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A visit to the office amongst COVID

Last Monday, I had to visit the office to help onboard a new joiner to my team. It was not mandatory for me to visit the office, but I wanted to meet this person at least once and welcome her into the company. I had to take a few approvals before visiting the office and finally was ready to go there. After 6 months I stepped foot into the office building, I swear I almost forgot the name of the landmark to my office building. I took an Ola cab, the roads were comparatively empty and as the cab veneered into the premises, a smile popped on my face. It caught me unaware,I got off and walked towards the building, a familiar pace set on my toes. There were several notice boards and notice posters at the entrance stating the various rules of social distancing, hand sanitizing and much more. I could no longer just whisk my card and rush inside, I had to show the approvals and wait patiently for the security team to follow new protocols to escort me inside. 

It felt like I was entering a top secret military lab, I was escorted to a floor, not to my usual desk. To a single floor where employees can work from during this COVID crisis. I had to keep the mask on and I saw masked faces around, some familiar, some new. These were the IT, facilities and security teams working tirelessly through this entire time. As I walked to an empty desk and placed my laptop, I noticed every other seat had an X to ensure no one sits too close.

As the neon white lights glared above me, I thought my god, I have actually missed the office. I felt elated and happy under the very neon lights I thought looked like the ones in an operating theatre. Isn’t it interesting how our human mind functions? Even things that used to irritate us once, fall under the familiarity category. If we move away from that environment suddenly for a long time and re-enter, the mind recognizes it as familiar and safe. I have been working in this organization now for almost 8 years and the last 6 months have been so different and something none of us phantomed.

After a while, I walked up to the coffee machine, it is now manned by a facility staff in gloves and mask, no one is allowed to touch the coffee machine apart from him. He serves everyone coffee and even water as they walk up to him maintaining social distancing. I saw a big bottle of hand sanitizer and wondered of all these small things we took for granted. The water cooler conversations, the crowding around the coffee machine, the polite gestures of handing someone a paper cup if they stood on the other side. Every movement I made, I had to be conscious of social distancing and safety. The office elevators also have rules now, stickers of where to stand and limited to small groups, not that I missed crowded elevators but it all felt surreal , like a video game.

I greeted the new joiner, with a namaste and a mask, later maintaining appropriate distance, we removed our masks and met properly for the first time. How much onboarding has changed? Imagine joining a new company now, you are interviewed on the phone, everything is online, you cannot visit the office, you cannot use your senses to grasp the culture and the environment of an office. It is not just the building but the people, the way they dress, the way they move and talk, minute social cues one picks up, all that is missing. Now, you connect with your new team and manager over video calls and such. There is no buddy assigned to you, to show you how to navigate the building, the shortcuts around the building and most importantly show you where the washrooms and tea point is located. I wonder for freshers who are on boarded now, they have no experience of how it feels that first week at a new workplace. Not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing, but just that experience is no longer available, at least for the next 6 months. But I am still old schooled and believe in meeting a person who will work with you so closely on a project, at least once. Identifying someone with a mask on is difficult, especially people in office we may have never spoken to, but we always smile at them as we pass by. I recognized and smiled at a few such people and I realized I spooked them. Because they could not see my smile through the mask, only a weird woman staring at them for no reason ha ha ha. For a smiler like me, that is a disappointment.

I wondered about the person who was leaving my team, he will have to say goodbye to everyone virtually. He will just come to the office and drop off his laptop and pick up things if any. He will have no one throwing him a goodbye party like we used to have. If you work at an organization for a long time, the goodbye is painful, doesn’t matter if your time there was fun or not. You gave 9 hrs of your life everyday for that stretch of time to a project or a team and it is a big change in life. But for now he will have to accept the online goodbyes.

Continuing my day at office, I had stacked things in my table credenza/pedestal, all kinds of weird things, green tea bags, a bottle of aroma diffuser to make my desk smell good, a small bottle of ajwain (in case my stomach felt weird), stationary, assorted collection of coffee mugs and pens, wedding invites of colleagues collected over the years, LAN cables, and god knows what else. I am one of those people who has everything required for a calamity stacked and ready in the office credenza. I cleaned out as much as I could, I was escorted by a security personnel, he watched over me as I opened the credenza with my keys, and he asked me to write down what I had taken, this was the embarrassing part as the space allotted for that list was too short for my paraphernalia. As I was escorted out of the floor, he locked the doors carefully and ensured I didn’t wander off, dropping me at that one floor which was open.

I really appreciate the meticulous planning and thinking of my company’s facilities and security teams. I caught up with one of them and made sure they knew the excellent work they are doing to ensure safety of all.The scenario we are in will not last long. That is for sure, this virus will go away sooner or later, but how it will affect human to human interaction is something to wait and watch. We may no longer be as free as we were. When I was standing next to the printer, and clicking the touchscreen, my thoughts were constantly to remind myself to use the hand sanitizer as soon as this is done. It makes me wonder, when do we draw the line between safety and paranoia, for now since nothing much is known about this virus, it is safe. But once all of this tides away, will that be a paranoia?

Before I wondered all this, time flew and it was evening, I had to leave. I booked a cab and walked out of the building, it was 6PM and the business park was empty, a lone cab stood at the corner waiting for me. Felt eerie for a bit, 6PM, the time of hustling bustling activity of people rushing to catch the bus or the cab, cab drivers honking away, the sound of the crazy traffic on the main road outside, none of that existed. I took my time, entered the cab and left in silence.

It usually takes 30 mins to cross a stretch of road filled with IT parks, it took me less than 10 mins and this part I enjoyed as it is a rare scene in Bangalore. Thus ended my adventure of a day visit to the office during COVID. This was not just a visit to me, this visit made me observe and think about actions we never stop to notice and just how much a small virus has changed in our lives and we have absolutely no control over it. It was a strong reminder that nothing is in our control except our own reactions to situations, accepting and being flexible to change is all that we can control and that is enough in itself.

#covid #newhire #office #socialdistancing

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