While those comfortable in social situations operated with ease in the workplace, workers suffering from social anxiety may have had a more difficult experience, surrounded by and interacting with, other people.
Given this, even though the sudden switch to WFH was impactful to many, because direct or indirect support was no longer available through the office environment, social anxiety sufferers may have experienced less anxiety and greater wellbeing under WFH conditions.
This may have resulted in greater productivity. It should also be noted that organisations generally rose to this challenge using technology. For example, Zoom meetings and virtual drinks became the new face-to-face contact otherwise missing with WFH.
Therefore, organisations need to consider the experience of individuals suffering from social anxiety in returning to the office.
Those who have operated well from home and enjoyed the independence, self-reliance, and flexibility available to operate with work, home, and personal commitments, need again to rebalance as we transition to also include working from the office.
For many, this will simply be addressed through a few days at home and a few days in the office and life will continue pretty much as normal. However, those with social anxiety who in fact excelled with the comfort of WFH or those who developed habits to cope, may find the return to the office less comfortable.
How do we best transition and make comfortable those that are uncomfortable with being back in the social setting of the workplace?
One of the many considerations is addiction.
Addiction is the dependence on a particular activity or substance. During WFH, many of us have developed habits that have enabled us to cope with lockdown and other various constraints on our lives.
These ‘addictions’ can take healthy forms, such as daily exercise which attends to the physical and mental well-being of an individual. However, there can be a darker side to addiction.
Examples of negative addictions can be eating or drinking too much. Returning to work offers an opportunity to disrupt these habits.
This requires employees in these situations to address these compulsions and make appropriate adjustments, as having something to eat or drink when they desire is no longer feasible – a mostly positive transition for those affected.
However, for social anxiety sufferers, the comfort and routine found in these habits, and the WFH environment, will be lost and this exacerbates the risk of becoming severely anxious about returning to the workplace, and ultimately any social environment.
Therefore, as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns as we know it, a greater understanding of what individuals can do to ease their transition back to the workplace, and the role organisations play in facilitating this transition, regardless of whether the work is full- or part-time, is paramount.
Additionally, a consideration for how society can support those who may be overwhelmed or overcome by stress during a return to the chaos of the commute or unplanned social interactions with colleagues, could guide initiatives suitable for those with social anxiety.