Returning to work has been a somewhat unexpected journey for the last 3 months, and it continues to be a bit disruptive, and a bit of relief at the same time. The first week in the more-than-familiar office cabin was slightly suffocating. The COVID wave hadn't subsided when we were called back, and there was every reason to feel apprehensive. With just the senior managers and the upper hierarchy called in, the team, people who contribute to the dense headcount at our office was nowhere to be seen.
Just to share some insight about my personal struggles to keep wearing the mask, I have been claustrophobic since I was around 17, and I have been on & off anxiety medications for more than a decade. Being grounded at home due to the pandemic, having just become a father to a baby girl, also took a toll in some way though, at many levels, I am also thankful for giving me the opportunity to be there when the little monkey was gifted to us.
Back to wearing a face mask for hours, a decision about which I had no second thoughts, I continue to struggle with it, and no matter how hard I try, it does not get easier for me. In the empty cabin, the mask became a lot more palpable. After the first two hours of the morning spent clearing out the mailbox and sending updates to impatient clients, every time I sat back, the mask felt a lot heavier, like a shield that had been screw-driven into my face, seemingly welded around the ears and upper cheek. Needless to say, working without your usual team interrupting you, giving you a reason to shout a bit, and laughing/giggling during the day's hustle, did not come easy.
During the first week back from hibernation, the missing faces seemed to haunt a bit. I would often match the empty chairs with the usual faces that once made them proud, as their rightful occupants. While offices that had opened up a lot earlier than us, ready to embrace emerging workplace dynamics like a hybrid model, had many instances of the returning employees feeling more normalized with the office life resuming in some capacity, I really could not agree with them. Not just the first week, but the first month felt strange, an alienating experience where my workplace seemed very different from how I used to recall it.
To confess, this feeling has now subsided and while some of the challenges still continue, perhaps I have gotten more accustomed to the new ecosystem where I feel calling it "new" is rather inaccurate. This is not the new normal. This is not refreshing or restorative and neither is it torture like some exaggerate and label it. The simplest way to describe it would be along the lines of the workplace feeling disconnected.
How paranoid I was during the first few weeks of rejoining the office? A lot more than you would imagine! I would come in a lot earlier than my colleagues and spray across our cabin. This disinfecting schedule carried on for the entire duration of the first, back-to-office month. Now, when I recall it, I also realize how futile it was. Without ventilation in the cabin and with most folks on the office floor not wearing the mask, this spraying schedule perhaps wasn't doing anything to keep away the infection. At the same time, I feel that many people would have similar tales to share, of unaccounted initiatives and creative approaches to defeat the virus, only to realize that eventually, it catches up with everybody, just like Life or Destiny.