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 | By Patricia Mish Managing editor, FAITH Grand Rapids

My Coworkers Are So Distracting

Now that we are back at the office, I don’t feel as efficient. It’s been great to catch up with my co-workers after being apart for so long, but the coffee-time chatter can be really distracting!

Navigating the return to the office can be a challenge.

Many workers prefer working remotely, saying they feel more productive. Others prefer the office, saying they feel more productive. Regardless, let’s assume you’re back in the office and it’s a bit more crowded than your previous work environment.

Optional Slack conversations and Zoom coffee hours have been replaced with real people working in the cubicle next to you or down the hall. Sometimes they are kind of loud.

You roll into the office with a plan. Just when you get in the zone, a well-meaning colleague drops by and asks how your weekend went. “Fine,” you say. Remembering your manners, you ask, “How was yours?”

A half hour later, you’ve forgotten where you left off, but you know every detail of your co-worker’s weekend.

Sometimes we just need to bear with one another. However, it’s also important to be candid when these conversations become distracting to the point where we can feel our heart rate spiking.

Here are a few ways to do that:

Be honest. If it’s not a good time to chat, say so. “I really want to hear about your weekend! I’m wrapping something up right now, but would you like to take a walk over lunch?”

Be mindful. Take the temperature of the room. If it’s buzzing with activity, say a quick “Good morning” and add, “I’d love to catch up with you. Let me know when you come up for air.”

Put it on the schedule. If you work with a small team and people are interested, set up an optional “teatime” for 3 p.m. once a week or daily. At a previous job, we always enjoyed these 15-minute breaks (and got into the fun habit of bringing treats for birthdays or other special occasions).

Change the scenery. If you have a work task that’s really pressing, ask your supervisor if you can work from home or at another location for a few hours.

Remember when the pandemic began? Even families reported getting on each other’s nerves sharing the same office space. Many of us will face a similar or tougher adjustment having to share space with co-workers.

As we approach (or avoid!) these workplace conversations, we can take our cue from St. Paul: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.” (Col 4:6)