Hanging out with your dog, wearing sweatpants to work calls, selective social participation: WFH, what's not to love?
If you're an introvert, you may be aggressively nodding. WFH has been a heaven-sent for those who prefer not to keep up with the stereotypically extroverted, upbeat, always turned-on corporate office culture. And it works: Introverts indeed work better when alone.
But there's another side to all of this. The loneliness epidemic has hit young workers and Millennials the hardest. Because of their natural tendencies, research shows introverts are even more vulnerable. And we all know what that means for employee satisfaction and focus.
So how can business leaders induce their introverted employees back to the office?
It helps to know the root behavioral cause. Science tells us that we mistakenly seek solitude. This means that we think being alone will be a more positive experience than interacting with others, and we act accordingly. This might be because we underestimate other people's interest in connecting with us, fear the anxiety that comes with social situations, or maybe, after being indoors for two years, we just don't know what our IRL social identity is anymore.
But we need in-person connections. There's just too much to lose with everyone hopping aboard the WFH bandwagon.
OK. Now what?
According to evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, 150 members is the ideal group size. This is when cooperation is at its most efficient, communication is at its most clear, and relationships are at their most stimulated. Within this 150, we need five intimate friends, 15 good friends, and 30 friends.
The sprawling corporations of the 2020s where bigger is better miss this point. It turns out, the optimum internal group size is actually 4.6 members. Decision-making is most balanced and most effective then, matching the five intimate friends Dunbar recommended. It is also a number introverts can work with.
Bring the Home to the Office
Home is not only a place with fewer people, it's also a place where we're in control of our environment. It's a place where we can rest, recharge, and be with our thoughts.
But who says this has to be exclusive to our homes? To illustrate how companies and business leaders can cater to the human needs of their employees, introverted or not, Google is the perfect case study.
If you're an employee at Google, you're welcome to naps in sleeping pods, free massages, and to even bring your pet to work! Googlers are also encouraged to spend 20 percent of their working time on passion projects, and take unpaid leaves of up to three months to work on their other interests, like community volunteering.
This blurs the divide between "home" and "office," and it's this kind of workplace plasticity that will indulge everybody's individual needs so that we can all get to work on what's important.
Who Am I?
According to the social identity theory, we develop our identities on the basis of the collective priorities of our in-groups. During lockdown, we lost access to these in-groups, and had to develop our priorities independently. Over time, these new self-concepts have become our authentic selves. But employers haven't yet caught up with who we are now.
If you're a business leader, it's a good rule of thumb to assume that the people you originally hired have changed. Create opportunities that allow their new selves to shine, and explicitly ask them to reflect on their new priorities and to tell you what they need to thrive.
This will create a culture of trust, loyalty, and accountability, while also keeping your business relevant in the current employment climate.