What Being Back in the Office Feels Like These Days and How to be Prepared
First meeting back, a little nerve wracking to be honest
Last week marked our first in-person client meetings since March. Wow, that’s a long time when you say it out loud. We were excited and a little apprehensive going in but not about catching COVID, as you might have expected. Instead it was more of a feeling of nervousness wondering what the rules would be like, making sure we followed them all, what it would feel like, if it would be awkward- that kind of thing. We are happy to say that it was all a very pleasant surprise and felt wonderful being out there in our new normal world!
Clients had things covered
Our clients were both very well organized, sending us the new office policies ahead of time to ensure we knew how to be prepared and what to expect. So, when we arrived, it wasn’t a shock to have receptionists greeting us with temperature checks and bottles of hand sanitizer at the front desk. And fortunately, large conference rooms allowed lots of space for social distancing. Although it still feels a bit like we need to speak louder just to make ourselves heard across the expanse and through the masks.
As you’ve probably discovered by now for yourselves, having a conversation with someone when you’re both masked is a different feeling. You’re missing a good chunk of the facial expressions that add depth to the discussion, but unlike the Zoom talking heads we’ve been experiencing, at least now we had the visual cues and body language that have been sorely missed these past months. Beware though, drinking coffee with a mask is a bit of a pain.
The most encouraging events were the unintended and unexpected bonuses to which we directly credit being in the same room together. We had been holding regular meetings by Zoom since April and for all intents and purposes, things were moving along quite well. But we did find ourselves a bit stuck in a few areas of several projects. Being able to revisit some of those same conversations face-to-face shone a much brighter light on things and allowed people to feel comfortable enough to speak candidly about the underlying issues. The ‘why’. These aha moments allowed us to have the exact discussions we’ve been needing to have. Bonus!
What’s been missing
As much of a godsend as the technology has been that’s allowed us to continue to do business while sheltering in place at home, there are some true limitations from a human perspective that you just can’t substitute. Nothing can beat the chemistry and interaction that takes place when we are in the same room together. Since 93% of our communicating is done non-verbally, it stands to reason that a framed head and shoulders on Zoom or FaceTime leaves much missing. Pair that with the fact that most people are not all that comfortable with being on camera, so the body cues you do see are likely edited…and well, you get the picture. And it’s not a crystal clear one.
The other piece of the weirdness of being on camera has to do with the natural tendency people have to lean in when they speak candidly and openly, because the very act of leaning in closer to our subject creates a sense of intimacy that allows for that next level of honesty. Leaning in closer to your laptop just isn’t the same and holds us back. Literally and figuratively.
Preparing for the days ahead
Because the future is unpredictable at the moment, it’s fair to assume that our working lives will continue to be a mix of remote and in-person interactions for some time yet. For our own business, we have accepted there will be an element of risk being out there in the community, but following the health guidelines and proceeding with caution and respect for both the virus and our clients, will allow us to do what we need to do to serve them well and make a living. In the meantime, the following tips are what we will be keeping top-of-mind:
1. Success in work, as in life is about balance. These days, more than ever. Caution and public safety will be a large determinate of how and when it’s safe to be together doing business. It’s up to us though to think that through even further. Just because we ‘can’, doesn’t mean we ‘should’ or we ‘have to’. There are some meetings that may not justify bringing people together in the same room and that will be perfectly suited to an online video call. But there are other times when the openness and fulsome quality of a face-to-face conversation just can’t be beat. Consciously make your choice on a case-by-case basis.
2. Preparation is one of our non-negotiables throughout the normal course of business. Easing back into face-to-face meetings these days takes preparation one step further. Make sure the pandemic expectations and policies are provided to everyone attending, so they are understood prior to the meeting. The more we know, the more confident and relaxed we’ll feel.
3. Don’t underestimate how important it is to ask the question ‘why’ to draw out motivations that may be lurking beneath the surface. A lot of important points are left on the table, especially when everyone is ‘on camera’. So, don’t hesitate to have people articulate their ‘why’ for clarity’s sake.
4. Allow for a little more time before and after in-person meetings. For those of us that routinely arrive in a cloud of dust, while still pulling on our jackets, slowing down and allowing more time for thought and awareness is especially important these days.
5. And finally, acknowledge the fact that we are all feeling our way through life right now and people have different risk tolerances and sensitivities. Listening, being flexible, patient and respectful go along way towards strengthening relationships at work and everywhere else.
Good luck out there and try to enjoy the fact that even our new normal still allows us to connect with others.
Perhaps it will look and feel different.
But that’s okay!