Thursday was my first day back in the office since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic over 2 years ago. I’ve been in a few times (four?) to pick up stuff, or to clean out my space from the Apple Silicon project, but those have been brief visits. This was a full day of work.
Since I’d brought home almost all of my stuff from the office, I had to figure out what I’d need to bring back. Since I’m only there one or two days per week to start with, I knew I’d been working on my laptop and leaving my more powerful desktop at home for now. I couldn’t remember whether I had necessary cables and chargers left in my office, or even other stuff like Kleenex, so I drew up a list and packed everything on it up Thursday morning.
In fact I remembered almost everything I needed. The one exception is that I’d ordered a new monitor for my laptop to replace the very old Cinema Display I’d been using before, and I needed a new keyboard since the old USB-A one that connected to the Cinema Display couldn’t plug in to any port on the laptop or new monitor. Fortunately, accessories like that are easy enough to get hold of (especially since I’m happy with basic keyboards – none of those fancy split, recessed keyboards for me, thanks!).
There’s been a lot of controversy about tech companies requiring their employees to return to the office. I’m not going to address that controversy here, but I am going to articulate my own feelings about going back to the office. I think it’s a very complicated situation (and I know there are people who would disagree with that), and I don’t think my feelings or opinions are definitive, but I do think they’re just as valid as (almost) anyone else’s.
There are two major pieces to this: The COVID piece, and the if-COVID-didn’t-exist piece.
If COVID didn’t exist, then it’s a slam-dunk for me: I hate working from home. I’ve always preferred to keep my home life and my work life as separate as is practical. Home has too many distractions (starting with cats coming in to demand attention when I’m trying to focus on something). I also associate physical spaces with memories of what I do there, and it’s been increasingly difficult to enjoy being in our home office because I spend all my time there when I’m working.
I also like seeing and hanging out with my cow-orkers, and find interacting with them in person way easier, more convenient, and more comfortable than doing so over messaging apps or audio or video calls. Those other forms of communication are useful for certain things, but as secondary channels, not the primary one. I like going to lunch and coffee with them, and we’ve worked through many issues over the years by talking through them in person.
I recognize that I’m privileged to work in an office – even though I usually share it with someone else – rather than a cubicle or some worse open-office space (which I think are abominations, and companies that prefer such spaces should be ashamed of themselves). I’m also privileged to have a short commute to work with minimal traffic. Silicon Valley and many other places are terrible to commute in, and I wish housing prices were not so high so that my cow-orkers could afford to live here without feeling so much stress about it (stress I keenly remember back when I was not so privileged).
Anyway, I know lots of people disagree and/or have very different perspectives, but that’s how I feel about it.
COVID of course throws a big wrench into the whole equation. The office on Thursday was pretty similar to any other day in the office. I hadn’t been looking forward to wearing a mask all day, but when I got there most people were not wearing masks. (I decided to try to wear a mask whenever I was not in my own office.) This is of course a false sense of security, in that how the office experience feels has no bearing on whether I’m going to catch COVID from being there, even if case numbers are very low right now. I took my first-ever COVID test on Tuesday in order to go in (it was negative, of course), and for all I know I’ve had it previously (I bet not, though). I wondered whether we’ll get to the point that once someone in the department tests positive if we’ll have a cluster of people test positive shortly thereafter. We’ll find out, I guess.
I don’t want to catch COVID, and I really don’t want to bring it home to Debbi. But I don’t want to work at home anymore, either. I think it’s been bad for my mental health.
It’s still kind of inconceivable to me how much the world has been upended by this. Even more so that there are idiots out there who resist getting vaccinated.
The work day was close to normal for a “coming back after a break” day. Our department has been doing office reshuffling (part of me internally chuckles at the thought that it’s been driving management crazy that we’ve gone almost 3 years without moving offices around), I got to meet some cow-orkers whom I hadn’t met in person before, and saw some folks I hadn’t interacted with much during the pandemic. I introduced at least two people to The Sandman thanks to the PVC figurines I have on my desk. We went to coffee. I made a guess at the cause of a low-information bug report which turned out to be correct (I’m always kind of amazed when I do this). And then I drove home.
For now I’m planning to go into the office at the minimum required rate (1 day a week to start), to see how things go with COVID rates. I think there’s going to be a total disconnect in my brain between the COVID risk and the enjoyment of being around my cow-orkers again. That’s pretty weird. But maybe we’ll be lucky and it will never get worse than weird.
Maybe we’ll get really lucky and we’ll have better vaccines by fall. Because better vaccines and better treatments are likely the only thing that will save us, at this point.