I guess every former office dweller has a story about their last day at work before the pandemic. From possibility to inevitability, and then the confirmation. We were to go and work from home, indefinitely. The anxiety in the air, palpable.
I remember packing up those things that I thought I would need for a month or two of homeworking. With hindsight, desperately naïve. Saying goodbye to my office mate, awkwardly bumping elbows, hugs already off the agenda.
With my bags stuffed full of day to day of office life, I jumped on a bus to the train station, without thought that this casual use public transport was just one of many things I took for granted but would soon be on the list of not to dos. At the station, there was a stall that sold pastries and cakes. I stopped to buy a couple of things I neither wanted or needed, passing a few words with the seller. He told me that almost everyone who had stopped today had told the same tale. They were to go to work from home, with no idea when they might return. I have often thought of him this last 15 months, with his entire livelihood based on us office commuters. Who could have believed there would be a future when we all simply disappeared?
At home that evening, I set my work apparatus at the dining table and there I have remained ever since. Few of us I think could truly have imagined the duration of this so called ‘great working from home experiment’. Compared to most, I have had it easy. It has been hard to live and work in one room. The Ikea dining chair has done terrible things to my neck and back. Teaching online has been a disheartening experience. But I have been lucky to have been able to work from home in relative safety all the same.
But tomorrow, I go back to the office for the first time. The old routines, both now oh so familiar but alien at the same time, will begin again. My laptop bag is packed. I have charged my watch and located my lanyard. I have even found some proper shoes.
My workplace remains closed and tomorrow is a one off visit, for now. I wonder what it will be like to get on a commuter train. To walk through the ticket barriers and grab a coffee, just like the old days. I wonder how it will feel to walk through that still mostly empty building. To see a colleague face to face and not through a screen. I wonder if it will feel like normality, or something far removed. I wonder if it will seem enormous, or insignificant. I wonder if will cry.