How Extroverts Can Thrive in Asynchronous Remote Teams
I'm a typical extrovert. I am energized by social interactions and generally thrive in social situations. My grade one teacher, Mrs. Mitchell, remarked on a school report that "Mia is a chatterbox," and she was right.
I'm curious about people and love talking, sharing stories, and discussing ideas. One of my values in life is connection. It's important to me to nurture rewarding friendships and relationships, and I am thrilled when a work friendship graduates from something proximal into something personal.
At previous jobs, working from home was a privilege that was only acceptable when you were feeling too sick to come in (but well enough to work from the comfort of your couch), had a home maintenance issue or a delivery, or if you needed uninterrupted focus time that couldn't be guaranteed in the office. There was also an expectation that working from home wouldn't inconvenience your colleagues.
I'm a researcher and writer who is used to working independently and on deadline. I invite solitude and routinely carve out time for deep work to concentrate. I now have a Pavlovian response to certain music playlists that help me achieve flow. Deep Focus has ushered me through a lot of analysis and report writing—thank you Spotify!
I've swallowed whole the books of Gretchin Rubin, Cal Newport, Nir Eyal, Greg McKeown, and James Clear and adopted a range of habits to make the most of my time. Working to my chronotype and embracing my alertness in the morning has guided me to plan my day based on my energy and attention levels. Rituals such as prioritizing three tasks for the day, monotasking, and time boxing help me maintain my productivity. Folding my glasses into their case at the end of a day and sending my laptop to sleep signal the switch to rest of life mode.
When the pandemic hit, my former employer closed our offices and sent most of the 10,000 staff to work from home. It was novel and welcome. I appreciated not needing to hustle myself into the office each morning, suitably attired and lunch packed. (I'm one of those people who would wear a work uniform every day as it meant one less decision to make and predictable levels of laundry.)
Working from home meant time for meditation, exercise, or professional development before my workday began. It immediately became easier to co-parent my two school-aged kids—with our week on/week off custody arrangement—without the additional pressure of school drop-offs, a commute, and formal office hours. More wiggle room also meant that I could be a calmer mum (home learning notwithstanding 😨).
Before the pandemic, I would never have considered a fully asynchronous remote role with no office, no official business hours, and no expectation of an immediate response to messages. Until now, my fondest career moments have been at workplaces with a strong social thread. The chitchat, banter, and deeper discussion when collaborating have always been a fulfilling energy source. I was convinced that I needed the IRL social aspect of work to be happy.
The pandemic changed my mind and taught me several things.
First, when my colleagues were taken out of the workday equation, I discovered that I didn't like my work very much. Frankly, a lot of it was boring! I would procrastinate because I realized how repetitive my work was, and it wasn't easy to stay engaged in what I was doing. My social connections at work had masked the fact that my job was no longer stimulating.
Second, I'd already adopted work and personal habits that lend themselves to working successfully in an async environment. The way I worked in the office and at home didn't change that much, except for the spontaneous chatting with whoever was lucky enough to be sitting next to me! While my extroversion is a defining characteristic, it's only one of the big five personality traits. My conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to trying new things all supported working remotely.
Third, I became better at recognizing what makes me happy and pulling the many levers that contribute to wellbeing. Social connection may play a bigger role for extroverts, but it's still just one of many.
Melbourne, where I live, holds the unfortunate honor of having undergone one of the world's longest lockdowns. For about 245 days, my colleagues were out of the IRL picture along with many friends and most of my family. During this time, on the odd occasion I did meet up with someone for a walk, I left the encounter buzzing, almost giddy, like my inner battery had just been charged! It was visceral and immediate.
Initially, I was desperate to get back into the office and even eager to attend more Zoom meetings with colleagues, thinking they would help solve my dilemma. But what a band-aid solution that would have been. Eventually, I turned to a mnemonic device that I made up to help me creatively generate energy. MMENDSS is an acronym of the core drivers of wellbeing:
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Social connection
DOSE is an acronym of the four key happy hormones (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins) that are created when you engage these drivers. I made a deliberate choice to look for new work during the pandemic and was seeking a role that could fulfill my MMENDSS to get my DOSE. I specifically sought meaning and impact, work/life flexibility and convenience, and a meritocratic environment where I could communicate authentically, contribute with autonomy, and enjoy a sense of belonging.
Float felt like the right fit, and from the interview process through to the structured onboarding and daily work culture, it has proven to be. Since joining the team in early November, I've connected with people across the business in an intentional and meaningful way. The detailed introductions and sharing of personal and professional info meant I learned more about my colleagues in one week than I had at some IRL offices after months.
While I've used Slack at several employers over the years, the defined rules of engagement (mostly everyone has notifications turned off) and the emotionally intelligent communication at Float have elevated my understanding of what is possible. I have the freedom to work a short week when my kids are with me (school hours plus brief a.m. and p.m. check-ins), followed by a long week (making up the balance of full-time hours over a month) when I'm kid-free. This is a game-changer in terms of managing the stress levels that force many working mothers to participate in the workforce only part-time.
Research tells us that happier employees are more engaged and more productive employees. There's a role for employers to contribute to employee happiness and a responsibility for those employees to learn what makes them happy. The last couple of years have been an opportunity to identify and pursue a best work life that is unique to me, including my extrovert needs.
What I've realized is that far more than banter and chit chat, at the heart of my social needs at work are trust, understanding, and uniting over a common goal—which I've found working asynchronously on a fully remote team at Float.
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