The question I realized that after two years of working from home, I can’t work in an office. My manager recently requested that we all work from the office on certain days of the week. I now spend half an hour each way crammed into a smelly and dirty train. I started this job during the pandemic, so I was nervous about going to the office and meeting my colleagues. Well, my worst fears came true, because on the first day, the first colleague I met tried to get me fired. He said I wasn’t wearing my lanyard and reported it to my boss.
I have since met the rest of the team and experienced a fair amount of bigotry and sexism. But it’s not just that. I now find that I am hypersensitive to any noise. I’m extremely sensitive to people chewing with their mouths open, sipping soup, and chattering loudly. Not only that, but my stomach growls and I find it excruciatingly embarrassing. I want the ground to swallow me. Working from home, none of that was a problem. I can’t go on like this. Besides getting a medical clearance, which I obviously don’t want to do, how can I approach my office to request that I work from home permanently?
Philippa’s response There are many like you who have gotten used to working from home. In many people’s experience, the comfort zones for being with co-workers seem to have diminished.
During the pandemic, we were repeatedly hinted that others were dangerous, even potential killers. Shops and offices are still full of signs reminding us to keep our distance and wash our hands. All the factual TV series made since the pandemic show people distanced from each other with an unnatural distance. This all makes great sense as a precaution against the virus, but what has it done to our psyches? It heightened any anxiety we may have had about others and made us more suspicious of our fellow human beings. This makes me sad.
After being alone for so long, the sounds and smells of other people may very well be shocking. We got used to the quiet and now normal noise seems horribly over-stimulating and the situation has made us even more aware of the normal noises our bodies make. Many people report feeling overstimulated and exhausted after re-entry after lockdown. I was among them. Many of us have had to rebuild gradually, and I think you will have to too.
Like many creatures, human beings are beasts of burden. If you remove a fruit fly from its conspecifics, isolate it and then reintroduce it into the swarm, it does not dive back into the center, but hides around the edges. It’s as if he’s gotten used to the loneliness and doesn’t dare risk what might feel like further rejection by immersing himself again. I’ve heard the same thing happens with rats, and for sure after isolation we humans feel more shy and hypervigilant for potential rejection.
There are two things we can do with these feelings of fear and distrust: we can be ruled by feeling and remain hidden, or we can feel fear and participate anyway. If we hide, we continue to harbor our fears, but if we dare to feel them and act in spite of them, they will gradually diminish as we build relationships and enter the fray, even if we thought we weren’t. wouldn’t.
I don’t think you’ll be fired for forgetting your lanyard. How kind of your colleague to ask your boss if you received one (there’s always another interpretation for a story). The formation of cliques is universal in all human groups and we will not educate anyone about sexism from hiding. It can be difficult to join an already established group, as relationships take time. But the good thing about them at work is that the cliché that two brains are better than one is true. We can have video meetings, but a lot more creativity and problem-solving happens chatting near the water cooler.
When you walk into a full room and you think no one will care about you and the other people are all awful, what vibe do you give off? But if you expect everyone to be nice, interesting and attractive and you are too, how different would your behavior be? And what difference would it make to the experience?
I doubt there’s any harm in telling your boss that you work better at home, but it’s not guaranteed. Instead, I encourage you to realize that not all humans are bad, and that some of them are truly awesome and will be fun and interesting to work with.
You have sought evidence to the contrary; I want you instead, to seek the good.
It’s time to be a little more optimistic about the way people are and gently push the boundaries of your comfort zone, so you can relax and be less anxious about being a part of it again. a group. You have an advantage over the fruit fly – you can decide to recognize your instincts, understand them, and choose to ignore them.
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