A workplace for all

There are many personality types in the workplace, from buoyant extroverts to those who are more reflective by nature. Modern office design and culture tends to favour the extrovert but with a little thought you can get the most out of all your employees.

As the average workplace grows ever more diverse, business owners and managers need to give more thought to accommodating the different individuals who assemble beneath the same roof every morning. There are obvious issues to be addressed, such as gender equality, ethnic and cultural differences, and the distinct perspectives that baby boomers and those from generation X and Y bring to the workplace.

However, perhaps more fundamentally, a workplace is also made up of very different personalities – extroverts who revel in the daily interaction with their peers, and introverts who beaver away quietly and simply get on with things. Arguably, the design of modern offices and the prevalent workplace culture tends to be skewed towards those who fall onto the extrovert side of the spectrum.

"In order to get the best from your staff it’s important to understand who they are, what motivates them and what their strengths are."

One space suits all 

Consider the open-plan office. It’s an idea that obviously has a lot going for it: employees work in a single space so the barriers to communication are physically removed, making it easier for workers to share ideas and engage in ad-hoc brainstorming sessions.

Equally important, the open-plan concept breaks down the island culture that can develop within the various departments in a business. Rather than encouraging a mosaic of fiefdoms, the open-plan space emphasises that this is one business, with everyone working together in a team environment. 

An inclusive environment

There’s a temptation to characterise extroverts as bright, lively, gregarious individuals while introverts are quiet and shy but that doesn’t tell the whole story. In psychological terms, extroverts draw energy from interacting and working with other people. On the other hand, introverts take their energy from tapping into personal resources rather than from interaction with other people: introverts are not necessarily shy, but reflective and appreciative of personal space.

It would be wrong to suggest that introverts find open offices unworkable – millions of us work in these spaces every day – or that personality type is a measure of contribution to a company: an extrovert can make a great line manager or CEO but so can an introvert.  However, there is a danger that open-plan offices favour those who are naturally more productive when surrounded by others. So, while the dividing walls are unlikely to be reinstated, businesses should also create spaces where introverts are able to flourish.

One solution is to factor in areas that are designed to provide more secluded workspaces for one-to-one conversations and small meetings: spaces that can be used by individuals who need some peace and quiet, but that won’t undermine the open office ethos.

Managing meetings

There are other areas where different personality traits will require effective management. For example, meetings can be difficult for those who are not naturally outgoing. Unsurprisingly, it will be extroverts who will be most comfortable speaking out in the company of their peers and others may well hold back. This means you could be missing out on important ideas or opinions, simply because the session is being dominated by a few people.

It is important to proactively manage or chair meetings. If possible, set the agenda in advance, giving those reflective personalities time to think about the issues carefully and formulate their own thoughts on the subject ahead of the meeting. Planning of this sort can help ensure all employees feel comfortable contributing.  

During the meeting, the individual leading the session should canvass opinions from everyone present rather than simply relying on individuals to speak out. 

Leading from the front

In order to get the best from your staff it’s important to understand who they are, what motivates them and what they’re strengths are. This means not only asking for opinions but also assigning tasks and managing projects according to what you know about individuals, their talents and their personalities.

Many companies use psychometric testing to assess the personalities of candidates and staff to establish their suitability for different roles. The outcomes of these tests can be incredibly detailed, characterising people not just in terms of an outgoing or introverted nature but also according to specifics such as the ability to handle detail or to multi-task. 

At a more personal level, managers can often get the best from staff simply by getting to know them and understanding which tasks will suit them. Some will be better suited to multi-tasking in a group environment, while others will flourish when working alone or in small teams on single projects. Staff members who are allowed to play to their strengths are more likely to climb the promotion ladder – whatever their personality.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK