You’ve been working remotely for the last year and a half and are planning to go back into the office. We at The W.B. Delivery previously discussed how to prepare for this eventuality a few posts ago from the practical aspect of being in the office. But, looking at this change from a more personal angle, how do we start interacting with our colleagues who we haven’t seen outside of a screen, if at all, in months? I know that due to my responsibilities, there are colleagues that I previously would interact with every single day who I haven’t spoken to since we switched to remote work.
This is because remote work is much more deliberate and specific than when we are physically in the same space. Remote meetings are for a specific reason, with specific people, for a specific amount of time. I’ve missed the casual interactions that sometimes spark creative outputs and answers to problems I wouldn’t expect, but I’d forgotten about the responsibilities around casual interactions and positively contributing to the overall office atmosphere. And of course, we haven’t had a communal lunch or the water cooler to think about for a while. As I’ve started to return to the office on a part time basis, I’ve realized that there is an art to being generally agreeable to those around me that I’d largely forgotten.
With that in mind, we figured a quick refresher on best practices with respect to in-person, in-office casual interactions a worthy topic to discuss – for more specific and detailed information, your HR department is a great resource.
1. Be aware.
While we are social creatures, having these casual interactions after such a long hiatus can be exhausting. Pay attention to those around you and read their body language. Today might not be the best day to try and catch up with everyone you’ve missed, you have time. And silence doesn’t have to be uncomfortable, it can be comforting and comfortable just being around someone else.
2. Be respectful.
That’s pretty much a theme of all of these suggestions, but if you have to take a personal call you may want to step outside of the shared office space. This also goes for certain types of conversations too. Maybe you have a close friend in the office, but her desk mate may not want to hear about your weekend plans while she’s working on a deadline.
3. Be authentic.
Share what’s happening in your life and listen to what others have to say, no need to one-up someone else or chime in on every topic in a group situation. Feel out the dynamic between individuals before unintentionally over-sharing.
4. Beware of traps.
Traps in the office? Communication traps that is, where you find yourself in a casual conversation that turns into gossiping about other colleagues. Or in a deep political or religious conversation. These conversations frequently lead to someone feeling uncomfortable at a minimum. Our voices travel further than we realize, be mindful of your volume.
We wish you an easy and invigorating return to the office whenever that might be. If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself “We don’t have plans for a return to the office, but I really do miss those casual interactions…”, you can encourage some virtual team building or initiate a ‘virtual water cooler’ over lunch where colleagues can interact with each other without an agenda (but a benign topic or two might be beneficial).