Pandemic-Induced (Socially) Awkward Communication in the Workplace
Pandemic-Induced (Socially) Awkward Communication in the Workplace

Is it just me, or do other people also feel awkward when reconnecting with people while physically distancing and wearing a mask? In the ‘before times’, we could sit close to someone, see their facial expressions as we communicated with them, shake hands, hug, or even kiss someone on the cheek. For now, most of that is on hold.


Phone Anxiety and the “Camera Shy”

Some people have phone anxiety so they avoid speaking on the phone. On the surface, phone anxiety may look like a problem that individuals should solve on their own. It’s almost like other life skills like learning how to cook, swim, or drive that is worth mastering. Certain jobs that require verbal communication – not in person – require that employees can communicate verbally from day one. Employers do not expect to have to teach or develop these skills.

Pre-pandemic, a lot of people were reluctant to use video platforms because they were uncomfortable with the technology and/or felt shy about being on camera. Now that so many of us are working from home, we’re counting on voice and video calls more than ever. Email is great, but there are times when nuance is too hard to communicate via words on a screen. Plus, there are times when it’s important to collaborate as a group.

marque sign describes awkward communication gestures

Anyone who has audio or video communication anxiety must be struggling to adapt to the new realities of awkward communication.  It’s easy to see how anxiety around these forms of communication can have a negative impact on someone’s career progression and development.

The song Just a Picture by KYLE ft. Kehlani that compares real-life interpersonal interactions to their digital equivalents. It shows us how much our use of phones has evolved. These days, many people use their phones for everything except talking. Almost overnight, so many real-life social and professional interactions have been forced online. It hasn’t always been a seamless transition.


(Sort-of) Open for Business

I recently wrote about the challenges of resuming in-person business operations during a pandemic – and coping with rehiring/staffing obstacles (Pandemic Staffing: Why Some Employers Are Struggling to Re-hire). In this context, co-workers are coming back together in the workplace after being off work for weeks or even months. Above and beyond the complications of returning to work after an extended absence, staff are also re-adjusting to professional relationships without the benefit of certain valuable cues and behaviours (read this and this for tips on navigating a return to work). The result is awkward communication.

two women working in masks doing awkward communicationIt’s easy to anticipate that the return to work without being able to see people’s facial expressions and doing everything at a safe and sterile distance will take some time to adjust to. What’s even worse than awkward communication is the fact that it will probably be harder to read certain social cues; even more difficult for those who are hearing impaired or on the autism spectrum.

Where I think it will be even more challenging is integrating new people into existing work teams. It may not be possible to meet for impromptu coffee breaks or get together over lunch, dinner, or cocktails where so many relationships have opportunities to develop from superficial into something more substantial where trust is built.

Workplace friendships and allies are important not only for supporting creativity, cooperation, and efficiency that comes with combined efforts, but they are also an important buffer against bullying and harassment. Besides, good relationships feel good and support our overall health and well-being.


Some Tips

With your smile out of sight, your body language is more important than ever.

  • Good eye contact is more key than ever.
  • Use open body language and hand gestures.
  • Nod to make it clear you’re listening.
  • Avoid crossing your arms.
  • Speak clearly and slightly slower than usual when wearing a mask.
  • Pay attention to others’ non-verbal cues.


If you’d like to discuss this or any other career-related topic further, you may reach out via direct message through TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn to learn more or book a free initial phone consultation.


You may also call me directly at 613-424-8689 or 1-888-878-8861 or send an email to helen@ioadvisory.com to discuss my career, executive coaching, or HR services.


More than career coaching, it’s career psychology®.


I/O Advisory Services – Building Resilient Careers and Organizations.™


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