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After two years of working from home during the pandemic, and plenty of false starts, employees are officially heading back to work as the R.T.O., or return to office, is in full swing.
Roughly 60 percent of U.S. workers who could work from home were still signing in remotely as of January, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus set back R.T.O. plans. But now companies like Google are insisting that their workers return to the office on hybrid work schedules.
For many workers, the commuter train has already left the station. And after controlling our own environment at home, returning to work means we’ll be faced with annoying behaviors among our colleagues again: loud talkers, nosy cubicle mates, the olfactory emanations of the shared microwave.
How do we confront these people — and how do we check our emotions, which may be in overdrive after working in relative isolation, to keep ourselves from snapping?
Consider this a fresh start for everybody, said Darian Lewis, who, 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 prior to the pandemic, but you just couldn’t figure out how to do it?” he said. “Well, seize the opportunity right now.”
Lindsey Pollak, a workplace expert and the author of “Recalculating: Navigate Your Career Through the Changing World of Work,” said there are three things to keep in mind when you’re getting back in the groove. “Acknowledge that we are out of shape dealing with other people,” she said. “Lower your expectations and assume that you’re going to have some annoyances. And really give thought to the new habits that you want to create from Day 1, and be deliberate about making changes now.”
And before you fume that, once again, Bob is leaving his unwashed mug in the break room sink for someone else to deal with, check 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 reaction,” Mr. Miglioli said. “What I do is pause, breathe and connect with the present moment.”
A New Office Culture
The past two years have changed the way we work in profound ways.
- The Office’s Last Stand: Each pandemic autumn has brought employers’ hopes of a return to the office. Now, leaders are adamant it will happen. Workers aren’t sold.
- Emotions on Display: Executives increasingly want employees to know that they’re not just empty suits. To do so, they are sharing their feelings on Twitter, in memoirs and in all-staff meetings.
- Quiet Quitting: This new approach to setting professional boundaries popularized by TikTok might be the solution for those not ready to make a grand exit from their job.
- Job Titles: “Head of team anywhere.” “Vice president of flexible work.” The rise of remote work has given way to new positions, whose lasting power has yet to be tested.
That pause will give you a chance to choose your battles, said Dr. Jody J. Foster, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “The Schmuck in My Office: How to Deal Effectively With Difficult People at Work.”
“Ask yourself, ‘Is this a battle I need to have because it’s truly getting in the way of my work, or am I just being crispy because I’m so used to being alone during the pandemic and having everything the exact way I wanted it?’” she said.
Here’s how to deal quickly and effectively with some of the most irritating workplace habits.