Some Enchanted Lunch Hour
The old song is new again.
It won't be across a crowded room, but shuffling nervously through your workplace you may indeed meet a stranger. It's not a stranger, of course. The vaguely familiar humanoid is a co-worker, one of your closest and dearest comrades before COVID-19 struck and everyone headed for the hills. Now, coaxed or commanded, haunted or hunted, they roam the halls, strangers in the strange land of desks, water coolers and broken copiers.
It isn't surprising that you don't recognize the person who used to sit across from you in endless meetings in Conference Room 1. After months of isolation, people change. You've changed, too, but in your case, the change has been for the better. How are you ever going to get along with a gangly gang of malcontents who look like they're on the losing side of the zombie apocalypse?
The question isn't really how will you work with these people; it's: How will you will live with these people? Conversation is easy in a Zoom meeting conducted from your kitchen table, but running into a real live human being in the lunch room is an entirely different matter.
For one thing, if you don't like what someone is saying, you can't mute them.
To navigate this stressful situation, what you need is a bunch of interactional strategies in your back pocket. You also need a back pocket. If working from home has rejiggered your idea of proper work apparel, even at the grooviest tech companies, pants are recommended.
Let me help with a few useful don'ts and do's.
Don't start conversations with: "Wow, it's weird being back at work. What did you do during the pandemic?"
It's nice to ask, but you can see the problem -- they might actually tell you.