Advice column: how do I cope with the strange new office atmosphere?
Dear Ash,

I have recently returned to work in the office a couple of days a week. However, I am finding that the office environment is far from ideal as there are fewer people present due to social distancing measures and this is impacting on the overall atmosphere. No one seems to want to spend much time speaking at coffee or lunchtime and there is limited banter. I appreciate that it may take some time for more “normal” conditions to resume, but it is still quite depressing and certain colleagues seem on edge.


Ash replies:

You clearly, like other colleagues, are still trying to find your bearings after a prolonged absence from the office, and your feelings of uneasiness are quite natural and understandable. For anyone returning to the office there will be a certain period of adjustment required, and it is important that you allow yourself some time to get comfortable with your new surroundings.

You will certainly not be alone in your feelings about the new environment; and although everything may aesthetically look the same, it will be far from the atmosphere that you were familiar with before COVID-19 hit. The impact of COVID, especially in terms of our working environment, is likely to be longer-term; things that we perhaps previously took for granted like simply going to lunch with colleagues or having banter at the coffee machine are unlikely to readily be the “norm”.

However, slowly but surely, we will resume some form of normal routines. Take everything in stages: perhaps as a first step, suggest going for lunch with a colleague at a pub or restaurant with outdoor seating. This could allow you to feel more at ease outwith the office environment and make you feel more comfortable when you return to the office. Don’t be offended if others are not so eager to socialise initially, as everyone will want to move at their own pace. Find what level of pace you are comfortable with and try not to stress; you managed to cope with lockdown and you will find the strength now to transition to the next phase of this phenomenon.

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and other legal professionals, which can be put to her via the editor: Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education, Training & Qualifications team. Email or phone 0131 226 7411 (select option 3).

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