There was something very lovely about the two years I worked from home. Sure, in the beginning, I could not imagine staying engaged with the office from afar. No coffee room talk, no grabbing a quick lunch with colleagues, no sitting across from someone at a desk figuring out case strategy or troubleshooting an office dilemma. But I also gave up a 90-minute commute each way by foot, train, and subway. I did not have to worry about what I wore or rush home for tennis or a board meeting. I could structure my day as suits me, which meant starting at my den desk early, taking trips to the gym and grocery as needed, and even enjoying an afternoon nap on occasion. I was one of those odd birds who liked the zoom meetings and felt more attentive in that forum than I often did in large conference room settings. The work got done, although admittedly I worked a longer range of hours, because everyone was off their regular schedule so I would get project requests at nights or weekends when others were working at the times that suited them. Longer days with more breaks throughout. Work and household were managed well, and I even had time to binge watch Dopesick and Project Runway.
I came back to work two weeks ago. We are only obligated to work two days in the office; the other days we can do remotely. My first anxiety was to take the subway, which the New York Post had likened to a frontier town of crime. When I came back to the 4, 5 or 6 train, I found that was not the case. It feels the same as it did before. People minding their own business, but now with masks on. I have yet to see any acts of pushing, mugging or harassment. I hope I am not jinxing my good fortune by writing that, but it seems tame, and it is doing the trick of getting me efficiently to and from lower Manhattan from Grand Central. I can say, however, that the days I do that commute, I come home exhausted. Travel to New York City does not work as well for this over 50-year-old as it did twenty years ago.
What are the other facets of being back? Since there is not a full staff in on any one day, it is incredibly quiet. And we still must wear masks in the halls and common areas, we must zoom the large meetings, and there is a stillness to the office that is new. I have stumbled upon co-workers in the pantry and restrooms, and we exchange niceties. There are so many staff who joined during the pandemic that I am meeting many people in person that I previously only dealt with virtually.
It is easier to print, mail and copy documents from the office than my makeshift home office. I have been doing more reading on the commute than I did for all those months when television was a tempting diversion. I have snacked less, and exercised less since coming back to the office, so I suppose I should consider that a wash. I have rediscovered the work clothes that were hanging unworn for two years – mind you this is the set of work clothes that are casual, not the dresses and suits, which will remain relegated to the closet perhaps forever more. It seems this hybrid version of in the office a few days, and then home a few days works for almost everybody, including me. Now, if I can only get used to that 90-minute commute again, it will feel just like the pre-pandemic days.