Chatting at the water cooler to be encouraged as people return to the office, says expert

As people return to the office, they should invest time in socializing.
As people return to the office, they should invest time in socializing. Photo credit Getty Images
By , KCBS Radio

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS RADIO) – Now more than two years into the pandemic, people have adjusted somewhat to COVID-19 being a presence in day-to-day life, or what some may call the "new normal."

But this new normal may look different to some, and certain elements of the pandemic may be wearing thin on others.

"None of us really know what the new normal is yet," said Dr. Peter Yellowlees, a psychiatrist and Chief Wellness Officer at UC Davis on KCBS Radio's "Ask an Expert" on Friday with Holly Quan and Jason Brooks.

"We just know that it's going to be different and that we're going to have to be more flexible in many areas of our lives," he said.

And this flexibility is necessary for all aspects of life, particularly for those who are just now going back into the office to work in person after spending the last two years remote.

People nervous about their return should anticipate possible situations they haven’t dealt with in some time.

"Run through your imagination, what's going to be happening, think about how you're going to speak to people in person that you haven't spoken to in a really long time," said Yellowlees.

It might also be beneficial to put some extra attention towards relationships as well.

"Plan to spend some extra time socially with colleagues at work so that you can catch up a bit more with what’s been happening to them in the pandemic," he said. "That will make everything easier for you."

These types of conversations are typically organic when people work together in the same office, by chatting at the water cooler, so to speak.

"And all those conversations have been missing over the last couple of years," said Yellowlees. "I think it's really important, to help our own anxieties and to improve teamwork."

While this type of behavior may not have been encouraged by managers in the past, it's likely to be one of many changes in the way people work across industries.

In particular, it's likely that more people are going to be working in a hybrid manner than they were before the pandemic.

Hybrid work models are important to improving the socialization between individuals, said Yellowlees. In-person collaboration can be more effective for certain groups, like creative teams, than meeting over Zoom, he said.

It's too easy to check out over Zoom, to let your mind wander instead of focusing on your interactions.

It might be difficult for some people to then focus when they're back in the office, in person. But it's also possible that the way meetings are conducted will also change.

"I suspect in the new normal we're actually going to have less meetings than we used to have," he said. "And the meetings that we have I suspect are going to be shorter and more focused."

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