How to manage the return to the office

Gossip, talkers, and nosy colleagues are all manageable with the right mindset.

Illustrations by Albert Tercero

After two years of working from home during the pandemic and numerous false starts, employees are officially returning to work as the RTO, or return to the office, is in full swing.

About 60% of American workers who could work from home were still connecting remotely in January, according to a Pew Research Center survey, as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus delayed RTO plans. But now companies like Google are insisting that their employees return to the office on hybrid work schedules.

For many workers, the commuter train has already left the station. And after having controlled our own environment at home, returning to work means that we will again be faced with annoying behaviors in our colleagues: loud talkers, nosy cabin mates, olfactory fumes from the shared microwave.

How do we confront these people – and how do we control our emotions, which can be overloaded after working in relative isolation, to keep us from breaking down?

Consider it a fresh start for everyone, said Darian Lewis, who along with his wife, Monica, founded the Monica Lewis School of Etiquette in Houston. “You know all those things you wanted to change in your workplace before the pandemic, but you just didn’t know how to do it?” he said. “Well, take the opportunity now.”

Lindsey Pollack, workplace expert and author of “Recalculating: Navigate Your Career Through the Changing World of Work,” says there are three things to keep in mind as you get back into the groove. “Recognizing that we’re out of shape in front of others,” she said. “Reduce your expectations and assume you are going to have some inconvenience. And really think about the new habits you want to create from day one, and think about making changes now.

And before you rant that, once again, Bob is leaving his unwashed cup in the break room sink for someone else to take care of, check it out yourself, said Sozan Miglioli, a Zen Buddhist priest and president of the San Francisco Zen Center.

“There’s actually a big difference between responding and reacting,” Miglioli said. “What I do is pause, breathe and connect with the present moment.”

This break will give you a chance to choose your battles, said Dr. Jody J. Foster, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “The Schmuck in My Office: How to Deal Effectively With Difficult People at Work.” ”

“Ask yourself, ‘Is this a battle I have to have because it really gets in the way of my work, or am I just crusty because I’m so used to being alone during the pandemic and having everything exactly the way I wanted it?’” she said.

Here’s how to quickly and effectively deal with some of the most irritating work habits.

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