TGIEveryday: NYC city employees, nervous and excited, return to their offices after daunting pandemic absences


City employee Crystal Torres’ first day back in the office was a jumble of emotions — and a reason to cheer.

“Strange but thrilling,” said Torres, 28, after exiting the David Dinkins Municipal Building opposite City Hall for the first time since last year. “Seeing your colleagues in person after a year is strange but also joyful. It feels good.”

Spirits ran mostly high as 80,000 municipal employees returned to work for the first time this past week, a taste of the new normal after 14 months of the relentless abnormal. There were minor gripes, including the return of the daily commute and the perils of long-untouched office vending machines.

But optimism emerged as the resounding note of long-awaited employee reunions.

“COVID took a toll on everybody,” Torres explained after her first office shift as manager of customer services for the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery. “We’re glad to be back. Everybody’s just trying to maintain a positive attitude.”

Alicia Smith, 28, of Brooklyn, works in the same building and was just as excited as her city co-worker.

“We’re not at full capacity, but it feels good,” said Smith, a program manager for Nature Community Engagement. “It’s good to be back ... It wasn’t the same without colleagues. Still, once we got back the work is here waiting for us.”

Things were a little less cheery at the offices of the Citizens Complaint Review Board, where the lights were out even after employees came home.

“It was just dark and sad,” said one returning CCRB investigator. “The most uncanny moment was coming in and having it all be so unceremonious in a way. There was no welcome back to the office. It was just like we’re all there, and now I’m seeing all these people I haven’t seen in a year, and it’s just like, ‘Oh, hey, how are you?’”

One other note: The office WiFi was spotty at best.

For Hassin Bell, 31, a return to the office left him pondering about productivity. The single guy, with no wife or kids, said he got a lot more done with no distractions while working from home.


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