Then, Now, Later – Reimagining Work During A Global Pandemic

Lately when I take a walk break at my downtown office, which I’ve returned to one day a week, I play this game of “What used to be here?”

Like everywhere, there are tons of abandoned storefronts and anemic window displays. 

Having strictly remote-worked for nineteen pandemic months, I am often stumped since I haven’t had eyes on this new dystopian-looking landscape.

It doesn’t break me that big businesses I can’t even remember have disappeared. I’m a fan of green space, breathing room and breaking up the concrete jungle that sometimes blocks out the sun. Also, I’ve learned to shop online and swoop into my neighborhood favs for provisions, which has led to more intentional buying, saving money and fewer impulsive bouts of consumerism when what I really set out for was a stroll and fresh air.

What I do find seriously strange though is being in an office that is not home.

Photo by Massimo Rinaldi on Unsplash

I took pretty easily to working from home because, come on – from the start, working in an office often seemed like a rigged game that never fully gelled in my spirit.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fantasized about teleworking from home, a cozy tea shop, a romantic loft nestled in a mountain landscape, or from a hammock on some enchanted Caribbean island.

Photo by Euan Cameron on Unsplash

If I’m working and meeting deliverables, what difference does it make where I am?

Needless to say, I love freedom and days I design.

I also love my home. I love working at the desk in my guest room that faces out to my front yard where I get to endlessly watch squirrels chase each other in circles as crows jut around after rain looking for slugs and such. I love moving my laptop to the kitchen table when it’s time to make a meal or I want a puzzle break.

Office distractions, gossip, politics, whiners and fake team-spirit gatherings with all the junk food snacks in the world are not things I’ve missed. Not one bit. Nor have I missed aimless, lingering conference-room meetings that could have easily been emails or quick phone calls.

Behavioral experts say it takes 21 -30 days to create a new habit.

Well, after almost two years of remote working, my thoughts and behaviors about work life have changed and continue to evolve. Mostly in the area of balance and ease, which I have more of. 

I don’t know if it’s that I’m able to do more of what I really want without feeling drained by the end of the day or less of what I don’t, but I’m calmer, more mindful, more focused.

The work is still getting done, however I’ve treasured this gift of extra free time.

Sometimes, I garden for lunch. Sometimes I walk the lake or prepare a leisurely meal. I rarely sit still throughout the workday, so I work in 15 or 30 minute bursts, then pop up and wash dishes, vacuum, load laundry or dance around to an upbeat playlist. With no commute, I can slip right into a virtual yoga class to wind down after work.

Photo by Charlotte Karlsen on Unsplash

Zen and restoration has been the name of the game I didn’t even know I was playing.

So, I am slowly slinking back into the reality that I have to report into the office once a week.

I’m not complaining (much) since so many have lost jobs during this beast of a pandemic, but it still doesn’t feel entirely safe either. Even with the company-wide vaccination mandate, things could happen and it makes me uneasy. Office presence is staggered, gloves and sanitizer are abundant, face masks stay on except when we’re eating or drinking. Still, when we come around the corner too fast and almost bump each other, I catch anxious expressions that resemble panic attacks.

Moreover, office presence feels less acceptable and sustainable now that I’ve been in the wild of my own way of working.

If I’m slow to recall then when it comes to neighboring businesses, my cubicle felt as foreign as a brand new workplace that first day back.

Sure, it had my personal touches – a Happy Light and a lovely little frosted lamp. The beanie bear was still lazily hanging over my computer monitor. My tea mug and strainers were still on the shelf. But, it had the feel of a new space that someone who liked similar things had outfitted.

My spirit was no longer paired to it.

IT gave me a new laptop a year ago, but with our virtual-work system, all it had to be was turned on so I could securely log in from home. Or anywhere. If you ever saw the Bruce Willis sci-fi movie, Surrogates, where he wakes up from a long sleep of having the eerily realistic-but-upgraded, computer representation of him do his job and live his life, you know it was awkward for him settling into physically being in the world again. That’s how I felt coming back to the office. Like I’d been in a home pod, sending my virtual self (via Zoom and Teams) to interact with co-workers and magically do company work on my computer.

Did virtual me translate? I guess because work kept happening.

I was a face and a torso on-screen before walking back into the workplace. Some people seem to have forgotten that I’m taller or shorter than them because it all looks the same on screen.  Some complimented my new rings, which are old favorites because that’s what I do now – wear things I love over and over. Hands are largely hidden on Teams and Zoom meets, which still slightly creeps me out. Is it weird to you not to regularly see people’s hands during these online meetings or is it just me?

I’ve been very okay working from home. My occasional gripe is that work has permeated my house – a breaking of a golden rule – but then I caught myself in the exaggeration and laughed since 98 % of the work is in my computer and when I log off, I leave it there.

On the bright side of being in hybrid office mode, Social Me enjoys seeing co-workers I vibe with and catching up on each other’s lives. We are masked and reeking of hand sanitizer while we distance-chat and chuckle, but we are together IRL (in real life) which has a dynamic and warm energy never fully captured when we meet up on our devices.

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

Truth – I never missed the workplace. I missed (some) people.

It’s only been a few months in the new hybrid-model of one day in the office, the rest remote, but I just don’t completely remember the way it used to be and I don’t want to. I think we’re in this squishy hybrid mode for the foreseeable future, and after that who knows, so I’m adapting to living in both worlds, enjoying what each has to offer while preferring a hefty taste of teleworking.

2 thoughts on “Then, Now, Later – Reimagining Work During A Global Pandemic

  1. I’m glad you’ve come through this pandemic well and dare I say, the better for it?
    I hope the new-work hybrid becomes the norm post Covid (God-willing). I think it makes a great deal of sense in terms of conservation of resources (commuting takes a lot of time, energy and fuel), folks are less stressed and more balanced. Time to embrace a new work paradigm!

    • Yeah, for sure I’m better for it, Eliza. I hope hybrid becomes the new way too. Makes so much sense for quality of life and I feel like we’ve had time to catch our breath and trend toward things that matter more.

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