Returning to the office is a chance to reinvent your identity

A lot of us haven’t felt like ourselves during the pandemic.
A lot of us haven’t felt like ourselves during the pandemic.
Image: Getty Images
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I aspire to be a warm, generous person, both in public and in private. In my pre-Covid life, the office was a channel through which I got many small opportunities to demonstrate those qualities daily—affirming my identity for myself in the process.

Waiting for the elevator or by the office microwave, I might have struck up a conversation with a colleague about a project they were working on and suggested a relevant book, or remembered to tell a co-worker how much I enjoyed their recent presentation.

There are still opportunities to be friendly and helpful while working remotely, of course. But it requires making a more conscious effort, and in practice I rarely think to message my co-workers out of the blue. As a result, during the pandemic, I haven’t quite felt like myself.

Who do you want to be in the workplace?

Losing those daily affirmations of my identity, and then regaining the option recently to return to the office, made me think about how office reopenings might be a chance for us to reflect on the kind of people we want to be.

For someone who felt shy around their co-workers pre-pandemic, a return to the office could be a golden opportunity to start inviting colleagues out for coffee. For someone who felt exhausted by putting on a faux-happy face at work every day, the return might be a chance to establish boundaries and a reputation for being an authentic (but still likable) grump.

In my case, I just want to put the same qualities I’ve always prided myself on into action. And I want to make the most of whatever time I spend at the office by making a point to connect with my in-person coworkers, while also putting in more effort to do the same online.

I finally got to put those plans to the test last week, with my first foray back to the office. Being there quickly turned me into the cheerful, community-minded villager I used to be. I stopped by a former teammate’s desk to catch up, and we booked a Zoom call for the next week for a more in-depth chat. I talked to another colleague about what we might do with our respective work sabbaticals, and came away feeling inspired about the possibilities. I got a chance to meet a newly hired colleague who lives across the country and happened to be visiting for the week, and got a sense of her (great!) personality in ways that wouldn’t be as easily conveyed over Slack or Zoom meetings.

The promise of a post-pandemic workplace

With Quartz’s openness to hybrid and remote work, I doubt I’ll be in the office as frequently as I used to be. I find it a lot easier to concentrate on writing in a quiet apartment than in an open office. And I’ve enjoyed replacing my daily commute with rambling dog walks.

What finally lured me back to the office last week was the promise of cocktails with that new colleague I’d been wanting to meet. But I also wound up being reminded of what I’ve been missing over the past year: not just my co-workers, but the chance to perform my public self.