A slowly rising alarm breaks my restless sleep on my first day. I go to the window to open the curtain and I am greeted by pure darkness. Artificial light is my early morning companion. Following my normal routine of making a large breakfast brings a sense of stability to this rather odd day. I make my way onto the interstate highway as a few clouds start to expose the pale blue sky. As I cross the bridge over the small river, sunbeams cut down towards the ground, little rays of hope on this gray morning. Finding a parking spot at my new location is harder that I would have imagined. It would seem I am not the only one that will be present at the office on a regular basis. I am still unsure on the timing of this decision. My glasses fog up as I enter the building and get use to wearing a mask again. The first thing I notice is that the building is fully covered in Christmas and Winter decorations. This includes a giant tree reaching past the second floor of the atrium. I wonder aimlessly until I find my small team almost at the far end of the section. I meet most of my team, but it’s so fast, I still have to learn which face goes with which name. I am seated at the shared desk that is used by a few of us that rotate in-office days. I can hear absolutely everything: the soft typing of keyboards, the printers hard at work, others on their own phone calls, and even more people in virtual meetings. I drive almost an hour to get here, and we are on a virtual meeting, with video. Yup, that makes sense…
I ignore my negative thoughts. I pass desks of people I have only seen on an instant message window. Even though getting to the office is quite the effort, the length of time since in-person interactions with coworkers has been far too long. Twenty-one long months of struggle, job interviews, switching roles, overtime, moving to a new city. It makes me wonder why we waited so long. It also makes me wonder why we aren’t waiting even longer still. The end of my workday is brightened by a friend of mine that I have actually met in-person before lockdown. I desperately try to remember how to talk to someone when it’s been this long. (Is there training for this?) While I seriously doubt my friend was even worried about that, it still stays with me. I had a similar experience last week when I tried to introduce myself to a supervisor that had given me my shot almost a year ago. I guess it is hard to recognize me with a mask on. Maybe it was because he is retiring at the end of the year. Perhaps it’s because I have two years of things to say, and I don’t know where to start. It is like when I saw my best friends once a year on New Year’s Eve. We had to share the stories of the entire year in one night.
I finish my day and drag myself out into the darkness to return home. The first day of doing this was stressful and exhausting. I am happy to say that last week went much smoother as their seemed to be less traffic on the road. It reminds me of when I worked the late shift years ago. The main difference here is that it was pitch black at 4:45PM. However, after a full-day’s work completed and the music playing loudly on the excellent car speakers, I find it enjoyable.
The relief of Friday has been emphasized as the Thursday drive wears me out. With a 5-second commute verse my 50-minute one, I feel like I have all the time in the world. I have taken to reading before work. Adventures of astronauts flying past the edge of our solar system always puts me in a good mood.
The question is “Will the in-office experience ever feel normal again?” Can more practice driving longer distances bring me to a new mindset? An old mindset? Does the social awkwardness fade with time or is it highlighted by the singular in-office day? Will my natural optimism be affected by the concerned voices of those around me? Am I exposing myself to undue risks by visiting the office 4 times a month? Is it possible I will have to move back to a closer location as more office days become part of the normal routine? Will my large corporate company use real data to see that I am more productive in a silent room with no distractions?
What is your current working situation? Are you remote or in-office? A mix of the two? Are you excited for the future of work, or do you just want it back to the “old” days?