We soon may have to wear pants again during work meetings. As COVID vaccinations become more widely available, offices are reopening, prompting a return to the 9-to-5 grind. While some employees are eager to get back in a structured office setting, not everyone is ready to return to pre-COVID "normalcy."
According to The Wall Street Journal, Dallas has seen more workers returning to their offices “than in any other city.” A survey conducted by Kastle across 10 major cities found the average percentage of workers who had returned to office settings was 20% to 25% while in Dallas the number was 35%.
The pandemic revealed much over the past year about what we’ve accepted as norms of American work culture. Many of the functions of our jobs, we found, can be done from the comfort of our homes. Much of the eight-hour workday is spent doing filler work, as opposed to our actual job descriptions.
Dallas resident Renee Taylor, who works in a technology position at a beauty products company, is looking forward to returning to the office and sees the pros and cons of working in an office versus remotely.
“I think the flex-schedule will allow me to take advantage of the benefits of both [settings],” Taylor says. “When I am in the office, I can be in meetings and brainstorm ideas with coworkers. When I am home, I can then make those ideas come to fruition because my day isn’t bogged down with meetings.”
The perks of working from home include getting up a little later than if we had to prepare for a lengthy commute to the office and avoiding traffic. Taylor, however, says she uses the extra time at home to work, rather than enjoy it for herself.
Apart from communicating via video chat and participating in virtual happy hours, both of which Taylor says just don’t have the same feel as in-person interactions, the biggest challenge for Taylor over the past year was adjusting to new consumer habits.
“I support our company’s e-commerce business, and as buying trends shift from stores to online, we also had to adjust our marketing strategy to be more web-focused,” Taylor says. “We also lost a lot of our team at the beginning of the pandemic due to furlough, so I had to take on a lot of responsibility to fill in the gaps.”
Rita Sharp, who works for an e-commerce startup, isn’t planning a return to the office anytime in the near future. The company for which she works has implemented a policy that allows employees to come to the office as they please, with the exception of once every quarter when they are required to be physically present for team meetings.
“I love it,” Sharp says. “I’m much more productive and comfortable at home, but I love having the option to be social or see coworkers if or when I want. As a woman, I love working from home during my period, and not having to wake up early to put on makeup or commute. I love this ability to actually have a work-life balance.”
Unlike Taylor, Sharp does use the time she would otherwise spend commuting to relax and tend to chores. The ability to work anywhere allows her to travel and set up her side business. Sharp also says she has saved money she would've spent on work clothes and by preparing most of her meals at home.
Sharp does plan to return to the office from time to time, as she genuinely enjoys the company of her coworkers. But setting boundaries between work and home has eliminated the competitive environment she found in the office setting.
“I like flexing my cute work outfits and occasionally chatting with coworkers,” Sharp says. “In a way, things felt more competitive at an office, something I both loved and thrived off of and yet do not miss.”
Deep Ellum resident Veronica Young also enjoys dressing up for work, but not enough to want to return to the office full time. Next month, Young’s office will be implementing a hybrid model in which she will work in the office for three days out of the week and remotely for two. While Young expects a safe return to the office, she says she is feeling “up and down” about it all.
“I think right now there is still an overwhelming fear and some anxiety as to what it means to be back in the office with other people,” Young says. “I definitely wish we had an option to go back if we want or stay home if we want, especially if our work productivity didn’t suffer as a result of being home.”
Young has been vaccinated against COVID but still worries about another wave of the pandemic striking. She will continue to wear her mask at work and her office door will remain closed “for the foreseeable future.”
Having worked from home for the past 14 months, Young says she found herself able to accomplish more. She also enjoyed saving money on gas and not having to sit in traffic. Still, she says that while she thrives at home, some people are more productive in an office.
“I obviously am nervous to go back,” Young says, “but I also think if my company told me pre-pandemic I could work a hybrid schedule with a couple days at home I would’ve been pretty thrilled. I think Americans who were lucky to keep their jobs are grateful to still have a job and hopefully the hybrid schedule works out, if that’s what their companies are offering.”
Another proponent of working remotely is attorney Andrew Rossow. In his field, Rossow says “some [clients and judges] are actually OK with conducting hearings over [video chat] platforms, making it easier for all parties involved.”
Last year, Rossow launched The Guardian Project alongside actor Mark Pellegrino (13 Reasons Why), a campaign to launch a docuseries on cyberbullying. Rossow, who specializes in online crime, says he is also a survivor of sexual assault and bullying in school.
Rossow says that while remote work is more ideal for office workers, he also believes that as schools open up, sticking with one inflexible model — whether strictly remote or in-person education — could have detrimental effects on a child’s mental health. He cites the case of 12-year-old Riley Hadley, a home-schooled student who committed suicide over fears that he would have to return to school and be around bullies.
“I believe a combination of both remote school and in-person education is vital,” Rossow says. “The issue revolves around [parents] and the [institution] being able to identify flags or signs in a child that may be experiencing bullying.”
For teachers, helping students adjust to virtual settings posed a challenge in the early stages of the pandemic, but a Frisco-based teacher has found that her students can work just as effectively from home as they would in the classroom.
Last summer, Andrea Bazemore founded The Black Apple Virtual School, and in nearly a year since launching, she says her students have remained equally as engaged remotely as they were in person.
“I think engagement looks different for virtual learning,” Bazemore says. “For one, I don’t need to see their faces to know they are engaged. I can look at the chat feature, I can look at the documents they are opening, and I can look at the work they are producing. I also can gauge engagement by the conversations they are having with their friends and their parents.”
While she misses being able to celebrate holidays with her students, Bazemore says teaching remotely has allowed her to get better at developing curriculum and course materials. She also is grateful to be able to cut costs of setting up a classroom.
Prior to the pandemic, events such as the Parkland shooting prompted Bazemore to create safe settings for her students, which is a major reason why she is continuing to teach remotely.
“Of course, there is the threat of a school shooting, but violence has been rising in school steadily for years,” Bazemore says. “I personally have been stabbed by students as young as kindergarten. Now, each specific case was different and I’m careful not to blame the child. ... It’s definitely a lose-lose situation between school districts, teachers, families and students. For me, teaching remotely removes a lot of those barriers and allows me to just focus on learning.”
Working remotely and working in an office setting have their tradeoffs, but in a post-COVID timeline, employers are finding that workers enjoy the balance.
“It makes me enjoy working at my company [that] much more,” Sharp says, “which makes me want to work harder to keep this job.”
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