The physical separation and isolation demanded by the COVID-19 pandemic have dramatically highlighted fundamental personality and work-style differences. For example, as an HR consultant and executive coach, I’m primarily an extrovert, but my youngest brother, a writer and editor, is more of an introvert. While the reliance on video conferencing has been comparatively easy on him, I miss the direct face-to-face interactions that are rarer these days. Introverts can still feel the negative long-term impacts of sheltering in place, of course, but people like my brother tend to feel more comfortable with attending meetings online, structuring their own time, and working independently from home. Extroverts, on the other hand, draw energy from being in public and communicating with others in person, so it comes as no surprise that this lockdown has been particularly punishing for us.
For those of us experiencing “Zoom fatigue,” the promise of a reopened, vaccinated world comes as an extra relief. But this return to normalcy will not happen overnight. The transition back will be slow, and for a while yet, we’ll continue to wrestle with the unsatisfying mediation of our computer screens, interfering with the social cues, facial expressions, and body language that make in-person social interactions more easily readable and reassuring. What’s more, some organizations may discover that working from home has been an efficiency boon, and they may continue the practice beyond the pandemic. Whichever video platform your organization uses—Zoom, Google Meet, MS Team, etc.—remote conferencing is likely here to stay in one form or another.
There are ways to mitigate the potentially stifling, dispiriting effects of video meetings felt by extroverts. I have combined here some personal ideas with other strategies discussed in Aili McConnon’s useful article in The Wall Street Journal this month. One suggestion is to use your larger television screen as a monitor (and the speakers for higher-quality sound) via an adapter between your laptop and the television—this visual and auditory enlargement can make the meetings feel more immediate and immersive. If you begin to find your immobile position within the confining frame of the screen is causing stagnation, schedule regular breaks between meetings and get outside, even it’s just to throw your dog a ball, do some gardening for a few minutes, or walk around the block.
I have said that introverts are less affected by video conferencing and working from home, but they, too, can encounter difficulties. For example, introverts tend to value the distinction between the different roles of work and home. Who among us hasn’t had a child, pet, or partner inadvertently (or perhaps not-so-inadvertently) interrupt meetings, causing us to switch hats in mid-sentence? This kind of role juggling can be especially disorienting and exhausting to an introvert. If you struggle with these intrusions, make sure you have an office space—even it’s a temporary one—that family members know is strictly devoted to your work. As much as possible, subdivide your living space in order to accommodate the separation you require in order to keep a clear sense of purpose and identity during meetings.
Maybe even worse than interruptions are the unnatural pauses, user errors, and frozen images that are common during video conferencing. Introverts tend to prefer clarity, directness, and a lack of ambiguity in social interactions, and if a coworker talks over them as a result of forgetting to mute the microphone, an already awkward situation is made even worse. The learning curve improves as we all get used to video conferencing, but setting ground rules is still important in order to avoid these pitfalls. For example, ask participants to plug in to their modem with an ethernet cable for a more reliable connection. If meetings involve dozens of people, consider using smaller breakout groups, each responsible for discussing and developing a plan of action around a different pertinent issue. This way, the larger group can reconvene afterward and share broader reports more efficiently, without sacrificing thoroughness.
As a professional who prefers and depends upon in-person interactions, I anticipated some personal impact as a result of remote work, but even introverts already comfortable with working alone from home can find themselves longing for the clarity, directness, and compartmentalization of a face-to-face meeting. We will all have to be patient going forward, but in the meantime, there are ways to accommodate our personality types and work styles in this sometimes-exhausting era of the video conference.