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Let me be perfectly clear: I’m not “excited” to go “back to the office.” As COVID vaccination rates and reemerging office life overseas embolden employers across the U.S., the reasons working from home is superior loop in front of my eyes like the Time Square stock market ticker tape. Ugh: Waking up before 9:25 to start work at 9:30? Giving up the ability to shower at the perfect time to do so (2:30pm, immediately after my “lunch break” ends)? Having regular bad posture in a chair that countless anonymous butts have sat in, instead of absolutely obliterating it in my own bed?
No, the prospect of returning to the physical workplace doesn’t entice on… almost any level. But there is one thing I miss that will make me feel downright mournful if it doesn’t return to the physical workplace at the same time I do. I’m talking, of course, about free office food. Donut Fridays. A tin of peppermint bark around the holidays. Individually packaged hummus. Loose grapes in the fridge. “Sweetgreen gave me the wrong salad, does anyone want it?” or “RED ALERT: BAGELS ON THE SECOND FLOOR” tearing through the workplace-wide Slack channel like a wildfire—a wildfire that built up a lot of communal enthusiasm. That’s the office life I could return to with grace and magnanimity.
OK, fine—Is it “safe” yet, or will it be safe anytime soon, to put out communal food that any number of people can touch at will? I’m not sure what the answer is on, say, an epidemiological level. But on a spiritual level, is it safe to work in a place where employees don’t have access to an unlimited number of KIND Bars? Absolutely not.
A free meal, announced at the right time of day, is a mood-elevator. A game changer. A boost of energy and hope, just when I thought I’d need to pretend to have a migraine and go home early. Free snacks are a Pavlovian motivator. I suspect that if I were to ever buy miniature pretzels, I’d immediately become more focused while in their presence, based off of pure, (office) animal instinct alone. Obviously, I wouldn’t do that, though—I’ve already had them, and they tasted better when they didn’t cost me a dime. And don’t even get me started on free coffee. Literally, do not get me started. I will freak out.
Sure, was free office food often a low grade bribe for a job too rigorous or fast-paced to allow employees to actually take their legally mandated one-hour break? Were espresso machines and employee ID discounts at nearby sandwich shops and “oh, cool, they bought us pizza!” afternoons a kind of smokescreen, strategically deployed to distract from a less-than-stellar benefits package or some iffy workplace dynamics? Mm, yeah, a lot of the time.
But we all know none of that will melt away, even after COVID and quarantine and social uprisings supposedly altered the workplace to make us employees more “seen” and “heard” than ever before. (Let’s be honest: substantive shifts in worker power are what actually drives improvement in a work environment.) Pending actual change, the padded drudgery of office life will be a hell of a lot less comfortable without its edible perks.
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