Returning to work during COVID


Currently, the worldwide population is just waiting to see when this plague will finally end. Sure, we’re all reeling and affected when news of this third wave hits, but after a full year, people are used to this new lifestyle, even if a lot of it is begrudgingly. I’ve even had coworkers here at Tulmar tell me they reached the point that they easily know when they don’t have their mask on, because they feel “naked” walking without it. That seems surreal to me.

That is because, for the past year, I have been on maternity leave. As serendipity would have it, I started my leave on March 13th, 2020.

My last day of work was Canada’s (and others) last day of “business as usual”. Orders and COVID rulings began the very next morning. Now the birthing in this was a frightful event, I wasn’t too worried about all that was happening. I am more of an introvert. I like people but I can be a bit of a home body, so I figured, this would be fine. And so, during the past year, mixing curbside groceries with day… after day… after day of staying at home, I withdrew from the world and focused on my family.

When my first day of work started to approach, I will be frank, I was scared. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had only heard the stories, seen the Zoom meetings memes, news of factory outbreak, and horror stories about the aches and pains of mask-wearing. But still, the worst part was being unsure of what it would truly be like. Now I will say I was starting in a new position, and the excitement of that helped to mitigate that fear and uncertainty.

Then, the day before, something happened. I grew anxious, in a good way. I was about to re-enter a more productive life rhythm and didn’t have to worry about kids as much, given I am lucky enough to have a husband be a stay-at-home dad. It started to dawn on me: I was going to see people again.

My first week back was a blur. I normally am quiet and know to a degree where I am going. I have something to do and work hard to achieve that. But… as I observed the new hand sanitizer wall décor and everyone’s masking fashions, I found myself unable to hold back several sessions of ramblings. My 4 walls were gone and I was confronted with the thrills big new projects, and I couldn’t be more invested. I hadn’t realized how impacted I had been by being so cloistered. I loved hearing all about the ins and outs of the company in the past year, the stories of how everyone dealt with this year that will, most certainly, go down in history for decades if not centuries to come.

And then there was, and let’s face it, still is, the adaptation. It is so odd, returning to work with everyone used to the routines, while I still scramble. So many time, if I leave my desk for something as simple as retrieving something at the printer, will I have to turn back going “forgot my mask”. I work during the day, now mixing the sound of typing to that of the sanitizer dispensers by pretty much everyday doorway going off. We have regular meetings where you see people arriving and standing like a bunch of scarecrows to keep everyone else two arm lengths away. The first thing I did back was a sales meeting and I had to pause at the end, a bit lost, as the bottle of Lysol wipes got passed around, like it was the most normal thing while I was just wondering what was happening. COVID is everywhere, so it’s easy to figure out the “why” behind what is happening, but the first moments always give me pause.

It will become second nature… 4 weeks back now, it has already started. But I will remember for a very long time, that feeling of oddity returning to this quirky, yet necessary new rhythm.