I’ve previously opened up about my social anxiety and how I tackle it in my professional life. I’m determined to not let my anxiety have a detrimental impact on my career, which has in the past paved the way for new ways of meeting people in my field of work.
This week I’ve attended my first ever Mapillary offsite. We’re a fully distributed team, with almost 50 people living and working across eight different time zones. Twice a year we meet up somewhere in the world to discuss where we are as a company, and where we’re heading. Since it was my first offsite with Mapillary, it was also the first time I met most of my colleagues (including my boss!). I’d previously met all of them on Slack, but seeing everyone in person is quite different from talking to someone over Hangouts or Slack. Not least because virtual meetings have a crystal clear objective - in each meeting I know exactly what my role is, and I’m in a position to deliver accordingly. The rules of engagement, as it were, are clear. That is not the case with social interactions or when you’re surrounded by people 24/7.
But, offsites are important for every company - and particularly for distributed teams. In my case, it’s also a perfect storm in which anxiety thrives. Here’s what I did to not let it get the best of me.
Like in any social setting, making sure that I’m prepared for social interactions is imperative. Regardless of whether I’m going to a wedding where I know few people, or attending an offsite where I’ve met few people, I make sure to come prepped with an arsenal of questions. This is my blue blanket, the one thing I can always resort to. Each person works differently, but for me, having questions to fire at the person sitting next to me is a great way of getting a conversation going and thus lowering my anxiety levels. At this offsite, my arsenal included questions like “what are you key takeaways so far”, “what has surprised you from the discussions”, “what’s your key focus for the next quarter”. Once the discussion takes off, a context has been created and defined to a much larger extent. In this case it also allows me to gather important data for my work as the company’s Head of Comms. Two birds, one stone.
Be nice - not least to yourself
We stayed at a great resort in Greece with access to an equally great gym. We all know the importance of exercise for our mental health and it was a bit of a lifesaver to be able to withdraw and spend some time at the gym between workshops and dinner. Likewise, although in an ideal world we’d have somewhat in-depth conversations with most people attending the conference, it’s way more important not to crumble. If you’re more comfortable sitting next to the people you normally interact with in your day-to-day work, do so. It’s fine. No one cares and you’ll build even stronger bonds with your closest colleagues.
This one keeps coming back to me. Being aware of my anxiety allows me to manage it in a way that was impossible when I was younger. I know that I thrive in a well-defined context, so I gravitate towards those sort of settings. Evening board game sessions are prominent at Mapillary offsites - that’s a great way for me to get closer to colleagues I otherwise wouldn’t naturally strike up a random conversation with. And, luckily for me, islands of people working on various projects during evening socials are also prominent at Mapillary offsites. I’m rubbish at mingling, but I’m great at working. Whenever I’ve felt a bit overwhelmed, flipping up my laptop and doing a bit of work has been a great way of not leaving the social context but still looking after myself.
I’ll also admit that while offsites can be overwhelming for someone who lives with social anxiety, it’s of course made much easier when your colleagues are a lovely bunch who care about the same stuff as yourself. In our case, it’s about fixing the world’s maps through state-of-the-art and award-winning technology.