Isolation and Introversion

When was your last “really good” meeting? If you’re like me, it probably was not one your calendar told you to attend; it was the meeting after the meeting that provided the most value.

My last excellent interaction occurred after a formal update to SHP’s senior leaders on the firm’s innovation research. The core team responsible for co-creating the work was digesting how the partners reacted — very positively! — and were defining our next steps. The five of us are equals, each bringing a diverse set of skills, experience and beliefs to the party… which means, of course, that we sometimes can passionately disagree with one another on the “right” course of action.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]In a moment of passion, I lost my temper with a colleague I respect. I was aiming for the possible, albeit impractical, and they were aiming for the realistic, albeit challenging. I blurted out, “You’re pissing me off!” They calmly countered, “Well, I’m not trying to.” It was brilliant on their part, embarrassing on mine.[/perfectpullquote]

To me, this was a good meeting. We all cared. We were all searching for the possibility of creating something of value. We set a goal, and we creatively argued about a plan.

Meetings in a Time of Self-Isolation

You’d think having fewer meetings on the calendar would be a good thing for a devotee of introversion, such as myself. I need time to think, and I think best when alone. In fact, I have been working without a designated office desk for 13 years; my “office” is my roller bag. Since a significant proportion of my work productivity is thinking critically and creatively — and since I am genuinely comfortable with my introvert nature — working out of a roller bag has allowed me to be productive and create work value, within and without the traditional “office.”

Five weeks ago, I began working alone in light of the current pandemic. Despite my introverted nature, the last five weeks of self-isolation have been hard. Very hard. I mentioned this to my CEO recently, and she responded quickly with, “Big difference between having the choice to work alone and not having the choice.”

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] She is exactly right! The axiom holds: we are better together than apart. Even after 13 years of “practice,” I have been unprepared for a truly isolated experience of working fully alone.   [/perfectpullquote]

And so, I find myself missing meetings.

I certainly don’t miss the bad meetings, the reoccurring events during which one person is telling others what to do and how to think. Or when everyone has to go around the table and account for their activity. To define work by sitting in meetings to listen to a manager “lead” the group? That sucks. Just send me an email.

I miss the good ones, like the one I just described. I miss the creative excitement and idea-interaction with intelligent people. SHP has excellent meetings. I am lucky.

Isolation and Introversion

Yesterday, while ruminating on what is yet to come, my thoughts wandered to the millions of people who, for the first time, have begun working remotely. I wondered if their meetings have dwindled, as mine have. I wondered if other introverts — about 51% of North Americans, if Myers Briggs data is correct — have also begun to crave good meetings, office distractions and the welcome smile of a colleague.

This introspection led me to two thoughts that I hope will help my fellow introverts weather the storm of working alone.

  1. Reach out to each other at every moment of need. Imagine that the rules of office protocol are suspended. The six-fee-of-social-distance rule does not apply in virtual human connection. There were probably days inside the office when you did not connect with another human in a social way. But you were present together and saw the expressions on each other’s faces. Take a new risk and reach out to another.
  2. Aggressively respond to others when they reach out. Suspend your introvert and realize your extravert in ways that open up the chance to see a smile on a web camera. It’s the best medicine for soothing fear. Move beyond the memory of what behaviors your organizational culture understands as right and good and move into the imagined potential of our work network’s highest value: human connection. Connecting remotely is different, but suspend disbelief that it is worse. Virtual is best in order to not be alone.

Again, we are better together than apart. Peace.