COVID-19, Stories Told

Changing jobs during a pandemic

Even as I approached the building, all was strange. The front was still boarded up after last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, the only such building on the block. My key card let me in the front door. It was irrational, I’m sure, but I thought it might not still work after not having used it in ten months. The lights were off in the lobby, as they were on my floor as the elevator doors opened.

My desk was as messy as I’d left it. I didn’t know when I took the week off in early March that I’d never use it again. The company ordered us all to work from home starting the Monday I was to return.

Fast forward to December. I received a fantastic offer from another company, one I would have been foolish to ignore. I took it. On my last day, I drove to my soon-to-be-former office to clean out my desk.

I’ve left jobs before, a dozen times. I have it down. I take stuff home little by little during my last two weeks so my desk is clear on my last day. After lunch I walk around and say personal goodbyes to everyone I can find who I ever worked with, wrapping up with my boss. Not only will I miss the people, who I genuinely enjoy, but also I want to leave a good final impression. The market I work in is small enough that I’m likely to work with some of them again. When I’ve said my final goodbye, I slip out the door.

This was all different. There had been a Zoom happy hour in my honor, which was a nice gesture. I said goodbyes in my normal meetings all during my final week. Anyone I didn’t see, I Slacked. But it all felt so disconnected.

Stepping off the elevator, the floor was silent but for the whoosh and hum of the HVAC. The last time I was on this floor it buzzed with such activity that I needed noise-canceling headphones to be able to focus. I sorted through my things, leaving a healthy portion of it in the wastebasket. I left my laptop and my key card on my desk, picked up my box, rode the elevator down, and walked out for the last time.

Monday morning I started at the new job. My commute didn’t change a bit: I came downstairs, sat at my desk, and started Zoom. But the faces I saw on the screen were all new.

The new company did a terrific job of onboarding, easily the best experience of my career. They committed to everyone’s first full week being nothing but group meetings with various people in the company telling us the company’s history and mission, how we make money, how administrative things work, and what our product looks like and how it works. We got to meet all of the executives.

Yet I kept wishing to see my old team in those little boxes. I really missed them! I always miss the good people I worked with when I leave a job, but never this acutely. But then, I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye.

This post also appeared on my software blog earlier this month.

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13 thoughts on “Changing jobs during a pandemic

  1. One of my sons just began a new job last week, and the process was similar. Day 1 was in the same place as every day before – his apartment.

  2. That would be a real mental challenge. Wake up one day and go to work in the same place you always do but to have everything be different? How strange that must be!

  3. Michael says:

    I would have absolutely detested that work space – way too small and open to distractions. I do like having natural light though.

  4. DougD says:

    Yeah, we have a similar thing going. After we left in haste a year ago our employer is selling the office/workshop building and renting a smaller space that’s just office. I just got told I’m in charge or organizing our department (since our actual manager is in Sweden) so we’ll individually go in, take our things, box up our records, say goodbye to the building and walk out.

    The only difference is someday we’ll start our new jobs in a different office with mostly the same people. That’ll be weird.

  5. Andy Umbo says:

    I’m a “pro” physical contact “team” person, so the pandemic makes me glad I’m semi-retired for now.

    My last management position, before I and everyone over 55 was made redundant was pretty much of a horror story for me. I had an team of 20+, most of who were millennial. When I tried to hold team meetings, they complained to the HR department (this is PRE-pandemic). When I then sent out multi-point e-mails to all the people, they didn’t read most of the points, and so did NOT comply, with things they were supposed to admin. I am so happy I really don’t have to work full time anymore.

    My millennials didn’t have much interaction with each other, even tho they sat near each other? I asked if they’d meet going out drinks on a Friday, they said: “nope”. Being in an advertising related industry, it’s all about personalities There was zero bonding going on. I remember the first big team I managed in an ad department , not only my team, but the whole department went out to a neighborhood bar on Friday pm, to have a few “pops” and bitch about work. My VP even stopped by occasionally and opened a tab for the whole group and paid after an hour or so!

    Whatever world these people are in now, I’m glad I’m not a part of it!

      • Andy Umbo says:

        Having worked in a professional capacity in Chicago, Milwaukee, Washington DC, and northern California: I don’t think that companies culture was anything like any of those other cities corporate cultures either! It was no great surprise to find out that two years after I was gone, their out-of-state owners sold them off, booted them out of their newly built corporate headquarters, which they sold separately, and they ended up firing half the employees and struggling along in a warehouse space somewhere off of 73rd street! Even the VP they newly hired a year before I was let go was gone. Seemed like a train-wreck waiting to happen since the day I got there!

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