When it comes to networking, being an introvert can be seen as a professional disadvantage. But as the social rules have changed with the pandemic, many introverts are coming out of their shells.
For introverts, constant social interaction is often an uncomfortable aspect of office life, relieved by the recent mass move to remote work.
No more small talk around the water cooler, no more uncomfortable group meetings.
Of course, there’s still the need to sit through Zoom meetings, which can be as difficult for introverted types as in-the-flesh get-togethers, says Alison Hill, psychologist, keynote speaker and CEO of AFR Fast 100 company Pragmatic Thinking.
“Introverts actually value quality connection rather than small talk,” she says.
“Another Zoom meeting might be a case of getting your energy zapped because you feel only 5 per cent of it is relevant to you.”
That said, it certainly has a place in relationship building while COVID-19 means we’re shunning the office.
The correct tools
Even senior executives are using Zoom and that’s an opportunity to network right there, says Jen Dalitz FCPA, CEO of non-profit Women in Banking and Finance and member of the NSW Divisional Council of CPA Australia.
“Have a target of reaching out and having one Zoom catch-up or Skype meeting a day,” she advises. “Life has to go on, even in a pandemic.”
Avril Henry FCPA, a keynote speaker with a background in finance, human resources and change management, says Zoom calls or conferences are great, socially distanced exposure for all participants, introverts included.
“Your name and photo are up there where everyone can see and that helps build your brand,” she says.
If that sounds scary, remember that it’s also an opportunity to network in a safe place – your home office, or loungeroom – without people in your personal space, she adds.
The other, surefire, get-noticed, networking tool for introverts is LinkedIn. Do some research in advance and make connections strategically, says Dalitz.
“Introverts can start with their inner circle and then decide who else in the business is useful to get to know.”
Rather than just requesting assistance, actively connect with others by engaging with their posts, or following their page, so you can start a conversation in a more natural way, she says.
Hill suggests scheduling some time on LinkedIn every day to get across what others are doing from a professional point of view.
The right support
Of course, LinkedIn isn’t the only online platform that can be introvert friendly. While you’re working at home, you can grow relationships from a distance by joining some interest-based and professional organisations online, or signing up to podcasts and courses.
CPA Member Connect provides a direct line to connect with fellow members and build local and global networks in a closed, private and secure environment.
Other ways of interacting, as part of a team, can be through apps like Monday.com, or even professional Facebook groups, some of which have sprung up during COVID-19 so accountants can swap details and experiences on issues such as JobKeeper.
Introverts can be particularly good at breaking the ice with observational humour, says Hill. But judge whether it is appropriate to share a funny gif or a meme as a good way of connecting.
For others, picking up the phone to organise a socially distanced meet and greet, or seek advice or support, may come more easily.
“I’ve done a few meetings where we were walking and talking at either end of the phone,” says Dalitz.
Make the catch-up quick and, remember, it doesn’t always have to be about work. Ask about what else is going on for the other person and build a more in-depth connection.
Feeling a bit awkward about reaching out, especially to someone higher up the chain? Henry suggests sending an email complimenting them on their successes and asking for some of their time on the phone.
“Busy people don’t have time for a coffee, even a socially distanced one,” she says. “But this type of invitation often results in success.”
To strengthen the connection and support, make sure you circle back to tell them how their time and assistance was valuable.
Back to the future
At some stage COVID-19 restrictions will be eased and people will be back in the office. But it’s not going to be the same as before the pandemic.
“There will be social distancing, hand sanitiser, limits on how many people can be in the boardroom and a level of uncertainty,” says Hill.
“That presents an extra cognitive load for introverts and it will require being really kind not only to colleagues, but to yourself, because everyone is navigating this for the first time.”
She suggests talking to a leader about what the new workplace will look like.
“A lot of people are also talking about continuing to work at home, if they are more productive,” she says.
Henry agrees: “For introverts, a measure of hope for the workplace of the future is that we may never go back to working 100 per cent in office.
“For 30 years people have kept saying staff can’t work from home.
“Now 87 per cent of the workforce is working at home and we did that in a month.”