You’ve been working from home for nine weeks now. As your cubicle, I can attest that it’s not the same here on the 2ndfloor without you. And frankly, it won’t be the same when you return.
A lot has changed in the world since your unmasked breath billowed here. We are adjusting the best we can, though as a cubicle, there’s only so much adjusting I can do. Down in the branch, employees are serving members left and right. People there, as well as up here, are helping in all sorts of ways. These things haven’t changed. We’ve always been essential.
Me, I’m cleaner than ever. The maintenance crew comes more often, and I think they use stronger spray. The place smells like Lysol mixed with takeout food (there are employees here, after all). And though I’ve probably seen more real-life human faces in a week than you have all month, I’m still lonely. Funny how that works, right? Indeed, since you’ve been home, even the things that used to annoy me now seem charming: the way you tap your pen on the desk, that whoosh of the keyboard vacuum, random dry Cheerios that fall under the chair and get ground into the carpet. How I long for it all!
The joints of your stand-up computer apparatus are stiff with disuse. The air may be free of viruses, but it’s also devoid of the jokes ping ponging over the wall between you and risk management. Honestly, I can’t imagine what those photos of your family are grinning at. Did I mention that you left a bag of healthy snacks in your drawer? Rest assured, no one here wants to eat them, either. Oh, and you didn’t rinse out your coffee cup. Should I throw it away now, or let you do it?
The view outside your window continues to evolve, marred only by the occasional stinkbug. The stories we could tell! Remember the ice fisherman on the pond? The photographer weaving through the shrubs? The dirty seagull you thought was a bald eagle? And, let’s not forget the random items inside people’s trucks as they wait in the drive-up lanes below. You’d positively gawk at how much toilet paper one flatbed can hold.
It’s hard to say what things will be like in a few weeks or months. No closed-room meetings? One person at a time in the kitchen area? No one knows what will stick. I don’t foresee too many shared plates of cookies on that meeting table in the back of the room. And, I think homemade soup days are, for the short term, in the can. The fitness room is off-limits, but with sunny days starting to eclipse overcast ones, you might not notice. Still, this is Upstate New York, so I wouldn’t put those snow boots away yet.
I know you like it at home: visiting your parents during lunch, having your own bathroom, not spending that daily hour in the car. You like snacking on chocolate chips at your desk with no one thinking it’s weird. And isn’t it great to be with the kids mere seconds after your work’s done for the day? I must mention that you’re as productive as ever, churning out a deluge of stellar work (ahem).
But by gosh, I’m sure you have fond memories of working without a meowing fur face between you and the keyboard. Without the shrieks from upstairs that the wifi is down. Without cursing the Instacart delivery that inexplicably got rescheduled to three days from today.
You’re likely missing the open cocoon that I offer. Thirsty for the non-virtual interaction with your peers, many of whom would notice that you’re wearing yesterday’s trousers and have something stuck in your teeth. And, there’s no substitute for being able to pop into the boss’s office for feedback and clarification and to find out where she got those file folders with the coordinating patterns – oh, so cute.
Maybe it’s silly to muse about what we don’t know yet. But, like the view out your window, each day brings one more step in a progression. What choice do we have but to keep plugging away at our daily tasks with an eye toward the future, same as always?
While there will be a time when you return to the office in some fashion, I wouldn’t count on returning to the way things were in the world. Here’s what I see out that freshly-cleaned window: a future that’s murky, but also bright. You’ll see it too. And, I hope there’s a real bald eagle.