Anxiety about Working in Close Proximity

Is your company moving towards opening in-person workspaces? Here’s an element of the people equation that should be on leaders’ radar: many people are kind of freaked out about it. After a year of working from home, media reports indicate folks have anxiety about working in close proximity. And it’s not just mundane worries about having to wear “hard pants” again. Many office workers are realizing that their social skills are like a muscle; it’s possible there’s been a bit of atrophy. So here are my suggestions for how to successfully come together again without getting on each others’ last nerve.

Working in close proximity is about leadership grace and compassion

Just as you wouldn’t expect an athlete to come off the injured reserve list and nail it the first day back to practice, keep in mind that employees who have been relegated to working from their kitchen/bedroom/den are going to be a bit rusty. Leaders should acknowledge that individuals might be feeling concern. And given that some frontline workers tended to enjoy WFH more than their leaders, it might be good for managers to check in with people individually to gauge their level of comfort with the transition back to working in close proximity.

Coaching Communications 101

In the event anyone needs to get back to the basics now that you’re working together in person, here are a few communication coaching basics:

Team member lose their cool? Consider ways to coach them into a communications disaster recovery

Did someone unload on you unfairly? If they come to you with hat in hand, here’s how to graciously accept their apology

In-person meetings getting off track? Not surprising—people will be excited (or nervous) to all sit around a conference table again. Here’s six ways to get the conversation back on track.

Show gratitude. We’ve all been through a lot this past year. Say thank you. It’s the easiest, quickest and most cost-effective way to show your team you care. And when you model gratitude, your team will be more likely to follow suit.

Help your team members build up that interpersonal skill muscle memory by showing grace and coaching them back into their communication skills. This will help everyone get back to working in close proximity with fewer hiccups and less stress. 

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