As companies begin phasing back into in-office work, they might notice employees engaging in a different manner. After nearly two years of isolating, Zoom meetings and remote work, many are feeling anxious and nervous thinking about daily interactions with people they’ve only ever seen or worked with virtually. If you’re a business leader whose company is shifting into the office, or if you’re someone who is feeling anxious about going back to work, there are some great tips to prepare for the first days back.
The following advice for employers and employees will help break the ice and re-engage as they return to the office.
It’s up to employers to set the tone by providing opportunities for employee connection. Recognize that people are feeling uneasy and encourage informal catchups between team members. Create small spaces to get together and socialize, like allowing time at the beginning of meetings for employees to mingle. Providing pockets of time for people to focus on each other will help them to relax without overwhelming them.
In addition to providing pockets of social time, establish an environment that gets people talking. For example, allowing a casual day where your staff can wear articles of clothing that express their interests can help them to connect with each other and find common ground. In this scenario, employers don’t need to set up time for people to talk; it will happen naturally. A hat from a favorite sports team, a sweater from a past vacation destination or a T-shirt from a favorite band can be all your anxious employees need to break the ice with their coworkers.
While employers can provide time to socialize and create environments that allow their team to connect, it’s ultimately up to the employees to take advantage of these opportunities. If you’re someone who gets anxious in social settings, practice your listening skill by asking open-ended questions and focusing on their answers. Additionally, start out by having conversations with the co-workers you’ve been closest with while working remotely. Most importantly, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Practice for a limited time at the beginning; you don’t have to stop in every office on the first day back.
If you’re into someone who likes to start convo, find ways of bringing people to you (decorate desk).
There is no ignoring that people are feeling apprehensive about the return to work, but with the right tools in place, companies can make it a positive transition. Business leaders should focus on creating spaces and environments that encourage interaction while also having grace for the team members who struggle to get back into the swing of things. Cultivating a kind and compassionate workplace will help make the return to the office a happier experience.
Shideh Doerr, an expert in conversation and interaction, is the co-founder and vice president of JabberYak. JabberYak is a newly launched social engagement and technology company in Phoenix that uses ice breaking tools, including customized name placards, name tags, T-shirts and badges, designed to ignite meaningful, face-to-face communication without relying on personal devices. Use JabberYak at your next return-to-work party or event.