When Sharat Chandra, 40, returned to his office in Bengaluru on 7 May, he was greeted by security guards with temperature guns and sanitizers at every few steps. The experience, Chandra, admits, caused a “freaking out moment". But, the anxiety about the lurking infection soon subsided, and he began to enjoy being back in the office after seven weeks of working from home.
He and his colleagues are careful about touching common surfaces and plan their visits to restrooms or cafeteria. “My seven colleagues and I have been at work for two weeks and it’s nothing like the office was before." He has cut down on paper use, and no more impromptu meetings at his desk. Even in office they use Slack or other communication tools to talk, says Chandra, a blockchain and emerging tech evangelist.
As companies open their offices with limited staff, employees say the surroundings have changed. Many mourn the loss of casual chats as social distancing is the new normal to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Rattan Chhabra, chief financial officer, IPE Global, an international development consulting group based in Delhi, is also back in the office. Only 10% of his staff is present, and Chhabra, 50, says he can see a change in the “highly interactive culture that we had across hierarchies". Conversations happen over the intercom, people use their laptops to take notes and minutes, and they are all sitting far apart.
“The physical distance does make work more mechanical. People don’t share snacks anymore or stop to chat. It feels odd, strange, isolating. I don’t know how long we will have to do this," he says. He brings his own tea to the office in a thermos to avoid going to the café.
Chandra misses his daily visit to the tender coconut vendor after lunch. “I don’t know where he has gone because of the lockdown. And, even if he was back at his usual spot, I will be hesitant to buy it."
Naveeta Sharma, 45, has been going home for lunch every day. She no longer uses the restrooms in the real estate firm in Bengaluru. Paper brochures have been converted to digital, floor plans for properties have been put up on the walls, and sales executives use a laser beam to point out the key features.
Chandra’s team has come up with an innovative way for bonding. “We customized our masks by sketching our favourite cartoon characters. I got the idea from my seven-year-old daughter," he says.