COVID-19

Returning to the world

It was quite a week: I went to church, and I went to work.

Margaret and I are both vaccinated, as is one of Margaret’s kids who lives with us. The other isn’t, despite our admonitions. But she works in retail, and with nobody masking anymore she’s far more likely to get sick at work than because Margaret or I brought COVID home. So Margaret and I are no longer restricting ourselves. We’re also not rushing to Do All the Things in the world, either. We’re taking measured and deliberate steps.

When I walked in at church, everyone about fell over. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming, I just showed up. We hadn’t seen each other in 15 months! I took my usual place in the back and enjoyed the service. I was almost overcome with happiness when communion was passed. In my faith tradition, we take communion every week. I really missed it.

Last month I said that when Margaret and I felt safe to return to worship, we’d find a new church together. That’s still our aim, but in the short term I will attend at my current church about every other Sunday. There needs to be someone from church leadership in attendance every week, and the fellow we’d been leaning on for that is going to be away most of the summer. So one of the other leaders and I are alternating weeks.

I won’t go every week because our granddaughter comes to visit on Sunday mornings. Without getting into all of the complications around this, I’ll just say that this is the time her mom can bring her, and that’s that.

I worked in the office on Tuesday. The company opened its office on Monday, allowing anyone vaccinated to work unmasked. I had to provide a scan of my vaccination card. I understand how some people might find this to be too invasive, but in this instance I didn’t at all mind sending in my scan.

This is a brand new office for my company. We were in the building next door until March, and then we were homeless for several weeks while finishing touches were placed on the new office, which is in a new building. The photo above is from the window near my desk, where I have a commanding view of the Eli Lilly & Co. building. The pharmaceutical giant is headquartered here.

My company is allowing us to work some days at home and some days in the office. My plan is to work in the office Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday for sure, and maybe on Monday. But I’ll work from home every Wednesday for sure.

I’m going to add in-office days slowly. I found it to be intensely stressful to suddenly work from home every day last year when all this began. I hope that by easing back into my in-office schedule, I can adapt more easily.

It’s as if I am given a limited number of “energy cards” every day, and when I’ve given all of those cards out in the course of a day’s events, I’m out of energy. Truly, when that happens, I’m fried. I make routines out of anything I can, because it reduces how much I have to think about them, which conserves energy. When the pandemic sent me home to work, every last one of my workday routines was upended. I had to figure out all new ones, and until I did I was exhausted at the end of each day.

Sure enough, working in the office on Tuesday left me spent. It had been a long time since I’d dealt with rush-hour traffic, and that spent a whole energy card by itself. It didn’t used to, probably by sheer daily repetition. But after a 15-month hiatus, I had lost my chops, I guess.

Of course, I did all the things you do when you work for the first time in a new office: set up my desk, figure out how to work the coffee machine, and find the restrooms. But I also took all of my meetings over Zoom just as I did the day before working at home, as nobody I met with was in the office that day. So I had Zoom fatigue on top of everything-is-new fatigue.

When I go back to the office this Tuesday, I won’t have so many new things to figure out. But I’m sure the commute will still be tiring, until I get used to it again.

Another reason I plan to add in-office days slowly is because when I work from home, I can ride my bike on my lunch hour. I’m reluctant to give that up, as this is the last summer I will get to do it. I’m even considering taking a long bike tour later this year, covering 150 miles or so over a few days. Riding most weekdays will help me prepare for that. I’ve wanted to do a tour for years, and if ever there’s a year to do it, this is it.

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13 thoughts on “Returning to the world

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Energy cards! I love it, and accurate! When I think about what I used to do daily 10 years ago, I can’t even believe it!

  2. Hi Jim,

    It’s good to see that you are tentatively out and about. Bhavna and I had only been indoors with the public for the first time last week. One brewery was entirely indoors, but we kept our distance from people. The other was a farmhouse brewery where both sides of the farmhouse were open, allowing for a good breeze to blow through. We kept our distance from people. We won’t dine indoors in public for a while. Baby steps.

    My employer (I consult) has not requested a return to the office as yet. I’m unsure what’s planned for our team. Our associate director is in Boston. One team member is in Brooklyn (New York), one in Atlanta, one in Dallas, one in Virginia, and I’m in New Jersey. We host all our meetings over Microsoft Teams. There is no good reason to be at a company location only to host all our meetings over Microsoft Teams.

    Before the pandemic, I consulted for a UK based bank with IT teams across London, Hong Kong, New York City, New Jersey offices. We hosted all of our meetings over WebEx, which I attended from my desk (each workspace had a VDI and phone with a headset). The two-hour commute to Manhattan each day just felt stupid. Our boss agreed and allowed us to work remotely two days a week. Commuting those three remaining days still felt stupid.

    I think the whole “back to the office” thing is dumb. I can work remotely for the rest of my life. Before the pandemic, when I worked remotely (two days a week), I would meet friends and family for lunch or dinner or a pint at the bar. Except for losing out on meeting with friends and family, switching from two days a week to full time remote during the pandemic was the easiest thing to do. I don’t need to be with my co-workers to have friends. I want to continue working remotely, but now I can have lunch/dinner/beer with vaccinated friends.

    There is a billing being debated in the state senate that would ban the use of vaccine passports and bar any public or private entity — schools, businesses, beaches, doctors — from asking about or for someone’s vaccination status. Politics aside, I think it’s too invasive and unenforceable and discriminatory. What if I lose the vaccination card? A person can’t use vaccine passports apps such as New York’s “Excelsior Pass” if they don’t have a (compatible) smartphone.

    No employer has ever asked me to prove vaccination from the flu or any other infectious diseases. In the past, they allowed OBVIOUSLY sick people to come to the office during flu season. My wife’s cousin was fully vaccinated months ago. He travelled to Florida. When he returned, he decided to get tested for COVID and of course, he tested positive. He was asymptomatic. But of course, his vaccine passport still allows him into the office. So the situation with COVID is no different than with the flu.

    I’m taking the train from Princeton Junction (NJ) to Manhattan tonight for a photofield trip around The High Line and the Vessel at Hudson Yards. I have to wear a face mask but will not be required to show proof of COVID vaccination. When those 6 million daily commuters start using the overcrowded New York and New Jersey train system this July, none of them will either.

    The vaccine passport is “security theatre.”

    • If most of your work is solitary or involves meeting with people who aren’t in the office, then yes, going into the office is silly. In my case, most of my company will return to the office over the summer. We could all work remotely forever, but we’re choosing not to. I like the energy of the office and so I’m going to go back 3-4 days a week. I do not enjoy the commute, which is why I’m working from home 1-2 days a week. I hope to move much closer to downtown in the next year or two, which will help the commute.

    • Andy Umbo says:

      Khurt! They SHOULD bar people with any communicable illness from coming to work! I’ve noticed over the last 40 years, the down-turn of defined benefits in the U.S, like paid sick days, has resulted in sickies coming to work and hacking all over everyone else and spreading the flu and colds, especially people with kids. The U.S.’s poor showing for vacation benefits, and eliminating paid sick days for “personal days” (which people WON’T use for sick days when they’re sick), has resulted in a lot of work environments looking like the zombie apocalypse during the flu and cold season! No better proof than flu and cold remedy sales are down something like 75% over the pandemic season, because of mask wearing and hand sanitizing! I just bought another 50 pack of nurse masks, which I’m wearing in multi-person situations from October to March, going forward in perpetuity!

      This might be another time to bring up the fact that there are literally MILLIONS of people that don’t do jobs on a computer, don’t WANT to do jobs on a computer, and LIKE working in face-to-face teams and situations. The footprint that tech and IT has in the media, allows those in that industry to “assume” that the country is all working on computers, when in fact, the majority of jobs cannot be done from home on a computer! Tell that to your auto mechanic, surgeon, dentist, warehouse food stocker, etc. etc. etc. There are actually people in the world that LOVE personal interaction!

      I’ve perfectly happy showing anyone my vaccine card, and our local Office Max or Staples will copy it and laminate it for free, as well as some office supply places are selling plastic slip in pockets for it with lanyard holes! Bring it on! My state is “stalled out” on vaccines, because the rural and suburban republicans are anti-vaxers, and anti-mask wearers. Now that they loosened requirements on mask wearing, there is no way to tell if that person without a mask next to you has been vaccinated, or is a republican crank! Still wearing ine!

    • I’m banking on the CDC’s assurances that as a vaccinated person, I’m at very low risk of the virus. As the world opens up, ready or not, I feel like I have to believe the CDC.

  3. My husband and I are taking some tentative steps out into the world too! It’s kind of a relief but also makes me anxious – I guess we all got so used to staying in I feel weird being out!

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