It goes by many names, both dreary and upbeat: the office, the workspace, the firm, the grind. The campus, headquarters, downtown. Mostly we just call it work. Now, a moment of pandemic-era reckoning is nigh: Bit by bit, we are returning to the office. Some of us volunteered to go first, because it felt right; others had no choice — the boss said come back and they did, or soon will.

Our feelings about this are literally all over the map: Some corporations saw the light and let their employees fling themselves hither and yon, working remotely, a temporary solution that became a permanent win-win. Other, more traditional CEOs feel something’s been lost in the untethering from the mother ship, and that mutual, intellectual sparking happens best at the office.

Hollywood has been onto office ennui for decades now, producing sharp satire about the cramped closeness, horrible bosses and unwanted collegiality that so often veered toward microaggressions and worse. It looks different now; feels different, too. But will it be all that different, once your badge beeps you back in? Is revolution coming? Or just banal familiarity?

First, all the little things: Handshakes? Hugs? Wardrobe? Lunch? Will you fall into your old habits? What have we learned? Who are we now at the office?

Consider this section, featuring the work of Washington Post writers who cover culture, business, food and wellness, as a reorientation to the place we love to loathe and are loath to love.

Hank Stuever


Heads down

Productivity gurus think our ability to focus may be limited to four or five hours a day. Make the most of them by doing your work in chunks, scheduling breaks in between, determine your most creative times of day and reduce distractions. Story

Beat the traffic

The pandemic and working from home made many commutes seem unnecessary. But a return to offices means it’s time to hit the roads and rails again — and not everyone is excited. Tips

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Defining burnout

The best way to prevent burnout is to change the workplace. As new routines are being established, it’s an ideal time for bosses to check in on company culture. Plus, advice for employees on establishing boundaries and getting support. Advice

‘A little to the left’

Massaging away your own knots and stress, or those of a partner. Press on or roll your trigger points with your fingers, knuckles or a tennis or massage ball. Guide

Water cooler talk

As our social lives restart, many of us are rusty, tongue-tied, rambling or insecure — and we don’t know what to do with our hands. Story


Whether workers wind up at home, in offices or in hybrid work systems, mental health experts hope bosses’ decisions will prioritize individual well-being as much as possible. Story

Out of office

Americans are booking working “vacci-cations” before office life resumes. White-collar employees are taking working vacations while they can and hoping the trend sticks post-pandemic. Story

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Working 9 to 5

From the artist: “I wanted to show a sort of balance between the two experiences of working from home versus the office. On paper, staying at home may still look like the most charming option (meaning: snooze fest) even if we all learned there are many sneaky downsides of smart working. I have a whole second season planned, where the in-laws come to visit. The working title is ‘Looking for a co-working space in the area.’ ” — Giacomo Gambineri


Office culture

We hate the office. We love the office. Do we want to go back? After the pandemic, our culture of “Dilbert” and “Mad Men” and kvetching about bosses is coming to a head. Story

Personal space

Hugs are coming back. Not everyone is thrilled. Non-huggers enjoyed the year-long break, but now it’s open season on affectionate squeezes. Tips

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Business casual

We don’t know how to get dressed anymore. And our pants don’t fit. Story Plus, now is the perfect time to rethink your wardrobe, with an eye toward sustainability. Advice

Circling back

Who were we and what were we thinking? A return to offices frozen in time. For workers who haven’t been back in many months, a cubicle is a tiny museum to pre-pandemic life. Story

Brow raisers

Our pandemic eyebrows are driving us crazy. Can we learn to love them? Our brow appointments became dangerous, sparking a year of obsessive plucking and chronic self-consciousness. Story

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Budget cuts

Just because the world is opening back up doesn’t mean your wallet should. You’re eating out more. You want to hop on a flight to a hot vacation spot. But here are five reasons to avoid post-pandemic spending sprees. Story

Let’s revisit

Yes, the office is back. It just might never be the same. Workers are suddenly feeling happiness and angst; frustration and relief. Sometimes all at once. Story

All hands on deck

Workers in California, Illinois, Kentucky, New York and Washington, D.C., describe their first day back at work after 15 months at home. Story For some people, working at home throughout the pandemic made life significantly less stressful. Story

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Game changers

Five simple recipes when prep, cooking and cleanup seem too much. Don’t really feel like cooking? Keep it simple with these lazy recipes. Recipes

Brown bag

How to send your child to school with a tasty lunch without turning your routine upside down. Yes, you can keep them fed and happy without a lot of fuss. Tips

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Lunch, anyone?

Returning to the office? Lunch at work need not be an afterthought. Here are super-doable and delicious upgrades. Story

Outside the box

How to choose the right container for storing your leftovers. When it comes to glass or plastic, there is no one size fits all. Story

Move the needle

How to upgrade your favorite sandwich. From PB&J to egg salad, these fresh takes will make your brown-bag lunch exciting again. Recipes

Best practices

Go ahead and microwave fish, and other office lunch etiquette you should ignore. Instead of living in fear of office puritans, aim to delight them with your lunch — and make them jealous. Advice

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About this story

Patches by Pablo Declan and Dominique Marchini. Wellness, Style and Business illustrations by Cecile Gariepy. Quiz illustrations by Jordan Awan. Typography by Nina Chakrabarti. Comic by Giacomo Gambineri. Lunch photo by Laura Chase de Formigny with food styling by Marie Ostrosky. Design and development by Lizzie Hart, Suzette Moyer and Yutao Chen. Editing by Hank Stuever and Ed Thiede.