Preparing for Your In-Person Office Return
A complicated mix of feelings comes with returning to the office after two years remote. We need to accept that things will look different. You may be anxious or excited about spending energy you haven’t spent in a while. Returning back to the office may feel like culture shock. How can you build the energy to reconnect with your coworkers?
Since we started working from home nearly two years ago, we have grown more distant from each other. It will be more challenging for those of us who struggle with social anxiety. We need to be prepared for an abrupt increase in social stimulation. Remember that the adjustment will take time just like it did with the original experience of quarantine. Resist comparing what the office was like before Covid. Instead, focus on the here and now, and find the silver lining.
Give Yourself Time.
It will take us all time to get used to being in the office. You may have spent the last two years alone or socializing only with small groups. Permit yourself to skip any large lunches or happy hours. Consider getting to work earlier than your coworkers to avoid the morning rush.
Going back won’t be perfect. So give yourself and your coworkers grace. Your coworkers may have experienced the serious illness or deaths of people close to them. You may sense high emotions from others as we all experience something new. We may not emerge from quarantining the same person.
Create a new daily routine.
Your daily schedule will likely change once you’re going into an office to work. Now you may have a new meditation or exercise routine. You may have made nightly family dinners. So be deliberate about the habits you want to keep when you go back to the office.
You may need to leave the pet that you’ve bonded to over the quarantine. So get a pet camera so you can still watch your furball.
Your morning will change. And it won’t feel as leisurely. So build some extra time into your morning, at least for the first few days back. That should help you not feel frantic. Pick a routine, get organized, communicate it, and be consistent in executing it.
How do I relate to my coworkers in person?
To restart the working relationships we need to build attunement. That is the ability to be aware of your own state of mind and body when connecting with another person. Attunement is a skill that allows us to recognize communications from others, to connect and have our message understood, and to handle conflict. Attunement has four elements, each of which can be developed through regular practice.
Take time to prepare your nervous system.
Before your next meeting starts, stop for a second, turn your chin down, and think as if your head is lightly suspended from above. You should feel a gentle lengthening of your neck. Rest your shoulders. Feel your abdomen expand with your breath and ease back down with a breath. Tune into your surroundings. These actions can soothe your nervous system, making you feel present and grounded. That should help you give the other people your undivided attention, which is important in our world awash with digitally created distraction.
When you feel anxiety, it’s important to acknowledge it. If you are feeling particularly anxious about a meeting, continue to practice a few moments of focused breathing and not attaching to the story of the thought. That will decrease the amount of time you feel the anxiety.
Listen to the other person — and yourself.
The other person’s cues should be the most important thing to you, for at least a moment. Check-in with yourself occasionally, remaining aware of your feelings and physical senses. When you feel tension, drop your shoulders and take a breath. Return your attention to the other person.
Empathy is seeing the world through the eyes of the other, not seeing your world reflected in their eyes. Assume you don’t know what the other person is feeling because you probably don’t. So ask questions. Try something like, “I think my responses are different from yours. What’s your experience? How do you see it?” Displaying a readiness to hear their perspective will lead to that person feeling respected.
Active listening is an essential element of empathy. To practice, active listening make eye contact with the other person. Don’t interrupt them. Allow the other person to finish talking. If the person expresses negative emotions about a situation, don’t suggest how to fix it unless you’re asked.
Keep expressing interest.
Meet the other person where they are emotionally and mentally. Let the other person begin with their agenda. You will a good connection by expressing interest. Stay in the flow for at least a few minutes. Don’t get stuck on your digital distractions, worries, or agenda items.
Your coworkers will enjoy your attunement to them. They will feel heard. Don’t worry about being perfect. That’s impossible. But with these ideas, you will be able to reconnect with your coworkers in person. Attunement can have a big impact on your relationships.