From Pixels To People

Mike Whalen

September is here! Which means college kids will not be returning to campus. Rather, they’ll be entering the business world for the first time. For some, they’ll be working remote, or some version of it. For others, their talents will be utilized in-person. If this is you, you’re not alone. Many companies are trying to justify their real estate footprints, and employees are being summoned back into the office. 

First and foremost, everyone is new (or, at least, rusty) with office life. Being in-person takes patience, perseverance and practice. 

Mistakes are going to happen. You are going to forget your deodorant, or leave an original on the copy machine, or forget your ID at home when the receptionist gate-checks your entry. The important thing is to remain calm. Don’t panic. And when it’s appropriate, own your mistakes. Unless your mistake broke the coffee machine, then repeat these words, “I have no recollection of those events.”

Secondly, never bring highly fragrant leftovers to eat. I learned this lesson the day I ordered spicy Indian food, and ate at my desk. People five cubes over were trying to determine what small animal had died. This goes double for fish in the microwave, messy hands-on foods (such as ribs) and abandoned leftovers in the fridge. Your mother doesn’t work in your office, so you’re responsible for that creamer two weeks past its expiration date. If your mother happens to work in your office; you’re grown up now, so clean up after yourself!

Another situation to consider is when the office is recognizing one employee. Birthdays, holidays and promotions. Make sure you sign whatever card is being passed around, and donate “what you can afford” if cash is being collected. But learn from my mistake and carefully read why the office is celebrating or consoling this individual. Otherwise, like me, you’ll sign the “Sorry for your loss” card with, “Happy cake day old man!” On that note, make sure your communications are bland enough so as not to offend anyone’s sensibilities. A good sanity check is how would your grammy react to your words?

When it comes to office jargon, acronyms and commonly used phrases, remember not everyone has the same lexicon. As the older, more experienced veterans, it’s your job to educate and coach the new employees. But as the future leaders of tomorrow, who might be vexed or perplexed by a large and scary word; take the initiative and educate yourself. Google is your friend. And, when in doubt, it’s OK to ask.

Finally, the best all-time ice breaker is to buy doughnuts or pastries for the office and park them in the break/lunch room. Or, ask your three-dimensional cohort how much a polar bear weighs… just enough to break the ice!

Going Solo is an advice column by Michael Whalen, MBA, for entrepreneurs or corporate employees working remotely out of their homes.

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