Who would have believed that re-entry into the workforce would be something we are grappling with today. Fifteen months out of the office, working virtually, and all of our interactions via Zoom became the way of doing business since the onset of the pandemic in March of last year. This week, we are changing the way we work again – going back to the office in a hybrid model.
What is especially surprising are the challenges and apprehensions many of us felt. Although we did talk at length about our feelings prior to the opening, it was still a surprise to me how strange it felt. It was as if I was starting a new job with a blend of excitement, anticipation, anxiety and trepidation.
I had a restless sleep the night before the opening thinking how things would go, how people would feel, what it would be like. As I got ready for the day, it took me extra time to dress – do my work clothes still fit? What shoes should I wear? Will the office be cold or hot? Everything caused me to pause and take a moment to think. I then started to pack up my files for the day, my laptop, phones, lunch, snacks. Did I have my keys, my mask, and would there be coffee made? I didn’t remember how to run the coffee machine!
As I left, my cocker spaniel looked at me with sad and quizzical eyes, not understanding where I was going. After all, I’d been in the house with her for over a year. As I entered the office I was greeted by our receptionist, who let me know there was coffee ready (whew!). The office looked like I left it back in March 2020, with neat piles of papers which I left thinking I’d be back in a week or so. Reading them over, I began to realize how long we were actually gone and how much things have changed while staying the same.
I then proceeded to check things out – re-familiarize myself with where everyone sat – and glanced at the technology realizing it was like looking at it for the first time. How does the copy machine work, and how do I retrieve my messages on these new phones? I was able to turn on the computer but there were so many updates that it took almost all day to catch up. At least I had my laptop, although a new one was already sitting on my desk as the old one could not keep a charge. More challenges.
Then the Tuesday/Thursday crew came in. It was so wonderful to see each other, however, it felt a bit awkward. Should we hug, take off our masks in our offices or when we entered someone else’s? All questions we needed to ask. We each were used to a different working style and space. We each had different comfort levels with interacting. We were used to being home in a familiar space with kids, animals or partners. Some of us spent little time interacting with other people.
When the initial awkwardness passed, it started to feel more familiar, and I think people relaxed a bit. However, I must admit when I went home that first night, I was thoroughly exhausted. The interactions and catch-up were fun, but tiring. I haven’t expended that much energy in a very long time.
I know as the days pass, things will fall into place. I will know where my things are, which people are here on which days (half our staff is in on Mondays and Wednesdays, the other half Tuesdays and Thursdays with Friday optional in or out of the office). We will create new patterns of working together and gain more comfort in working with one another in person.
So, it’s all good. Change is good. We’ve all learned a lot about ourselves these past fifteen months, and I believe we have a new appreciation for each other and the wonderful team spirit that we’ve been able to maintain through it all. We look forward to making new memories and conquering new horizons. We will move forward with the new wisdom we have gained during this trying time.
I wish each of you an easy re-entry into our new way of life. Take it slow but engage in all the good things that await you. It will be worth the plunge!