A Working State of Mind
When I met my husband, he was amused that I would tell him, "Take off your shoes; stay a while."
I'm not as fervent as those in other cultures who immediately switch to house shoes, but I am a proponent of bare feet. I like feeling the ground where I stand and would horrify hikers in my 20s by tromping through the desert in Converse because I liked feeling the rocks.
I can assure you the age of my ankles has made me invest in sturdier shoes for hiking.
At the pandemic's start, I already had about three years of work-from-home experience. I had skipped the hard part of consolidating home life from work life by converting a spider-filled shed into an office. My refrain to my husband as I had worked for years in cubicles: I just wanted a window to watch squirrels be merry, like Milton from "Office Space."
We got our first squirrel only last fall, but I had my window and the ability to take my shoes off during the workday. It worked for me until it didn't.
I've told others that the major transition to working at home was needing more mental aids to make it bearable, just as you find those in other ways with an in-person job. One was -- as silly as it sounds for those with public-facing jobs -- wearing shoes. Shoes meant getting appropriately dressed. Shoes meant business.
The other recommendation was having lunch with friends, particularly old co-workers, just to hear another human talk and perhaps live vicariously through their office gossip.
I'm still glad to be out of the gray cubicles, but over time, I missed a crucial work ingredient: the co-workers who made the cubicles bearable. The teams I built with co-workers mostly came through circumstance, especially if office leadership didn't foster teamwork -- a common experience in my time as a traditional employee. Sure, we had team-building exercises and trainings. But after the time I had a grown man dressed as a rodent talk about the transportation of cheese, I questioned my role in the rat race, and my sanity.
Those are the moments when the value of a work friend is clear. They're the person who will drag you into the break room as they witness you a breath away from a breakdown, muttering about rats in a man costume.
There are important questions being asked about traditional offices. Can you progress in a career without in-person interactions? Should office buildings be repurposed into housing? How do we absorb the cost of having an office at home? Do we intentionally design homes differently?
There will be a shift in how we approach work, but it will also be a shift in how we approach our lives as a society.
Even when discussing those organic moments of in-person inspiration at work, it's aligned more to productivity and not human connectivity. Articles that hope for that spark never talk about the disruption of deep work by a bumbling middle manager whose own need for connection shows up as a measure of productivity and not actual team building. It's a play at connection that the worker will see as something that "could have been an email."
But we have few places to be without productivity or consumption. We're missing that third space, not home and not work, just to be with others without expectations. Religion may have filled that role in the past, but as I see converted big box stores turn into churches that open once or twice a week, it doesn't seem like that's a role they want to fulfill. Coffee shops can be that place, but they are still predicated on buying something to "earn your spot."
Don't get me started on the lack of bowling alleys.
Humans don't have to earn their right to exist or to exist together. That's up in the First Amendment -- even before the one that gets us together with guns -- and only a breath away from the right to ask our government to address our grievances. Maybe we could find common ground about those grievances if we spent more time together, without expectations beyond being in community with one another.
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at email@example.com. To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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