Q: I started a new job nine months ago. Since then, I’ve met only about five of my colleagues face to face, and just for brief periods. We’ve all been working from home, and I feel quite isolated. We do all the usual bonding stuff such as online cookery and cocktail-making events but they’re not the same. I fear this will not change any time soon and I’m wondering what I can do to make me enjoy work more. My productivity is starting to dip too? (EC, email).
A: You’re not alone, writes Mary O’Brien–Killeen, Career Coach, Slí Nua Careers. The scenario of people not meeting any of their new colleagues is still quite commonplace and, in some workplaces, new people arrive every week. It can be chaotic. The new arrivals think everyone else is years ahead in terms of knowing the company and how it operates – and those only in the door a wet week don’t believe they have the capacity to successfully bring the new people into the team.
In many cases, teams established in offices long before the pandemic find it easier to adapt to the new work circumstances. Their challenges revolve around enhanced communication and broadband facilities and technologies when working as a dispersed team, holding effective meetings and ensuring that what once worked within the same building now works equally well when everyone is cast to the four winds.
But they have the advantage of knowing what once worked.
Be open about the situation
If I were you, I would bring up the issue with my boss. Most bosses know that things aren’t simple for you right now. In fact, they’re not simple for them either. All the old certainties have been washed away. COVID-19 has been a great leveller in that regard.
They may well be experiencing problems you don’t even know about – juggling childcare, inadequate facilities for working from home, the need to meet certain customers or suppliers and so on.
Tell the boss how you feel. If you relay your experience properly, you will likely be representing a widespread view within the staff, and you will therefore be doing the company a favour.
Explain in real terms the problems you are encountering. Try to avoid phrases such as ‘feeling alienated’ and opt instead for concrete statements like “I really don’t know the people I’m working with and I feel I would communicate better with them, and do a more effective job, if I had a more personal relationship with them”.
If there are practical issues that you feel are lacking – technology, workflow management, decision making etc. – flag those too.
You might have some suggestions to make things more personable. For example, the other day I read about an event called netwalking, where instead of networking together in a room, professionals went for a walk at a local beach and got to know each other that way. It is a workaround – walkaround? – you could consider.
Most of all, don’t suffer in silence. These are difficult times. Working from home is not for everybody and it sounds like you need a bit of a gee-up right now.
If the company take their employees seriously – and those who don’t will struggle to hold onto staff in the post COVID-19 era – they will listen to you. If they don’t, well then maybe you have another decision to make.
Mary O’Brien-Killeen is a Career Coach with Slí Nua Careers in Claremorris, Co. Mayo.
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