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4 Tips for Introverts who WFH with An Extrovert (or Two)

As a writer and a coach who has been a solo-preneur working from home for the past seven years, I think I have the WFH gig down. I like it. (At least my version of it.) I’m an introvert, and I can work for hours in the solitude of my home office. Now, I have another WFH-er under my roof. Thankfully, it’s a big(ish) roof. (Everything’s relative.)

I’m used to my routine. However, this routine changed 18 months ago when we moved to a new home and my father moved in with us. It changed so that I could take him to doctor’s appointments, cook dinner every night, and generally be there for him, and I’m super grateful for that. With him being 88 and immune-suppressed because of cancer treatments, I’m glad he is here, and not 575 miles away in Pennsylvania during this stressful time.

Now, my routine has changed again. Last week, my husband closed his office and instructed his colleagues to work from home. So now he has entered the ranks of the WFH-ers, at least until this is over. I’m glad that he is no longer working at the office and coming into contact with people who are potentially infected or sharing the virus with others if he/we are infected with the virus asymptomatically. That’s the good news.

Here’s the bad news that you knew was coming. My husband and my father are both extroverts. While my dad knows that I need to spend hours in my office with no interaction from him, my husband is just now beginning to get that message. I need my space. I can’t work without it. I can’t breathe without it, truthfully. So this morning, I woke up thinking, how many new WFH-ers are facing this very predicament? If you are reading this, I’m guessing that you might be one of them.

So, here are a few survival tips for those of you who are struggling to make WFH mean “work from home” and not “work from H___” (the other 4 letter place that brings to mind fire and pitch forks):

1. Set boundaries. These may be physical, emotional, or spiritual. Where do you need to work in order to be productive? For how long? Can you tolerate interruptions? Can you tolerate anyone else in your space while you are working? What kind of space does your home allow? Particularly in places like DC, NYC, Chicago, LA and the Bay Area where space is at a premium even under the best of circumstances (and these are clearly not those) people tend to live in smaller spaces because they are not in them 24/7. And now they are.

Any amount of space begins to feel small when you are spending all your time there.

This means that it’s critical that you (and the people you live with) work together to figure out how this going to work. And make sure that everyone is in on the decision making. What is this going to look like? Where are you going to work and when? What about childrearing? Can you work for a couple of hours uninterrupted, and then take over child supervision duties so that your spouse can work uninterrupted? When do you each have meetings? Talk it through. All of it. (Sorry, introverts, I know this is hard.) If you can find a routine that works for now, give it a go. Remember to maintain flexibility to re-negotiate and adjust to changing demands over time, as it will ease the transition.

2. Be clear. If you can’t work with others in the same room, say so. It is super counterproductive to be passive aggressive with your partner or roommate(s) if they prefer working in coffee shops and think this WFH thing can mirror WeWork or your local Starbucks for a fraction of the cost. (I’m far too introverted and distractible to ever be attracted to a co-working space or coffee shop, but if my spouse was a long-term WFH-er, I think he’d need that level of stimulation in order to stay sane.)

You do you but be as clear as you can about how you work, so that those who you share space with can work with you to figure out how to get their needs met as well.

3. Be kind* (and have an escape route.) Please. What may seem like a glorious way to work at the moment, may become more challenging and emotionally overwhelming as time goes on. Nerves will fray. Patience will dry up. Temper may flare, or worse. As an introvert, when you need space (not if), how will you get it? Where will you go? What will you do?

Even now, as you anticipate working with others at home, plan your down time. For an introvert, down time is as necessary as air. What I have learned is that I can escape to my bedroom, take a bath or a walk, read in my office, or just go to bed early. My friends with small children get up early in order to have alone/down time before their spouses or kids are up. Whatever works, do it.

4. Breathe. Above all else, know that this is probably going to be hard for you to have so much of your time spent with the same people. But give thanks that you have a job that allows you to work from home, or your spouse to work from home, or both. It’s a privilege that I don’t take for granted. So many are hurting financially and physically during this pandemic. This is a small price to pay for the health of so many.

We are not currently under a stay at home order, but given my father’s health challenges, we are acting ‘as if.’ I used to be one of those people who would go to the grocery store multiple times a week, to the gym or yoga studio daily, and so on. Like many of us. Now, if I find that I need something from the store, I make a list, I decide to make something else, or I modify the recipe. If I need to exercise, I take a walk, or do yoga. I connect with friends more than normal. I meditate. Whatever you need to do to manage your stress, do it.

Finally, use this as a time to learn more about yourself and those around you. Negotiate for what you need, while taking into consideration what they need. Remember that especially where family is concerned, you chose to be around these people. But in the end, know that what you are doing right now in this time is saving lives. It may not be those who you know or love, but it will make a difference. Trust that.

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