Have you been keeping up with my newish series, Meet the Teamlancers? One of the more exciting elements of writing a series like this is being able to interview and interact with others and learning about the different work styles of people with similar careers.

After all, each industry comes along with its own (predictable) (overused) (irritating) buzzwords. Still, when you get to know more about people one-on-one, you see just how varied and fascinating your industry can be. And in learning about others, you end up learning about yourself. Here’s something that I learned along the way: I’ve been teamlancing for a lot longer than I realized.

A few months ago, I wrote an eight-part series called Adventures in Teamlancing (catch up on that entire series starting here), where I chronicled my adventures in a new teamlancing gig. Along the way, I got to delve into my fellow team members’ processes and some of our clients. I was also able to tap into the wisdom of random teamlancers willing to share their hard-earned wisdom with the rest of us.

After a while, it finally clicked that, while this was my first official teamlancing gig, at any given time, I’m already a member in at least a handful of varying Teamlancing™ collaborations. At this exact moment, I’m an active teamlancer on (stops to count) seven different teams. Whoa. I wasn’t expecting that.

Which role suits you best?

Here’s something else that I learned about teamlancing: When freelancing as part of a team or when part of a more consistent setup, we almost always revert to the roles we’re most comfortable with. However, that became a bit more complicated when most of the workforce started working from home in 2020. Suddenly, people who were best in crowds had to find ways to shine while working from home.

And what about introverts? People who were most comfortable in their own space and place had to suddenly elbow their way through a virtual workspace that was in their private sanctuary — their home.

For some introverts, working from home has been the high point of their career. After all, by removing the bustle and constant sensory overload, some introverts found a calmer workstyle overall. Still, others found that they were encouraged to behave like extroverts to succeed.

Should you fake it until you make it?

In the fall of 2020, two Australian academics released a study questioning whether introverts could emerge as leaders when acting like extroverts. Spoiler alert, Andrew Spark, postdoctoral research fellow, Queensland University of Technology, and Peter O’Connor professor, business and management, Queensland University of Technology, found that when introverts acted as extroverts, they were perceived as emerging leaders.

More than that, the pair found “no evidence of psychological cost for introverts.” But for how long and at what price? Introverts might be able to fake a more gregarious personality or working style, but one imagines that it could prove to be incredibly draining for the long-term.

The study found that extroversion measured the extent that someone is “enthusiastic, assertive and seeks out social interaction.” If you’re an introvert considering a leap toward leadership, you might be able to fake your way in.

Before you commit to changing your persona…

  • Try it one gig at a time. Before declaring yourself an extroverted introvert, try on the extrovert’s personality and pay attention to how it makes you feel.
  • Are you feeling more in control, or is the personality shift leaving you depleted?
  • Have you lost your sincerity or special sauce? Maybe this isn’t the direction for you to head in after all.

Hiding in plain sight

I’m not sure if it’s because they’re introverts, but most of the people I wanted to interview for this piece, demurred or asked for anonymity. Shara, a communications consultant, recently tweeted, “I’m an introvert, but I feel like I can be an extrovert when I’m hiding behind a screen.”

When I asked her to elaborate, she explained, “I am definitely an extroverted introvert,” who also refers to herself as “shy but outspoken.” Shara also admits that it’s taken her years of experience to build that confidence in what she says and does. She also thinks that hiding behind a screen or working remotely “can be a great equalizer.”

Eliminating awkwardness

Shara believes that one of the joys of remote work is the fact that many intimidating moments have been eliminated, “especially for someone new at a company.” For Shara, that means that there’s no awkward moment walking into a senior executive’s office. To take it a step further, she also believes that you can be more thoughtful in your communications.

Shara said, “You don’t have to have an immediate reaction/response virtually if someone asks a question.” In a fun plot twist, Shara added that working remotely allowed her to be more proactive and assertive in her communications to others. And since she started her job remotely very recently, she’s had to make an extra effort and step out of her comfort zone a bit to forge relationships, make herself known and gain visibility across the organization, especially with leaders.

And in keeping with the above study, Shara believes “none of my colleagues have any idea that I consider myself an introvert because I am very active/vocal within meetings, on Slack channels, etc.”

The sociable introvert

Even though Shara considers herself a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, she misses the face-to-face interaction with colleagues.

“I started a new job in March, so I’ve been remote the entire time and have not yet met my colleagues — which has its pros and cons for an introvert.”

And she admits that she’s looking forward to getting back to a more traditional work setting. Topping her list is meeting colleagues in person and building “real” relationships. Shara misses the social and collaborative aspect of being in-person and hopes to build closer relationships with colleagues in the future.

Why introverts should be proactive

One way that Shara manages her inclination toward being an introvert with getting to know her fellow teamlancers is by keeping a schedule. She recommends that other introverts “be proactive and schedule 1:1 meetings with people you want/need to work closely with. It will pay off to build those relationships.”

And if you’re not great at connecting for added business talk, find some other reasons to schedule time (virtually) together.

“You can always find ways to connect that aren’t necessarily strictly business. We all have more in common than we think,” Shara added. And despite being an introvert, Shara said she met up with colleagues in safe, socially distant ways. “It’s nice to feel like I have those work friends again.”

How introverts can keep work stress at bay

  • While you’re still working from home, use the distance to compose yourself before responding to an email or text. You might end up feeling less stressed about the communication.
  • Use scheduling apps: If you’re happiest in your work cocoon but need to respond to communications, consider scheduling your emails for a time when you’re less stressed. In this way, you’ll be better prepared to respond and not immediately react.
  • Or literally, pause. Turn off your email. Step away from social media or do some breathing exercise and ground yourself before or after your next Zoom meeting.

Connections matter

Publicist Sarah Karger doesn’t always have the patience for the back and forth and social niceties.

“As an introvert, I often find myself thinking alright, enough chit-chat, let’s get down to business.” But she holds herself back from expressing that to clients or colleagues.

“One of the things I have learned in client relations over the years — especially in a service dominated industry among a team of extroverts — is making a connection and networking is extremely important to every business.”

More than that, Karger acknowledges that these connecting conversations are “important for establishing and creating long-lasting relationships and it is just as important to maintaining those relationships over time.”

It doesn’t matter how great your work is, sometimes you have to share your personality or human connection.

“Just doing great work isn’t enough to keep a client in the grass is always greener on the other side world we live in,” Karger admits. She also understands that “people want a connection to businesses they use and brands they support. After all, people are behind brands, too.”

So that means that she allows her personality to shine through, even when she’d rather simply be doing the behind-the-scenes parts of her job.

Maybe you just don’t recognize them.

For some introverts, socializing is bewildering or painful. Here’s a theory that might explain why some people avoid crowds — virtual or otherwise. In 2019, Manchester University presented an absolutely fascinating (or completely bonkers) theory that maybe you’re not actually an introvert but are bad at recognizing faces.

Like Brad Pitt, my former fella had a variation of face blindness, which meant that unless he knew someone really well, he literally couldn’t pick them out of a crowd. After a few dates, I remember asking him (my ex, not Brad) why he never told me that I looked pretty, and his face fell as he looked miserable and confessed his uncommon disability. He also explained that was one of the reasons that crowds and parties stressed him out so much; he hated running into people he knew he should know but couldn’t recognize.

Back to the Manchester U findings.

Karen Lander, Senior Lecturer in Experimental Psychology, who shared this theory, explained in the original article that “It may be that extroversion causes superior face recognition or that people who are better at identifying faces become more extroverted as a result.”

In other words, you may simply be biologically built differently than someone who loves crowds because they can quickly identify every person they meet.

Connect on your level

Many of us use the word Zoom as the default way of describing any video call, but there are other mediums as well. Microsoft Teams, for instance, offers different potential arena-like settings so that someone who does best in a crowd can even virtually mimic that situation.

The thing is that being introverted shouldn’t stop you from moving forward in your career or connecting with your team. It’s more a matter of understanding the best ways to highlight your skills and not your anxieties.

3 ways to shine as an introvert and teamlancer:

  • Take the lead. This might seem like the last thing an introvert wants to do, but if you’re the one setting up the next meeting, you can be the one to choose the medium.
  • Connect with everyone individually first. For some people, facing a crowd can be torture. If you already know all the players, you’ll probably be more comfortable seeing them even in a group.
  • Follow up. Think you screwed up that last virtual gathering? Find time to connect with the people you met to clarify or simply find a human connection that goes beyond one perhaps imperfect presentation.