It’s been a long time now since I was in an office with other people, nearly a year and a half, in fact, since we were told not to come back to the office as the COVID-19 pandemic took off last March.
I was a mite daunted to begin with, as the idea of working at home was not something I’d ever particularly felt attracted to. But, with the launch of the various financial support schemes, I was kept busy enough, and it was quite satisfying to be of real help to people in need.
Spring turned to summer, summer turned to autumn, and still there was no prospect of a return to normal working. I did go into the office once, to clear my desk by appointment, as we were scheduled to transfer to a new office and it was necessary to retrieve my personal possessions. Apart from the cleaner and the security guard, I was entirely alone.
And strangely, I began to grow used to being, for all intents and purposes, alone in my workspace. We’re lucky in that, when I moved in with Ros, we replaced an old wooden workshop with a purpose built office, so my working conditions were probably a step up on what I had in St Clare House. I can listen to music - mostly chamber music and early music - whilst I work without disturbing anyone, I’m not distracted by colleagues - I’m quite easily distracted, I fear - and I can bat ideas around in my head whilst attempting to determine how best to solve a problem. I do talk to myself out loud from time to time…
There are some disadvantages - you can’t throw problems into the air to see if your colleagues have useful and relevant experiences to share, for example - and I do have a great deal of respect for them and their abilities. And there are some things that really can’t be done outside of the office for reasons of data security.
On the other hand, having to rely more on your own judgement can build a sense of confidence as long as things are going well, and I think that I’ve benefitted in that sense. It’s hard sometimes to judge whether or not you’re a good fit in a role, especially one which by its very nature is likely to be confrontational sometimes, but when you’re effectively operating without the usual “safety net”, the apparent absence of problems suggests that you might be doing something right.
But I do feel that I’m becoming slightly less of a social animal. Or, perhaps more accurately, that I am more relaxed about not seeing other people (apart from Ros). I find people fascinating, but it feels these days although it’s sometimes on an almost academic level. I don’t care any less, and my commitment to my various communities remains strong, but the horizons in which I effectively operate seem to have shrunk somewhat.
Which brings me to tomorrow. Our new building is open, and we are required to attend an induction day to collect our new building pass and be told where everything is and how it works. We can’t return to work until this is safely navigated though, and so I’ll be in Ipswich at lunchtime for my turn.
I’m not wholly enthusiastic. It’s not that I’m fearful, for I’m a naturally cautious soul anyway, and have tended to adhere to both the spirit and the letter of Government guidance. It’s just that I’ve benefitted from the freedom that comes from working at home, and actually think that I’m more effective working in an environment which is liberating rather than one encouraging rather more conformity.
In fairness, I’m not being pressured to return to the office. I expect to spend one day a week there from mid-September, and probably two days a week from some time in October. Eventually, that may stretch to three days a week, but it’s not expected to go beyond that if the mood music is to be believed.
So, wish me luck. It’s going to be interesting…