The Way We Work Now

My Year of Tending to Indoor Plants Left Behind in Empty Office Buildings

‘You’re working on all these plants and you’re the only person who’s appreciating it’

Mai Tran
Published in
4 min readApr 2, 2021
Photo illustration;

The Way We Work Now is a series chronicling how people’s lives and careers have fundamentally changed because of the pandemic.

Jacob Nguyen, 27, is a horticulturist for an interior landscaping company in the New York City area. He spoke with Mai Tran about tending to the indoor plants left behind in empty office buildings after employees moved to fully remote work.

I was doing plant care for about a year before the pandemic. Normally, I have a list of sites and offices I go to that are all located in one part of the city. I would check in with our contact and get started on making sure everything’s still green and lush and alive. Now we fall under the category of building workers who are providing essential services. We were shut down until the end of April, which is when we got the okay to return to work. It was such a surreal experience to go back while the rest of New York City was still confined to their homes.

“Social distancing” has been such a huge phrase floating around for the last year or so. Having the ease of working in a larger space by myself was weirdly relaxing, being able to blast music or just take my time and really give these plants the proper care they need. Before the pandemic, we had people who would stop by and ask what we’re doing, and get our two cents on their houseplants at home.

Some offices are smaller and take an hour; some have multiple floors and I’ll be there for anywhere between two to two and a half hours, ensuring these plants are being treated for any pests, wiping them down because dust does accumulate.

Keeping in mind that what we work on are considered houseplants or indoor plants, the basis of what I do is try to mimic the care they would need in their actual environment as…



Mai Tran
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writer based in new york