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  • Writer's pictureSubha

Lost in Translation: Why Returning to Work Feels Weird

Returning to work feels like an imposition, but why is this the case? Conversations with colleagues enabled us to work better together, so why aren’t we missing them more?

empty office in hybrid work

There are only two things that can be said with any certainty about communication. One, it always involves two people and their intentionality to speak and to listen. Two, intentionality is almost always missing from today’s communication exercises.

In the late nineties of being a college kid in India, it was impossible to walk the corridors without hearing at least one reference to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Recently, we stumbled upon a letter that producer Steve Albini wrote to the band members in November of 1992, just when they were about to produce what would be their final album.

The letter itself is a masterclass in clarity- it wasn’t just what the band wanted; it is about how Steve intended to approach his production process. As pitches go, this is pretty compelling. What also strikes us as poignant is the opening paragraph.

Kurt, Dave and Chris: First let me apologize for taking a couple of days to put this outline together. When I spoke to Kurt I was in the middle of making a Fugazi album, but I thought I would have a day or so between records to sort everything out. My schedule changed unexpectedly, and this is the first moment I’ve had to go through it all. Apology apology.

Firstly, it wasn’t that uncommon even three decades ago to write letters about how we got delayed in doing what we said we’d do. Secondly, it is likely that a few more days would have passed by the time this letter found its way to the artists. In other words, the band members likely waited a week or more to hear from one Steve Albini about the fact that he was delayed in sending it out.

Today, we send an apology email on Monday morning for ‘the delay in getting back’ for an email sent on Friday. We have come to ask this of each other and expect it too. What does communication of this nature do for us, and to us?

For one, it distracts us from what’s important and what’s urgent, often causing us to confuse the two. As Eisenhower’s famous matrix shows, they are not the same thing. We’d wager a bet that we want people back at the workplace because we’re trying to solve a very important problem that we can’t quite put a finger on- that of saying too much and meaning too little. But truly, is the only way to solve for it to inhabit the same physical space for as long as possible?

Other ways of better communication

We’ve been, and we’ve seen, fully remote teams that get the job done just as well, if not better. That said, we always look forward to the times when we are able to work together in a collaborative environment.

To be with colleagues is to be fascinated by how many other shapes and forms life can take. It is a brilliant exercise in building empathy. It is very likely that in teams as small as three people, each person has had a very different morning on any given day. Our education and our social circles are different, as is our lived experience of how to solve a problem.

In being in these environments, we challenge ourselves and our thinking. At the very least, we are challenged, whether we want to be or not.

Here’s an idea - the way to make the most of in-person days is to have as many conversations about as many things as possible. The water cooler isn’t just a measure of a company’s culture; it is the backbone of why it continues to run at all.

As we return to various forms of hybrid works, it isn’t important as to how much we say in our WFH emails or the frequency of our updates on the company Slack. The best way to make the most of the two days at work is to open ourselves up to the enrichment of our perspectives on what should be done and how best to do it.

In subsequent posts this month, we look forward to bringing you stories on the impact of visual metaphors to drive action and a piece on how managers and team members can hold themselves accountable to make the most of in-office days- not to treat them as an inconvenience but an opportunity.

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