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Many companies want their employees back in person. So what becomes of the home office space?

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Sleeping feral kittens

Feral kittens taking a break from knocking over books and destroying window screens to look very cute.

Tajha Chappellet-Lanier here, writing from a sunny spot in my garden and fondly remembering my home office. What happened to my home office probably won’t happen to yours. You probably won’t turn your back on it one day, and start commuting to the office more often, only to find it has become home to a gaggle of feral kittens. It’s not likely to be that dramatic or that cute.

But something likely is shifting in your home office. According to an early 2022 survey by Microsoft, 50 percent of leaders say their company already does, or plans to, require full-time in-person work again starting this year. Fifty-two percent of workers, meanwhile, said they plan to stay remote or navigate some kind of hybrid arrangement, including by changing jobs if necessary. Whether you’ve gleefully returned to the office or never plan to, the fact remains that two years of pandemic adjustments introduced many more office job workers to the idea of working from home. And that had an impact on our living spaces – squeezing desks into quiet corners or turning guest bedrooms into well-organized office facsimiles. It begs the question: If and when we return to the traditional office, even under a hybrid system, what happens to those spaces? Some may be reverting to what they were before – guest bedroom, den – while others become something entirely new.

Here’s what happened to mine.

At the beginning of the pandemic, before I started working at the Weekly, I created my home office. I didn’t need it, really, but I wanted a place that was mine, where I could think and read and write. I took a little-used guest room and pushed its two twin beds to the back. I put a desk up front near the window, added a lamp and some books and a stack of sticky notes and voila. Office.

During my first six or seven months on staff at the Weekly I spent a lot of time there. Then came vaccines and declining Covid case counts and, in the summer of 2021, the first reopening of the Weekly’s offices. I created my own hybrid schedule, with some days in Seaside and some days in Big Sur – and overall much less time in my home office space.

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This happened to coincide with the arrival of a second litter of kittens by the feral cat that calls our barn area home (we call her Pink; don’t worry, she’s fixed now). Though we rarely saw the fluffballs, we carefully tracked their growth and weaning so we’d know when to trap them and take them to get fixed. When it was time, and we succeeded in getting them all (this involved an untold number of cans of tuna used as bait and some comical early-morning escapades, trying to wrangle the terrified kittens into carriers, all fodder for another story) we figured they’d need a place to live, to heal, after surgery.

The kittens didn’t reside in my office for long – feral cats want to be wild. But they left their mark: knocking over books, cuddling in cute heaps on the beds and completely destroying the window screen in an attempted escape. Since then, the room has also been used as a quiet recovery spot for a neighbor’s kitten and his infected paw. It’s becoming something of a trend.

As for me, my place to read and write and think is now sometimes Seaside, sometimes a coffee shop and sometimes the floor of my bedroom. It’s hard to know whether I should move back into my home office space – if that era is over or just paused. In the meantime, I guess, I’ll keep a place for the kittens.

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