an integral part of any meeting or learning session and contribute in their own, quiet, well considered way.
The new introvert-friendly toolkit
This broader range of options has come about with the growing adoption of online conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Teams, Meet, Remo and others.
Almost all of them provide breakout rooms and chat boxes, and both of these are manna to the introverts’ ears.
Specifically, they really value the ability to listen to others, digest the conversation and have the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings in ways – and to an audience – that suits them. They can interact with just one other person via the chat, or get involved in a smaller, more intimate group in a breakout room in ways that are often difficult to replicate on campus or in an office.
The lockdown has given them a voice they didn’t previous dare to allow to be heard, or perhaps was just drowned out by the more vocal, confident or attention-seeking members of the group.
Working from home has been a comfort blanket for lots of people
A further aspect of the pandemic is the fact that working practices have shifted – perhaps inexorably – towards a more blended approach to working space. Many organisations already suggest that the former emphasis on a permanent office is outdated, and that they are happy to embrace a new model based on a mix of home working and intermittent group meetings in an office or other convenient location.
For introverts, this too provides benefits; fewer crowded train journeys, fewer days in densely populated workplaces and more time in a comforting, familiar environment they can control.
Psychologically, this lifts a huge weight for many people, in stark contrast to the anxiety and claustrophobia that other, more sociable people are experiencing.
This seems almost contradictory, given that some research studies have suggested closer links between a lack of social interaction and diminished mental health, and we must, of course, be careful not generalise too much. The relief felt by many introverts at not having to go into the office, might in many cases, be more than offset by the stress of being incarcerated with other family members or flatmates.
But from what we have noted in the Henley Partnership learning sessions, extroverts are still feeling energised by the group dynamics of online meetings and the stage it gives them, but the playing field seems to have been levelled somewhat, as introverts find their own voice in other ways.
How will introverts cope with the return to face-to-face working?
I believe that it will be a long time before we return to the work practises, if indeed we ever do. It’s much more likely, in my opinion, that the future will embrace a more blended approach, and recognise the benefits of reducing the amount of travelling time and cost, the reduced costs for accommodation and the reduction in the stress that people suffer when they don’t have a reasonable work:life balance.
So if the future is more blended, introverts may well relish the time spent away from the office environment, and perhaps the less crowded offices when they do need to visit. Most extroverts, on the other hand, can’t wait to get back to their workplace, and will revel in a more sociable atmosphere, so this may, initially create more of a polarisation between the two groups. But as we’ve observed, there is merit in both, and having a diverse team will ultimately benefit everyone.
There is no single management or leadership style that is a recipe for success in all situations. In my experience, effective leaders have a repertoire, and are elastic in their style, and are very alive to the different needs and preferences of the people they work with, and what they need to do differently as a result. Diversity enriches organisations, and makes them more effective in a diverse world.
So whilst Covid may have created serious challenges for many people, I believe that most introverts will be celebrating – although naturally, they’ll be doing it in their own, quiet, more measured way.
Narendra Laljani is a management educator, consultant and CEO coach with 25 years' experience in leadership development and helping organisations to become more effective. He has worked at board level with international corporations and has also taught on several leading MBA programmes. He is Director of The Henley Partnership and the Executive Management Programme at Henley Business School.