217. Remote Work for Introverts vs. Extroverts

August 3, 2021

The transition to remote work in early 2020 was abrupt for everyone, but some found themselves thriving more than others, in many cases, thanks to their personality type. With work-from-home setups becoming the new norm in the age of COVID, many might assume that remote working environments are ideal for introverts, while extroverts are rearing to return to the office but, as you’ll learn from this episode, this isn’t necessarily the case! Today, Michael Nunez, Dave Anderson, and William Jeffries speak about introversion and remote work, sharing their personal experiences and elaborating on how they believe it relates to their individual personality types. We also touch on introversion versus social anxiety, the value of flexibility and creative thinking, and what Michael has in common with Spiderman, so make sure to tune in today to learn more!


Key Points From This Episode:

  • Dave shares his readiness to return to the office, despite identifying as an introvert.
  • Hear about Michael’s experience of taking the 16Personalities test.
  • What Dave misses about being in the office, including casual, low-friction interactions.
  • Defining introversion as greater concern for thoughts and feelings than external things.
  • How the perception of introverts has changed and how introverts differ from extroverts.
  • Why we believe that Zoom calls can be draining for both introverts and extroverts.
  • The value of structuring virtual meetings more intentionally to foster collaboration.
  • William highlights the importance of de-stigmatizing social anxiety in the workplace.
  • Why flexibility and creative thinking are essential for remote work.
  • The correlation between introversion, social anxiety, and the desire to return to the office.
  • Some other external factors at play, including commute time to the office.
  • How remote work has impacted interactions with introverted and extroverted colleagues.
  • Michael shares his excitement about having the same personality type as Spiderman.
  • And much more!


If you are a software developer or technology leader looking to stay on top of the latest news in the software development world, or just want to learn actionable tactics to improve your day-to-day job performance, this podcast is for you.

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Transcript for Episode 217. Remote Work for Introverts vs. Extroverts


[00:00:01] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developers podcast, living large in New York. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Our cohost today –

[00:00:09] DA: Dave Anderson. 

[00:00:10] MN: And our producer. 

[00:00:12] WJ: William Jeffries. 

[00:00:13] MN: Today, we'll be talking about introversion and remote work. Dave, how are you feeling in these times? It's been a while since we've been in an office.

[00:00:23] DA: I'm ready to go back kind of like a little bit. A little bit. I feel like I'm a little more excited to go back than my colleagues and I'm confused by it personally because I thought I was a more introverted person. But I'm like, “Wait. It was nice being in the office. Do you guys want to go back?”

[00:00:44] MN: I think we mentioned before we did our recording. You identify as an introvert, right? Is that safe to say?

[00:00:50] DA: Yeah, yeah. I think so. Yeah. I took that 16Personalities test a long time ago and I got an I in the word salad of labels they give you. 

[00:01:03] MN: So before the recording, gentlemen were kind enough to hear me answer the personality test as I was reading that because I don't think I've ever taken a personality test before. People found that entertaining, I guess. Y'all mentioned. We might have to put that out in the Patreon, where we eventually create that. But I got an E in one of my letters. 

[00:01:27] DA: Yeah, man. Extraversion. But I loved reading your entry about like your relationship advice. They're like, “Yo, this guy falls in love super easy.” It's like, “What a pushover.” I feel like I've got like a secret weapon against you now.

[00:01:44] MN: I mean, there were one question that was in there, which was like, “You enjoy watching people argue.” It was like that became a debate in itself like, “Wait. People [inaudible 00:01:53] fighting?” Or is it just like a healthy debate? My mind went to full blow. 

[00:01:59] DA: I didn't think that I would enjoy watching people argue. But when we were arguing about arguing, it was pretty good.

[00:02:04] MN: Yeah. So as an introvert who wants to be in the office, could you talk a little bit more about like do you miss the water cooler conversations that could potentially sprout when you're in the office? Is that like what you're alluding to?

[00:02:22] DA: Yeah. I mean, like initially, I was like, “Oh, yeah. This is great. I'm like working on my own time. I can be in my own space, and this is great.” But then I realized that like, a lot of times, like I'm not like actively seeking out social interaction. There are probably other people who are a similar situation as me who might think of themselves as introverts. A lot of the social interaction that I was getting was through like casual interactions that were like really low friction in the office like, “Hey, let’s get lunch,” or, “Let's get coffee.” Or someone's talking about a problem, and I would just like kind of throw, just start engaging in something. Yeah, that was great. 

Now, like if you want to get coffee with somebody, now you got to like play the schedule game and like schedule some time and calendars and whatever. 

[00:03:19] WJ: Can we get a definition of introversion and extraversion?

[00:03:24] MN: We can pull that up. We have the power of the Internet with us today. Let's do it. So according to Google, there are two definitions for introversion. The first one is the quality of being shy and reticent. It says the tongue-tied introversion of the self-conscious artists, is the name of the quote that they used. Then there's one particular to psychology that says, “The tendency to be concerned with one own thoughts and feelings, rather than with external things.”

[00:03:57] WJ: So I would argue for the second definition. I think the first definition is kind of pejorative, like, “Ah, introverts are just socially awkward weirdos who can't have a conversation in a group.” 

[00:04:10] DA: Right. I think there's been kind of a shift of like that label too because like there was like all those like books and talks a couple years ago about like the secret power of the introvert. I feel like it was like kind of fashionable to like hype introversion in 2015 or something like that. But like I remember reading a lot at that time about like how there was a difference between like extroverts getting their energy from being around people and engaging with people, and introverts recovering energy by like spending time alone and like recharging their batteries through thinking quiet thought.

[00:04:53] WJ: Yeah. I think where you get your energy from is a key part of the definition that I've heard in the past. So here's the definition from Psychology Today. They say introversion is a personality trait that sits on a continuum at the opposite end of which is extraversion. Introverts do not fear or dislike others, and they are neither shy nor plagued by loneliness. I'm glad that they make that really explicit. Evidence suggests that unlike extroverts, the brains of introverts do not react strongly to viewing novel human faces. In such situations, they produce less dopamine. 

[00:05:32] DA: That is super scientific. As an introvert, get these faces out of here. 

[00:05:37] MN: Get out of here. I don't want to see you. Get out of here.

[00:05:40] WJ: Compared to extroverts, introverts enjoy subdued and solitary experiences. So I think that this is me personally talking. This is not from a definition. But I think that introversion is a real phenomenon. That's a real personality trait, and it’s also not that common. I think most people are extroverted. There's this notion that it's like a 50-50 split, and it's not. There are a lot of traits that humans have that are not 50-50 splits. 90% of the population is right-handed. 70% of the population is morning-oriented. Only 30% of the population tends to stay up at night biologically. 

[00:06:26] DA: They also described it like in a very kind of binary sense, where like you either have blue eyes or you have brown eyes. But like it's not really like that kind of a thing. I think I've also seen it described as like kind of a continuum, where people are maybe leaning one way or another, but kind of there's just – It's a complicated thing. It's like people's behavior.

[00:06:53] MN: I mean, it's like, yeah. My question about the introversion is are you an introvert? If you're identified as an introvert, is that who you are 100% of the time? Because, yeah, sure, I can pair program with someone for a full day. That's great. I will possibly be draining because it's easy to pair program with someone. But I also like to solo and do things and explore my own way of learning something or solving a problem. Am I introverted when I am enjoying pair programming? I mean, extroverted when I'm enjoying pair programming and introverted when I'm soloing by myself.  That's the thing that I get confused about, the definitions of them too. Because let's be clear. I think whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, Zoom calls are draining, regardless of how you slice it. William, do you think that like being in a Zoom call, like afterwards, you're like, “I'm pumped. Ready to go. Let's get it done.”?

[00:07:53] WJ: Well. So what is the content of the Zoom call, right? Because we've done like team building stuff. We did an escape room on Zoom, and it was pretty fun. I think I felt energized afterwards. But most Zoom calls that I'm on are work-related, and it's hard because you don't have all the same social cues that you normally do, and there are other factors like lag that make things tricky, and that can be stressful and draining. 

[00:08:20] DA: I feel like every Zoom is really an escape room if you think about it. You're just really trying to hit that red button and get out of there.

[00:08:29] MN: That is the worst, yeah, because you go to click the red button. If you're on the phone, like you can't finger it. They want you to specifically hit the button. Then it's like, “Okay, wait. Do I have to pass host to somebody?” That's another part of the escape room that you got to pass the host. Who do you pass it to? 

[00:08:45] DA: You accidentally make everyone escape the room when you're just trying to escape the room. 

[00:08:51] MN: You kill everyone in the room by, yes, exactly, turning off the Zoom. 

[00:08:56] DA: Yeah. There can be good meetings or like good engagements with people on Zoom. Like you were saying, William, like an escape room. The way that they structured that was engaging and energizing. So I think there's something to that where like maybe there's better ways to structure meetings or being more intentional about how you're having those interactions that make it easier for people to collaborate and feel energized and purposeful. I think there's like kind of a general people problem. But like in meetings where it can be hard to know when you can speak up and like in Zoom meetings, there's really less of a capacity for cross talk. So I find that like it can be challenging to like get a word in edgewise when some people are just like going and going and going.

[00:09:53] MN: There's that hands-up feature, and I always forget where that is, and I'm sure that would be important for – There you go. If you go to reactions, there's that raised hand like, “Hey, guys. It's me. Let me talk –” 

[00:10:05] DA: Right. Slower. 

[00:10:07] MN: But even then, like I guess what an introvert feel, do they even feel bad for pressing that button in the first place, I guess, right? That’s like energy in itself like, “Hey, I want to say something.”

[00:10:19] DA: Yeah. That's an interesting thing. Like maybe you could have like some kind of an agreement about like how you might use that in a meeting. But you might have to be intentional about how you think about structuring the meeting ahead of time.

[00:10:30] WJ: I also think that we should talk a little bit about social anxiety. This is I think separate and apart from being an introvert. Having social anxiety is a very common experience. I've dealt with social anxiety. I think most people have at some point in their lives, and we stigmatize it often, especially in the workplace. We really shouldn't. It’s a very normal part of the human experience. Social anxiety I think is a real barrier when you are in a remote environment because it makes it harder to do any kind of social interaction, which already has a bunch of barriers because you're remote. 

Then also, if you crave social contact, which I think most humans do, it becomes even harder to get because the social anxiety makes it difficult. Then there's more distance from opportunities. You're not regularly physically close to other people. I think that's the thing that we should really talk about because a lot of people I think don't identify as introverts because they don't draw energy from being alone. They also don't prefer introspection and self-reflection to external experiences. But they do have a lot of these challenges that make operating in remote environment difficult.

[00:11:48] DA: Yeah. I think like when you're in a crowded meeting, and people are having an engaged discussion, and like that same kind of social anxiety may come up where it's like, “Oh, I have something really important to say and I want to get in there.” The remote setting kind of removes more of the cues that you could use. You could kind of use body language, or people may be more observant of your body language or whatnot. So I think that could also like increase anxiety about like contributing in a meeting. 

But an interesting thing with like remote meetings or like digital meetings is that you do have like the chat channel, so you can like have those like side conversations or like chime in a little easier. I think that's like an interesting idea for how things can be a little more flexible, if you think creatively about it.

[00:12:48] WJ: One thing that I'm curious about is to what degree does being introverted correlate to wanting to get back to the office and to what degree does social anxiety correspond to wanting to get back to the office? It seems like there's a correlation there. People who are extroverted and low anxiety, for sure, it seems, are the least interested in getting back to the office, which is really counterintuitive, right? You would think that the people who most enjoy social interaction and are the least anxious about it would be the ones who would want to get back to a space where there's lots of opportunity for it, and that's kind of surprising. 

But what I don't really fully get is how much of that on the opposite side, for people who are really excited to get back to the office, is because, one, they have social anxiety. Two, they're introverted. Or three, something completely unrelated. Like maybe they just think that they're more productive that way for lots of valid reasons. It’s easier to get work done when you tap somebody on the shoulder.

[00:13:55] MN: Yeah. I mean, I think as y'all experienced as I was taking the test that I am an extrovert, going into the office is not like one of my priorities right now though. I think that's like the inverse of like introverts wanting to go in. But I think that there are other things, external things, at play here, including commuting. I feel like commuting is draining and I don't know if that is an introvert trait. I mean, who finds excitement in standing in a packed train to get to work?

[00:14:28] DA: I mean, that's an interesting thing as well because like I read something when I was thinking about this topic that was like, “Oh, yeah. Okay. That kind of was a nice part of my day.” I like not having like an hour and a half or two hours in the morning to commute. But like having like 30 to 40 minutes of commute to kind of like just be in your head, like kind of in a box underground, where you have no like Wi-Fi. Or I guess where you used to have no Wi-Fi but maybe you do now. But, yeah, like just kind of like observing, reflecting, like kind of like seeing random shit, and thinking about things or not thinking about things or what have you. Yeah. I think that's a useful thing as well that you could kind of like design that time into the day. But when things like kind of bleed together, it can be challenging.

[00:15:30] WJ: Yeah. Those in-between moments I think are when a lot of really powerful unconscious work gets done, and that is something that I miss about commutes. I mean, I miss having regular broadcasting time also. But also, when you're in transit and you can't work, there's nothing to do except think. You get these in-between moments where sometimes you make real breakthroughs. Is that an extrovert thing or an introvert thing or totally unrelated?

[00:16:01] MN: I think having the time to yourself to think might be the introvert aspect. But that, yeah, I think it might be. I don't know. I just took the test, William. I honestly don't.

[00:16:16] DA: I mean, I guess, where you got to go is like is it just a human thing to like need an introverted time or like to benefit from a little bit of that introverted time that’s like measured?

[00:16:29] WJ: So do you interact with your co-workers as a software developer differently if you know they are introverted versus extroverted? Or do you generally not take that into consideration? Has remote work changed that at all?

[00:16:43] DA: I feel like people don't really wear a label on them that tell you if they're introverted or extroverted. I've started asking people like where they consider themselves and I've been surprised most of the time. I think a lot of people who I assume are more extroverted are kind of just leaning more on one side of the spectrum from their perspective, kind of enjoying more of a balance. I think that's true for people, including myself, who label themselves as more introverted. It’s still kind of a leaning rather than like a holy hermit life experience. 

[00:17:23] MN: Yeah. I guess I have done in the past but I should take that into consideration on how people prefer their interactions because like I know I can be a lot, people. I really can and I apologize, if you are an introvert, if we cross paths. 

[00:17:39] DA: I think it's a powerful question to like ask people and like have them like kind of consider if the way that we're interacting in these meetings and things is working or what were the ways like at a really like low level it could be improved or more considerate for them. So I think there's a lot of value in thinking about it.

[00:18:02] MN: Yeah. So I took the test earlier, as I mentioned, to learn where I stand in the introvert versus extrovert. What made my morning is the fact that I have the same personality trait as Spider Man, which I am so excited to know that. So that's just going to put extra pep in my step this morning, for sure. But, yeah, I think this is a really interesting conversation of like knowing a person's personality and how to communicate with them. I think we're all excited for the future where we can go into an office or continue to work remote where we have this hybrid situation. 

Dave, I'll be more than happy to see you in the office really soon by the water cooler. We'll have a chat, for sure. Not this whole remote setting we've been at. 

[00:18:51] DA: Yeah. Let's find a water cooler somewhere up in like Westchester County, right?

[00:18:56] MN: That – We got to go to Hungary, right? We got to – Let’s find a water cooler in Hungary. 

[00:19:00] DA: Okay. We’ll go to Hungary. We’ll have some water cooler and talk about the socioeconomic implications of the Hungarian language.

[00:19:09] WJ: Yeah. They have great water here. Budapest is famous for having massive underwater cave systems below the city. 

[00:19:15] MN: Oh, snap. I had my fun fact. Awesome. We'll have to check that out. 


[00:19:20] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit, so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five-star review and help developers just like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode. Subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries, and my amazing cohost, Dave Anderson, and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole. 


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