A modest proposal: returning to the office

We’re all bedraggled. And it’s time to do something about it. We need to go back to the office.

I hear you, non-office-workers: you’re tired of hearing about the fattened layabouts who haven’t been required to go into work every day for the last sixteen months. You had to truck on as normal, using an old sock as a mask last spring. Listen, I hear you, and thank you for your service, but we need to talk about office workers for a second. (Someone has to!)

Office workers: I get it. You spent twelve to twenty years in school learning how to sit down and stay quiet and network and file reports. You found a niche. You found your meeting voice (friendly, but not too friendly). You mastered your commute and your wardrobe. You had a routine of rotating lunch spots and exercise laps around the fourth floor that strategically avoided so-and-so’s cubicle. You had just framed and hung your diplomas right in that window where they could be seen from the hall. You had plans to get a standing desk. You were thriving.

Then Covid happened, and all of a sudden you were working at that rickety table in the corner of your bedroom wearing dirty sweatpants and seeing far too much of your cohabitants. You no longer have any idea what time or day it is. You don’t get to talk to Sue anymore at the printer. Life has lost most of its fragile, precious meaning.

You hate your house. It’s grim, isn’t it? The smallness. How it lacks a janitorial staff. The canteen, such as it is, is nothing like that absolute gem of a spread they had just added down on the third floor, the one with all the vending machines and with the free donuts on Fridays. How it echoed with hundreds of footsteps. How it smelled (microwaved fish and burnt popcorn, mmm). You just can’t recreate that in your own space.

And you can’t quite get your head on straight when you can just roll out of bed, do your yoga on the floor, and then fire up the email machine ten paces away. It doesn’t quite give you that rush, that charge, as it did to run out the door with coffee splashing all over your hands and then squeeze in among several hundred fragrant and restive strangers on a subway platform. That was the city, you know? Or that car commute—the way you could sit for an hour directly behind a ton or two of internal combustion engine—now that’s a morning. That’s living. This—wearing slippers past noon, staring out the window at your yard—is some pallid substitute, and it should end. Immediately.

That’s why I’m calling for an immediate return to the office. With and/or without masks and social distancing protocols. We don’t know yet; these unimportant details will surely work themselves out seamlessly. After all, in the United States, the pandemic is/is not over.

Let’s keep in mind that this going back to work is really a public health issue of its own. If I had a nickel for every employee I imagine is so bored, who works all night and all weekend until she’s literally mentally and physically a wreck because she just doesn’t know what else to do with herself! Well, I’d have a lot of imaginary nickels. These people don’t have hobbies. These people barely have personalities. They need to have a glass of wine at six o’clock to remind themselves to log off the company email, and they think constantly of work projects when they’re alone with their dull non-work thoughts.

Think how sad: a whole class of human being, so thoroughly capitalistic that they’ve forgotten what “fun” felt like, and they don’t know who they are anymore except what they do, and they do that obnoxious thing where they immediately ask any stranger “So, Dan, what is it you do?” And they know it’s a faux pas, but they don’t even remember what else there might be to talk about, because going to and from work and being at work and thinking about work truly dominates their frontal lobes.

We can’t let these fuzzy people stay home a day longer. We have to bring them back to the office to give them some boundaries. We’ll make them come in at 8 so that we can dismiss them at 5, and then they’ll get home by 6 or 7 and they’ll have less time to realize that they have nothing to live for apart from working.

It’s, and I mean this sincerely, the only solution. We must make them come back to the office. For them.

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