More people are heading back to the office or getting notice that their offices will be opening up. Some companies are making returning to the office entirely voluntary, and others are mandating that at least a percentage of work days have to be there.
At this point I am pretty confident that no one has any idea what will actually work or become the norm long term.
However, if it’s been a minute since you’ve set foot in a space that smells like stale coffee and industrial carpet, hopefully the following will assist in your re-emergence.
I know of a handful of people who have continued to “dress” throughout the pandemic. More power to them. For many of us, however, it is entirely likely that you have not worn woven fabrics (aka “hard” clothes), tailored garments, formal shoes, belts or makeup in some time.
Do not rush into this. It could result in physical or psychological injury. A few days before you go back, do a test run. Put on an outfit that would have been normal office wear for you in the Before Times, if you can remember what you wore then. Just be careful not to startle family members who might not recognize you.
See if it still fits. If not, try on some other things. If none of them fit, and you have the means, you will want to buy some new clothes. Note that supply chain issues may cause delivery delays, plus it’s probably a good idea to actually try on these things. You may need to go to stores if you’re comfortable with that. If you don’t remember how stores work, that’s fine. If you can find your way through the door, people there can help you.
Of course, you can always use “supply chain issues” to your advantage and claim your new workwear is held up somewhere off the west coast. In that case you would have little choice but to show up to work in your “pandemic basics.” Just make sure they’re clean. Maybe press a nice crease down the front of your sweat pants to show you are a professional.
Now remember, “hard” clothes and shoes are not going to be as comfortable as your usual wardrobe. They never were, but we were used to them. Spending a full work day attired thusly won’t be easy at first. Please do not disrobe in the office. Even in a washroom stall. Shoes and bras may not be removed at any time.
Right, so, now you need to get to the office. This could mean remembering how to get your car out of the garage, hunting down your transit pass and looking up how to reload it, or digging out your bike.
In any of these cases, you’ll want to look into it first. Your bike may well be seriously buried and require maintenance. You may have run your transit pass through the laundry a year ago. Do you even remember how to drive? Do not wait until Monday morning to discover these things.
Also, in case you have forgotten, there is a thing called “the commute.” It is where you put on your uncomfortable clothes and sit in your car, on the road, occasionally moving, until you get to the office. Podcasts are nice at this time. You will have to do the same thing to get home at the end of the day.
Depending where you live and work, it may take 20 minutes or two hours. Given housing costs these days, it’s entirely possible the journey will be more of a migration than a commute. Good luck.
Oh, also, before you head out, make sure you have made childcare arrangements. Are your children old enough to be at school? Great! If they get sick or the school closes, who is going to pick them up or stay at home with them?
If your children are younger, do you have daycare arrangements? There is a good chance you don’t, since quality spaces are scarce, some have closed and workers are leaving low-paying, back-breaking, thankless jobs, which too often describes childcare work. Plus, y’know, there still is no subsidized daycare deal with the federal government for… reasons.
If you are in this predicament, I’m sorry, I can’t help you. Doggy daycares don’t take children: I checked. But hey, great excuse to continue working from home, no matter how much you crave a change of scenery and the company of people who can use polysyllabic words. Or at least discuss sports.
Hey, you made it! You’ve arrived at the office. Did you find that badge? Probably should have mentioned that earlier. Finding your office ID is something else you’ll need to do a few days in advance. Don’t worry if you’ve lost the lanyard or the picture doesn’t look like you anymore. Well, maybe trim the beard a bit?
Hopefully the electronic entry system still recognizes you. If not, there could be a few reasons. Are you at the right building? Does your company still exist? Have you been checking your work email? Do you even have an office near where you live, or did your company go all-remote some time in the past two years? Perhaps you switched jobs and forgot that your new company isn’t nearby.
That’s fine, just head home. On the way maybe treat yourself to a doughnut from that fancy shop you like. I hear mochi doughnuts are trendy.
Or – and this is important – are you vaccinated? If not, are you even allowed to be there? Depending on your job, you may have been terminated already. You will want to check your employer’s policies and plans, not the government’s. They’re probably in that corporate email you haven’t been reading. Go home and stay there. Your co-workers don’t want you anywhere near them. (If you are one of the few people who legitimately cannot be vaccinated, I’m sorry, but offices were always a hive of pestilence anyway.)
So, assuming you’re now in the office, do you know where to sit? If it’s a new company or office, maybe not. Yours may be one of those companies embracing “hot desking” or “hotelling,” which means you don’t get your own desk. It’s more egalitarian this way, you see. Except for management. They’re not going to roam around like poor shepherds. They’re going to camp in the conference rooms. Just try not to get the desk with the broken chair.
If you have a workspace, since it’s been a couple of years, it probably isn’t going to be great. You likely took home all the good stuff early in the pandemic. You may be going from an ergonomic chair and multi-monitor setup to an IKEA chair and being hunched over your laptop. But hey, think of the collaboration opportunities! Just keep a safe distance.
If you have trouble logging in to your systems, see the preceding section about ID badges. If there’s an issue it’s likely one of those things. But hey, there’s a chance there’s an actual IT person in the building. Extra points if you can find them. They won’t make it easy.
If you didn’t bring a coffee, you’re going to want one. If you don’t know where the kitchen/canteen/break room is, follow the smell of burnt coffee and microwaved fish. There might even be Timbits! Or Timbiebs…
I don’t know if your office has a workhorse Bunn or a fancypants espresso machine. Chances are, if getting a coffee involves any more than pressing a single button or picking up a carafe and pouring it, you may need help. Have you seen any co-ops around? Young people are good with technology. The office manager could probably help, but don’t bother them. They’re not having their best day, I assure you.
And yes, the coffee will be terrible. It always was. At home you’ve been able to drink your own fair trade, shade-grown, single-estate beans, custom roasted and ground just in time via some Rube Goldbergian device that cost more than your car, and brewed a single serving at a time to the perfect temperature using some rig that looks like it was stolen from a mad scientist.
Yeah, maybe just invest in a good thermos and bring coffee from home.
And there you have it! You have successfully returned to the office. I’m sure you’ll feel fine and be just as productive in no time. Oh, and don’t forget, you’ll need to be able to make small talk. FYI, this time of year the NHL is playing, Adele just released a new album and you can probably still talk about Squid Game for a couple more weeks.
Oh, one more thing. In face-to-face meetings, people can see and hear you all the time. You can’t mute anyone and you can’t turn off video. Which means you also can’t just get up and leave to use the bathroom or get another coffee. Also, no picking, no scratching, and try to set your face into a permanent bland expression of mild interest. That’s the safest option. It’s another thing you’ll want to practise at home in advance.
And I’m sorry, but there won’t be any cute pets charmingly interrupting Dave’s 80-slide presentation.
M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached on Twitter at @melle or by email at email@example.com