Although BA.2, a subvariant of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, is driving a new surge in cases of the virus, many executives are looking to bring their white-collar employees back to the office after two years of remote work. For some, the reclaimed structure and boundaries that come with this transition will be a blessing. For others, the commutes and business casual attire will be a crushing return to “normal.” But whatever your feelings on leaving the bedroom desk and pets behind to integrate into a commercial setting once more, nobody is immune to a long-dormant form of chaos that will be awakened in these strange months: office drama.
The disembodied dynamic of Zoom calls and Slack chats still allowed for plenty of frustrations, but many of those are technological. It’s one thing to have your WiFi cut out or message the wrong coworker because of a name mixup, and quite another when someone realizes they weren’t invited to happy hour, or gets fed up with a cubicle neighbor who has loud, personal phone conversations for the better part of the afternoon. The office is where someone might make a joke at your expense, ask you out or watch what you’re doing from over your shoulder. It’s a place where your bathroom routines are no longer totally private and everyone knows what you’re having for lunch. And whenever a birthday rolls around, you actually have to sing.
For virtual meetings, you can leave your audio off, and toggle or position the laptop camera as needed. Welcome back to trying to stifle your sighs and yawns — and fighting the urge to roll your eyes — when a tedious PowerPoint has already gone 20 minutes over schedule and someone asks a technical question. Personally, I missed the breakroom fridge that would be emptied of La Croix before the cans even got cold. And I’m certain that my colleagues have missed hearing me clear my throat every few minutes! Ah, the subtly irritating textures of an office that eventually drive you to madness. The charity pledges for a 5K that person on the other side of the building wants to run. The smell of microwaved fish. Endless bickering over the thermostat and meticulous preparations for sneaking out early. Avoiding your one true nemesis.
Yep, there’s nothing messier than gathering the entire personnel of an organization under the same set of buzzing fluorescent lights and trusting that they’ll knuckle down to do their jobs. But, if we’re to believe employers, the clashing of personalities and habits has never thwarted the optimal efficiency of this model. They can’t believe we got anything done with more flexible hours and self-management! A stroke of luck there, but now it’s back to stealing pens, leaving passive-aggressive notes and making the case to HR that the Garfield comic on your wall isn’t offensive just because the religious weirdo down the hall said so.
Oh, and face masks are optional — have fun explaining why you’re still wearing one. It’s your turn to make the coffee.