It is hard to believe most of us have been limiting social contact and working from home for more than six months. All our emergency preparedness didn’t prepare most of us for this weird situation.
And now we are entering a new phase of awkwardness – resuming changed social contact at the office and in the community. Are you used to hugging when you haven’t seen co-workers for awhile? Do you usually shake hands when you greet a consumer? Now we don’t know quite how to greet each other. Hugs and shaking hands are out. I hesitate at elbow bumps because we are coughing into our elbows, right? If we are true to six foot distancing most of us (except maybe Michael Phelps) can’t touch each other at all, not even a fist bump without getting closer. So what do we do? Wave? Maybe. And laugh a little with each other as we discuss our new social rules.
Let’s give each other permission to get used to each other again. If you are requiring masks, be aware that facial expressions are only partly visible unless you are using clear masks. Take care to listen carefully and speak carefully. Even people you have known for a long time may be responding differently than in the past, or you don’t have the facial cues you were used to so misinterpret.
Be aware that returning to work can be overwhelming, mixed with excitement and anxiety for you and your co-workers and consumers. And for parents who have the added responsibility of protecting their children in school and care situations, there is added confusion and tension. Each of us has our own coping mechanisms. For some people it is to shut others off, while other talk more than usual or laugh a lot or miss the jokes or blow their stack over little things. Some people get caught up in a frenzy of activity while others are a little dazed. If we approach this return to the office understanding that our coworkers may be feeling stressed or vulnerable, we will be more understanding and more patient with each other.
We will adapt to the new normal. Hopefully one day we will be able to lift some or all of the current restrictions. In the meantime let’s be gracious to one another. If someone reaches to shake your hand remember it is probably a habit. Let’s allow each person to set the social distance they are comfortable with — and it is okay to back away from contact. Then talk about it. And don’t be hard on yourself or your coworkers and consumers. We will figure this out.