Friday, April 01, 2022

Vernal 

I'm not sure what the Rites of Spring are but I'm sure this woman does.

The World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30, 2020, and on March 11, 2020, declared it a pandemic.

On March 13, 2020, my company ordered working from home as mandatory.

The 2022 Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere occurred at 11:33 a.m. on Sunday, March 20.

As of March 21, 2022, but only until April 27, 2022, masking will continue to be mandatory in the following settings:
  • Public transit;
  • Health care settings;
  • Retirement homes;
  • Long-term care homes; and
  • Congregate care and living settings.

It seems almost poetic that the lifting of pandemic restrictions, just over two years after it began, happened very near the Vernal Equinox, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. Like a new beginning. Here in Toronto, we've seen a pretty mixed winter with mostly crummy weather but also some surprisingly sunny days. Recently, on a sunny Sunday morning, the air had that febrile mix of wetness, warmness, freshness and mildew like a sweaty animal on a breezy day. This was followed by a freezing northwesterly wind that brought rain, snow and ice pellets, which dashed all of our hopes and dreams.

In the past two years, the one thing that feels like it will stick more than some lousy March weather, is that far fewer people will return to the office in a daily commute than previously imagined. Out of curiosity I watched Gary Hustwit's documentary about the office, "Workplace". It was filmed pre-pandemic of course, so all the interviews wax poetic on the future of the office and the unshakable need for people to work together in person. The film highlights a wonderful new space full of specially controlled lighting, sound dampening, innovative wall and space solutions, and let's not even talk about a thoughtfully designed massive display in the main public part of the space that gently throbs and flows all day with an eclectic mix of data, portfolio work and office announcements.

I had assumed I would return to the workplace but now I'm not so sure. None of my colleagues are planning on a return. The office I would go to won't have even the basic amenities of a monitor for me to use, meaning I'd be confined to a laptop screen smaller than most iPads. I won't be able to make a desk a second home. I'll have to wear a mask the entire time I'm there, making having a coffee or even a glass of water while I work impractical. Also gone are the days when the home away from home would have some stress-beating ping pong table or an xBox game console. There's no clich├ęd Foosball table. No cranky vending machine. No hot chocolate nor popcorn packets. No small, quiet spaces that remind you of a campus library. Not that a workplace is intended to be a fun place, it is called work for a reason, but it should feel humane. Now our office has been stripped of any humanity and charm and has become nothing more than a Tetris-like exercise of maximizing row upon row of small, mean desks. Our company has never bought into the Silicon Valley ethos of cereal bars and bars full of cereal. There was free coffee that came with a side of "take it or leave it". Despite this, the Toronto office was enticing and full of comfort you wouldn't normally expect in a high-rise office building. Those days are now gone and every sanitized surface is there to remind you that this coal mine comes with standing desks, ergonomic chairs and a large, cold, heaping pile of cheerlessness and order.

At home I have the world's shortest commute, a kitchen full of snacks of my choosing, a cluttered little room full of my stuff, including a large monitor (and two spares) and, if needed, a napping area. My home sounds a lot more like the legendary high-tech campuses of Google, Apple or Facebook, than my company would ever make. How can my workplace compete with my home office? It cannot. If Henry David Thoreau's mother had built him a room to write like he asked, he never would have moved to a cabin on Walden Pond.

A new day is dawning and we best be ready for it.

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