An extrovert’s perspective: Communicating with employees during COVID-19

By Shannon O’Mara

In the current circumstances, with COVID-19 constantly hovering in the back of our minds and many of us facing a level of social isolation we have never experienced before, it has rarely been more important for executives to communicate effectively with their employees. As a young, extroverted consultant tackling her first full time job, the conversion to working from home has been a difficult challenge and has pointed out the importance of personalising communication styles to suit individual colleagues during this unique time.

Internal communication has changed rapidly in the last few weeks around the world, with companies seeking to reassure and motivate their employees. Whether these changes will outlast the crisis is yet to be determined; however, it is clear from our clients’ organisations that people are adapting to the situation differently, and it is vital to consider these differences when communicating with different personality types within your organisation.

Within our Sefiani team, as with all companies, there is a broad range of personality types; we’ve got it all, from more introverted people who take a calm, quiet and straightforward line to your boisterous, talk-to-anyone-about-anything extroverted personalities.

I’m definitely in the latter, louder crowd. The disruption COVID-19 has caused in my working life, coupled with my extrovert personality, has made the transition harder than I would have guessed.

Each morning I wake up and walk to my home office in the kitchen; while I’m glad I don’t have to bother with the train, I long for the days I would walk in to the office and get to say hello to everyone. Connecting with my colleagues is one of my favourite parts of my job. It’s also where I draw a lot of my energy from during the working week.

My adaption to working from home has involved lots of video calls fuelled with instant coffee, Slack debates on topics ranging from the best online training courses to whether a team game of Cards Against Humanity is a good idea or will signal the end of our professional friendships, and plenty of exercise and good nutrition.

Still, there have been some days which are harder than others. As someone who is usually highly motivated, energetic and efficient, I’ve had to seek out ways to stay charged up to kick client goals.

I have compiled this list of tips and tricks Sefiani has implemented, in the hope that businesses managing employees may find these helpful in keeping the more outgoing members of the team from feeling like they’re stuck in Groundhog Day.

Know your staff: Obviously, you won’t know every little detail about what makes your employees tick, but under these circumstances, you should have a good working knowledge of their personality. Be aware which of your team are more extroverted or introverted – that is, knowing if they get their energy from other people or if they generally recharge from their time alone.

For some of your more extroverted employees, regular catch-ups with a variety of their colleagues will be an energising and motivating experience. Consider implementing a non-compulsory daily catchup for everyone to bounce ideas around, share their experiences and generally have a chat; employees who need to recharge through social connection will flock to the opportunity.

Avoid making them mandatory, so those who only want to join calls relevant to their work and client needs can continue working on in peace. Try a morning tea call or virtual drinks on a Friday to make sure everyone still feels connected – incorporate weekly challenges, quizzes or games if you can.

Keep life as normal as possible, but add a little something extra: Continuity and a sense of routine is useful to employees across a wide range of personality types. If you have meetings every week with the whole team, ensure this continues; more introverted types may enjoy the continued organisation and structure, and the extroverts may appreciate the continued contact with the broader team.

If you’re chairing the meeting, consider inviting everyone to share something interesting from the past week. Just because people aren’t doing something outside doesn’t mean we all need to suffer from boredom. You may be surprised how many of your team are watching fascinating documentaries you’ve never heard of, learning a new language, or reaching new heights of fitness. This can serve as an extra moment of connection and inspiration for the whole team.

Utilise your team’s strengths: This period might just draw out hidden talents currently hiding within your team. It’s a good time to get to know what factors encourage each of your employees to flourish. Extroverts can often be big-picture thinkers with a thirst to help other people, this can be a great asset in unprecedented times like these. Where appropriate, empower your extroverts to take responsibility for identifying people who may be struggling with the separation and check in with them. Not only will the broader team feel supported, but we extroverted types tend to enjoy supporting others – making someone else’s day better is often the best point of our day too.

In the meantime, more introverted types are often excellent critical thinkers; take advantage of those in the team who demonstrate excellent analytical thinking and ask them to use their talents on projects and clients they may not usually interact with, adding an extra level of valuable critical analysis in this turbulent time.

Don’t let anyone isolate themselves too much: We keep hearing that ‘introverts were made for isolation’. While some more introverted types may be embracing the ability to buckle down without distractions and get things done whilst working remotely, it’s important to ensure everyone is still connected.

More introverted team members may be less interested in coming to voluntary all-team video calls, which they may regard as an irritating distraction. Instead, consider arranging brief one-to-one check-ins from their manager (and ensure that they really are taking place); include them in brainstorming opportunities and give them the power to decide when to jump in; or occasionally ask them to share their insights into their topic of choice, giving them an opportunity to share their knowledge and experience without feeling irritated by a constant stream of communication.

All personality types may find that they just aren’t enjoying isolation as much as they thought they would without a couple of bursts of socialisation every now and then. Seek out ways to bring them back into the team that would genuinely appeal to them, rather than imposing ‘mandatory fun’ on them.

Be kind to one another and to yourself: Right now, it is understandable for employees to be tense or frustrated. Some messages won’t have the right tone; sometimes people will be unusually short or vague with their colleagues; little issues like a dodgy internet connection will cause frustration and friction. It is vital, whether introvert or extrovert, that we all take the time to check in with ourselves and our colleagues.

Keep an eye out for tensions appearing in your team, and ensure that the lines of communication between employees, line managers and executives are open. Ask your managers to take the time to understand the personality types of their juniors and take responsibility for tailoring their communications appropriately. Any moments of friction should be handled with compassion to everyone concerned.

Outside work, take care of yourself to ensure you’re in the best possible frame of mind to communicate well with your employees, even in trying moments. Take a brisk walk, cook a nutritious meal, start a company workout challenge, meditate, or just take time with a book and wine in the bath. Call your mum – she misses you. Overall, remember that we are all in this together, and the better we communicate with one another, the better our chances of coming out of this crisis as a happy, motivated team.