No going back to the office

There is a loss of home every immigrant comes to terms with — there is no going back “home” after you’ve spent enough years in a new country. The pandemic is a similar “event horizon” — there is no going back to the office or back to a fully in-person world. We cannot expect the ailments of remote work to be solved on its own, as the pandemic recedes.

Here is what I mean:

When you immigrate, speaking from my own experience, you leave behind everything that is familiar for the unfamiliar, in the hopes of certain things being better — usually for better educational or work opportunities, but sometimes also for personal safety or simply to afford more chances to your kids. The price of this hope is nostalgia and homesickness and a loss of connection.

Sometimes, factors in this equation change and the price doesn’t seem worth paying. You move back to where you came from. You go back home. Only to find that home isn’t home.

The places you knew look different. Favorite restaurants have given way to new ones. People whose lives you were a part of have filled that gap with new friends, new hobbies, etc. The movies and songs are different, the kids speak differently — it is all uncannily foreign.

Differences that you could not see in short visits or over Whatsapp calls are now in your face 24/7. “This isn’t home”, your heart is trying to tell you but your brain cannot process that message. You are confused, angry, sad. It’s almost like immigrating all over again to yet another new place.

You find yourself longing for your adopted country where at least the homesickness was familiar.

This is obviously fiction, but not too far from reality, having seen this story play out with people I know who moved from India to the US and then tried moving back after a decade.

The pandemic is similar in that we long for the way we did things in 2019, but if we returned to them now, they would feel just as uncannily foreign.

Something like this:

Going back to the office or having in-person events is not going to solve the connection and culture problems we are all seeing at our workplaces. Not without creating new problems.

The only way out is forward. Through solutions that don’t exist yet.