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How do we ‘do’ the office after so long away?

By September 11, 2021No Comments

Esther O’Moore Donohoe considers the big return to the office; the most important thing to remember is that everyone can see and hear you now…

An aunt of mine recently lost a stone from a ring left to her by my grandmother. It wasn’t the Hope Diamond but it did have sentimental value. Of course on the day she realised it was missing she had been to approximately 800 shops, gone on a long walk and hoovered the house from top to bottom, thus reducing the chances of ever finding it again. 


I did my best to help, scanning the area immediately in front of me for three seconds before telling her ‘It’s gone mate. Grieve it now for it shan’t be gracing your shellacked finger ever again’. She requested I ‘say a prayer to Saint Anthony’ (the patron saint of finding things) just in case. Twenty minutes later, after unpacking one of her 652 bags containing pandemic ‘treat yourself purchases’, up pinged the little stone. She found it! Fair play St. A.

I am not a religious person but I had loads of work to do that day so I chose instead to spend a solid and unnecessary 45 minutes googling a load of other patron saints. It proved to be a very rewarding procrastination session. I learned that Ambrose of Milan is the patron saint of Wax Melters and Refiners, OBVIOUSLY. Vincent of Saragossa is the patron saint of Vinegar Makers, OF COURSE. And the patron saint of workers is…anyone? Anyone? It’s St. Joseph guys! But I bet you all knew that already.

I imagine if St. Joseph had an inbox, it would be crammed full with requests right now from believers and non-believers alike seeking inspiration, intervention or guidance on The Big Return To Work. Oh and I know, I know – none of us have stopped working since last March and frontline and essential workers never stopped going into their contracted place of work. But for some of us WFH from the last 18 months, the physical transition back into the office will be a challenge. 

Aside from the return to commuting and the childcare drop-off-and-collection dance, there’s also the sharp shock of having to wear underwear and engage with real life adult humans for eight hours a day. Yes, it will be incredible to catch up with the office printer and use it daily to print off passport forms, boarding passes and applications for new jobs. It will also be thrilling to bring in 18 months worth of personal documents to add to the office shredding bin. But still, how do we ‘do’ the office after so long away?

The most important thing to remember is that everyone can see and hear you now. You have physical mass and volume. Your days as a Zoom Muting Queen are no more. In real life if a colleague says something moronic, no longer will you be able to indulge in a slow, 180 degree eye roll or make yourself cockeyed. They can also see when you give them the finger and slide down your chair to the floor weeping. At your first big team meeting, you won’t be able to put yourself on mute and scream ‘OH ZIP IT YOU BIG LICK’ at a pointless suggestion your line manager has just made because their supervisor is sitting in. Nor will you be able to sit at your desk during a morning debrief with a magnifying mirror and execute a detailed pore examination as overnight sales figures are read out. It’s going to be a much harder switch than any of us can imagine. 

I’m also sorry to announce that the days of Centaur Dressing are over as well (casual from the waist down, business up top – a sartorial mullet). We’re going to have to re-learn how to dress ourselves from head to toe going forward. We also need to be mindful of how the statement Zoom earrings and necklaces fare in real life. Know the jazzy accessory that’s one too many, and think of your lobes.

If the idea of getting back into the office is your idea of heaven, congratulations. I wish you and your ergonomic chair the very best. If however, the prospect of The Big Return is giving you the worst fear of your life, go easy on yourself. Try to focus on the best bits of office life – your work BFF, the vending machine and all the tiny sachets of coffee your heart desires. And if all else fails, throw Saint Anthony of Padua a shout out. He’s also the patron saint of miracles too.