The future workplace – is there room for introverts?

So far in this series, I’ve spoken about the future workforce and what they will need from the future workplace, as well as how technology can power this new workspace and enable people to work better.

But how can we make sure that these spaces address the needs of different types of workers, for example introverts and extroverts? How do we make sure that the future workplace is an inclusive space for all?

What do introverts need to excel in a future workplace?

In her TED Talk on the power of introverts, Susan Cain explores the value that they can bring to the workplace.

“Our most important institutions, our schools and our workplaces, they are designed mostly for extroverts and for extroverts’ need for lots of stimulation. This is our loss for sure, but it is also our colleagues’ loss and our communities’ loss. And at the risk of sounding grandiose, it is the world’s loss. Because when it comes to creativity and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best.”

In her talk, she describes how her mother sent her off to summer camp with a bag full of books—a perfectly normal thing to do in her family. But when she got there she felt like she had to hide her books; like there was something wrong with her for not being as outgoing and rowdy as the other children.

Cain explains that introversion is different from shyness; it’s about how you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation. While extroverts might crave a lot of stimulation, introverts may feel most alive and switched on in quiet, low-key environments. “So, the key then to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us,” she says.

This insight has a significant impact in the workplace, where most of us work in noisy, open-plan offices with no privacy. Cain further explains that introverts routinely get passed over for leadership roles, even though they make better leaders—they’re more careful and more likely to let employees run with their own ideas instead of trying to control everything.

So, how do you create an environment that can get the most out of introverts, while not neglecting the needs of extroverts? Cain has some ideas:

  • Stop with the group work.
  • Encourage casual, chatty interactions around the coffee machine, but create spaces where people can have more privacy, freedom and autonomy at work.
  • Allow for moments to unplug and explore your own thoughts again.
  • Foster environments where people can be themselves and not feel pressured to fit in.

The last point ties in well with the Nike job description that I spoke about in my first post—how the focus has shifted from employees fitting into the workplace to finding a job that fits with your personality, skills and dreams.

In addition to making sure introverts get the right stimulation to thrive, it’s also important to make sure that no one gets left behind in the fourth industrial revolution. As technology is disrupting the way we work, people are becoming more and more concerned that they will be replaced by machines. At Accenture, we’re not about to let that happen.

Inclusive future of work—a call to action

To become an employer brand that attracts top talent, you need to be part of the drive to create an inclusive future where everyone is able to thrive in the workplace. Accenture’s latest report entitled Inclusive Future of Work: A Call to Action challenges business leaders to think about how to build such a future.

At Accenture, we are creating “new skilling” pathways for an inclusive future of work—a future in which all workers have the motivation, means and opportunity to thrive in the digital economy. To that end, we are collaborating across the enterprise to close the current knowledge and action gap in communities around the world.

The most pivotal question is this: How do we support vulnerable workers as they transition to new career pathways?

We conducted a series of around 60 ethnographic interviews with workers, over 30 expert interviews, a series of design workshops, and survey data analysis of more than 14 000 workers and 1 200 employers—which helped us to develop a framework of four solution spaces (see the figure below).

These workforce interventions will enable workers vulnerable to digital disruption to:

  • Envision new career pathways built on their strengths and the confidence to get there;
  • Expand access to relevant learning inside and outside of work to future-proof their skills;
  • Experience new roles and build work history by putting skills into practice; and
  • Empower themselves and each other to pursue lifelong learning through mutual support, mentorship, and peer-to-peer learning.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how digital workplaces are bringing life to a new way of working, and how we’re building digital workspaces at Accenture. To learn more about building an inclusive future of work, read the full report here.

To find out more about digital HR in financial services or to join us at the Change Directors Forum and People Innovation Forum in London, please contact me here or on Twitter @knott_nic.

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