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  • Naomi Beaumont

No shame please

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

So, a lot of noise at the moment about the office; it's dead, it's alive & kicking, or maybe just hiding with a banging hangover. 'But we need meetings! Banter! Lift chats! Loo chats!' the extroverts cry, while the introverts snuggle into their sofas and the sweet sound of silence, secretly praying they never have to hot desk again.

Whichever your tribe, it’s pretty obvious that if you had an office-based job pre-pandemic that by some miracle you have managed to cling onto (well done), you will have to go back in some way, shape or form. But how to make sure different kinds of people feel OK with that? As we return, will we feel judged for how physically visible we are? How can we avoid sliding back into the dreaded 'presenteeism' - the old-school habit of evaluating people on how many hours they spend chained to their desk, instead of on their output - which until fairly recently was still rife in many big agencies?

A lot has been said and written about the benefits of different personality types in a business. We know it matters, even if the traditional criteria for success seems biased towards the extrovert. Presenting confidently, articulately & loudly, pitching, networking events, after work drinks and schmoozing, seizing those corridor chats with management - all guaranteed to make an introvert run for cover, bearing the full shame of our career limiting behaviour.

Because shame is the thing. It's what makes us take the back stairs when we leave at 6pm (an early dart in advertising terms), avoiding the imperious glances and snide comments of people still hunched over their blue-glow shrines to industry. 'Oh, half day is it?' It's what makes parents feel so utterly crap when they have to leave suddenly to pick up a sick child, why you scuttle off awkwardly to your doctor's appointment. And yes, it's on us to address our own rather British issues with shame; to care less, create boundaries, learn to back ourselves instead of needing other people's seal of approval. But that's a tough ask for any human, given our brains still think survival depends on being accepted by the tribe. Feeling shame is our ancient evolutionary response to make sure we stay in with the in crowd - safety in numbers.

But there aren’t any sabre-toothed tigers in Zone 1, last time I checked anyway. So it seems important that leadership teams navigate the office return sensitively and without judgement, especially given that management are likely to be some of the first back. Pressure to follow their example is inevitable. If I am not seen, will I still be recognised? Will the tribe chuck me out?

A general rule of at least one day in the office a week, maximum two, would make the playing field more even. Lockdown was basically an introvert's paradise, but we do need pushing out of our comfort zones sometimes, if only to avoid becoming complete gibbering hermits. There will always be the people who want to spend more time in the office - I recall a boss who came in on New Year's Day, he was that keen. And I get that (sort of), but it shouldn't mean that those of us who aren't rushing back are left feeling outcast.

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