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What’s the work-from-home lockdown like for someone experiencing social anxiety?

Secret lockdown relief

Five months ago at the office, after just a week and half at my new job in the heart of London, I was being told: “A lockdown has been imposed and you’ll need to work from home indefinitely”. What I actually heard was: “You are saved from the stifling anxiety of dealing with office newbie nerves indefinitely”. Despite knowing deep down that this was far from a healthy solution to an ongoing personal “issue”, I was secretly awash with relief, like I’d gotten away with something.  Now that I look back, I’m a little ashamed. I used to say it takes me a while to “be myself” in any new job or similar endeavour. But now I realise, the way I am is always myself—it’s a constant, regardless of where I am and who’s around me.

Being yourself isn’t something that comes and goes; it’s you all the time, for better or worse. We shouldn’t tell ourselves we’ll do better when we change where we are and what’s around us. We can be shy or quiet without having to justify it by situation—hence quietly confident. To that end, it’s not as though all the Zoom call meetings were any less nerve-wracking than physical ones. It’s not any easier building genuine, comfortable rapports with colleagues and clients over Slack and Skype than it is at your desk. Sure, small talk is as scary as can be but there’s no great replacement invented for gauging people digitally in quite the same way (not yet anyway). Don’t get me wrong, I will continue to take remote working over office working any day, preferring it to the unsettling and anxiety-ridden hours I might endure at the office. Not that surprisingly, it made me less productive than at home, having often been distracted by thoughts of anything but what was directly on the screen in front of me.

Work in progress

Whether or not we are returning to our offices in due course, meetings, catch-ups, training, and other people-centric engagements are still a large characteristic of remote working, if not the largest. Zoom calls aren’t easy, particularly when the point is to pitch in, when sometimes our colleagues are far more extroverted and must be heard. But just like in office settings, interactions do get easier as time goes by. When lockdown began, I used to be pretty nervous about my weekly one-on-ones on Zoom, but now I really cherish them as a means to feel part of the work environment, even if it’s through one colleague. The last quarterly virtual meeting was one of my cringiest social experiences in some time (whenever I’ve heard the words “team quiz” since then, I swear I get palpitations). I recall allocated teams and breakout rooms—as if a quiz wasn’t horrifying enough—and then I left the call without saying a single word throughout it because I was frozen in my chair. But I wasn’t happy at all. I also didn’t want to be that awkward girl who ghosts Zoom calls and may as well not be there to begin with. So I did something that I’d wanted to do for some time: I joined the book club at work. I figured that if huge work-related Zoom calls were scaring me, mid-sized literature-related ones would surely ease me in. The hope is that literature will be the point of passion and means through which I can grow more and more comfortable in virtually social group settings. The first book club is fast approaching, let’s see how that pans out!

Once again, while we cannot remove ourselves from those client/colleague interactions, even remotely, we can take advantage of the control we have over being able to know their schedule and plan our easing-in opportunities. Taking a gentle comfort zone stretch approach perhaps.

What have been your experiences of the lockdown? Despite the obvious virtues of being able to remain at home as an introvert, what struggles have you faced if any? We’d love to know your thoughts!

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