NationalStacy M. Brown

As Offices and Cities Reopen, Anxiety Emerges for Those Returning to Work

A self-described germaphobe, Shalina Wilfred struggles with being around others even as vaccination rates rise and COVID-19 restrictions lift.

Like many others, Wilfred, who has worked in internet technology for 15 years, remains hesitant about returning to work in an office setting.

“I had already left my job for health reasons at the same time the pandemic started,” Wilfred recollected.

“Being a germaphobe – and a homebody at heart – and having OCD tendencies, I was more than happy to stay locked in my home without having to go out. I must have used up over eight big tubs of Clorox wipes in a couple of months when we didn’t fully understand the virus,” he said.

Now that most of the country has stabilized and vaccination rates have increased toward President Joe Biden’s July 4 goal of having 70 percent of Americans vaccinated, Wilfred and others still find it jarring even to consider returning to the office.

A recent index of 10 metro areas compiled by security company Kastle Systems and published by Bloomberg revealed that about 28 percent of U.S. office workers have returned to their buildings.

The report noted that employees want options.

A survey of 1,000 U.S. adults showed that 39 percent would consider resigning if employers displayed a reluctance toward remote work.

“COVID has inevitably drowned us in this ‘introvert zone’ which hits us like a bullet as soon as we get back to work,” said marketing strategist Nelson Joseph.

“Thanks to the pandemic, we all got the chance to think about the jobs and career decisions we are making, so most of us aren’t even in the same positions or jobs anymore,” Joseph remarked.

Mike Nemeroff, the founder of the custom apparel company Rush Order Trees, said his hesitancy to return to the office lies in knowing that things will not be as they were pre-pandemic.

“There’s likely going to have to be changes put in place to ensure future problems don’t occur, at least in the short term, such as minor social distancing measures and spread-out work areas,” Nemeroff said.

“As an executive, I have a serious concern that this might put a limit on what teams can accomplish when it comes to in-person collaboration,” he said. “If there’s a greater potential for success and productivity in a remote setup, I certainly wouldn’t want to compromise that by forcing a return to the office too early.”

For Nadia Chariff, a health advisor and registered dietitian, being at home during the pandemic proved difficult. But a return to the office appears more daunting.

“Being home during COVID was hard. Managing my kids, school, work, a beat of self-care and yelling ‘get off the screen’ whenever I heard too much quiet. Still, I’m a little reluctant to go back to the office full-time,” Chariff asserted.

“It is bittersweet. My kids are getting older. Between friends, sports, school, their father’s house and extracurriculars, I barely see them on my time. COVID offered an opportunity to connect with no commute and just enjoy a few more moments in the same space, however tangential it was,” she said.

Still, some, like Natalie Sullivan, the co-founder of Cooler Air Today, demanded that everyone pull the band-aid off and return to the office.

“The pandemic has rewired our brains a bit. I wish that we could all snap back into pre-pandemic reality but clearly, there are going to be people who are resistant to going back to normal,” Sullivan said. “My advice to them is to get back out there. I am nervous about returning to work but I know that I have to go back to re-establish a semblance of normalcy in my life.”

Sullivan continued:

“I hated lockdown, and the restrictions, while necessary, were a hassle to deal with. However, if I am steadfast in my belief that we need to return to normal, I cannot let myself be ruled by fear of the pandemic and allow myself to embrace life again.”

“People need to go back to work because it will symbolically put the pandemic in the past rather than it being a constant strain on the present,” she said.

For Wilfred, the germaphobe, returning to the office may present too much of a challenge.

“Knowing there was a virus that we were fully unaware of that seeped into this country only makes me wonder if there could be more of those situations in the near future,” Wilfred said.

“Having to be in a cubicle setting where I was already wiping down everything I touched – and never touched an office door handle with my bare hands – makes me more anxious than ever” he observed.

Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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