Patricia Ward travels by Luas to work in Dublin city centre. Earlier in the pandemic she was virtually the only person on the tram. Now, with social distancing measures still in place, she says there is standing room only.
She has also noticed, "Before the summer I was the only person in the O'Brien’s buying my sandwich. Now I have to queue."
These are the little ripples of recovery in Dublin city centre, which was left devastated by the exodus of thousands of office workers when the pandemic hit.
People like Patricia are predicting a gradual return of those workers. She says the idea that there would be "a watershed moment on September 1" when office workers would flood back to work is not going to materialise.
The pandemic has been the catalyst for a once in a lifetime transformation in how, where and when we work.
Patricia added, "The idea that the entire country gets into their cars at 7.30am, sit in the same line of traffic just to say to their boss: 'Hi, I'm here’ at 9am, and do the same thing at 5.30pm makes no sense."
Somebody who is the living embodiment of how the pandemic has transformed their work life is Tanya Moore.
Like thousands of office workers, she left the office in Dublin in March 2020 when the pandemic hit. She moved home to Dingle, to work from home and be with a cocooning relative.
18 months later she continues to work in her hometown. She misses the daily personal interaction with her colleagues in the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland offices in central Dublin, but she has a new group of people to bounce ideas off in the Dingle Creativity and Innovation Hub.
The hub is one of 400 remote working hubs that are dotted across the country. Tanya believes they will shape the post-pandemic working world.
She says there’s "a very warm, friendly atmosphere" in the Dingle Hub. People discuss what they are up to and there is a good "cross fertilisation of ideas" that "stimulates creativity".
Tanya, who had to commute by tube to a previous job in London, is enjoying the quality of life in Kerry where she has a three minute cycle to the hub.
When she arrives at work by the seafront, she says that thinks to herself, "Wow, I’m so lucky to be here."
She will remain working remotely until the end of the year and expects to adopt a hybrid model –sharing time between Dingle and Dublin after that.
Thousands of remote workers all over Ireland are weighing up their options and waiting on next week’s Government guidelines on returning to work.
Tracy Keogh, is a co-founder of Grow Remote, an organisation dedicated to promoting the concept of remote working.
"Today there are 55,000 remote jobs open in any community in Ireland, pensionable decent jobs with sick pay, maternity pay, jobs we just never had access to before. So there's definitely been a total changing of the tide in terms of remote work"
She believes the next phase of the pandemic will be "messy" as many companies are still figuring out how they will change their policies around remote work.
She added, "I think the future is location agnostic employment. We're moving away from a world where remote work was freelancing and entrepreneurship into a world where it's employment. It’s the same decent job that you'd get in a city centre location."
She acknowledges that some people are going back to the office for reasons such as isolation and Zoom fatigue - too many virtual meetings and not enough human interaction.
Another reason is that if the leadership of an organisation are back in the office. Workers, who want to progress and get promotions, then feel they have to go back in too.
Ryan Roslansky, the CEO of professional networking platform LinkedIn, says the world is entering "The Great Reshuffle" – an unprecedented moment in the history of work where employers and workers are rethinking how they work.
The company’s 2,000 odd staff in Dublin having been working from home throughout the pandemic.
Sharon McCooey, the head of LinkedIn in Ireland, said that when Government guidelines permit the reopening of the office, the company will have a "three-month ramp period."
"During that period, all of our employees are going to have the opportunity to test what works for them - to check out their commute, check out how their schedule works and maybe even change their mind. And after the three months, they're going to very much solidify what their schedule looks like."
A new graduate in their first job might want to work full-time in the office as they can learn from colleagues in the "University of Work". On the other hand, staff at a different stage of the life cycle like a new dad might want to spend more time at home.
LinkedIn is building a new office campus at Wilton Place in Dublin. Sharon McCooey told Prime Time, "We are looking at what the new future of work looks like, what social distancing looks like, but actually much more around the collaboration and innovation that we might find happen when people come together in the office. So we're seeing maybe less space around desks, more outside space and other types of innovative ways people might work together."
Salesforce, another global technology company, is completing work on its new European headquarters along Dublin’s North Wall Quay.
Terri Moloney, Senior Director of Employee Success at Salesforce, says the company are now re-evaluating how the new office will look as the company moves to a more flexible work model.
Staff surveys have found that about 80% of Salesforce employees want some connection with the office so it expects a good flow of people coming in and out.
Ms Moloney says, "When people come back into the office, I think what they can expect is much more collaboration space, much more open plan areas to sit and meet with their colleagues, coffee tables, sofas, that kind of thing - so that they actually have time to collaborate and engage with their team members."
Post-lockdown, Salesforce has already reopened 50 offices around the globe and Terri says "one of the big things we've learned is that Thursday is the new Monday. Everyone wants to come into the office on Thursday and I think Ireland will be the same in that regard."
She does not believe offices will ever be the same post-pandemic, "I think Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 in the office is gone. It's now work from anywhere, in an all new digital world. "
It is not just US tech giants that are looking at how to reconfigure their offices and change their work practices. The Grow Remote organisation has been working with an alliance of large employers here to try and figure out the best way forward.
One of those companies is the ESB, which has accelerated its pre-Covid plans to adopt more flexible ways of working and hybrid working.
Sarah Claxton, Organisation Development Manager with the ESB, says the organisation is realigning offices to have less traditional desks and more collaboration spaces.
Wellbeing measures have been introduced for staff, working from home. These include having no meetings on Wednesday afternoons; encouraging people to block out lunch times and have login times in the morning and shutdown times in the evening.
While some workers are pining to get back to the office, some commuters are apprehensive about the practicalities around travel.
'Can I get a seat? Will I have adequate space around it? Can I socially distance? Will the people around me socially distance? Will they wear face masks?," said rail-commuter Mark Gleeson.
A spokesperson for the Rail Users Ireland group, he added, "The biggest challenge facing commuters is actually ticketing. We're used to having annual tickets which offer great discounts, but now if you're going in for a day or two days, the actual cost for bookings is extortionate. So we do need some form of long-term solution that enables passengers to avail of the same kind of fares they were paying previously."
He does not expect rail-commuters, who travelled longer distances from places like Longford, Mullingar, and Portlaoise to come back to the office in Dublin in large numbers.
If workers are not coming back to the office, does this mean our cities will be left with large swathes of empty offices?
Commercial Property advisor Patricia Ward says things are more nuanced and it depends what sector you look at.
She said, "The idea that somehow we will ghost buildings all over the cities is just really not correct. "We're in a transitional phase in terms of bringing people back to work."
Employers and workers across Ireland will now look to Tuesday’s Government roadmap on reopening to see if it can help clear the fog around the exact shape of that transition.