The last laugh: Are we able to function socially when we get back together?
For Stephanie Davies, it's good to be back out there - but it takes a faux-pas or two to find your feet.
Anyone else having adjustment issues? We’ve all spent so long locked away in our home offices, wearing leisure wear and talking to screens that you could be forgiven for forgetting how to function socially in the real world.
For many, the prospect of meeting people face-to-face again in a work environment creates a mix of exhilaration and anxiety. We are excited about leaving the house, but anxious about having to cast off the comfort blanket of trackie bottoms. Having already ventured out I can attest that it takes a bit of fine-tuning before you get back in the stride of doing business the old way.
I couldn’t wait to have an audience again and approached my first small event of 30 people with all the enthusiasm of a Labradoodle puppy that had been fed blue Smarties. I was so excited I almost widdled on the floor when I walked into the foyer of the hotel that was hosting the event.
It’s the same old world out there, but everything seems new. All those things that used to be mundane are suddenly thrilling and novel. Rail travel, Pret a Manger, the M25, public toilets.
We’ve all become institutionalised to a degree, confined to Zooms and sharing a home office with family members and pets. Arguably online life is easier.
I realised just how maladjusted I’d become recently on an email exchange to a client from an upmarket property firm. When he suggested that his London offices were open and we could meet face to face I could barely contain my enthusiasm and replied: “Absolutely, I can’t wait. I can’t guarantee I won’t lick your face.”
We are excited about leaving the house, but anxious about having to cast off the comfort blanket of trackie bottoms.
He didn’t reply for several days, during which time I tortured myself with anxiety. Had I offended him? Worse still, did he think I was serious? Thankfully, when he did reply he realised I was joking. Although when we did meet there was an awkward moment initially when he flinched slightly as I reached forward to shake his hand.
I should really have learnt my lesson but made another inappropriate faux pas a few weeks later when I attended my first proper event, hosting a workshop for 15 leaders. The topic, ironically enough, was returning to work.
When you regularly mix with lots of people you become quite good at small talk. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to have conversations with people from all backgrounds and generally behave myself in all social settings.
I know how to assess situations, find common ground, and say the right things. The event reminded me how out of touch I’d become while stuck at home with just my cat and husband for company, both of whom have no filter.
The MD of the company arrived late with his PA and explained that they’d been taken to the wrong address by their Uber driver who had abandoned them in a local nature beauty spot, where they had to wait for ages to get picked up again by another driver.
The MD mentioned that matters were made even worse because at the time he needed to answer a call of nature. My observation on his situation is unprintable but involves a part of his anatomy and my confusion between the words naturalist and naturist.
Just before I said it, the muted business-like pre-pandemic voice in my head warned: “Stephanie! Don’t you dare.” But I said it anyway. Awkward silence followed for a few seconds before I made my excuses and walked away, shocked by my own inappropriateness.
Since then, thankfully I’ve got back in the groove and so far have managed to conduct several face-to-face meetings without putting my foot in it or offending anyone. So hopefully I’ve got it out of my system. But there’s no denying that home working has social advantages.
When you are Zoom host you can play God and put people in break out rooms to discuss things in groups when you need to use the toilet, or make a cup of tea. You can mute yourself when you need to fart. Real life isn’t as convenient as that.
About the author
Stephanie Davies is founder of Laughology.
In tough times we need exceptional leaders. Jeremy Kourdi examines the elements of modern leadership and concludes that workplace wellbeing should be a top priority
John Nicklin looks at the four Cs of successful remote onboarding
Ian Barrow urges organisations to track and measure how workers are feeling on a regular basis – or risk adding to already growing attrition rates
The CIPD and Mind, the mental health charity, have today jointly published a revised mental health guide for managers to improve support for those...
UK workers are increasingly seeking leadership traits such as empathy and vulnerability in the workplace - but bosses aren’t demonstrating or rewarding these behaviours, according to new research...
At this year's OEB, a panel of experts will discuss whether education institutions should do more to try to persuade students to get offline and get out more.