It’s hardly a revelation that a fair number of introverts are working in the technology sector. But those of us who have either covered the profession or worked in it for any time at all are very much aware that it has its fair share of extroverts, too. So how do you go about managing both personality types while optimizing the work experience of each?
I recently had the opportunity to discuss that question with Steven Pruden, senior vice president of human resources at Appirio, an Indianapolis-based cloud services provider that was acquired by the Indian IT consulting giant Wipro last year. Pruden, whose placement on the introvert/extrovert spectrum he describes as “right in the middle, just slightly on the extrovert side,” said Appirio has gained quite a bit of insight on this topic by virtue of having grown up in a virtual team environment:
Through our 10 years of existence, we have not invested a lot in office space and real estate — we have a virtual work force that works from everywhere. In order to manage that work force, we have had a lot of flexibility in how we manage people. That gives us a unique slant on managing introverts especially, because if you are an extremely introverted person, a remote work environment sounds like a really good thing — you don’t have the pressure of all the group meetings and lunches and all of the things that maybe you’re not comfortable with, or maybe you feel is a detriment to your productivity. If we can provide a structure for people to work where they’re most productive, in a very quiet place they can create for themselves, they can be highly productive in that environment — especially in tech, where ever since the first dot-com bubble burst, it’s been all open workspaces and compressed cubicles — it’s loud, it’s noisy. Some introverted people, especially if they’re more on the developer side, need time to get in the zone and become productive. If that zone is interrupted, their productivity falls off a cliff. That creates a frustrated work environment, a frustrated experience for that worker. It can lead not only to inefficiencies for the employer, but to things like turnover and unnecessary stress. So I think just by the nature of Appirio’s existence, and how we’ve evolved, gives us a pretty unique view in hiring those more introverted people, and in how you maximize their productivity and their employment health over the course of their career with you.
Pruden went on to share a few tips for managing introverts and extroverts together:
My first tip is that an employer should not assume that a one-size-fits-all strategy is going to work. In fact, they should assume that that’s not going to work. As you’re creating HR policies, or creating workspaces for people, or helping to define or refine a culture, if you can bring flexibility into your planning immediately, you’re going to be in pretty good shape. That’s mission No. 1.
The next step, he said, is to embrace managing various types of workstyles and work preferences:
For me, the introvert/extrovert spectrum really comes down to separate work preferences or workstyles. If you’re an extroverted person, you’re going to be most productive when you are working in a group, where things are maybe a little bit more chaotic. Your creativity is drawn toward that — you can bounce ideas off of people, and it becomes very productive. If you’re introverted, you need the exact opposite. You need a safe place to get in the zone and think. It needs to be quiet, and you need concentrated work to be done. That is something that is very tough to do in tech, because it flies against everything that tech does when designing an employment workspace, or when designing the corporate culture. At Appirio, we’ve focused on those two groups — we want to give people the flexibility to get their work done in a way that works for them.
The third recommendation is to ensure that there’s an enabling computing/collaboration infrastructure in place:
For years, businesses invested millions and millions of dollars in technology to bring people together across large distances — think of a Cisco TelePresence room, or something like that. At Appirio, we have a culture of how we get work done, which is very one-on-one videoconference-centric. It would be very rare at Appirio for you and I to be talking over a conference line — we would be talking face-to-face through Google Hangouts, or GoToMeeting, or some other collaboration means. That’s very important for connecting an introvert who needs a quiet work environment — they need to feel connected to their employer, just like the extroverted folks do. But you’ve got to have that robust collaboration infrastructure. At Appirio, being a 100 percent cloud-based company, we have the luxury of being able to take advantage of being able to work anywhere in the world, as long as you have a relatively quiet place and a reliable internet connection. We don’t have firewalls, and VPNs, and things like that that create friction for our remote work force. So the collaboration infrastructure is the last pillar in what you would need to have.
Finally, in light of Appirio’s acquisition by Wipro, I asked Pruden if he’s found employees from India in general to be any more or less introverted than employees in the United States. He said he has not:
They would have the same variation in work preference and introvert vs. extrovert, just like anywhere else in the world. There may be corporate culture differences between [Appirio and] how the overall organization works. But I think down at the individual level, you have the exact same spread of preferences as you would in North America. We’ve seen no difference.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.