Back to the office with mixed emotions

It's great to reconnect with colleagues and get back downtown, but COVID is not easily forgotten

Back to the office with mixed emotions

It’s great to be back. I really wasn’t sure about returning to the office after 18 months at home, but it feels great.

First, there’s the excitement of entering a whole new workplace, as we have since moved from our previous location. And once again we’re in an older building (art deco) with an open-concept setup that includes dramatic columns, wood floors and big wide windows looking out on the city.

But coming back to the office is also about reconnecting with colleagues whom I’ve only seen by video call for over a year. It’s definitely easier and more relaxed to pop over to a coworker’s cubicle to check on a work item or chat about vacations than it is to book a time to talk to them through our laptops.

It’s also about meeting new employees who have joined us sometime over the past few months, and only been known to us through group chats and welcome emails.

One of the biggest pluses is the feeling of “We’re all in this together.” That’s not necessarily pandemic-related (though I suppose that applies too) but more about feeling the community of the workplace, the sense that we’re all working towards the same goals and we’re happy to help each other out and support each other.

Of course, it’s also great to be back downtown, to soak up the energy of the city streets, even if they are quieter than they were pre-pandemic. Construction is going on at every block, with new buildings quickly rising from the dust. Coffee shops are busy again with people inside and out glued to their screens. And the takeout eateries offer a whole new range of lunch menus beyond my fridge at home.

While I still really enjoy working from home and all the benefits and flexibility that offers, coming downtown once a week to the office is more appealing now that it’s limited to one day (for now), reducing the stresses and costs of the commute.

A recent survey out of the U.S. confirmed that pluses of the return to the office include: the ability to separate work life from home (46 per cent), collaborating with co-workers in-person (44 per cent) and hanging out with work friends (39 per cent). 

However, the survey also finds people are nervous, and I will admit I have my concerns. Hearing about the daily COVID numbers, reading up on the latest news about the Delta virus and other variants, seeing many people still wearing masks in the streets, it’s impossible to forget we’re still very much in a pandemic. Not that we should.

My office has downsized and has staff staggered through the week, so there are less than 10 of us here at one time, and we’re all well spaced out. We also have to do a self-screening before we enter, and we wear masks if we leave our desks. Sanitizing wipes are easily on hand. And the ventilation system seems to be set on blast, hopefully helping to combat the spread of the virus.

So, it looks like the company is doing everything right. But I still get a bit nervous thinking about the fact that I’m sitting here for eight hours, most of the time without a mask. And I have no idea if all of my colleagues are vaccinated.

 But I’m comforted in knowing that should COVID conditions worsen and safety at work become a real issue, we can go back to our homes full time. And while it’s not ideal, we know that it works ─ and it works well ─ so we’ll manage once again to get through this challenging time.

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