Internet search results for articles and research studies generally come down on the side of extroverts and ambiverts who lean towards extroversion as having what it takes to be productive remote workers. It makes sense that, especially in a virtual team situation, your coworkers and people you report to would have difficulty with a remote worker who tends to go missing in action. Building trust comes with difficulty without a sufficient degree of communication and oftentimes there’s critical information that needs to be conveyed in a timely manner.
As a strong, task-oriented introvert myself, I’ve experienced how easy it is to “hyper-focus” and become deeply immersed in the work I’m doing. Consequently, I’ve seen how this results in not having a great sense for how much time has passed since I last touched base with someone else who’s involved in a project. However, if you’re an introvert who enjoys working remotely as much as I do, don’t be discouraged from seeking out or developing such opportunities. It might take adjustment but, in the end, you’ll learn what’s right for you.
Introverts and extroverts are not homogeneous groups. During the time I spent as a freelance writer and researcher, I let my clients know that I’m available and receptive to them reaching out and communicating (whether by texting, emailing, or calling) as I understood that they might have important additions or changes to make on the project I’m working on. Still, other introverts would rather not have their clients interrupt while they’re in the process of working. There’s variation among extroverts as well. As a rebuttal to Telecommuting personality types, I’ve known my fair share of relaxed, unassertive, go-with-the-flow extroverts as well. Furthermore, there are introverts who are not shy and extroverts who are shy as Susan Cain points out in Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither (and Why Does it Matter)?.
In sum, don’t judge individuals on the basis of their membership to certain groups. Go beyond that. Sorting people into appropriate roles is a complex decision-making task. I echo the message in The Best Personality Traits for Telecommuters by stating that there are more critical traits (aside from requisite, job-specific knowledge, skills, and abilities) to look for regardless of whether an introvert or extrovert is being considered for a remote work position, for example:
- Is this person trustworthy? Building trust goes a long way. One of the big surprises of my work-life was finding out that it’s possible to establish trust with people you’ve never met in-person. Last year, a long-term client hired me initially on the basis of my written, online communication. She said, “It just made me feel like I could trust you.” Since then, we communicated primarily through technology and conducted monthly in-person social/business meetings.
- Is this person disciplined? One of my favorite people in the whole wide world is an undisciplined extrovert. Favoring him over me for a remote work position just on the basis of our leaning on the extroversion-introversion spectrum would be a BIG mistake.
- Is this person engaged and passionate about the work? If you can be sure that someone is engaged and exhibits a strong sense of purpose in the work, you can be sure that this person is motivated to accomplish the tasks at hand.
As you dig further on the Internet, you’ll find arguments in support of introverts and extroverts in the role of remote worker. As a few point out, there isn’t an either-or on this dimension considering all the various other traits and characteristics that can be found on both sides of the spectrum. It has also been said that, when constructing a virtual team, you will want a good, balanced diversity of personalities. With that said, individuals with intense “lone wolf” tendencies would be better suited for more independent (rather than interdependent) work if they can carry on a solo task from beginning to end. I hold an optimistic belief that today’s virtual world has the potential to offer something to just about anyone who can and wants to work remotely.
Finally, here’s an example of a successful introverted remote worker. I was first introduced to the reality of working remotely on a full-time basis upon encountering the video series “Showering Optional: Tips for Remote Workers” by Jayna Wallace on YouTube. In part six, she describes herself as a loner and her preferences for working in solitude at 2:06 and goes on talking about obstacles to productive remote work and how she overcomes them.
(6 of 6) Showering Optional: Tips for Remote Workers – SXSW 2010
In other news, check out my guest post at http://www.discussuc.com: Never Say Never: Virtual Collaboration Tool Innovators Address the Impossible.