The most engaged users in a digital community at work often aren’t the ones you’d expect.
I know because for nearly three years I’ve worked closely with clients to ensure their digital communities are active, vibrant, and full of rich conversation from employees. In the case of one client in particular, I noticed that quarter after quarter one employee was consistently one of the most engaged users in their community.
This user went above and beyond, contributing quality content, starting thoughtful conversations, and fostering meaningful discussion with peers. When I shared this discovery with the client, they were no doubt pleased–but also surprised. This user was a cherished and valued employee, but very introverted by nature. If you were to meet them in person, you might not think they’d be one to get the party going.
But on their digital work tools? This employee was the party. So, why might that be?
Digital comms: a megaphone for introverts in the workplace
Something we don’t celebrate enough is how new technology leveled the communications playing field for introverted employees. For too long, leaders and communicators built communications strategies tailored to the squeaky wheels in the office. The mistake was in thinking that the silence from the introverts at work meant they had nothing to say or add.
Really, though, they just have different ways of communicating.
In a lot of ways, I feel this is similar to the experience of going dancing for the very first time. No matter what, you’re not going have moves like Prince when you first get on the floor. But an extrovert might dance without being self-conscious anyway because it feels good to go with the flow.
An introvert though? They might feel they need to know all the rules of engagement before ever stepping foot on the dance floor. The dynamics can feel overwhelming to take in all at once. They might hang back, watch, and wait for the right moment–which may never come.
To drop the metaphor, meetings and other public forums are not the place to hear the voices of the introverts in the workplace. Yes, plenty of introverts have no problem navigating social gatherings, but many more might have 100 thoughts from a meeting they might never share. A lot of introverts are cut from a different cloth. They need a space to go where they can collect and communicate their thoughts at their own pace.
But now that team communication tools at work have become faster, more expressive, and dynamic in function, they’ve actually been able to provide introverts that space they need. By stripping away the awkwardness and obligation of in-person conversation, these tools are giving introverts in the workplace a megaphone to make their voices heard.
And as a result it’s made the conversation at, around, and about the workplace much richer. Now there’s more input and perspective from more than just the usual suspects. But even still, you have to put in work to solicit that perspective.
3 ways to raise the volume
No matter if it’s a social intranet, enterprise social media, an employee communications platform, just having a digital tool isn’t going to make employees use it by default. Introverts in the workplace like them, yes, but more often than not they still won’t be the first people on the dance floor. However, they might be the second or third, and those are the people who are key in getting everyone else participating too.
So how do you get introverts in the workplace engaged with your digital tools? The trick is not to single them out specifically–that added social pressure can be counterintuitive to your cause. Instead, you want to manage the experience of using the tool and take measures to build a community that is appealing, valuable, and natural for introverts to engage in.
1. Leadership communication is key
If you want your introvert to post updates and photos and otherwise engage with your tool, someone in leadership needs to be doing the same. After all, if leaders can’t make the time, why would their employees do it? Leadership communication can validate the entire experience of digital communities for employees. With even just a small effort, your leadership team can make a big impact on the way employees perceive the value of the tool.
I’m reminded of a high-ranking leader for one of our clients. At corporate functions, you can see the respect he commands any time he takes the stage. But in his Bonfyre communities, he doesn’t let that buttoned-up image keep him from having fun. He’s what I like to call social media conscious: not too stringent about proper grammar and not afraid to post a silly selfie every once in a while.
And what does all that do? It helps employees get comfortable. It warms the room up and lets everyone know that it’s not only safe to express yourself, it’s encouraged. For introverts in the workplace, that little push can make all the difference.
2. Over-moderation leads to alienation
As you open your digital tool up for wider ranges of expression, be mindful of how you manage the communication employees contribute. You have to wield community moderation powers with a careful restraint. Introverts want to know that their contributions matter. If you hit the delete button on every bad joke or out of character remark you see posted, they’ll quickly check out of the platform entirely.
Now, you absolutely want to moderate digital communities for harassment and discrimination (and probably get HR involved while you’re at it). But if the worst offenses you’re seeing is that employees are getting too off topic or are asking questions better answered elsewhere, there are better ways of dealing with that. Even just developing a few guidelines for community admins to enforce and live by can go a long way towards creating a conversational space that introverts want to be a part of.
3. Always be responsive
Introverts in the workplace tend to monitor their own communication closely and sometimes will resist speaking up, even in environments where they feel comfortable. So when they do communicate, it’s important to acknowledge their voices.
If an employee ever reaches out to leadership or a company authority figure, don’t ignore their questions. Always make sure you close the loop. Coach your admins and leadership team to be attentive and provide responses, even if the question doesn’t have an answer at the moment.
In my experience, a response explaining you can’t help right now (and why) is always better than no response at all. You usually wind up with gratitude from employees and even a nice conversation to follow. And the alternative? You’ll make them wonder if you even saw them reach out. Worse, they’ll wonder if you even care.
While you might have to put in a little more effort to get the introverts in the workplace to speak up, it’s worth it in the end. At work, everybody wants to be heard and know that what they contribute matters. Now that we have tools that make hearing the quietest voices easier, it’s important that we use them.