Oh for God's sake, please stop moaning!
Sounds a bit harsh doesn’t it? But it’s something you may think in the coming months...
Here in the UK, we are whizzing through the Covid vaccination program and fingers crossed we have a target date of when businesses will open up again - Monday June 21 2021. So theoretically, come the summer, we will see the pandemic coming to an end and society as a whole will have more control over the virus and at an individual level, be much more informed eg. wash your hands whilst singing happy birthday - twice (thank Boris for that one!).
In general, office staff have been based at home during the pandemic - the new norm of WFH has been about approx 15 months - wow just saying that in my head as I type sounds like a very long time - because it is!
As humans we’re not that open to change because we’re creatures of habit - we like our comfort zones, we like our routines. WFH means we’ve been separated from office besties, our lunch buddies, our shopping at lunchtime breaks, having a drink afterwork and saying “oh go on then, just one more”. Overall our working structure has been disrupted and to be honest, it’s been crap!
Now the point of this article is to recognise that we are all different and that means we will have our own thoughts on the situation. The way you have adapted to your new working habits may differ from your friends and colleagues. Your pressures may have been different from your colleagues.
For example, I spoke to a lady (let's call her Jill) a few months after the Covid lockdown first started. Jill was in her early 20s, single and had a flat share in a very small flat. She found herself and her roommate both having to WFH, which itself created pressure within the living environment, which in turn had an impact on her work. Jill explained to me that she found herself being very isolated from her own friends and not being able to travel to see her family was particularly hard - so overall her mental health was hit hard.
This is just a small snippet of Jill’s situation and reading this, you may relate to Jill’s story, so you will have empathy towards her situation. But to others, your story may be completely different and find that you have been able to get on with things without any pressure - yes a few things may be annoying but on the whole, you’ve not had real pressure.
As the office communities come back together, you’ll pick up on the relationships you have previously had with colleagues and you will naturally start to talk and catch up. The closeness of the relationships will come back - something that has been lost by video calls.
As you listen to your colleagues, chat over lunch or have a coffee, you may notice that their stories may be different from yours. What is going to be your reaction/thought? One could be as the title says “oh for God's sake, please stop moaning” or you could apply some Emotional Intelligence to the situation.
Using Emotional Intelligence (EI) is not necessarily straightforward and or easy. People have varying levels of understanding of EI and how to apply it successfully (or not). The fact that there are a zillion books on the subject and many different learnings, demonstrates the complexity of EI.
I suggest you think about how you want to respond to colleagues as you all go back into the office. My thoughts on the matter are:
Reaction v’s response
Listening to your colleague, you could respond by giving a reactionary response which can be seen as shutting the conversation down, which your colleague will not like. If that does happen, what will that do to the friendship? Or you could give them a considered response, which shows them you get it, you empathise with them. If you want to take this approach notice their:
- body language - are they smiley and happy or are they clenching their fists?
- voice - easy or does it sound like they're panicking?
- words - are their words harsh, for example, “I’ve had a totally crap time in the last 15 months”?
- breath - is it normal or inconsistent and/or fast? Do they have a sense of panic to their breathing?
Noticing the above will allow you to give a friendly ear and a reassuring response. What does that response look like? For example, will you sit and let them talk without interruption - giving them the space to let it all out? What words will you use to reassure them that everything will be ok?
So before you get back into the office space, take some time to think about how you are going to re-establish relationships with your colleagues and how you will respond to their stories.
Oh and remember, it works both ways - your story is just as important - what response do you expect for others?
On a wider scale, leaders are going to have to think about how they support their staff coming back into the office space - some are going to get it right and some wrong. Think about Bill Michael, the chairman of KPMG UK who stepped down from his role after he angered workers with his remarks and tone while discussing a poll highlighting COVID fatigue. The HR teams need to lead strongly in supporting the management and leaders of companies.