The new rules of social interaction at work

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There’s a lot about work – how we think, how we feel, the decisions we make – that take place beyond our heads. Many of us have been raised to believe that our brains are the center of all our thoughts and actions. We grew up with the belief that brain training is uniquely responsible for our productivity as individuals. We also attach brain training to what makes some people successful and others less.

Research by Barbara Tversky, professor of psychology and education at Teachers College at Columbia University, challenges this long-held assumption that knowledge comes from the brain or “the mind.” His research shows that spatial thinking – or our actions – underlies our thought processes. It’s through our bodies Make that we can derive meanings from.

I am far from alone in suggesting that this ingrained celebration of “mind over matter”, “head on heart” is doing a disservice to our true ways of knowing and to the richness of embodied knowledge. – the knowledge we gain by doing – which most of us just take for granted.

If the last 18 months have taught us anything, it’s that each of us has the ability to adapt the way we work, which doesn’t mean that it was fluid or painless or that the requirements to do so were equally distributed. Our bodies have had to acclimate to a new environment and question their learned working methods: desks have become kitchen tables; colleagues have become spouses, children. and pets; the house has become the office. Now, as offices begin to reopen and employees are encouraged to return to their workplaces, we are again faced with the need to adapt to new environments and experiences.

We talk a lot about changes to the physical workplace to help ensure a greater sense of safety and well-being for workers. Whatever approach a business takes, whether hybrid or full-return, that experience is best seen through the lens of employees. People have been changed and those who return to work are not the same as when they left. By taking care to better understand the range of attractions and pressures your employees face, and creating employee experiences to deal with them, you will separate the most wanted employers from those with limited appeal.

For those of us returning to a fixed workplace, there is a degree of excitement, anxiety, and hesitation: how am I going to greet my teammates, can we meaningfully commit, to what will look like a socially remote workplace and what can be gained and what can be lost? The workplace our body remembers to navigate to is not the same workplace it will return to. To help ease a worker’s discomfort about potential interactions in unnatural ways, consider these actions for your workplace.

Confront conflicting feelings through communication

In anticipation of your return to the office, you might be thinking, I won’t shake hands when I greet my teammates, which doesn’t mean you won’t feel uncomfortable if it’s your habit. to do. It’s hard to get past our embodied ways of relating to others that come naturally to us. With health issues always being paramount, reduce the disconnection you might feel by addressing what is missing in the moment. Your coworkers probably share the same discomfort with a lost hug or handshake, and by acknowledging this you can strengthen your bond in an alternate way, replacing human touch with verbal connection.

Don’t be afraid of in-person interactions

Once you get to the office, which used to be fairly automatic practices (i.e. your routes. Faced with these new procedures, it can be easy to retreat to your desk and avoid interactions. But doing so robs you of the office. In-person experience of the inherent value it still offers. Go outdoors when possible to get together as a group or schedule regular times to walk around. The success of a hybrid experience depends on the fact encourage you to get up from your desk and engage in a safe and deliberate manner.

Prioritize understanding and acceptance

While new ways of doing things will probably seem awkward to you, the reality is you won’t be alone. It is important to take these “altered states” into account and recognize that all is well. As an employer, create channels for associates to bond when they find new ways to connect and bring creative ideas to light. Maybe you challenge yourself to cover one-off updates during a 10-minute walk-up meeting. Or, divide large group meetings by alternating participants between conference rooms, in a quick networking style.

I would suggest that the main rule of social engagement during this weird return period is to be kind to yourself and respectful of others. People come back to the office after having had different personal experiences. Like all the best moments of the human experience, this will require creative adaptation to the altered environments and care like others do the same.


Martha Bird is a business anthropologist working at ADP’s Roseland Innovation Lab.


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