Can extroverts succeed as remote workers?

Ashley is a marketer at Atlassian, and she normally works in one of our offices. Sarah is a writer at Atlassian, and she’s been working 100% remote for more than a year. Ashley is about to participate in an experiment in which her team will work remotely for a month. She’s convinced she’ll be miserable, or at least unproductive (possibly both). What you’re about to read is a friendly debate as to whether hard-core extroverts like Ashley can make it as a remote worker. Grab some popcorn and see how it plays out:

The gym was empty. There were no lines at the grocery store. You could always get a table at any restaurant.

Sounds like a dream, right? Not for me.

My name is Ashley, and I’m an extrovert. And not in the weird “oh she likes to talk” misunderstanding of the classification. I’m an extrovert in the sense that I am energized by being around people. And in the tiny college town where I started my undergraduate education, there were hardly any people. Anywhere. So I left.

Just over a decade later, I’m about to embark on an experiment: working remotely over the holidays. And I’m worried I’ll fail. Not because I won’t get my work done, but because I’ll miss the people. The energy, the buzz, the hustle of office life. Most people think working remotely is the holy grail of work-life balance, dreaming of sitting in a hammock on the beach, laptop perched on tan legs, sipping a cocktail and typing away happily. But that’s not reality for most people, and it certainly won’t be the reality for me.

I’ve done a couple of WFH days over the years, so I already know a few things about myself, and I have real concerns about this month-long experiment.

Point: I’ll be so lonely!

I love the energy of the office, running into people in the kitchen and having spontaneous brainstorms on the spot, and having lunch with my co-workers on the deck. And this goes beyond the normal need for deep connection that all humans long for, it’s the general enjoyment of being surrounded by people. That’s why I left the college town!

During this little “work from home for the holidays” experiment, I’ll have my husband around during the day, but he’ll be working on his own projects. And as an engineer, he prefers to work with headphones, surrounded by multiple monitors. In short, I’m legitimately concerned about finding a way to bring people into my space, to have serendipitous encounters, and to have meaningful conversations.

I suppose a seasoned remote worker might have some sage advice… Sarah?

Counterpoint: Eh, less lonely than you think

Oh, I hear ya. I’ve got some strong extrovert leanings myself, and I was just as worried about loneliness when I first transitioned to being remote full-time. Honestly, though, it hasn’t been that bad. I do spend less time with other humans now, but it’s not a ton less because my habits have shifted.

Most likely, one or more of these patterns will emerge for you:

  1. You’ll fall in love with video chat. Like, reeeeeeally in love with it. The great thing about today’s vid chat tools is they’re so easy to use, it’s no big deal to fire up a call in order to have a 2-minute discussion. You get the human connection, and you get the info you need faster than if you exchanged 50 instant messages.
  2. You’ll spend more time with friends and family after work and on the weekends. And without a commute draining your very soul out of you, you’ll actually have the juice to hang out in the evenings!
  3. You’ll be crazy-consistent about going to the gym. (I mean, I know you already are… but get ready to be extra excited about going.) You might even find yourself joining group exercise classes and making new friends.
  4. You’ll spend a few afternoons a week at your favorite wifi-enabled coffee shop. Even ambient human chatter can be fortifying for us extroverts.
  5. You’ll be so delighted by how much you can get done in a calmer, quieter environment that you just won’t care all that much about not being surrounded by co-workers.

This is basically what’s happened with me in the year or so I’ve been working remote. Funny thing, too: I now feel less of a need for humans around me all the time. I still fall into the extrovert category, but it’s lovely having a new appreciation for quiet time alone.

Point: I need people to help me stay productive and focused!

Fair enough… I do love the gym 🙂 But what about productivity?

Namely, what if I fall down the rabbit hole, chasing ideas that have no long-term value? I’ve seen myself do this in the past when I’ve worked from home. I’ll be working away on an idea that has been vetted, and without the distractions and interruptions common in an office setting, I’ll start distracting myself with GREAT ideas related to my project.

(Except, they might not be all that great.)

I’d normally turn to my desk neighbor to casually say, “Hey, can I get a gut-check on something with you? I was just thinking that it would be AWESOME to do this project, does that sound like a good idea?” The hesitation while my colleague considers the idea is often enough to recognize that it’s probably not worth pursuing. If the pause isn’t enough, a quick, “Hmm… I’m not sure that really works for this type of project” usually stops the rabbit-holing.

Somehow, it feels like a much bigger commitment to pop something into a chat room full of team members for a quick gut-check. What if I’m not sending all of them down a rabbit hole? How do I achieve the quick-and-casual gut-check on half-baked (or still back-of-the-napkin ideas) plans when I’m not sitting next to people?

Counterpoint: Video chat is your new best friend

Please, please, please give yourself permission to not stress about asking questions over chat. It’s really no different than asking in person. I mean, asking someone for an opinion on your great idea can send them down the rabbit hole if you’re standing face-to-face, too.

One trick to succeeding with using chat in place of in-person conversation is to ask the question over chat the instant it pops into your head. It’ll likely take a few minutes (or longer, if people are in meetings or at lunch) to get a response. So make sure you can move ahead in some way while you wait.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask someone if they have a couple minutes for a video chat. People tend to get all wrapped around their axel when it comes to video conferencing, but the technology has progressed far enough that we can all unload our collective baggage around video being hard to use. Because it’s not (anymore). Impromptu video chats are the remote equivalent of walking over to someone’s desk. And we do that all the time without giving it a second thought, right? The mental shift isn’t easy for everyone, but once you make it, you’ll find vid chat a very useful tool.

Speaking of productivity, though… Do you have a strategy for not getting distracted by the things in your home? Some people find it really hard to ignore the dirty dishes by the sink or the laundry they meant to fold four days ago.

Point: My creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum

HA! Working helps me procrastinate on doing the laundry and the dishes… I welcome that distraction. The bigger issue will be whether I can come up with new ideas on my own.

There are some handy tidbits to be gleaned from listening in on other office conversations, and the dishes have zero good ideas. I’ll be sitting by myself, instead of with adjacent teams where I would normally eavesdrop. As a marketer and editorial contributor, hearing about ideas and projects in the early stages helps me craft better campaigns, sketch out articles, and plan speaker submissions more efficiently. Basically, that interesting thing that you’re not quite ready to share with the world, or the feature that’s coming to market in 6 months? Yeah, I want, and often need, to know about that.

Many of these conversations turn into lunchtime fodder with my teammates, allowing us to open up other avenues of projects and ideas that we might not otherwise have stumbled upon. How will I “accidentally” make new connections if I have to intentionally engage with my coworkers? The flow of ideas and banter isn’t the same when you schedule a meeting (which should have an agenda).

Counterpoint: Extroverts are only in a vacuum when they want to be

Here’s where your extrovert tendencies really come in handy. Because you’re not going to “accidentally” make those connections and stumble on that information. You’re going to do it on purpose.

You’ll need to think about who might be working on projects that dove-tail with yours and pro-actively reach out to them. (Hey, it’s a great excuse to fire up that impromptu video call I mentioned earlier!) And you’ll need to ask specifically who else you should be talking to. Basically, you work your network like nobody’s business.

See, I happen to think that extroverts actually make the best remote workers. The key to successful remote work is communicating and interacting with your teammates just as much, if not more, than you would in a co-located office setting. And we extroverts aren’t just willing to connect and interact, we crave it. So we tend to initiate it. A lot. Introverts, on the other hand, aren’t as eager to initiate communication and are more likely to struggle to stay as informed and connected as they would be in an office. (At least, this is what I’ve observed – your mileage may vary.)

Let the games begin!

With reservations noted and tips provided, it’s just about time for me to kick off this remote experiment. And I won’t be alone. According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace Report, 31% of workers spend 80% or more of their time working remotely, and 20% work remotely 100% of the time. Forbes details 125 companies that are comprised of a nearly 100% remote workforce. In fact, my nuclear team has two people that work from a home office 100% of the time (including Sarah), and my adjacent teams have multiple people who are either in home offices or effectively “remote” because they work halfway across the world.

In short, working in a geographically-dispersed team is more common than that you might think. And as companies vie for talent on a global scale, solving “remote work” is more important than ever.

. . .

Follow along with me and my team as we #WFHForTheHolidays. Follow @Atlassian on social media for pictures and videos of our journey, and subscribe to the blog to have more insights on remote work delivered right to your inbox. Got tips of you own? We’d love to hear ’em!

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Debate: can extroverts succeed at working remotely?