For better or worse, the lockdown restrictions we’ve been under are starting to ease. I don’t know how to feel about that, but at least I feel relatively comfortable at work. I trust that things are being cleaned appropriately and that my coworkers aren’t licking any doorknobs that they shouldn’t be.
This whole time, I’ve been able to go into work as needed. Whenever there was something that we couldn’t do at home, we were expected to go into the office to keep things moving. So it’s not like this is my first time in the office in four months. But things just worked out in such a way that this was my first full week back in the office every day. And I have some feelings about it.
The Social Part
I generally didn’t feel the need to chit chat with people at work throughout the day. But working from home, I had pretty much all-day access to my boyfriend and I could talk to him whenever I wanted. I really miss that. Even as an introvert, it gets kind of lonely not talking to anyone for a whole day. Of course, I’ll still be instant messaging people when necessary, but I don’t think it’s really the same.
Or sometimes, I wouldn’t be part of the conversation, but just listening to other people talking felt like I was weirdly still involved. Maybe not socializing myself, but I was socializing-adjacent. The opportunity was there, at least. And right now, that opportunity is gone. It’s just me, my audiobook, the hum of the equipment fans, and the NSYNC playlist that I have been listening to non-stop all week. It’s an interesting time.
Being around people, even if it’s still a lot less than normal, is an adjustment. Running into people can be awkward and small talk is hard, especially after not doing it for a while. Any social skills I had before are definitely gone now!
I relied heavily on smiling as a way to seem friendly and approachable, and I think it’s been way harder to tell if someone is smiling with a mask on. Had trouble reading facial expressions and social cues before? Have fun trying to do that with the bottom half of people’s faces covered! I understand that masks are super important for safety, but there are some disadvantages that I’d never had to consider before. Every quick conversation is a new opportunity to embarrass myself.
Can I Wear This?
One good thing I’m hoping will come out of this whole situation is a ~more casual dress code~. Granted, it was never that strict or formal to begin with, at least where I work. But it’s just funny seeing all these guys show up to work in a t-shirt and cargo shorts. As the often lone woman, it’s always been kind of up to me to decide how to dress, because I have no examples to model myself after.
I’ve mostly been wearing the same things I normally would, because I dressed pretty comfortably to begin with. But this week, I’ve had a revelation. I’ve decided that if these men are wearing shorts, it’s okay for me to wear my favorite pair of moderately ripped jeans. I do this just because they are much comfier than my normal work jeans.
If there’s going to be a dress code rebellion, I want to participate. Nothing crazy, just a subtle shift to help everyone get closer to the clothes they really want to be wearing while they work.
The ‘Being There’ Part
I’ve been spending the majority of my work day in the lab. Picture a room with a bunch of equipment and each box has its own internal fan. It can be a pretty loud room, and as a highly sensitive person, the loud noise is a lot. Sometimes it fades into the background but sometimes it’s really grating. Listening to music helps. I think I just need to get used to it again.
I’ve learned the hard way that I get a nasty headache if the elastics on my face mask are too tight. (But what doesn’t give me a headache?) What feels fine for a grocery shopping trip feels pretty horrible when you’re dealing with it all day.
The physical pain, man. The tension has really wrapped itself up into an ache that’s taken over my whole upper body. I think part of this is because I sit in a chair with no armrests all day. The other part of it is my habit of unconsciously holding tension somewhere in my body and not realizing until much later, when the soreness hits. A hot shower before bed has become the best part of my day.
I also miss being able to check in on my guinea pigs whenever I want. I got them during the work-from-home period, so this is the first time I’ve had to leave them for the whole day. Maybe it’s dramatic, but will Timmy and Tommy know that I’m coming home as soon as I can? I just miss being able to cuddle them between meetings.
Lunchtime is Different
Obviously, the cafeteria is closed, even for the small number of people in the building. I now eat at my desk or in a conference room by myself. There are a few pros and cons I’ve noticed for this ‘new normal’ as I’ve adjusted my routine.
The downsides: I don’t get to eat and catch up with my work friends like we used to. I could always count on the entertainment and whatever funny story someone had to share. When I’m working from home, it’s also a social thing. I would eat and watch tv with my boyfriend, which also gave us a chance to take a break and hang out together. Above all, I don’t like eating alone! I never have, and I’ve always tried to avoid it whenever possible.
The upsides: I’m trying to make the best of it, and I know even this is temporary. My lunchtime is spent either texting with my mom or listening to an audiobook. My current (and first!) audiobook is Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. It’s a nice break to be transported to literally a different planet for a bit before getting back to work. And any extra reading time is always a good thing.
The Rest of the Day
I didn’t realize how much of a difference a commute makes, even though I only have a short one. It’s just a little bit of extra time but I feel like it takes a lot out of my day. By the time I get home and finish dinner, it’s later than it used to be when I was working from home. There’s less time (and energy) for relaxing and doing other things, like cleaning and blog work.
Bringing Work Home
The joys of automated testing! Spoiler alert: it’s never fully automated. Even with going into the office, I’ve still had to bring my work home with me. I need to check on things and keep them running. At least for right now, it’s still hard to separate work time and home time.
Checking something is not a huge time commitment, but it’s still kept in the back of my head. I can’t always disconnect from work when I leave the building. Even now as I’m writing this, I have my work laptop on my desk, and I’ve been checking the progress of my test periodically. Sometimes there’s no escape.
The Never-Ending Stream of Chores
I liked being able to have ‘productive’ breaks while working from home. When I wanted to take a break from work, I could go do something like putting away some dishes, doing a load of laundry, or running some boxes out to the recycling bin. It’s the same thing that I would do in between homework and studying sessions in college.
There’s not really a good equivalent that I can do when I’m working in the office. The only option for a break that I have is doing something on my phone, either looking at some kind of social media or playing a game of sudoku. I can’t even really have a conversation with my coworkers since we’re not supposed to be near each other. Pinning a few things on Pinterest is probably the most productive thing I can do while I’m taking a break at work, so that’s what I’ve been doing the most.
But those dishes, laundry, and boxes don’t take care of themselves just because I’m not there! Instead, I’ve had to go back to dealing with all of the housework stuff once I get home for the day. Some nights it’s not so bad. But some nights it really is a never-ending stream of chores that keeps me busy until it’s almost time for bed. I miss the extra down time that I used to have.
And in the grand scheme of things, I don’t even have that much housework or responsibilities in that department. I imagine having kids or more pets makes it an order of magnitude harder to get everything done. Life is challenging when you don’t have enough hours in the day!
Abandoning My Island
I’ve basically given up on Animal Crossing this week. I’ve had very little brain power left at the end of the day, and watching youtube videos is the best option for relaxing when my tank is empty. Even though I feel better tonight, I’ve still had to choose between playing Animal Crossing and working on this blog (and I think you can tell which one I chose).
Maybe I’ll still play on the weekends, but I’ve had to re-evaluate my priorities and figure out what is the best use of my time after work based on my goals and my energy level that day. I just need to not think about whether or not my villagers are missing me; that makes me too sad.
I don’t mean to be too complain-y. I am well aware that many people have lost their jobs and would love the ability to work right now. Luckily, the field I work in was relatively unaffected by the pandemic and the switch to working from home.
As an introvert, working from home has been a luxury that I didn’t know I would enjoy so much. I didn’t realize how much being in a physical office affected my energy and emotional state, and I think going back to the office was a bit of a slap in the face with that difference. I am just trying to share what it’s been like for me going back in to work pretty much full-time. This is not being forced by my company, but the work that I’ve been doing lately is not something that can be done remotely, so I go in as needed.
On a kind of unrelated note, it’s also been a little over a year since I started this job. I’ve been doing some reflecting as I’m doing work that’s very similar to what I did when I first started.
I notice all the little things that have become second-nature but took forever to wrap my head around the first time. Or I realize that I did something myself no problem that I used to need a lot of help with. It doesn’t really have anything to do with working in the office instead of at home, but the extra solitude has given me more time to think.
I Don’t Hate My Job
I know that all of this may make it seem like I hate my job. I don’t hate my job, and I’m very grateful to be working, even without the whole pandemic thing. My work isn’t something that I pictured myself doing, and sometimes it’s frustrating, and sometimes it feels like I don’t fit in (being the only woman on the team, and all). But every once in a while, it’s kind of fun. I’ve realized that I’ve become competent and sometimes even good at what I do, which didn’t seem possible a year ago. Maybe I can give myself a little bit of credit. Just this once.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that gratitude is the key to everything. I want to turn something negative, like work stress, into something positive, like an outlet for sharing my experience and how I’m getting through it. Maybe this has been helpful (definitely leave me a comment if it has!).
At this point, this post is starting to feel like something right out of my journal. It’s become a habit to end any journaling that I do with a few points of gratitude, no matter how negative the rest of the writing was. I like to end on a happy note, or at least a thankful one.
- I’m grateful that my skin hasn’t broken out too bad after wearing a face mask all day for a week.
- I’m grateful for people who are taking this seriously and learning how to be safe. It’s not a selfish thing, and being responsible can benefit everyone.
- I’m grateful for the Flora app that has kept me focused and off my phone long enough to write these thoughts out! Timers are a great way to get things done.
- Of course, I’m grateful for you! Seriously, if you’d made it this far, I really appreciate it. This blog is still very much a new endeavor for me and any amount of support is incredible. Thank you for being here!
So there are some mildly coherent thoughts and feelings that I’ve had after my first full week back in the office. The good, the bad, and the tiring. I process things by writing them out, so thanks for helping me process this mess of a week. Check out my other personal posts for more rambling.
What has your work experience been like? What’s changed, and how have you adapted your routine? I’d love to hear about how life has been treating you lately!