This post was previously published with Keep Calm and Dream: For Introverts, By Introverts.
To those that value an environment that inspires them to do their best work, the idea of an open plan office may sound like a nightmare. At first. I wrote in my book The I’s Have It about the challenges that an open-plan or cubicle formation can pose:
Yes, equating a door with prestige originally fueled some of the desire I felt for a door. But secretly, I longed to have a door so I could close it. To most introverts, a closed door means time to relax, decompress, and to keep the “hot water” from getting in. Cubicles and open office plans are designed with the good intentions of keeping employees connected to each other, encouraging a collaborative and collegial spirit. While these elements can be fostered in an open environment, it wears on introverts a great deal.
But there are ways to keep your workspace from draining the energy out of you. And you can do it without shutting out the people around you. How?
Make your own time.
Is it possible to set your schedule in such a way that you can arrive a little before, or a little after the rest of the crowd? Sometimes, having these quiet moments to set your routine for the day and work on some “deep-dive” projects can help you rest easier through the rest of the day, when this uninterrupted time may be harder to come by.
Block it all out.
Depending upon the nature of your work, check in with your supervisor to see if it would be okay to wear headphones or earplugs as a means to drown out some of the smaller distractions that could throw your focus and deplete your reserves. If this doesn’t work, even the low hum of a white noise machine or desk fan could draw attention away from the noise in your surroundings.
Introverts and interruptions do not mix. And while some of these interruptions are logistical- phone calls, meetings, “calls of nature”- some are humanmade. If “pop-ins” are making it difficult to get work done, make an agreement to chat for a given amount of time (5 minutes, 10 minutes, your call). Then, cut the conversation short to get back to your work. The reason doesn’t matter; as long as you are gracious, you are well within your rights to assert yourself and protect your own time. The best advice someone ever gave me, that is invaluable to introverts: “No is a complete sentence.”
Work on location.
Again, depending on the nature of your work, it may merit asking if you can occasionally work on location from a more secluded place in your office (I work on a college campus, and sometimes I retreat to a carrel in the campus library), or even telecommute from home. The chance to work somewhere quieter, or more comfortable, can lower the stimulation levels that leave you exhausted by the end of the day in your regular office space. This approach is generally more appropriate for project-based work, but could be adapted to other sorts of tasks. If you elect to take this route, make sure that you create an arrangement with your supervisor that erases any suspicion of loafing. If you prove productive and attentive, who knows- it could become a more frequent arrangement?
Spread the gospel.
As a writer and researcher about introversion, people are well aware of my work style and tendencies- as well as why I am that way. But few inform those around them about their temperament and how they approach their work. I want to challenge you to talk to your supervisor and coworkers about not just introversion as a concept, but how it affects your work style and what office traditions or traits make work difficult for you. If you have good connections with your staff, they will do their best to ensure that you have what you need to be successful. And if for any reason they aren’t receptive, do your best to double down on the four previously mentioned tips.