Zounds, We’re on Zoom! Introverts Can Lead Virtually
Part 1: Introverts can lead as schools and companies adjust to COVID-19.
Posted Mar 14, 2020
This week, I learned I would have to teach completely online at New York University. I approached the prospect of converting business communication lessons from in-person to online with a mixture of excitement at engaging the students virtually and concern about Murphy’s Law (P.S. both happened!). So I took NYU classes about the online Zoom platform for instructors.
With the advent of coronavirus, the “new normal” at many organizations entails a steep increase in online classes and meetings. We must adjust to at-home working environments, with all their distractions. Good news: Introverts are well-equipped to lead the way in these settings.
Heidi K. Brown contends that many introverts thrive in educational and employment venues in which they telecommute and interact online. Brown, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, champions the assets of quiet individuals. She highlights the strengths of introverts that are essential for the foreseeable future, such as working productively independently and expressing ideas in writing.
This interview follows my prior ones with Brown, “How Introverts Succeed as Lawyers,” based on her book, The Introverted Lawyer, and “How Introverts Can Navigate Fear Successfully,” based on her book, Untangling Fear in Lawyering.
In Part 1 of this interview, we’ll explore introverts’ strengths and leadership potential in virtual environments. In Part 2, we’ll discuss opportunities for introverts to gain visibility and lead the way in improving how we all communicate online.
NA: What strengths do introverts have that are useful as organizations worldwide rapidly change to cope with the coronavirus?
HKB: As organizations shift to allowing or requiring students, teachers, and employees to work from home, many people will face challenges. First, those who are unaccustomed to telecommuting must adjust quickly to working productively at home without being distracted. Others might grapple with how to balance at-home care for dependents.
Also, some who enjoy social interaction at work might feel isolated at home. However, many introverts already thrive when working independently. In fact, an introvert might be most productive working at home, typing on a laptop in a quiet nook—researching, writing, reading, reviewing documents, solving problems, articulating ideas in emails. In contrast, some introverts feel much less productive sitting in classrooms or offices, which often involve competing stimuli—noise, other people, and constant disruptions.
NA: What is the difference in your productivity when you work from home versus the office?
HKB: Before becoming a law professor, I was a lawyer for many years. In my last attorney job, I lived in New York and wrote briefs and other legal documents for a Virginia law firm. I also negotiated contracts, usually over the phone. Working from home, I was incredibly productive and happy, researching and writing 8-10 hours a day, often more. At times, I needed to travel to the office. There, I got much less done. Natural interruptions—people popping into my office, deliveries, impromptu meetings, running out for lunch—disrupted my workflow.
As an introvert, I crave quiet and solitude to do my best thinking and writing. Now, as a law professor, I notice the same dichotomy. At home, I focus intently, designing curricula, grading papers, researching, and writing book chapters or articles. The moment I go to my office, my productivity sharply declines. I cannot maintain an uninterrupted flow of thought.
NA: As an introvert, I strongly prefer chunks of time to support a deep dive in a quiet environment.
HKB: Interruptions common in every office environment decrease my efficiency. My introverted brain requires quietude to concentrate. For me, that’s at home. Many introverts who have family members at home likely have suggestions for how to communicate the need for quiet time, and create space to read, think, work, write, and recover expended energy. Also, an introvert’s most productive working time might be outside “normal” business hours.
NA: Yes, we must create that quiet time. How can introverts lead as organizations transition to more meetings online?
HKB: How many of us have participated in conference calls or online meetings in which the dial-in number doesn’t work; people are late or forget to join; participants don’t mute their phones; there’s no agenda; callers eat, drink, type near their phones; multiple competing voices talk over one another; we hear barking dogs, sirens, GPS instructions, wind, construction noise, cars honking; the call exceeds the scheduled end time?
NA: That sounds like the lion’s share of online meetings I’ve attended.
HKB: For introverts (and probably others), these scenarios feel incredibly unproductive. In this new era, introverts can lead by streamlining online meetings, offering helpful protocols for efficient and improved communications. Introverts are particularly attuned to identifying distracting stimuli and many likely have ideas for eliminating them.
Introverts could craft a list of conventions for online communications, and then lead remote meetings, modeling more mindful approaches to virtual interactions. We can send calendar invitations that adjust for different time zones, along with instructions for testing dial-in connections well before our calls. We can share agendas, and establish new norms for efficiently facilitating participants’ introductions, muting personal phones, using the “raise hand” feature in online platforms to indicate a desire to speak; welcoming written questions in a “chat” feature in online platforms and allocating time to answer them; sticking to agendas; ending on time; and framing next steps.
NA: Thank you, Heidi, for those powerful tips for increasing engagement, productivity, and harmony at organizations that are now communicating more online. I look forward to Part 2 of our interview soon. Meanwhile, yes, this is a prime opportunity for introverts to lead with quiet strengths.
HKB: Thank you for modeling a growth mindset as you shift to online teaching at NYU! I’m swiftly adjusting to teaching online at Brooklyn Law as well and am excited to grow alongside my students as we develop new communication skills together.
NA: To paraphrase Chris Zakrzewski, Ed.D. —whose training sessions I enjoyed attending on speedily converting in-person classes at NYU to the Zoom online platform: here’s to more enlightened engagement online that doesn’t have to seem remote.
Copyright © 2020 Nancy Ancowitz