Many of us have spent so much time away from work colleagues—and staring at our screens—that it’s logical to wonder whether we need to somehow retrain or rewire our brains in order to relearn how to socialize with work colleagues again. After all, it is a lot harder to go on mute, turn off your camera, or summarize your thoughts through emoji when you are communicating in person. And when you can’t be distracted by your own image on a screen, you are actually forced to pay attention to others, even if your intention is just to understand how you are doing. Neuroscience suggests that we’ve become socially awkward during this past year and a half and that we need to start working on our social and emotional intelligence again.
First, the good news. Our interpersonal skills are based on years of learning and conditioning, plus an even bigger chunk of personality and character traits, so while we may be a bit out of practice, you can think of the ability to be social and relate to others as riding a bicycle. Our social skills couldn’t be completely erased by a year of lockdown, and even when we are introverted and love working from home. So we should have no trouble reverting to our pre-pandemic levels of sociability. Granted, to some that is hardly a high bar.
Now onto the bad news. Many people were already quite frustrated having to commute, spend time on endless face-to-face meetings, and come to the office mostly because they were forced to as opposed to going in because it helped them do their work more productively. These employees, who are arguably part of the majority of workers who were not engaged at work prior to the pandemic, will have experienced a much better, more efficient, and convenient way of working in the last year and a half.