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Back to the Office: Are Our Social Skills Up to It?

As more big companies call their workers back to the office this fall, more of us will be spending more time with colleagues-in meetings, at lunches, and afterwork gatherings. Are we ready? In the time we’ve been working from home, have our social skills held up?

Back to the Office - Are our social skills up to it_blog

Companies like Apple, Google, Disney and IBM, among others, are requiring employees return to the office this fall. For instance, JPMorgan Chase, is abandoning a hybrid attendance policy it adopted during the pandemic, requiring executives return to the office.

Some leaders at these companies believe productivity increases when workers are in the office together. Others hope to increase in-person collaboration.

Did we miss anything while we were working from home?

Soft Skills Take a Hit

Gen Z was hit especially hard by the social isolation brought about by the pandemic. Nearly half of Gen Z employees responding to a Gartner survey say the pandemic made pursuing their educational or career goals more difficult. Another 50% say their education has not prepared them to enter the workforce. (Many graduated during the pandemic.) Experts say Gen Z has missed out on developing soft skills, such as negotiating, networking, speaking confidently in front of crowds, and developing the social stamina and attentiveness required to work long hours, in an in-person environment.

This lack of experience and preparedness may negatively impact organizations. But it’s not just Gen Z — everyone’s skills have changed since 2020. Many people are feeling awkward. And, with people behaving awkwardly, misunderstandings happen.  

Our social skills are like any other muscle, they can atrophy if we don’t use them, but they also will recover and get stronger if we practice,” said Daniel Post Senning, author and spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute.

10 Tips to Improve your Social Skills

So, to help you get ready for your return to the office we pulled together a list of general guidelines for enhancing your social skills. They’re not just for Gen Z. Nor are they just for employees only now going back to the office. Everyone can use a refresh now and then, and there’s no time like the present.

  1. Improve your emotional intelligence. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine what they might be going through and try to understand their feelings. You’ll better understand their perspective, which will help you respond appropriately. 
  2. Look inwards. Pay attention to your emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and triggers. Then it will be easier to control them while interacting with others.
  3. Practice effective communication skills. Use tactics like active listening and open body language to demonstrate attentiveness. This opens the door to more positive interactions.
  4. Fake it ‘till you make it. Try acting like your more social peers, even if it’s just small talk. It will become easier every time you try it.
  5. Ask more than you speak. You don’t have to worry about speaking up; ask open-ended questions and use active listening. People love talking about themselves.
  6. Give compliments. Everyone likes a good compliment. Tell someone that they were great in that meeting, or their project was top-notch. Be specific.
  7. Be polite. Good manners go a long way. Words like “please” and “thank you” are small but powerful ways to soften requests.
  8. Use open body language and non-verbal communication. Face the person with whom you’re speaking. Pay attention to your tone of voice. Make eye contact. Use your body language to show you’re present and paying attention.
  9. Read the news. So many conversations revolve around current events; try to keep up so you can chime in.
  10. Don’t let your thoughts get the best of you. It’s okay to feel a little anxious, but don’t let it get the best of you. You’re not your thoughts. Take a deep breath and try to let them go; this will help you relax in a social situation.

Enhancing your social skills can help you feel more at home with your colleagues. It can also improve your confidence, sense of belonging, and ability to collaborate at work — all important skills that will affect your mental health, motivation, and ability to succeed and will help with that transition back to the office this fall.