Does a hallway chat seem like a monumental task these days? It’s not just you. After two-plus years of pandemic life, it really is more exhausting to socialize at work.
To further complicate matters, different social rules apply to interactions for in-person and remote work. And then hybrid schedules ask you to jump between the two.
The good news is that our brains can adapt to new social cues. In fact, it may not take long with consistent exposure and practice, according to an article in BBC Worklife. Follow these tips to ease social stress and connect to coworkers in different work environments.
At the office
Words matter, it’s true. But when you are physically present with colleagues, communication is so much more than what you say. In fact, according to an article on LinkedIn, more than 90% of communication is about everything but words: body language, eye contact, appearance, voice inflection and facial expressions.
When you’re at the office, take advantage of physical presence to get the most out of your communication.
- Embrace impromptu conversations. At home, you may want to put your head down and focus. But when you run into a colleague in the hallway, take that moment to make a personal connection.
- Show interest in your coworkers. Pay particular attention to your body language. Make eye contact, and angle your shoulders and toes toward the person you’re speaking to. Don’t cross your arms or scan the room for other people. Even if you’re busy, resist the urge to check your phone or email.
- Provide support. If you overhear a difficult interaction with a client or another coworker, make eye contact and provide a supportive smile or a nod of understanding.
- Maintain personal space. The ideal conversational distance is about 3 feet, according to Inc., but personal preference can vary. Try to read cues, such as a colleague taking a small step back during a chat.
- Respect privacy. If people stop talking as you approach, respect the private nature of the conversation. They probably aren’t talking about you, but it usually is a cue that they aren’t ready to converse with others.
Whereas body language rules the day in the office, remote interactions rely heavily on verbal communication. Talking to one or more colleagues on a computer screen requires a different set of strategies.
- Agree on ground rules. Before virtual interactions, share guidelines on how to handle interruptions, two or more people speaking at once, slow internet connections or being booted offline.
- Be direct. Talk about how you’re feeling and what you need. At the outset, state your goals for each meeting or conversation.
- Be prepared. Online conversations don’t flow as naturally as in-person chats. Prepare questions to get teammates talking about travel, pets, family or other personal interests. Ask for their tips on socializing at work. Sharing solutions can increase trust and get people to open up.
- Ask colleagues for their communication preferences. Some people love video chat, while others may avoid turning on the camera. By adapting to personal preferences — e.g., video, phone call, email, instant message — you are more likely to make deeper connections.
- Listen more. It’s not just about your own voice. You need to hear others too. Reach out to people who are being quiet and ask for their thoughts. Pay attention to speech patterns. For example, if someone is talking faster than normal, they likely are feeling stressed. Being in tune with coworkers will further strengthen your bond.
Hybrid work arrangements don’t require new strategies so much as an effort to adapt to changing situations. Each morning, take a moment to adjust your mindset to your workspace.
- If you’re at the office, remind yourself to pick up on nonverbal hints, like someone starting to inch away because they have a meeting to attend. Instead of viewing impromptu chats as an interruption, think of them as a way to strengthen connections.
- If you’re going to be remote, remember to talk more when you connect with colleagues. Broadcast your intentions, and ask coworkers about their needs.
You’re not alone
Everyone is feeling a little uncertain right now. Talking about your challenges and sharing tips can strengthen connections to your coworkers.
If you’re having trouble acclimating to different work arrangements, talk with your human resources representative or benefits adviser. They can connect you to resources to help with social anxiety, stress and overall mental health.
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