Hello remote friends!
Picture this: You’ve spent months collaborating with a team of talented individuals from around the world. Emails, virtual meetings, and late-night Slack conversations have become your daily routine. You know their voices, their witty online banter, and the avatars that represent them on the various digital platforms. You’ve shared ideas, kudos on Slack, and even a few virtual games and happy hours.
And then, the day finally arrives. You step off the plane or walk into that conference room, and there they are — your virtual colleagues, now flesh and blood, standing right in front of you. Your heart quickens, your palms get a little sweaty, and you suddenly find yourself wondering, ‘Can I make this transition from pixels to handshakes? Or should I just take off and run?’
Like me, you might feel a mixture of excitement and anxiety when you need, for work, to meet a group of people you know virtually in person for the first time. These situations happen when we go to conferences, retreats, or face-to-face workshops.
The transition from virtual interactions to face-to-face encounters can be a tad overwhelming. However, fear not! I want to share some insights based on my own experiences to help you navigate the uncharted waters of real-world connections.
1. Acknowledge your emotions
It’s normal to feel worried or anxious. Remember, everyone shares these emotions. They are a shared experience that can help break the ice.
2. Navigating greetings
If someone extends their hand for a handshake and you’re uncomfortable – whether due to safety/hygiene concerns or simply personal preference – just politely explain your reasons for avoiding physical contact. People are generally understanding in today’s world (and in Tyk especially!).
If someone goes in for a hug, and you’re uncomfortable with it, a friendly, “I’m more of a handshake person,” and a warm smile can gracefully convey your boundaries.
On a personal note, I’m a hugger – so much so that a colleague once pointed it out. So yeah, I tend to hug – but even I don’t hug people I’m not used to seeing. I would rather have a warm handshake or a big smile.
If someone stands too close, don’t hesitate to ask gently for a bit of space. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m a bit of a stickler for personal space; I hope you don’t mind.” Covid has made us all more conscious of people’s boundaries when it comes to matters like this.
English is my second language, so this tip is based on experiencing this often. If you don’t understand something someone said, don’t be embarrassed to ask for clarification. Just say, “I didn’t quite get that,” or, “Sorry, English is not my mother tongue; could you repeat that, please?” Most colleagues will appreciate your willingness to engage in open communication.
3. Overcoming shyness
Rehearse a few icebreaker questions or conversation starters in advance to help ease initial awkwardness. ChatGPT or something similar could help you find something that suits you personally.
Start with light and neutral topics like hobbies, favourite movies, or your commute to wherever the event occurs. You’ll be surprised how quickly conversations flow from there.
Remember, we’re all human
Keep in mind that your colleagues, like you, have their own quirks and insecurities. They’re likely feeling similar emotions to you about meeting IRL.
4. Initiating conversations
Sometimes, a simple “hi” accompanied by a smile is all it takes to kickstart a conversation. Two letters, and you’re already rolling.
Genuine compliments can be a great way to break the ice – if given correctly. You could say something nice about the person’s recent project, a useful link they shared, or remind them of a time they helped you.
I recommend refraining from offering compliments based on physical appearance, age, or gender, especially in a professional setting. Such comments may make individuals uncomfortable and be perceived as inappropriate for the situation.
5. Be present
Put your phone away and give your full attention to the person you’re talking to. And the following is probably news to you, so pay attention 😉 — Unlike when sitting behind a screen, people can actually see when you swiftly read a message during your conversation! Jokes aside, we are so used to multi-tasking with these little things on a daily basis that sometimes we’re unaware it could make the other person feel unwelcome or like you’re not paying attention to them.
Be an active listener
Tune in to your colleagues, ask questions, and be part of the conversation. These little moments you spend together listening to each other will help strengthen your connection going forward. So don’t just stand there ready to interrupt with your own views and experience – ask your colleagues more about their topic of conversation first.
6. Be yourself
Remember, you’ve been working together successfully, albeit remotely. You’ll have been yourself during all of those remote interactions, so do the same in person. It’s human nature to relax when someone is authentic, so just keep on being yourself!
It’s okay to step away
We all have those moments when we feel slightly drained from conversations and smiles. Remember that it’s perfectly acceptable to step away from the crowd and take a moment for yourself to relax and regain your energy. Self-care is an essential part of being your best self in any situation.
7. The last one — the hardest — stay in the moment
Embrace the uncomfortable moment. Think about it: What’s the worst that could happen? They might not instantly warm up to you? You could encounter an awkward silence, or you might even blush, sweat, or feel a little uncomfortable? It might not happen at all, and even if it does, okay then, let it be. When you do, your body will learn that it’s not life-threatening, so there’s no need to get into a flight mode response. The first time is the hardest, the second gets easier, and the third even more so. Eventually, it’ll help you to cope better with that anxiety associated with meeting people face-to-face.
So, just try it — don’t run away, stay in that uncomfortable situation just a few moments longer, and breathe.
To end this list, remember that these real-life situations are opportunities to strengthen your professional relationships, create lasting memories, and improve your social skills. Embrace the excitement, acknowledge the nerves, and breathe. We’re all in this together, and together, we’ll make it a fantastic experience!
Hope to see you around at one of the conferences across the globe…