Week 14: We Are Not in Kansas Anymore

There is a scene in the film the Wizard of OZ, when Dorothy (Judy Garland) says, “Now I know we are not in Kansas anymore.” Well, that is how I felt when a small group of us went into Countway to begin the building preparation for our library restart last week. I knew the library would look different after the renovation, but it was really different.

I couldn’t just walk into the library to work. In order to enter the HMS campus, I had to take a training class (I printed my certificate just in case I needed it). I then had to get a boarding pass (Crimson Clear) issued to me upon my attestation that I was symptom-free from COVID-19 (valid for the day). Before leaving for the office, I had to find my Harvard ID (which luckily hadn’t moved in 3 months from my usual carry bag) and I had to don a mask. Ok. Now, I could leave for work.

Once I arrived on campus, I couldn’t just walk right up to Countway and enter through the Shattuck St. entrance as I had done prior to the March 17th shutdown. Instead, I had to make my way to the Armenise Building and enter near the Courtyard Café. At the entrance, there is a security table where I showed my Crimson Clear pass and my Harvard ID. Once cleared, the attendant handed me a disposable blue mask, which I would don in the office (not at the check-in station) to avoid a back-up at the check-in station. I made my way down the corridor, to the Gordon Hall tunnels and stairways using my ID to swipe through. Success! I made it into Countway LL2. Once in LL2, I found the elevator that was for employees only, not construction staff, rode to the second floor (one at a time), and finally arrived at the admin suite on the second floor.

I was immediately struck at how the physical facility had become a series of contrasts. Due to the kitchen flood last month, areas of the admin suite look like a war zone. The former kitchen is torn apart. Offices that had been renovated had now suffered water damage and were now dismantled and the new carpet removed. The new staff office furniture for those flooded offices is piled into other offices and open spaces. There are office chairs, supplies, mail, equipment, serials, books, the popcorn making machine, and more piling up in various nooks and crannies. It is a mess (to put it mildly). On the flip side, across from the admin suite, the new Russell Reading Room is taking shape. The nice new Tambour wood is up and the lights are amazing. The panels for the glass door have arrived and are waiting to be hung. The former individual reference offices have become study suites.

Before I could get settled, the construction supervisor would find me and again I would attest I was symptom-free. Instead of handing me a mask, he would take my temperature with a handheld thermometer which he ran across my forehead. 97.3. Whew! Another hurdle passed.

It was time to meet up with MJ, Len, Luciana, Meredith, and Yasmina and divvy up the assignments we had compiled to make the building ready for staff to return to work. We wanted to give each other hugs, but air hugs had to do. Luciana said she wanted to hug the building! We knew what she meant. It was great to see my colleagues in person and not on Zoom!

Now it was down to business. Find the cleaning supplies we had ordered, figure out a way to get the mail delivered, look for the WB Mason orders of hand sanitizer, wipe, bags, paper towels, gloves, set up a sorting area for the mail, hang up signs, and put directional tape on the floor, get the equipment ready for the inventory, and more; so much more. Work a four-hour shift, make a list for next time, exit the same way we came in. Deep breath. We deemed the time a success! We managed to maneuver Crimson Clear, our ID’s worked, parked in the garage, passed the temperature check, and connected with mail delivery and the cleaning crew. Small victories.

I tell you this because when we return to work at Countway we aren’t returning to the same Countway we left. The work world has changed due to the pandemic. How we work will be very different. Where we stand will be different. Where we eat will be different. Our office spaces and study spaces will be different. It’s not just one thing that is different. Everything is different. There are strict safety protocols, social distancing, face coverings, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, one at a time usage of bathrooms and kitchen space, and only one place to put your trash (or take it out of the building with you).

On top of this, because the construction was halted for nearly three months, it is now on overdrive. Rather than renovating the first floor in stages, the entire first floor is torn apart. Rather than working inside and then outside, both inside work and outside work is happening at the same time. We are definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Talk about profound change. No doubt it’s a lot and even overwhelming at times. The work world we knew (and some of you knew for many years) is turned upside down in every way. How are we going to deal with all this change at once?

We are going to take it slow. We have done our very best to create a safe environment for returning to work. However, we know we will forget something. We will be patient with each other. We will remind each other nicely—6 feet apart, please. We will forgive each other when we make a mistake (and we will). We will adjust procedures we thought would work on paper when we find out they don’t really in practice. We will communicate. We will listen. We will find new ways to work in a COVID-19 world. We will get through this working in teams, together. Everybody breathe. We got this!