After several frustrating re-entries to work, we reflect on what we’ve learned and how we can navigate a "new normal" workday. There’s no one roadmap to help us charter this unknown but one thought leader’s professional ramblings have struck a chord.
On a recent podcast episode of Brené Brown & Barrett Guille, they called going back to work in the office “The Great Awkward.” Awkward in so many ways because two years of living like a recluse can mess with one’s interpersonal skills. Brown, with this podcast, has given us a guidepost on how we, even with unsteady legs, can move forward.
Brown has pointed out that we are neuro-biologically hard-wired to be in physical connection with each other. For two years, however, we rewired our minds to think that a single handshake or a hug is now a gesture that could cost us our lives. We have learned to live at a distance – all 6 feet of it.
Come 2022, physically going back into our offices would be the easy part as we’ve been waiting to end the feeling of isolation and pressure of being everything all at the same time —especially for parents and those with partners. However, with the way we've been living and our persistent fear for our safety, expect to struggle when we now have to be in the same space as our colleagues.
It's going to be "weird." We will encounter another set of difficulties and challenges as we try to reconnect in a new way and be faced with a new reality that we will, for a time, still be untrusting of one another.
If somebody coughs, a situation Brown and Guille gave as an example, who's to say no one in the office will be internally panicking the whole time? How do we communicate with employees who show up to work feeling a little sick? Can we openly tell them to go home and work without them taking any offense when we only try to mean well? From our perspective, how do we approach our clients? Do we go in for a handshake or a fist bump (or the occasional elbow bump)?
As Brown and Guille have emphasized, we have to start normalizing our inherent fear for our safety and the awkwardness that comes with openly communicating our fears without passing on judgment. This is the only way we can enable ourselves to find courage and show up for our peers.
It will be hard and it will not be pretty but as we learned from the podcast, any form of innovation requires the difficult and the ugly.
Here are our takeaways from Brown and Guille that can prevent us from becoming unhinged during this period of The Great Awkward:
We have to normalize the awkward
We all need to accept that everyone will have different ways of easing back into the office. Be honest and transparent about what feels comfortable at this time.
Put it in perspective; this is not going to last forever
Take comfort that this is not going to last forever. You are allowed to be cautiously optimistic about the future.
No one is going to do this gracefully
This pandemic did not come with a manual and no one really knows what they're doing… not your boss, your employee, your mom or her neighbor, and dare we say, the people in government. We don’t know what struggles other people are going through, so by rule of thumb, let’s be kind.
Sources: “The Great Awkward” podcast episode of Dare to lead with Brené Brown & Barrett Guillen