Work Daze: Leave Me Alone

By Bob Goldman

Ever dream of being stranded on a desert island?

There you are, totally alone, in the middle of the ocean, doomed to spend the rest of your days with no human company.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Thanks to today’s trend of open offices, the constant cacophony of co-workers can make work hell. Equally bad are the desk-side pop-ins from employees who have no qualms about disturbing you. Not to mention the official demands for you to rub shoulders with the hoi polloi: staff meetings, holiday parties, panty raids in the HR department.

A tumultuous environment is wonderful if you are an extrovert who thrives on unceasing interaction. That’s not you. With the onslaught of humanity continually threatening your chi, the question must be asked—what’s an introvert to do?

Jillian Kramer has the answer. In “How to Find an Introvert-Friendly Work Culture,” a posting on glassdoor.com, Kramer offers advice to those too shy to ask for advice.

(Don’t think the desire to be left alone makes you a weirdo. It’s your collection of Troll dolls that makes you a weirdo.)

Listen to executive coach Karen Elizaga, who confirms that “unlike extroverts who happily absorb energy from being around other people, introverts need time alone. They get and need to recharge their energy in solitude.”

Though you may be comfortable with your desire to be a hermit—or a himmit—it is essential that your employer is simpatico. With an understanding manager, you could successfully lobby for simple changes to your current workplace, like three-foot wide concrete-block walls with razor wire on top to be erected between your workstation and the nosey parkers who surround you.

Still, it may be easier to get a new job with privacy features already built-in.

“Look for a workspace with a door,” is career strategist Heather Huhman’s idea. Unfortunately, even the most progressive companies may balk at providing a private office to a newbie. If your employer has the archaic mindset that a private office is something that you must earn, here’s a win-win compromise.

Demand a door, but don’t insist on an office.

Brilliant, right? Having a door to prop up between you and your most annoying co-worker will demonstrate your feelings and your status. Just be sure to carry the door with you into staff meetings, or when visiting the candy machines in the break room.

“There’s someone you want to leave alone,” people will say. “He’s got a door.”

The second suggestion is to “search for a forward-thinking leader.”

According to Heather Huhman, bosses can be divided between leaders who “fly by the seat of his or her pants,” and those who “plan for the days and weeks ahead.”

A flyer, you don’t want. What you want is a planner.

“Introverts like to be able to ‘see’ what they’re going to be working on the next day, the next week, and so on,” says Huhman. That’s because, as an introvert, you need the peace of mind that comes from knowing you will be doing the same thing, every day, until you keel over. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

The third rule in locating an introvert’s paradise is to “find a company that uses asynchronous communication methods.” By avoiding employers who promote honest, open communication, you never risk being forced to come up with on-the-spot answers to difficult questions, like “How are you?”

What you want is a corporate culture that shuns face-to-face communication.

Imagine working for a boss who communicates by leaving memos in milk bottles outside their office door. Best of all, imagine a manager who channels Howard Hughes—someone no one has seen for years and no one is even sure is alive, except for the five-gallon container of Rocky Road ice cream delivered to their office every morning at 10 a.m.

“Look for companies that are open to allowing you to communicate in writing, not in person,” Kramer writes. Developing a taste for Rocky Road wouldn’t hurt, either.

“Know your own limits” is the fourth and final piece of advice. It’s the best way to “get a feel for whether you’d be comfortable in an office environment.”

True that. If the people in a company are friendly and demonstrate early on that they really want to get to know you, that’s a place you don’t want to work.

“You know best what you’re comfortable doing,” concludes Karen Elizaga.

Of course, what you are comfortable doing is doing nothing. And, darn it, you want to do it alone.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.