Hiccups and Hope: Returning to Campus After Months Away

Comms_team_St_Patricks

Bringing some fun (safely!) back to the office includes celebrating days like St. Patrick's Day.

April 29, 2021 - 11:15pm

By Alyson Winks, Internal Communications Advisor 

The Tuesday morning after September 2020 long weekend was a busy one. For the first time in six months, three of the four members of my family were scheduled to be somewhere by a certain time. Lunches required packing, breakfasts had to be eaten, electric bike batteries fully charged. The old familiar scene had me feeling edgy and not at all organized and/or peaceful as I finally kissed my kids goodbye, straddled the bike with my new laptop backpack and trundled down our steep driveway. I did count myself thankful it was not raining.

I pulled my bike up to the spot where I always park it on VIU’s Nanaimo campus and made for the Welcome Centre doors. I then realized my employee card was buried in my purse, which was buried in my backpack, where my face mask was also hiding. A friendly sign reminded me I wasn’t to enter without first donning it.

My glasses fogging, I fumbled my way to the door of Room 202, used the hand sanitizer and pulled hard on the locked door to my own office. Another failed move. I finally gained entry to my ultimate destination, dropping helmets and bags as I pulled my mask from my face. Feeling frazzled and jumbled, I wondered how on Earth I had performed this exact routine five days a week without fail for years. My office mates began to trickle in, some wearing big, broad, welcoming smiles, others with expressions I found more relatable. My manager streamed by my doorway, bags and coffee in hand, only to find that her office key had remained happily on its shelf in her Gabriola Island home. This would be the first of three such incidents, requiring a visit from security.

However, it was not long before my mood began to calm as I had conversations with masked but familiar faces. I soon realized just how much I had missed seeing my teammates actually in person following our six-month stint working apart. A flood of emotional relief settled over me.

This return was not a “return” in the true sense of the word. Things were clearly different. Despite being separated only by walls now that we were back on campus, we continued to attend the same meetings on Zoom. Our access and egress was controlled; the quiet caused by the lack of students and colleagues proclaimed itself loudly. I remember thinking of Frodo’s comment about never being able to really go back.

That first day, I pedaled my exhausted self home and back up my driveway with my two exhausted children on the back of my bike, and a feeling of overwhelm crept in as I contemplated doing it again the next day. My daughter had just started Grade 1 and my son was none too happy about being back at preschool. They were needier than normal and so was I.    

However, as time went on, I started to feel grateful for Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the office – a chance for a change in scenery, an opportunity to walk with my colleagues at lunch, the return of some collaborative, spontaneous conversations where problems were solved and ideas germinated.  The spectre of catching COVID-19 at work began to fade as each week passed and the safety protocols continued to keep us healthy. Even though I found myself more tired on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, on weeks when something prevented me from going into the office, I felt my mood darken and my optimism dissipate.

These were products of the isolation I experienced in my home office, even on days I was in Zoom meetings, theoretically communicating with others all day. My colleagues also reported a dramatic boost to their mental wellness. The balance struck between home and office was serving a healthy purpose.

The opportunity to run into a familiar face on campus started to increase and some relationships were re-established. Every now and then, a student could be seen entering the library or making a purchase at the Mount Benson Market. For me, this served as a strong reminder of the community we serve, now and before the pandemic. It has been a chance to reconnect to the reason I am here. I do not work with students every day, but their presence has always been important to me and being reminded that what we do impacts the futures of thousands of students each year has helped when the going has gotten tough.  

Now I am grateful for the crisp rides to campus on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, as well as the time to decompress on my way home with children in tow. We smell the sweet air and feel the wind on our cheeks, and the odd raindrop splash on our noses.

I am also grateful for Monday, Thursday and Friday when the pace is slower, I don’t have to be as organized and I can enjoy a walk around my neighborhood at lunch with my husband.  

Eight months have passed since my team returned part-time to campus. No one has become ill with COVID-19 in that time, which gives me confidence in the plans and precautions. It has also, on a personal level, helped me face living with this virus around us.

A busier campus in the fall with more familiar faces and students will be a welcome and hope-filling sight. As will the day I get a text telling me I can book my vaccination appointment.  

VIU_Spidey_Comms

A visit to the #VIUSpidey built by Facilities Services and Campus Development made for some Halloween fun.


Tags: In the Community