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What will introverts do when we have to return to the office?

Working from home with your kitty snuggling on your lap? No need to attend the company Christmas party? Many of the undervalued, overlooked introverts of the world have loved this "new abnormal."

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Tammy Swift, Forum columnist.
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FARGO — What will the introverts do when the pandemic is over?

Let’s face it. For all the havoc and suffering that COVID has caused, it also has shifted our lifestyle in a way that some of the less-extroverted among us haven’t minded.

Working from home with your kitty snuggling on your lap? No need to attend the company Christmas party and make small talk with dozens of people? No pressure to contend with garrulous, guffawing Gary in the workstation next door?

Many of the introverts of the world have embraced this new abnormal.

There's been no shortage of speculation out there on how introverts will handle returning to the workplace. Especially when considering how many work policies and return-to-work strategies are determined by extroverts. As one Fast Company article noted , "with 98% of top company executives and 88% of supervisors being extroverts, introverts (worry) that their preferred, newfound work styles will be dismissed."

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In the same article, economist Tyler Cowen notes that introverts have traditionally been undervalued in our gregarious society. He argued that "having the highest-productivity individuals in a company be free to do what they want, to have a Zoom call with the people they want; that's going to drive a lot of innovation."

Yet other findings have ventured that introverts may have suffered more mental health issues after months without connection or collaboration.

It turns out that introverts don’t mind a bit of social interaction, as long as they can escape to a quiet spot or behind headphones when it becomes too much. But in a world of back-to-back Zoom meetings, there is nowhere to run. (You can turn off the camera for only so long before managers start questioning your “commitment to the team” and Gary starts calling you “George Costanza” and making cracks about you sleeping under your desk.)

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Personally, as someone who is split exactly down the middle on the intro/extro scale, I have enjoyed working remotely more than I’ve disliked it.

But there’s no question that it has wreaked havoc on A. My social skills, B. My personal grooming, C. My grocery bill and D. (occasionally) my mental health.

As irritating as it is to clean your house to present a “company facade” when you have guests or to spend hundreds on clothes and hair products so you don’t look like a time-traveling bonnet model/butter-churn champion, these social pressures actually serve a function. They keep us from devolving completely into directionless lumps who wear chili-stained T-shirts to formal weddings and clip our toenails at the airport.

And let’s face it: The line between our at-home selves and our in-public selves has definitely blurred . I currently own no fewer than three pairs of yoga pants that are strategically tailored to look like regular dress pants. Such casual attire would have been unthinkable 10 years ago, but today it’s basically “workplace casual.”

I've grown accustomed to going days without wearing makeup and taking naps over lunchtime. I live in fear of returning to the office full time, where it’s considerably harder to openly irrigate your sinuses while participating in training webinars.

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But it all begs the question: What will the quieter and more introspective among us do if they are ever expected to be 100 % “out there” again?

How will we return to the extroverted world of working in an open-concept office again? What if we again have to attend huge networking events, participate in embarrassing “role plays” during leadership-training workshops or speak up in a crowded staff meeting, with all those eyes staring right at us?

Some may be able to negotiate a hybrid home/office work situation. Some will perhaps seek a different job at a workplace where remote work is again an option. And some will buckle down, adapt and continue doing careful, detail-oriented, thoughtful work.

Just don't make them sit next to Gary.

Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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