Going Back to the Office After COVID-19
For some, this may sound like a breath of fresh air (through your mask, of course, 6 feet away from anyone else, and hopefully facing the best direction of the air flow…). Yay! People! Human connection! For others, however, the mere thought of going back to the office may strike great fear and anxiety:
Fear of the virus itself and possible exposure--where have your co-workers been? Have they been following the recommendations and shelter-in-place decrees? Are they possibly carrying the virus while being asymptomatic?
Social anxiety of being in close quarters with others outside of your main family unit when you’ve been working at home for so long. Even though you’ve been doing virtual meetings, it’s just different being physically around others.
Anxiety of this (hopefully temporary) “new normal”--new desk arrangements, having to wear a face mask all the time, hand sanitizer always in sight, temperature taking. This is all so different, with a surreal feeling. A constant reminder of the chaos our world has been in.
What’s one to do in this situation? How do we honor ourselves and those who may feel differently than we do?
It’s important to know yourself and how you respond to situations and then honor that. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t try to change who you are. That takes too much energy. Be you. No one does it better!
One tool you can use to help you understand how you respond to different situations is Everything DiSC Workplace®. Knowing your DiSC style will help you discover and also affirm how you are uniquely and beautifully wired. Knowing others’ DiSC style will help you understand why others respond to situations the way they do. And, then you can truly honor yourself, others, and your differences to help you build better relationships.
DiSC consists at its core of two dimensions: the vertical axis that runs from fast-paced at the top to moderate-paced at the bottom and the horizontal axis that runs from skeptical on the left to accepting on the right. The interaction of these dimensions puts you in your basic DiSC quadrant, and from there, you land in one of the 12 DiSC styles (see the graphic for a good visual). You may relate strongly to your style, moderately, or slightly to your style (represented by how close your dot is to either the edge or center of the circle). Think of it this way--imagine this circle blown up at a larger scale, and place a rubber band on your dot. Then, stretch it to another style. If you’re strongly inclined (like I am--you can see my dot in the graphic as a strongly-inclined CS style), your rubber band is going to be stretched really tight to go the opposite side of the circle. You can do it, but it takes a lot of your energy. Whereas if you're more moderately or slightly inclined, it’s less of a stretch for you. The point is--we can all stretch to any of the 12 styles as situations require, but for some of us it takes more energy than others.
Now, imagine you’re a strongly inclined C. A person with a strong C-style typically is very private, reserved, cautious, systematic, and precise. They move slower when making decisions. They don’t show as much emotion as, say, an i-style would. They tend to be more introverted, and they recharge their batteries by spending time alone. There is a strong possibility that working from home worked well with their personalities (we’ve all seen the memes!). Going back to work may be very hard for them. It may serve these folks well to let them ease back in gradually--partial days back in the office, for instance. If your office has an open-door policy, ease up on that--let them work with their door closed for times when they need it. C’s are rule-followers, so make sure you’re abiding by the office rules (i.e., wear your mask, stay 6 feet apart, etc.). Don’t try to run up to a “C” and talk about how great it is to be back in the office together again because, for them, it could feel like a huge weight on their shoulders. Especially if their office has an “i” culture--those with a C-style may need to wear a metaphoric mask which is stretching their rubber band tight and draining their energy. Ask them how you can help them feel more comfortable. Acknowledge that this may be difficult for them. They’ll appreciate your kindness. If your office ever has the opportunity to let people work remotely full time, consider offering that to a C-style. They may not ask themselves for the opportunity, but could be very successful at it.
However...what if you’re an “i”? A strong i-style is very enthusiastic, high-spirited, and lively. Many are extroverts and very outgoing and optimistic. They value relationships and action. An “i” has been waiting for this day to come ever since day 1 of working from home! They miss their people! And, they want everyone to feel welcome and excited to come back to the office, as well. These folks may have initiated virtual happy hours during the quarantine to keep the morale and camaraderie of the office intact. They may have volunteered to be the first wave of employees to come back into the office. It is taking all of their energy NOT to hug everyone as they walk through the door because they’ve missed that element of human connection so much!
Working from home may have been tough for those ever-so-social i's, so the first day back to the office is going to be the best ever! Be open to chatting with your i-style colleagues. Gently remind them of the new rules and regulations if they seem to forget, but make sure they know that you value your relationship with them. Collaborate with them, thank them for their energy and contributions, and make sure they know that you’re genuinely glad to see them again, even if being back is causing anxiety to flare up in you. Don’t suppress their energy--try to let it lift you up because they genuinely want you to feel happy to be back with the team.
These are just two examples of the extreme ends of the introvert-extrovert continua measured by DiSC. I could go a lot deeper and into other styles, but then this wouldn’t be a blog any longer, it'd be a book. 😊 However, there is a lot of power and freedom in knowing and understanding yourself, as well as knowing and understanding others and your workplace culture. Invest the time into learning about this. Everything DiSC Workplace® is a good starting point for creating more meaningful relationships, better collaboration, and a culture of cohesiveness and appreciation of each others’ priorities and individualism. Now, more than ever, workplace culture matters. As we work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations must face the very real choice between actively shaping a culture that supports business recovery or letting culture emerge in a way that could drag down morale, collaboration, and performance. Social and emotional skills are going to play a very important role as we move forward.
Regardless of what happens at an organizational level, you have control over how you respond to your “new normal”, how you honor yourself and others, and how you invest in yourself. You have the power to make this transition as smooth as possible for you, and you can help to make it easier on others as well. Understand how you respond to things, give yourself grace, and make the effort to learn about your co-workers. Don’t be afraid to explain to others how you’re feeling (“I’m just so glad to be around people again!” or “This is stressful for me--nothing against you, it’s just how I’m feeling right now.”), These simple things will go a long way and make this transition easier for you.
You don’t need to pretend to be someone you’re not. Just because we’re capable of stretching into another section of the DiSC circle doesn’t mean we should for our entire workday. That will drain us. On the flip-side, understanding ourselves will empower us.
So, just keep being you. No one does it better.
NOTE: Lisa Strei is a Workplace Coach and Authorized Partner of Everything DiSC® and The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™. She is also a Certified Facilitator for Everything DiSC Workplace®. For more information on Everything DiSC or to request a free consultation, please visit https://www.lisastrei.com/everything-disc.