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Illustration by Drew Shannon

To: Home-Office Headquarters staff

Subject: Farewell Party for Angela

Mark your calendars! With my spouse returning to her out-of-home office any day now I’ve booked the kitchen for a farewell party. Come one, come all!

This celebration is about giving credit where credit is due. Since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Angela’s homeward transition some 17,880.6 hours ago, she has had an indelible impact on the HOHQ. For instance:

  • Angela’s innovative “No Afternoon pyjamas” policy has accelerated all lawn-mowing and snow-shovelling activities on and around the premises.
  • The out-of-control growth of Angela’s 17 “work plants” is substantially offsetting our greenhouse gas emissions, while at the same time turning much of the office into an actual greenhouse.
  • Amazon deliveries to the mailroom/porch, care of Angela, have fulfilled the organization’s bubble-wrap requirements for decades while boosting office squishiness by more than 82 per cent.
  • Innovative hand signals have been developed for conveying a wide range of key messages during video calls, such as “the thermostat has frozen over again,” and “Who keeps microwaving leftover fish?”
  • A headphones-hoarding initiative has reduced earbud use by more than 98 per cent, and boosted inadvertent HOHQ transparency by 72 per cent.

As has been the case with so many home-office send-offs across Canada, Angela’s will be bittersweet. On the one hand, I believe we are among the 70 per cent of working-from-home Canadians who, according to a 2021 Statistics Canada survey, reported “high satisfaction” with both the amount of time spent as a family and work-life balance. Joining Angela for lunch on our front porch, for instance, has been infinitely more enjoyable than the lonely prepandemic meals I never once consumed in the bath. Likewise, I will always treasure our afternoon strolls to nearby coffee shops, even when one of us forgot our mask and had to loiter out front, prompting countless “are you in line?” queries.

On the other hand, I look forward to recovering certain aspects of my former work-from-home routine. Cleared of binders, notepads, teacups and a thick layer of vegetation, Angela’s dining room office will revert to being my dining room office. The crawl space I have occupied these many months, meanwhile, will pivot to serve as a storage area for backyard campfire utensils and breadmaking paraphernalia.

While working outside the home dragged the Statscan satisfaction numbers down to 60 per cent among couples, they also dipped to 67 per cent when children were present in home offices. Likewise, both forms of satisfaction increased to 71 per cent among childless couples. Given that our family experienced four mass school closures, and that Ontario’s public schools were closed for some 28 weeks – longer than in any other Canadian province or territory – it is hardly surprising that the four farewell parties thrown for our two school-aged daughters consumed the entire HOHQ stockpile of streamers, balloons, fireworks and Champagne.

That said, having our offspring in the HOHQ had its advantages. For one thing, we could blame them for any unidentifiable objects left in the break room microwave. For another, their deserted pillow forts proved useful as alternatives to the crawl space. Each time the kids returned to the classroom, an imaginary co-worker was brought in to take the fall for various workplace indiscretions. Who keeps microwaving fish? Nigel! Where are my backup headphones? Nigel is hoarding them!

As Angela’s departure draws near, one task remains conspicuously incomplete: her exit interview. Family time and work-life balance are all well and good, but some aspects of toiling at home can’t be measured with a survey. The question that looms largest: How has working at home together affected our love for one another? If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then it stands to reason that constant presence could cause it to cool. This premise was surreptitiously put to the test during a recent off-site team-building exercise, and I’m delighted to report that the adults-only overnight excursion contravened most (if not all) workplace conduct policies.

At the same time, it’s reasonable to assume that Angela’s return to her prepandemic office will make both of our hearts grow fonder still. After the children returned to the classroom, there was a nostalgic resurgence of the family diversions that sustained all four of us during the height of COVID. Backyard campfire cookouts? Check. Games of “throw the hula hoop on the street light,” which have so far achieved a success rate of 0.0003 per cent? Check. Musical toilets? Rushing to the WC has never been so much fun!

Of course, the HOHQ’s fifth and (hopefully!) final farewell party will not be the last I see of Angela during work hours. Far from it! Inspired by her dressed-before-noon initiative, I plan to meet my spouse at neutral sites for lunch or coffee more often than I did before COVID. And of course, Angela will require occasional sick and personal days to rest, recover and reinforce the new policies and procedures that have revolutionized operations.

The guest list for Angela’s farewell party is filling up fast, so please RSVP ASAP. Just remember to observe the sweatpants-casual dress code, and respect the HOHQ’s new policies and procedures. As we know only too well, nothing hurts both productivity and morale like scrubbing mustard out of a bath towel.

Adam Bisby lives in Toronto.

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