After two years of the pandemic, lockdowns and remote working, have we picked up some bad habits from working alone that we need to park as we return to the office? OTLpr Account Director Janet Flaherty discusses the impact on us all of the home working and how we can adjust to office life.
Some of my colleagues and ex-colleagues will read that title and think: What do you mean? Have you BECOME annoying to work with? Alright, alright, you wags out there. Maybe I was always a bit annoying to work alongside but I think I have definitely got worse.
Prior to the pandemic, I rarely worked from home. And during the pandemic especially at the beginning, as Head of Communication at ELFT, I was in the office every day alongside the Gold major incident team – converting information shared in meetings, briefings and policy into (hopefully) clear concise information for staff, patients/service users and the public.
This gradually reduced to more remote working days. Like many, I found it hard to adjust to working from home and communicating online. I found I now worked more intensely with the line between work and home blurred. And without the need to travel, I was locked into my laptop early and found it hard to come away – even to have lunch!
Talking Out Loud
But the other thing that happened was that I started talking to myself out loud – and that is the worrying trait I have brought back to the office!
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t sit in the office in silence before this. I often shared a funny email, or a puzzling one, or would ask the room (team) something if I wasn’t sure. In fact. it was that type of ad hoc team involvement that I really missed when we started working remotely. The joy of asking or being asked something, and someone quickly showing you how to do something that was taking you ages to master or answering a quick question to save searching or making a call. (Oh, how I have missed you guys!). Office ‘noise’ is also important to note verbal and non-verbal signs from colleagues to know someone’s mood, body language or level of stress to be a supportive colleague.
But now I have become that person that narrates their day – OUT LOUD! I have caught myself being verbal about things that should be quietly running through my head. ‘Mmm. What’s that all about? I can quickly do that. I’ll send that plan over so they can see where we’ve got to. I think I saved that image in this folder. I wonder if so and so is free for a quick Teams call. Do I need to ask X what the outcome of that was? Were those all my actions from that meeting? I should make a start on that draft I said I’d do.”
That’s just a taster. (Yes, my head is very exciting!) But we’re not robots, and even a robot has a bit of a whirr every now and then! With more of us working in open-plan offices, background noise is a distraction and we all transgress now and again. In the last two years, we have got used to talking as loud as we want to ourselves or in online meetings when we’re alone.
How to Not Be Annoying at Work
My top tips are:
- Before you say what comes into your mind, take a second to see if the room needs to know or if you could hold it
- Be aware of where you are. Most of us automatically adjust our behaviour to the setting we are in
- If you find yourself thinking aloud, note it down to discharge it from your mind. You actually don’t need to hear yourself think despite what your mum said!
- Whisper or mouth words if your process is to verbalise what you’re thinking – it will be less intrusive to others
- When on online calls in an open plan office, always use headphones, keep your audio off unless speaking and keep your voice down when speaking to minimise disturbing your roommates
- If you have a query, be respectful of others’ time and their need to concentrate. Prefix it by saying, Can I ask you a quick question? Or, is now a good time to ask about x? They can decide whether to break away from what they’re doing or tell you when they are free to talk. Give them a choice.
- If a colleague interrupts you a lot, have some phrases to hand to establish some boundaries. Eg. I just need to focus on this at the moment. I’ll be free in 20 mins. Or I need to get on with this. Are you around later?
- Don’t let tension about a talkative colleague build up. Try and address it calmly at an early stage. Otherwise, it will all come out wrong and cause upset.
- If someone gives you feedback about being too talkative, take it on the chin and be grateful! We’re all getting used to working in an office environment again but take note. Have you developed some ticks that don’t translate well back in the office?
- Be aware that if you are a senior person in your team or have a strong personality, people might find it hard to give you feedback or let you know that your meanderings are not welcome.
But mostly, be kind. It’s been a tough and lonely time for many. This is a period of adjustment and most situations can be resolved with clear communication and a kind open approach.
I can’t say for certain that I will fully stop talking aloud but I will be more self-aware going forward. Besides, surely it’s my witty banter that keeps us all smiling … Mmmm, maybe not.