Many US businesses are figuring out their approach on when they should reopen their offices and what policies to apply to keep people safe. And many businesses are considering that working from home isn’t such a bad long-term strategy for retaining employees and saving on the expenses of office space and supplies. However, employees are also realizing that they miss the spontaneous social interaction of their co-workers and, more importantly, all the cake opportunities that officemates provide with birthdays, anniversaries, retirement, and showers of all sorts.
Before I return to the office though I have to re-adjust my current work lifestyle back into appropriate habits for the office. Here are a few important ones that clearly indicate why I’m not ready to go back into the office.
I’m not sure what is “work appropriate” anymore. When working from home wearing pants is optional. I finally understand that bit in the Lego Movie about the popular show called “Where are my pants?”. From the waist up, I’m sure I have enough items to survive the week, since I rotate through those for video calls. I haven’t read the dress code policy for work in some time, but I’m pretty sure showing up in underwear or pajama bottoms or yoga pants is not allowed.
Any work pants I might have would have a layer of dust approximately 2 years thick and have a permanent crease from the hanger. I’m certain that people will notice the slightly grayer, dingier side to one leg of my pants and the odd looking welts and dents around my knees. Maybe if I say I’m wearing leg braces due to atrophy that would make things awkward enough for people to stop staring and halt further inquiries.
Things like showering or brushing teeth before “showing up” for work have not been required over the past several seasons. The advantage of video conferences is that they have filters to make you look better or you can slap up a static picture or avatar so no one sees the real you. And the technology isn’t at a point where others can smell your freshness or staleness through the screen (at least not yet, maybe in the next version upgrades). So you can take those morning meetings right after rolling out of bed and find a time to shower between other meetings or after the workday is complete.
It’s much more difficult to go unshowered and unnoticed once you’re at the office. Some office buildings have showers available for employee use. Or if you work at a laboratory or chemical plant they probably have a safety shower and eyewash station available, but those tend to run cold and generate a lot of attention when they get used. Either way you have to find a time to break away and explain the damp hair when you’re done. Not a lot of great options there. In the meantime to mask your “less than fresh” air, maybe just leave some open containers of white vinegar and kombucha in your desk space. (I wonder if those come in Scentsy or Glade plug-in packs.) As a fallback, I may have to join a PlanetFitness nearby the office just to grab a shower midday and say that I worked out during lunch. Win-win!
Instead of having haircuts and coloring once every few months, those will have to happen every few weeks now. Otherwise people will notice the abrupt change of looking like the Beast one day to Prince Adam the next. Or turning from Cruella De Vil into Emma Stone overnight.
I’ll also have to invest in better razors so I can shave more than a few times a week without all the nicks, burns, and scars left behind that’d make my face look like that of Edward Scissorhands or Freddy Krueger. And I realize these guys both have razors for hands, but apparently they are not good for shaving either. I hope they mandate facemask usage at the office so that I can skip a few extra days of shaving each week. But now I’m picturing myself showing up to work like Jason from Friday the 13th to cover any other facial grooming faux pas, including stray eyebrow, ear, and nostril hairs. And I’m realizing how easy Darth Vader would’ve had it – no grooming and built-in air filtration!
The greatest advantage of working from home has to be the lack of commuting. Saving on the windshield time alone is invaluable, so that you can spend that time with beloved friends and family instead. Or like most people, you can spend that extra time binging shows on television that went off the air decades ago.
Once the commute to work starts up again, you’ll finally get back to filling that time with some curious audio book or podcast selections. And your mind can focus on other important thoughts like estimating how fast you’ll need to drive in order to be almost on time, or if the vehicle will make it all the way home before running out of gas or breaking down, or let your mind wander to more dark themes like you now have a 1% chance of dying in a car accident and you’re on trip number 99. And that transportation costs will be much higher from increased fuel consumption, and insurance premiums, and the maintenance on the vehicle. Not to mention the repercussions to your health from stress. Come on people, let’s concentrate on the positives!
Without the additional time required for dressing, hygiene, grooming, and commuting through sub-optimal traffic conditions, it’s so much easier to stay up later at night and get up later in the morning without missing critical meetings or losing out on beauty sleep. But another key advantage of being at home for work is finding breaks in the day for additional naps to regenerate the brain.
The most common napping period is during lunch, or during larger meetings. I mean I know other people do it who are simply participating and not presenting. I know it because I can hear them snoring. And when I ask them questions they don’t respond, they apologize and blame it on technical difficulties, headset/audio issues, or taking a “bio break”. I thought “bio breaks” were just for going to the bathroom, but I guess naps technically qualify as a bio break, too. It’s weird how they happen so much more often during my meetings. And I have to say I’m a bit jealous that I don’t have as many opportunities. But we do have conference pods at the office, which make ideal places to nap without snores being heard. Just have to remember to book all my meetings in those spots before other people catch on.
- Things I do offscreen
When you’re working alone or even on a video conference with the camera off, there are all kinds of things that are possible without distracting office neighbors or co-workers. Most people “multitask” during meetings, which is a fancy way of saying you’re getting other work done because it’s presumed to be more important than the meeting you’re presently attending.
A frequent habit of mine is pacing while on a video call and seeing how far my bluetooth headset stays within range. As it turns out the kitchen and bathroom are well within reach. And I can proudly say I’ve never used the bathroom while on a conference call. There are plenty of other grotesque things people do when they assume people aren’t around. Things like nose picking, ear wax removal, scratching areas that generally make other people uncomfortable, but makes the person doing the scratching a lot more comfortable. Note to self: Must remember to save those opportunities for the commute back and forth to work where only passing cars can see you do them.
- Things you can say on mute
Being professional means allowing others to share their ideas and respecting what co-workers have to say. And the mute button on conference calls makes that so much easier to accomplish. This affords you the ability to put yourself on mute and vent a bit without them knowing it. Though this is really only possible if you don’t have the camera on, otherwise you might get caught making butt kissing gestures and snarky faces.
As we return to the office, it’s going to be a challenge for everyone to figure out how to turn those filters back on. I wish I had a mute capability for myself available anywhere and anytime. I think it would be a million dollar idea because lots of other people have wished they had one for me, too.
- Things that annoy office mates
Noise cancelling headsets are amazing at blocking the sound from other parts of the house that could be embarrassing while unmuted in meetings. They also do a fantastic job of blocking out bodily noises that emanate from the far end of the digestive tract. However, they do nothing to muffle the sound for your neighboring workers or to mask the odor. So people are going to have to be more attentive to gaseous emissions from either end of their tract.
Also recognize that repeatedly bouncing balls or clicking pens aren’t as appreciated in the workplace as you might think. Neither is playing music that fills the whole room, humming or singing along to songs playing in your headphones, or talking out loud to yourself. Other note to self: Must remember to save those opportunities for the commute back and forth to work where only you enjoy them.
- Haven’t lost the quarantine 19 yet
This is sort of like the freshman 15 when you start college – gaining 15 pounds that first semester away from home. I know I’m not alone in gaining weight since Covid-19 hit and working from home without much else to do except eat when you get bored. And to be completely honest I think it’s more like 19 pounds for each year of working from home.
This not only affects my available wardrobe options, but is a hit to my ego moreso. People have been seeing my pre-quarantine social profile picture on video chats and websites. Going back into the office is going to be something like a much more uncomfortable high school reunion where people try to guess who you are, but actually are your boss or people that report to you every day. Maybe the policy at work for re-opening should be really dim lighting and dark clothes, but with glow-in-the-dark badges or name tags.
It’s not that the opportunity for constantly eating doesn’t exist in the office, it’s just that there are fewer eyes judging you when you do it at home. It’s far more apparent to your co-workers when you take semi-hourly trips to the break room and cafe. Housemates only wonder what happened to all the cereal and cookies and chips and poptarts and blocks of cheese and leftovers and any other food that can be eaten by the handful or sleeve or carton. And no one ever believes stories that some goats, bears, and hyenas broke in and cleaned out the place.
The expense for food has gone up significantly, but it’s difficult to tell if that’s because the cost of goods has increased or if my consumption is no longer subsidized by the treats available at work in the break-room or from vendors or from unmarked/unclaimed/unwatched food items left in the work fridge. Maybe I’ll just tell co-workers that I vape and that is the reason I get up so frequently. At least until I can wean myself off this snack dependency cycle. The crumbs on my face and clothes might give me away though. Unless they think it’s cannabis vaping, which would also explain the munchies. The perfect cover!