Creative introverts are often drawn to startups for the autonomy and flexibility they offer. But the startup environment is rife with obstacles for introverts, as well: constant new hires to meet, opportunities for leadership and public speaking, noisy game rooms and happy hours.
As an introvert who's risen to a leadership position over three years at a rapidly growing startup, I've learned what I need to thrive in this ever-changing environment.
Here are five ways to help the introverts on your team take advantage of career-boosting opportunities while focusing on self-care and avoiding social burnout.
1. Offer a work-from-home day (or a few).
While a lot of introverts might flock to remote work for the opportunity to avoid regular human contact, I actually don't prefer it. The office gives me chances to connect and collaborate with coworkers that don't come easily when we're not in the same building. Plus I get social interaction in the familiar office environment that's hard for an introvert to tolerate out in the wild.
But I still need an occasional break. I get that respite at my company through a weekly work-from-home day that I can take any time throughout the week.
Offering this option -- instead of fully remote work -- lets your team get the benefits of serendipitous collaboration, and it gives the introverts a mid-week breather when they need it.
2. Design quiet areas.
My office offers a "quiet room" and many cozy nooks that our writers (and many others) love to sneak off to when it's time to get words on the page. Everyone knows not to disturb anyone in the quiet room.
This setup lets us keep an open office while creating a space to get into the deep work that could otherwise be hard to come by. It also offers introverts permission to put up a "do not disturb" sign when they need a break from the hubbub of the bullpen.
3. Orchestrate one-on-one time.
"Despite the common misperception that all introverts are shy, and vice versa, they're two very different phenomena," explains professional speaker and introvert Dorie Clark at Harvard Business Review.
"Introvert" isn't synonymous with "anti-social." I love connecting with people! I just don't have the energy to navigate a crowd.
Staff happy hours and holiday parties might be a fun way for some of your employees to connect beyond work. But for others ('hem, raising my hand), they're an intimidating obligation. For those employees, institute ways to connect one-on-one with other staffers.
Here's an easy example: Install the Slack app Donut to automatically pair coworkers who don't know each other well for a weekly meeting. Encourage participants to grab coffee (or donuts) together. As part of my company's focus on wellness, our weekly pairings are called "donut walks," and we're encouraged to get outside the office for a 10- to 15-minute walk-and-talk.
4. Give them -- and coach them through -- scary opportunities.
Don't let introversion hold back your best people. They might not seek opportunities to speak at meetings, lead trainings, do press or represent the company at conferences, but they could excel if you steer them toward those opportunities.
Then be there for them. Connect them with a coworker who can coach them through public speaking and networking, so they're not afraid to say yes to these opportunities. Eventually they'll probably even feel confident enough to seek them out.
5. Create mini opportunities for public speaking.
One of the greatest benefits of being an early startup employee is that the size of our company has grown in tandem with the audience size I'm comfortable speaking in front of. Early on, if I had to speak up at a staff meeting, I was only speaking in front of a dozen people. Now, it's more than 100 -- but I've had three years to grow my confidence.
While you're small, help introverts find opportunities to speak up. If you're not small anymore, find those opportunities in small group settings. If they ask a smart question in a one-on-one conversation, encourage them to repeat it at the next meeting. Invite them to offer a training to the team -- even if it's brief -- in their expertise. Ask them to share some insights in a team meeting.
Just make sure you give them a heads up. "We do best when we can think before we share our thoughts," workplace consultants Liz Fosslien and Mollie West point out at the Quiet Revolution, a community for introverts.