If you have worked in an office during any part of your career, there are some things that are just comfortingly familiar, regardless of who you work for. Having someone else make you a brew as part of a round. Catching up with a colleague hogging the photocopier to pass the time until your printing is done. Shaking hands with your visitors as you welcome them to your site.
But what happens when these corporate comforts are no longer appropriate? Alongside vaccination, social distancing and enhanced hygiene measures are still the first line of defence against viral bugs and germs, especially as we go into the winter. How do we navigate our own personal views and expectations around socialising and old routines with those people we work with to ensure we can all cohabit in the workplace without conflict or misunderstandings?
Firstly, it’s important to recognise that not everyone will feel the same as you. But everyone is on the same journey, figuring out what this ‘new normal’ looks like, and as a result, it might be a bit of a bumpy road.
Take workplace attire as an example. For many, the ‘work wardrobe’ is a thing. And it’s probably best defined as business casual, involving smart clothes, smart shoes, a smart coat and a host of smart accessories. But in lockdown, we didn’t need to look smart. In fact, we could get away with participating in video calls in whatever was comfortable. We’ve proven that there isn’t really a link between attire and productivity… but does that make it ok?
For an overwhelming majority, there’s a positive psychological connection between getting dressed for work and the mindset it puts you in and equally, the ability to detach from work when you’re back at home and changing out of your workwear. For many, there’s also an inherent professionalism around work attire; it sets the right tone and is a tangible commitment to being present in the workplace.
But that might not be how everyone sees it and at a corporate level, there may be an acceptance that professional business attire does not equate to business productivity. The key here is to find what works for you and be comfortable with it. Own those killer heels, work your jeans and boots combo, embrace the confidence your suit brings you. Make it your normal, regardless of what the rest of the workforce might be doing.
As for workplace habits like chatting in close proximity or navigating the complexities of making ten hot drinks all the right cups, honesty and preparation are going to be your best friends here. Think about the situations in the office that might make you uncomfortable or anxious and plan for them. Let your colleagues know, politely, that you’re going to stick to making your own drinks for now and that you hope they understand. Look into whether your employer is offering an awareness mechanism, such as wrist bands or lanyards, that show how comfortable you are with socialising. Be prepared to offer an honest view as to how you feel about something; if your opinion doesn’t matter, you wouldn’t be being asked.
As a leader, this unknown territory can present its own set of challenges. Differences in attitudes, a change in behaviours and varying levels of acceptance of other people’s views can all be divisive, especially when people remember ‘how it was’ through rose-tinted glasses.
Creating a safe and respectful environment for your teams is critically important, as is reenforcing the right to have a view that may not be shared by all. By creating opportunities for this to be explored by your teams and to collaboratively and creatively look at what may need to change to ensure no single individual feels excluded or marginalised, you will go a long way to restoring what is likely to be a much-needed sense of cohesion within your span of control.
Cube Learning & Development delivers bespoke personal coaching programmes to help you take control of your own mindset. For a no-obligation chat about this and our other training, call Chris Burton on 07879 602002.