We’ve been unable to interact on a daily basis with anyone other than those in our household for nearly a year now. Even people who have remained at work in person for most of this time have experienced some changes. For all of our clients, work has taken place mostly from home. I’ve noticed two distinct groups emerge during this pandemic. Most everyone seems to fit into one or the other, but there are certainly many shades of gray. And it’s not defined by the traditional introvert vs. extrovert roles alone.
One group is going crazy without human interaction. Let’s call them the More Group. They are struggling to work from home for a variety of reasons. They jump at the chance to do things in person. They drive their colleagues, team members and leaders nuts with the length and frequency of video meetings they want to have.
The other group is content to have less human interaction. Let’s call them the Less Group. They are enjoying working from home and confess to hoping it stays this way. They notice how much less hectic life is for the most part and are not eager to resume anything close to pre-pandemic living. They become annoyed (at times) by the needs of the first group.
Gone are the opportunities for more organic interactions in the workplace. Without sharing space with your colleagues, you can no longer wander past someone’s desk to ask a question. No casual run ins at the coffee pot or water cooler. No more seeing someone in the hallway and remembering that you needed their input on something.
Does this have to mean “out of sight, out of mind”? No, of course not. But for some, it would appear that it does.
The More Group is more intentional about reaching out. Sometimes too intentional, if you ask the Less Group. Some are scattered while others are more systematic. But this group is not letting the lack of physical presence stop them from interacting with others.
The Less Group is… well, less intentional about reaching out. For this group, they are more interested in efficiency. Getting the work done. For many, they seem relieved to be away from the distractions of communal office life.
Both groups risk going to the extreme. The More Group is prone to reaching out for the sake of reaching out and risks wasting time. The Less Group is prone to isolating themselves and leaving people they work with wondering what they’re working on.
Where’s the balance?
Reaching out for the sake of investing in the relationship is not wasting time. Having a one-to-one to learn something about the other person is always valuable. That’s how we build trust, deepen rapport, and make the more task-oriented parts of our interactions easier.
You can add value to every interaction by focusing the conversations on something specific. Your counterparts might be more willing to accept your video chat request when they know you have an outcome in mind. Making small talk or catching up can be a part of the conversation, but not necessarily the whole point of it. By the same token, even those who don’t think they “need” more interactions with colleagues might find a surprising level of value added when they make time for it.
Who’s to say when we will all go back to working in person in offices again?
Many business leaders say never. This pandemic has forced companies to rethink how all of that will function moving forward. In the absence (or reduction) of these opportunities, how will you make your own? With whom should you be in more consistent contact? Where could you find value from checking in with someone? Who would benefit from knowing more about your perspective right now?
Organic interactions are not an option for much of the workforce still. Intentional interactions are where it’s at, probably for a long time to come. Who will you reach out to today?