The pandemic has changed our lives in so many ways, not least how we work. Before the pandemic, offices in countries all around the world were full of people working with barely a thought about falling ill.
The pandemic has changed that, however, and many people are no longer comfortable with spending hours on end in a stuffy office with other people.
It seems a distant memory now that working from home was the exception. Those who did get to work from home were often the envy of their colleagues for getting extra time in bed and not having to negotiate traffic on their way to the office.
Getting comfortable with home working
Since working from home did become the norm, it should come as no surprise that a lot of people have become comfortable with it. Even a lot of people who were initially resistant to working from home are now comfortable with it. Many have learned to be productive despite struggling to begin with.
People have learned to manage their working day at home in a way that gives them a positive work-life balance that still allows them to get things done.
There are also arrangements with looking after the kids that people have become accustomed to, and some people may even have become rather fond of their home office.
In a recent survey of 17,000 Americans, only 23.9% of people have said they never or rarely want to work from home. 48.9% said that they want to work from home between 1-4 days a week and 27.3% said they want to work from home 5 days a week.
Regardless of how we might feel about returning to the office, however, the end of the pandemic is in sight. The world is gradually taking steps towards getting back to some resemblance of what used to be considered normal.
Returning to the office
People will be going back to work in an office and it’s something a lot of people aren’t exactly happy about. Returning to the office after so long away is not just a return to the old ways for some. Rather, it’s going to be like a brand new experience.
It’s not just the risk of falling ill that people are concerned about, but also the thought of having to work face to face with other people again. Many of us are just not comfortable being around other people, regardless of contagious viruses, and get nervous around others.
Anxieties about public speaking
So many have become used to the occasional video call from their home office but are now facing having to make small talk with people they barely know again, and it’s something that makes a lot of people feel uneasy.
The thought of having to speak in public again is making a lot of people feel very uneasy, and it’s not just speaking on a stage at conferences that’s difficult for some.
Even having to lead meetings or make presentations to colleagues and managers can cause anxiety for a lot of people, especially after not having to do so for so long.
VBQ Speakers undertook a survey of 500 people who are planning to return to the office after having worked in an office before the pandemic. The survey found that:
- 39% are worried about being around other people again.
- 40% are worried about having to attend meetings face to face again.
- 40% are worried about having to make presentations including client pitches, speaking at conferences, internal pitches, and leading meetings again.
- Image: Pexels
Getting back into the flow
Regardless of how we might feel about returning to the office, it’s looking increasingly likely that it will be happening to some extent – so it’s time to get prepared the best you can.
This applies to employers who should be trying to make their employees feel as comfortable as possible as well as helping to ensure COVID safety measures are in place.
Employees should also try and prepare themselves for what, to some, will be quite a shock to the system.
Some valuable advice
VBQ Speakers shares advice on returning back to the office from Esther Stanhope. Esther is an impact guru and authoress of “Goodbye Glossophobia – Banish Your Fear of Public Speaking”.
Also offering advice was Viv Groskop. Viv hosts of ‘How to Own the Room’, a chart-topping podcast on public speaking, and says she has seen ‘an avalanche of angst’ from people about returning back to how things used to be.
Viv and Esther had some valuable advice on making the transition back into the office for employers and employees:
Employers should be flexible about the working day as much as they can. Show flexibility in how meetings happen and take into account what people feel comfortable with. Employers should try not to be sticklers about what they think people should be doing.
It’s important to remember that what might have been normal is not normal now. It’s best not to pretend otherwise.
Give plenty of feedback
Feedback is always important in an office environment. It’s important because it helps ensure everybody is on the same page and everything is working as it should do. Feedback is also important because it means things can be fixed or improved where needed.
Feedback is perhaps going to be more important than ever before on returning to the office in a post-pandemic world. People have become so used to using digital platforms like zoom, yet they’re expected to slip back into office life seamlessly?
In reality, we can’t be sure of exactly what hybrid working will look like yet. What works, and what doesn’t work? What are people comfortable with and what are they not comfortable with?
The best approach will be to make the return to the office an opportunity for open dialogue. Expect things to be bumpy and messy, and use the experience as a trial – an opportunity to get plenty of feedback.
After getting used to the virtual environment of working from home, a return to the office is like a venture into the unknown and it’s going to make some people very nervous. Public speaking will be particularly difficult for a lot of people.
Our brains go into survival mode and we can become easily flustered when we are expected to speak with other peoples’ attention fixed on us. When people are flustered they may begin stuttering and sweating and struggle to deliver a presentation smoothly.
Employers should take this into account and not expect their staff to be smooth and fluent when making presentations.
Give them time to rebuild their confidence and get back into the swing of it. It’s also important for both employers and employees to remember that it’s OK to be feeling nervous. It’s normal.
Many of us have spent the last year or so working from home and it’s only natural that a change of environment will be unsettling.
Remember to breathe
Remember to breathe when making any type of presentation – regardless of whether it’s in front of one person, or 100. Make sure to hold your head high and exhale slowly through your mouth. Then, breathe in through your nose.
Breathing in this way will help to reduce cortisol in your body, which is the hormone that makes us feel stressed. Remember to breathe and any fear you might be feeling will likely evaporate.
In addition to the expert tips above from Viv and Esther, here are some others that businesses can take on board to help the transition back to the office go as smoothly as possible:
Help your employees to feel safe
We are not out of the woods with COVID yet. Indeed, many experts believe it may be with us forever. It’s important to keep this in mind when asking your employees to return. If they don’t feel safe then it’s their lives they’re putting at risk or the lives of their loved ones.
Don’t just put half-hearted measures about social distancing in place and hand out some alcohol wipes and think that will make people feel content.
Instead, make a concerted effort to make sure everybody is on board with safety measures. Make COVID safety a clear company policy to let all of your employees know that their safety is paramount.
Moreover, create a healthy workplace environment for them to easily slide into.
The pandemic caused changes in our everyday lives that have raised genuine concerns that people didn’t have before.
Take public transport, for example. A lot of people will have little choice but to take public transport, being crammed into steel tubes with hundreds of other people. Not only is this a concern for people taking public transport, but also for other people who work alongside them.
Public transport is just one example and you should be prepared for others that you hadn’t considered yet. Make sure to listen to people’s concerns and consider them seriously no matter how petty they might sound to you to begin with.
You might otherwise find that some of your best talents start leaving you to work with a competitor that is listening.
Let people reconnect
Your well-oiled teams may not be as well-oiled as they used to be. Or maybe they’ve become well-oiled when working remotely, and returning to the office means that they have to adjust and find their rhythm again.
If you can, try to arrange social activities so your team can catch up with each other. Also bear in mind that there may be a few mishaps as the team knits itself together again.
Don’t forget that people might be rusty on office equipment and systems etc. It might take a few days for the cobwebs to be blown off so employees can get back up to full speed again.
Employers should remember to be patient and do what they can to make their employees feel safe and comfortable. Employees should remember that it’s OK to be nervous and that they should try and take things at their own pace.
There may well be a few speed bumps along the way, but it won’t be too long before we find our rhythm and become productive again.
It’s important for both employers and employees to remember that returning to the office will not be easy for a lot of people.
Employers will need to be patient and appreciate that their employees may be struggling in an environment where they’re around people again. They will need to communicate with their employees to help them feel relaxed and to find out how they can make them feel more comfortable.
Employees should bear in mind that it’s OK to feel uncomfortable and that many other people will be in their shoes. They should also remember to try and speak with other people about how they are feeling and let their employers know about any concerns they might have.
It may not be plain sailing to begin with but with understanding and patience, the office can be a happy and productive place to be again.
About the Author
Leo von Bülow-Quirk if the founder and Director of VBQ Speakers. Leo has nine years’ experience in the speaking industry, connecting globally-renowned thought leaders with audiences all around the world. Formats have ranged from public lectures and industry conferences to C-level briefings for the world’s biggest corporations.