What's Best For Me...

  ...is most likely for me to work in an office in Newark 3 days a week.  Or at least that's what the rumor is. Despite the fact that for over 2 years I have worked rather productively (and getting positive feedback for my performance) from home, this option is no longer an option "Throughout the pandemic, the Company and its employees have been largely operating in a work from home environment.  However, we believe we are a better Company when employees are working together in an office.  We are working on return to the office plans which take into consideration work from home and hybrid approaches for certain roles."  (No word on what those roles might be or what that approach might look like other than the 3 days a week in the office rumor.)  Furthermore, "Employees who were told that they need to report to Newark because of their role in the organization and where they live in proximity to Newark are expected to work in the new office." While the distance between my home and Newark and my home and my former office (which was officially closed in October 2020.) are approximately the same mileage wise, the commute is very different requiring a fee to pay for parking (which was previously free) or a fee for public transportation (which is less expensive than a daily parking space...unless I manage to snag a free space which no one knows who might possibly get one.)

Let me recap my trek to the Newark Penn Station area the other day...

First off, I will admit that I have anxiety about travel to Newark.  I will also freely admit that this anxiety is totally irrational.  (When has anxiety ever been rational?)  Logically I know there is nothing to be nervous about, however logic has nothing to do with it.  Panic and anxiety may be "foolish," but they can override sensibility and turn an intelligent, coherent person into a shaky mess of jelly.

Maybe I wasn't that bad.  (Or maybe I was.)  Despite a little help, I did not sleep well and had dreams full of apprehension and dread.  I was awake by 3 and couldn't get back to sleep.  By 4 I gave up (after all the alarm would go off at 4:15) and did my daily work out before doing all the things I USED to do to prepare for a day in the office.

I checked and rechecked the on line bus schedule.  As far as I could tell there was one bus that went through town that would actually take me directly through to Penn Station in Newark.  All other buses do go to Newark, but would require a transfer to another bus or to the light rail system (which incurs another fee...just to be safe I purchased two light rail tickets before I left the house on the NJ transit app...remember this.)  Unsure if this bus would actually pick up at the stop near my house, I walked down to the center of town where there is a bus shelter and waited there.  (Walking so quickly that I had over 10 minutes to wait.)

The non-direct bus came just a minute before the direct.  I was sure to check out the sign on the front of the bus that clearly said Penn Station.  Even as I got on (activating my digital ticket to show the driver minutes before the bus pulled up), I was nervous that something would happen and the bus would end up at another destination.  (Totally irrational, I know.)  There were only two other people on the bus (not including the driver).  On our drive down we picked up only another four people but by the time we got close to Penn Station, I was the only passenger.

Although it had been decades since I took a bus to Penn Station, I remembered what direction I should head in and with a little guidance from a group of security officers, went up the escalators and followed the signs to Gateway; which requires going up stairs and walking down several glass enclosed walkways (that go over the streets below).  The walkways are great if the weather is inclement, however there was a lot of construction going on as I weaved my way through.  (There are lots of spaces for retail, but very few are occupied or finished.)

I got to the lobby of the building nearly an hour before I was supposed to be there.  I checked in with security who invited me to wait in the lobby.  I knew there was a Dunkin close by (from a company email).  Got a cappuccino and settled in.   While waiting for the office tour to begin, I met another employee who formerly worked out of a NYC office, but who was now being placed here (she wasn't happy about it) and a co-worker who I hadn't seen since 2020 (also not happy to be here.)

When there were about 6 of us, we were escorted up to our floor, given a review of what was happening (who would be in this office, what other office were closing and/or opening) and some breakfast.  (So I should have waited and not bought the coffee.)  Then we were given a tour of the space which encompasses two floors in the building.

The office is very stark and white; very much the twin of the corporate office in NYC.  I will say that it is a nice office with nicer bathrooms and kitchen/eating area than in my previous office. I will also say that the people in charge of building this space have clearly done a great job with what parameters they were given My assigned space is right next to my boss (she is at the end of the row with a window) and on the other side is another co-worker.  Our work area is about 6 feet across and we each have one small (knee high?) filing cabinet.  In my old office I had three overhear storage bins and three thigh high large filing cabinets.  My work space was probably equal to what the three of us now have.  Did I need all that space?  No, but it was nice to have and it did afford everyone privacy and comfort.  Is this new space bad?  No, but it was not what I once had and what I what I was comfortable with.  What I have gone from is a comfortable, quiet "friendly" office to a very corporate "sterile" space.  Can I live with it?  I can (and I'll have to).  Am I happy?  Not really. (Especially since when I look out the window I have a clear view of the Blue Cross Blue Shield office where I worked in the 1990s.  Somehow that feels a little "awkward."  Although I will say that when I worked there I had a bigger work space.) 

Although there were monitors in our work areas, they were not set up so that we could use them.  I did do a little work after the help desk technician (thankfully there are actual resources on site, which is something we did not previously have), got me set up on the company Wi-Fi. My co-worker (on my left) tried talking to my boss (on my right) about what the work status might be.  She emphasized that nothing has been said but the rumor is 3 days a week.  She is clearly towing the company line (I can't necessarily blame her for that) and will not push for work from home because it has been determined that our division is needed in the office.  When my co-worker pointed out that there are two people who do not work in an office (an employee in London and one is the Pittsburgh area), my boss pointed out that they were in those areas prior to the pandemic and had always worked remotely.  While it's not fair, its corporate reality.  While I'm disappointed that the corporation show little compassion or consideration for their employees (for example, I will need to allot about $30 a week for transportation if I work from Newark 3 days a week and there is no reimbursement for that), it's not surprising.

Because I was just there for a tour, I was free to leave afterwards.  While I did do some work, I decided to head out around 11:30ish.  (Not sure of the exact time.)  Luckily I was told by the help desk (and this was confirmed by security), that the interior walkway which connects to Penn Station is closed between 10-4, so I had to go out a different way than I came in.  Since it was a nice day out, walking outside for 2 blocks was not a problem.

Since it was the middle of the day, a direct bus home from Penn Station was not an option.  Instead, I found the light rail area with little trouble and had a short wait before the train came in.  I was unable to activate my ticket in the station and even on most of the ride (probably because we were underground).  Once I was able to do so (maybe I shouldn't have; no one was checking and I could have cheated the system) I did and we were nearly at the stop where I would get off and transfer to the bus.  As I went up the stairs, I could see that my bus was already there.  In my hurry to get on, I clicked the wrong ticket on the NJ Transit app (so I wasted a light rail ticket).  Thankfully, the bus driver was nice enough to let me ride as I promised as soon as the light rail ticket timed out, I would click the right one and show her.  (Hopefully lesson learned:  make sure you are clicking the right ticket!)

This mid-day bus was more crowded than the morning bus, but since there wasn't much traffic on the road (although there was a LOT of construction wherever we went), the ride home was pretty quick.  Once I was off the bus (a different line/route than the one I took in), it was a short walk (and relaxing) walk home.

So there you have it.  There was really no reason for me to be anxious (but anxiety is not a rational thing).  The commute, when planned out is not that bad, but it does eat into my finances.  (I know in the big picture it's not that much, but...)  I can deal with working in this office, but I'm not thrilled.  The rational that working in the same space makes us better employees is...I'll let you fill in the blank there.  I will be less productive on the days that I have to go into the office.  However, if I want to try to find some silver lining on the dark cloud, I will be getting more exercise.  (You've got to find a silver lining right?)

For now, I'm still working in my comfortable home office and waiting for a corporate update.  When it comes...you'll be in for another fun blog post!


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