It has been two and a half years since I’ve worked in the office. I’m returning as part of a hybrid program where I work part of the week there and the rest at home. My feelings about this are mixed. I miss interacting face-to-face with my colleagues. Some of my projects require me to work with equipment that must be in the office. During the pandemic, I felt isolated at times and worried my social skills were atrophying. Spending time with other adults is good for me.
But I’ve also become productive working at home. Many of the people I work with aren’t even on the same continent. I can take those Teams calls just as easily at home (especially when some of them start at 6:00 am). It has also been nice not wasting 40 minutes a day commuting. I’ve valued sending our granddaughter off to school in the morning and taking a break to welcome her home when she returns.
What makes returning to the office challenging for me is that I’m not the same person I was two and a half years ago.
On my last day at the office, I weighed 211 pounds (95.7 kg). Today, I’m 180 (81.6 kg). The office clothes I wore in March 2020 are too big. I’m not sure the slacks and polo shirts I stocked up in anticipation of a return to the office will fit either. I’ve spent two and a half years going from shorts season to sweatpants season. I’ll have to get used to wearing a belt and dress shoes again.
More than the numbers and clothing, my lifestyle has changed. I retired from many of the foods I used to eat when I worked at the office. No more going out for Costco pizza and Del Taco burritos for lunch. Also part of office life were all the snacks set out at cubicles and the leftovers from company parties and lunches. How am I going to handle walking past plate after plate of treats, especially as we enter the high caloric holidays? What will I say to the coworker who comments incessantly about how much weight I’ve lost and says, “Oh, I can never stay on a diet. I just don’t have the willpower. But you’re so skinny now, you can afford to have a piece of my homemade fudge. Won’t you take just a tiny piece? Just one?”
I’m not worried about adapting to the office. I can pack healthy lunches and snacks before I go. For exercise, I can use my elliptical at home, or I can go to the gym in our office complex. I’ll gain experience walking past the treat tables, and the food pushers will eventually give up on pushing. The question is whether the office can adapt.
Not only have I changed, the world has changed. Before the pandemic, I based my life on the assumption that I would work in an office until I’m ready to retire. I could plan for the future with the reasonable expectation we would have one. Everything that has happened since March 2020 changed that. Everything we thought was certain—from stocked supermarket shelves to our political institutions—has all been shattered. We can’t be expected to pull into the office parking lot and act like everything was as before.
I’m not the same person I was when I went home from work in March 2020. The world isn’t the same as it was then either. I don’t know what will emerge in the aftermath of the tectonic changes we are continuing to go through. But I know a willingness to let go of what was familiar and expected and adapt to whatever comes next will enable us to succeed. It enabled me to succeed in the past.