the end of open offices, I keep missing meetings, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Is this the end of open offices?

Do you think coronavirus will be the end of open office floor plans and hot-desking?

It should be. Will it? I’m not optimistic. Employers have moved to open offices and hot-desking because it saves money, and so I’m skeptical it’ll die out entirely. But we might see fewer people per square foot.

I suspect, though, that we’ll see a lot more openness to letting people work from home — and a lot more pressure from employees to allow it.

2. Is it ethical to furlough our nanny and have her collect unemployment?

My spouse and I, both working full-time from home, employ a full-time nanny for our toddler. We miss her dearly right now! We’ve been paying her full salary and benefits for over a month now while she stays home since before our local stay at home order came through. She lives with and cares for an elderly relative, so we wanted to be extra cautious.

As long as we’re both still getting our full salaries, we can afford to keep paying her just as we would in normal times. However, as the stay at home orders extend to many months, would it be morally acceptable to look into options like furloughing her so she can apply for unemployment while staying on our payroll for her health benefits? No matter what, we’ll make sure she’s covered, but is it reasonable to look into options where the local and federal government help out? Would it hurt her credit? Is this why we pay unemployment insurance, or is it our duty in these times to not tap those resources so they’re available for others? I feel icky even writing this. I mean, working from home with a toddler is extremely challenging, but it’s nothing compared to what the front line health care workers, delivery people, grocery clerks, and other essential employees are going through right now.

If you reach a point where you can’t continue to comfortably swing her salary, it is not wrong to look into options that would allow her to collect unemployment while still having you cover her health insurance. This is indeed why you pay into unemployment insurance — so it’s there when your employee needs it. And collecting unemployment will not affect her credit in any way.

Be aware, though, that in normal times, unemployment will only pay her a percentage of what she earns with you, not her entire salary. Normally that would be a reason for putting off doing this if you can — but right now, there’s an extra $600/week from the federal government getting added on top of the regular weekly unemployment benefits. It’s possible that means she would be getting her full salary, or even more — and since it only runs through July 31, that’s potentially an argument for doing it now and bringing her back from furlough when that ends (if you can).

3. I keep missing meetings now that we’re working from home

I would like to ask if you could suggest how to gracefully apologize for missing video meetings, and if you know a good way to keep track of time when working from home with no real external markers.

My job is a mix of fairly finicky paperwork and mid-level cross-team meetings. In the office, it’s very clear when there’s a meeting because people get up to go to it or say “are you joining?” or even “shall we get a tea before the Important Numbers meeting?” I’d also usually keep the detailed document-checking for work-from-home days where I could just get on with it, but now work-from-home is quite a different proposition!

Now I’m in my living room, trying to match up spreadsheets and approval documents, and when I finally finish it’s half an hour after the meeting was supposed to start. This has happened a couple of times now. I’ve been sending an apology to the chair and my immediate colleagues and boss to apologize and acknowledge, basically “I’m sorry I missed this, I didn’t see the time. Please let me know if I have any actions,” but should I be more apologetic/less explanatory/something else?

Well … it’s more important to stop missing meetings! If it just happened once, okay, and sending an apology made sense. But if it keeps happening, continued apologies will ring hollow — instead, your boss and colleagues will rightly expect you to find a way to stop losing track of the time. Letting it happen more than once looks pretty bad; people will rightly think, “Now that she knows this is a problem, why isn’t she doing something about it?” You’ve got to take it more seriously.

The easiest solution is to set an alarm — on your phone, on your computer, whatever you’ll definitely hear. Set it for 10 minutes before each meeting, and this should solve itself.

4. Is it gauche to mention coronavirus in my cover letters?

As I’m writing cover letters, I sometimes feel tempted to mention the coronavirus. Sometimes very subtly like “your org’s work is important now more than ever and I want to be a part of that work” or sometimes jokingly like “even if I don’t meet any of my new coworkers until the fall, I’m still very excited at the prospect of joining your team.”

Is this gauche? It’s not like anyone reading it will say, “Oh man, I forgot about that until you reminded me” but would hiring managers at struggling companies find it to be in poor taste? I want to add humor to my letters and acknowledge these are hard times, but not at their expense.

It’s not gauche, just unnecessary. Neither of those proposed lines will strengthen your cover letter. There’s nothing wrong with them and if you want to include them, you can … but they’re not adding anything! I’d focus instead on making a compelling case for why you’d excel at the work.

5. How does telling us to use vacation time cut costs?

I work for a city council and our CEO has asked if people could take annual leave while we’re working from home to cut costs. My question is, how will this make a difference to the budget? I can only think that it will stop us all from immediately taking annual leave once we return to work, but since my workplace needs a certain number of people there to be open, we won’t all be able to take leave at once anyway. I’m ha ppy to take leave, but don’t want to use it all up now when I can’t go anywhere, so don’t want to do it unless it’s actually going to make a difference!

They’re getting a liability off their books, which can help when they’re requesting loans and other financial assistance.

And if you’re in a state that requires vacation to be paid out when people leave, they’re lowering that obligation as well.

{ 562 comments… read them below }

  1. CurrentlyBill*

    OP3: I’d suggest a cheap alarm clock that goes off 1-2 minutes before the meeting start time. When it goes off, you just jump right on the call. You don’t need to reserve time to walk to t he conference room so don’t give yourself time to try to get one more thing done.

    If I had my alarm for 10 minutes before the meeting I would try to wrap something up or take care of something real quick, get distracted, and not realize it for a half hour.

    1. female peter gibbons*

      It’s funny I had the exact same problem as OP3 the first week of all this shut down.

      I considered buying a white board and putting it above my computer so I could write “MEETING AT 3” in gigantic letters. They’re only $5 on Amazon!

      But, my embarrassment at missing 2 meetings in 1 week took over. I’m just so uber uber uber conscious of meetings and the time now, I never missed one again.

      That being said, I still use Alison’s advice for the really important ones and set alarms on my cellphone to ring 10 minutes before. I use that for a lot of things.

      1. SweetestCin*

        My world: all the white boards, cellphone alarms, and Outlook reminders.

        I miss everything if I leave it to my brain to remember and keep track of things. So I set an alarm 10 minutes, 5 minutes, and 2 minutes before. 10 Minutes – I try to wrap things up and make sure I have everything for the meeting. 5 minutes – verify I have everything and anything I need for the meeting. 2 minutes – get to meeting/log in to meeting. Its taken years to get my brain trained to do follow this pattern. Years!

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          I’m like you: I set Google Calendar reminders 20 minutes, 10 minutes and 5 minutes before. I used to set a single reminder, say, 15 minutes ahead of time. But I found that I am often so busy that that 15 minutes was enough time for something else to interrupt me and cause me to miss the meeting.

        2. Sam.*

          I would be lost without Outlook reminders, even in the best of circumstances. I also stagger my alerts – 10 minutes before as a heads up, and then I snooze it until 2 minutes before. If it’s a meeting that I’ll need to do any kind of prep for, I’ll also put the prep time on my calendar so I get the reminder to switch my attention over to that.

          Perhaps OP needs something a bit more aggressive than an Outlook reminder, in which case setting all appropriate alarms on their phone at the start of each day might be a better option. But losing track of time and missing meetings is really not a thing you can do repeatedly – I know I would be extremely unimpressed with a coworker who kept missing meetings because they couldn’t manage time – so OP needs to try a couple of things suggested and figure out what works for them, asap.

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            I use Outlook reminders too! I even have them set up for reports that I do every week, on the same day, due at the same time of day, and have done for years. It’s not that I forget to do the reports, it’s more that I want to make sure that time is blocked off on the calendar so I don’t accidentally get distracted with a project and end up not having enough time to send reports before the deadline.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            Yep, my motto is that if it’s not in my phone, it’s not in my life I have multiple calendars – work, personal, family/kids, and they all roll up to my phone calendar and are color-coded by source. Everything has a reminder, and the family stuff is set to email reminders in addition to popping them up because that is what works better for my spouse.

            Both of my children have ADHD and the side-effect of having no concept of time. We have to use timers/reminders/alarms to keep anyone around here on a schedule.

            1. Loubelou*

              If it’s not in my phone, it’s not in my life – this is absolutely me. It’s become a joke at work that people must ensure their meeting is in my diary and that I must put tasks in my to do list. It seems there’s nothing I can do about my chronically bad memory. I have my systems and they work!

          3. pamplemousse*

            Yeah, I have no idea how anyone who doesn’t keep a calendar manages. (My boyfriend doesn’t and does not appear to miss meetings, and it blows my mind.) Especially in our all-Zoom or conference call world — if the dial-in details aren’t in my calendar event I wouldn’t begin to know where to find them!

            Not sure about Outlook, but Google Calendar lets you set a default notification time; I do 10 minutes before and 5 minutes before, but am thinking of switching that to 15/2. I also get an email every morning with the rundown of my schedule for the day in case any of the meetings need preparation. I have ADHD and am very bad at anything involving time and this keeps me reasonably on track.

            1. Observer*

              Outlook has the same kinds of features. I would say that these are basic table stakes today – any halfway decent calendar will let you do this kind of stuff.

        3. Amethystmoon*

          If I did not have Outlook, I don’t know what I would do. I’m surprised there’s a business that doesn’t use it, as it seems to be the default e-mail system for most places I’ve worked. (I’m middle-aged and temped when I was in my 20’s before being hired on permanently in my 30’s). But yes, the one meeting I’ve ever missed was actually a Toastmasters meeting and I did not have an Outlook invite. So in lieu of that, phone/iPod reminders are good, just make sure you have it near you while you are working.

          Also if you have an Alexa, you can set alarms on Alexa. Only problem is that you can’t yet (I don’t think) have her tell you what it is for specifically, so it’s just another alarm going off.

          1. schnauzerfan*

            Yes. Alexa can tell you! Set a reminder, rather than an alarm. She can tell you to zoom to x meeting. To Webex to y meeting. She can even tell you that you need to get up and stretch and get the dog a treat. My dogs run to the kitchen when that reminder plays.

            1. LeighTX*

              This is adorable.
              “Time for the 2 pm Treat Meeting! Agenda includes:
              –How many treats are enough?
              –Bacon or beef flavored?
              –How to qualify for extra Good Boy treats.
              Attendance is mandatory.”

            1. Lexi Lynn*

              I have the Echo Show 8 and its awesome. It works as a clock with pretty constantly changing wallpaper, you can see when you have a timer set, and and you can hear the alarm if you’ve wandered off.

        4. Glitsy Gus*

          This is me, but I put them on my phone.

          Ten minutes before and two before. Outlook is fine at work, but at home I have missed a few because I was grabbing a snack or outside watering the plants, that kind of thing. My phone is louder and won’t turn off until I check it, so that is what I’m doing right now, at least for the important ones (not for the optional ones, those are still just in Outlook) during WFH.

      2. Professional Merchandiser*

        THIS!! I have to be on conference calls occasionally, and I can get so wrapped up in what I’m doing that the time gets away from me. I set an alarm on my phone for 30 minutes ahead. This gives me time to wrap up what I’m doing in the moment and walk to my car to take the call. (I do work in big stores and if I’m in the back of the store it takes me a bit to get to the parking lot.) Since this reader is not having to do that, I would set it for five minutes ahead.

      3. Feline*

        Phone alarms are the way to go. I have had this problem since upgrading to Windows 10, where notifications are more polite and less obvious, and frustrated with my own inability to see meeting notifications, I set alarms on my phone to remind me.

        1. Observer*

          The nice thing is that if you have access to your desktop calendar on your phone (easy to do with Google and Office 365, for sure, but I don’t know about others), you can set the meeting in one place, and then the alarm will go off in all of the places where the calendar shows up.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      Also – programmable alarms on a cellphone (you can set up an alarm for 2pm every weekday, for example). And if you’re on your computer, programming alerts for 10 minutes and 2 minutes before each meeting.

      1. Emelle*

        Just make sure your phone isn’t set to Do Not Disturb (no noise, no alarms, no lights). My kid had alarms set for her class meetings and forgot that she had DND set for school hours, and she never heard them and just kept doing her work…. That was a super fun email I got to coach her through to try to recoup points.

        1. OP3*

          Great suggestions, thank you. Especially the phone alarm not being DND. I’ve been keeping it on silent, in my bedroom, to minimise distractions, but I may have to reconsider this.

          @FPG – how are you conscious of the time? Is it just… there? Do you have any structures that you’ve put in to make time real? I think we’ll be WfH for a good few months and really want to get on top of this, it’s just not something I’m really set up for. I’m having to get out of the “being at home means sinking into the task and emerging when its done” to “office mode, with added sofa” and haven’t quite got there…

          1. MayLou*

            I think the only way to become conscious of the time if you aren’t naturally someone who keeps track of it is to keep having the time intrude on your attention. So that’s timers and alerts for specific things, but also maybe clocks in your line of vision, or things that you don’t need to remember to set which make a noise or in some way grab your attention at certain times.

            I use Complice which has pomodoros running constantly and that way I get a little Ding! after 25 minutes for a 5 minute break. I always know that it’s five minutes to the hour or half hour, and there’s another ding when the break is over. Plus I can track how long I spend on different tasks.

          2. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

            “Do you have any structures that you’ve put in to make time real?”

            I have this really nifty tool called a clock.

            1. Harper the Other One*

              I think that’s a bit unkind. Most people have had the experience of losing track of the time – I’ve had it happen on my computer with the clock visible on the taskbar. If you’re the sort of person that gets deeply absorbed in a task, just having a clock is not the structure you need.

              I second the alarms – I set alarms on my phone for just about anything, from appointments to phone calls to reminders of something I absolutely need to get from the grocery store. I haven’t used Pomodoro before but I’ve been thinking I should give it a try!

              1. Queer Earthling*

                There are also some conditions that can cause “time blindness,” like ADHD, that can make this chronic. It’s difficult to look at a clock when you aren’t fully aware of the passage of time.

                1. NotAnotherManager!*

                  We deal with this a lot in our house – both of my kids and, we suspect, my spouse have ADHD. The lack of an internal clock is one of the first things both kids’ diagnostics flagged for us to start building a backup system to what they are lacking internally. It’s not the time blindness that is a problem, it’s the lack of a workaround – once one recognizes they’ve got this problem, they’ve got to have a system to compensate for it.

                  My memory is absolutely shot, so I use calendar reminders (even for stuff like “put roast in slow cooker” at 7 a.m. or “register kid for camp”) and leave eye-level post-it notes for myself (“take X to office”) or put letters to be posted between the doorframe and the door by the knob so I can’t miss them. My spouse find interesting short-hand stuck to the bathroom mirror sometimes, much to his amusement, but it’s how I prompt myself to get shit done. It’s just a matter of finding a system that works.

                  I think the thing with OP3’s letter is that they just sound a bit like this is a common and confounding problem, and it’s really not. It’s a common thing that people in offices are just kind of expected to do (and to know themselves well enough to know how to manage their own specific needs).

            2. TootsNYC*

              I agree, I think that’s a bit unkind.
              Clocks are passive; you have to look at them.

              This question is more about routines (which are also tools) or more proactive/intrusive mechanisms.

              I have a health routine that takes 5 minutes, and I’ve gotten pretty good at sensing when it should be over; and when I made cookies a lot, I was good at knowing when 11:30 minutes was nearly up.

              But that’s repetition.

          3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            I’m not trying to be mean, but I’m genuinely confused on why you can’t keep track of your meetings. Are you not using a computer? Do you not use Outlook (or something similar)? All of my meetings pop up a reminder so I’m aware that a meeting is coming. I’ve always had traditional office jobs so maybe what you do is totally different and scheduled meetings and reminders aren’t the norm?

            1. Ann O'Nemity*

              For me, I’m having trouble keeping track of meetings for several reasons.

              My day feels a lot more monotonous now. I’m plugged into my computer, in the same spot, alone, day after day. It blurs together.

              I have way more meetings now. It seems like every team and every project has more recurring meetings. And there’s a bunch of formal checkins to replace the impromptu conversations that happened organically in the office. With so many meetings, each feels a little less important. Today, for example, I’ve been invited to 9 meetings, several of which overlap. Non-meeting time is a mad race to try to get actual work done.

              I have notifications set to remind me to log into meetings, but I often miss them. I get a ton of notifications on my computer, none of which forcibly distract me, and the meeting ones can get lost. The thought of setting extra alarms (anything outside of auto-generated calendar notifications) isn’t feasible for the number of meetings I’m in, and how often the meetings are rescheduled.

              In summary, I’m losing control of my schedule.

              1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

                If you are getting a ton of notifications that you don’t pay attention to, consider muting notifications on everything except the ones you actually need.

                1. Ann O'Nemity*

                  That’s a good idea. The main culprit is Slack, but there’s an organizational expectation that we’re accessible and responsive to Slack message. I haven’t yet found a good way to filter Slack notifications in a useful way. I’m in a lot of groups, so I get tons of @channel notifications that aren’t super important. If anyone has tips on Slack settings to help with this, let me know.

                2. Kes*

                  @Ann if the channel is not providing useful notifications, you can always just mute it and go in to check when you have time, to limit notifications to the more relevant channels

                3. Ann O'Nemity*

                  Kes and Buddy, thank you! This should help cut down on the number of slack notifications!

              2. SomebodyElse*

                Maybe it’s time to reevaluate the amount of notifications that you have active. Think of it this way, it’s different now, so your organization methods might have to change.

                The first thing I do every morning is check my calendar to get a feel for what I’ll be doing.
                Then I spend about 2 minutes doing a rough plan for the day…
                -Staff meeting
                -Prep for budget meeting
                -budget meeting
                -Sort paperclips
                -Grab lunch real quick
                -Finish TPS reports
                -Roll up meeting on Project Manhatten

                This sort of gives me my game plan and sets my loose expectation for how my day is going to go.

                I only have 1 thing set to alert on my computer and that is my meeting notifications.
                I never dismiss a reminder, I snooze it. That allows me a second chance to get it right.
                The last bit of advice is to find a meeting buddy… ask them to ping you if you haven’t joined a meeting in the first 2-3 min. Only do this if you more or less have control and you’re just using as a back up to your backups.

              3. MusicWithRocksIn*

                It’s funny. I am always super aware of the time of day – but if you ask me what day of the week it is? No idea whatsoever. That’s what’s blurring together for me. I’m in the same place on the weekends as when I’m working and almost never get to go outside, so my mind just has no idea where we are in the week unless I check my phone.

              4. Observer*

                As others noted, change your notification settings.

                1. Turn off notifications you don’t need
                2. Wherever possible, set different tones for different notifications.

                These two things make a HUGE difference.

            2. Archaeopteryx*

              Even just a post it note on your desk for each meeting that you remove once you’ve attended the meeting would help. If I was a coworker, I definitely would find it odd for this to happen to someone more than once.

            3. Mediamaven*

              I don’t think its that they can’t keep track of their meetings, it’s just they are getting distracted and not having the social cues of others in the office heading in for the meeting etc…. My whole office is having the same issue.

              1. fhqwhgads*

                I’d argue that relying on the social cue of others in the office heading for the meeting is indicative of not keeping track of one’s meetings. If you only remember to go because you see everyone else getting up to go, those other people are keeping track of the meeting, and you’re just keeping track of movement in the room. I’m not saying this to be critical, but it might be a useful reframing for OP to really think about. The task at hand is to keep track of one’s own meetings.

            4. TootsNYC*

              if you’re not at your computer, you may miss the pop-up. And some pop-ups fade pretty quickly.

          4. Rusty Shackelford*

            Great suggestions, thank you. Especially the phone alarm not being DND. I’ve been keeping it on silent, in my bedroom, to minimise distractions, but I may have to reconsider this.

            On an iPhone, being muted is not the same thing as being DND. As in, if you go to a meeting and mute your phone, thinking the alarm will silently buzz in your pocket, you are wrong. Guess how I learned this.

            1. Mary*

              I am 100% baffled by how the various sound settings work on iPhones. The combination of mute, DND, at least 2 different categories of sound (ringer volume is a different volume from playing videos volume! but some videos/games work on ringer volume!) — I have had an iPhone for getting on five years and I absolutely never know when it’s going to make a noise when it shouldn’t and when it’s not going to make a noise when it should.

              1. Generic Name*

                Mute means the alerts happen, just silently. DND means no alerts come through at all. To make things more complicated, you can tweak the settings to let certain contacts come through at all times, regardless of the setting.

            2. The Rural Juror*

              I made the mistake one day of setting my phone to airplane mode when I went into a meeting where I was presenting, but forgetting to turn off the wifi! With an iphone, messages and phone calls from other iphones still come through on wifi…and of course I would have someone trying to contact me right then. We all had a laugh about it, but it took me a few minutes afterward to figure out what the heck went wrong.

              Our company pays us to use our phones and everyone just kind of agreed to us Apple products, even though no one told us we had to. Our conference room has an Apple TV and we actually use it a lot because someone wanting to exhibit something can mirror the TV to their phone and cast an image or document there pretty quickly. It’s very handy! But it means everyone has their phone out sitting on the conference table, so silent phones that vibrate can still be very distracting. That’s why I started using Airplane mode and then turning off the wifi, but turning the wifi back on to quickly access something I want to present. That’s worked pretty well now that I dialed it in…and figured out to remember to turn the wifi off in the first place. It’s habit now!

          5. Dust Bunny*

            You turn your phone back on and set alarms. You’re just going to have to retrain yourself to be interrupted for things (meetings, etc.). You might be physically at home but you’re functionally at work.

            I’m WFH and have pretty much kept the same hours I’d keep if I were at work, so there’s that–I’m not letting myself sink into tasks at off hours (I can’t, anyway; I’m hourly. No, they wouldn’t know if I were working off the clock but my workplace is very clear that we are never to do that).

          6. Autumn*

            I have a 20-minute timer set up on my phone, and through the day every time it goes off I hit repeat, and take a moment to emerge from whatever I’ve been working on, recenter, maybe stand up and walk around. Otherwise, hours can go by without my noticing. I’m used to working in an environment where I get interrupted constantly, and during the first few weeks at home I was zoning out on my spreadsheets or other extremely detail-oriented tasks so completely that I was stiff and very unhappy by the end of the day! I also have to have Outlook reminders for meetings, I missed one early in the WFH and felt terrible. Luckily it was a large, general one that had been recorded, so I could at least see what was discussed.

            1. TootsNYC*

              I think if I set a timer for 20 minutes repeatedly throughout the day, I would pretty soon start to “feel” those 20 minutes. I have a health routine that I do for two 5-minute sessions twice a day, and I can tell when the end of 5 minutes is coming up.

              Your tactic would probably help someone who isn’t used to charting out time.

          7. Person from the Resume*

            How about a clock or watch that beeps once on the hour? In the days when people wore watches, I would set my watch to beep on the hour and it is a brief signal that it’s not the top of the hour.

            I also have clocks in all my rooms. My DVR doesn’t have the time on it like the old used to so I put an old digital alarm clock with big numbers next to it in the living room. I have another digital clock right next to my computer screen. It’s just easier to glance at the big numbers than the smaller numbers in the corner of my screen which is visible when I’m logged in.

          8. Anne*

            If you don’t want the distraction of your phone near you do you have an Alexa or google home device? I have various alarms that go off letting my kids know when school starts for them and lunch time, end of the ‘school day’.

          9. Archaeopteryx*

            Adding a Clock, big or small, to your home decor will probably saw this right away. I always think it’s weird when people have no clocks in their house! There’s such a world of variety in styles and sizes to choose from.

            1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

              That sort of depends on being where the clock is, and thinking to look at it. Clocks in the places people normally put clocks that aren’t intended mainly as decoration may not work for this.

              There are two clocks in my home, plus two built into the stove and the microwave. The two clocks are alarm clocks, in the bedroom, and I’m not likely to look at them in passing. Even if I go into the bedroom while I’m working on something else, it’s usually for a specific reason, The clocks are angled so we can see them while lying in bed, not so I’ll notice the glowing red “11:14” if I go in there to get a sweater.

              With the stove and the microwave, it’s mostly habit: I’ll notice the time if I’m already in there making tea, but I’m unlikely to go in there to check the time. I mostly check the time by looking at my computer or cell phone–and anyone that works for isn’t going to need a separate clock.

            2. I Have a Clock In My Pocket*

              My microwave, stove, and phone all have clocks on them. I don’t need to put anything on the wall, too. Although, I’m in a tiny apartment, so maybe I’d feel differently in a larger home.

              1. Bee*

                I’m also in a small apartment, but my microwave + stove are in the kitchen, and my phone is often in the bedroom (charging, or in my purse), which means I very frequently find myself looking at the walls of my living room and saying, “I need to buy a clock.” I am one of those weirdos who still wears watches, though.

          10. WantonSeedStitch*

            One thing that might help make time more “real” to you is also something that might be beneficial to your health. It’s really important to get up and move your body a little bit every once in a while throughout the day. Taking a break to stretch, walk around the house, do a few jumping jacks, or whatever every hour will be kind to your body and also will help you to keep track of time’s passage a bit better, because it will require you to come out of whatever you’re working on and shift your focus. If you do a Google search for “stretch reminders,” you’ll see there are multiple apps available for multiple platforms, that will prod you to do this.

          11. Super Anon*

            If you have a tough time keeping track of time, I would encourage you to plan out your week each Monday morning, and then again day at the start of the day. During the daily plan review what meetings you have when I and if necessary double check that your google calendar/outlook calendar is current and the reminder is on. Then set alarms as needed if it’s a major issue.

            At least for me, I find it much easier to keep track of the meetings that I have during any given day if I create a plan for myself each week and each day (I also find it helpful to keep me on track for various tasks and items I must complete). So for example, there are some days I can easily have 3-5 conference calls that are each at least an hour each. On those days I don’t plan to do work that benefits from having an extended period of uninterrupted time. I try and save that work for the days when perhaps I only have 1-2 conference calls, and I know I can carve out a significant chunk of time.

            I do think when working from home, it’s particularly critical to be very organized and strategic about how you will plan you day. Especially as these days there are more meetings, and I do think it can be more challenging to stay on track.

          12. M. Albertine*

            How are you about background noise? If it’s not too distracting, I have NPR on quiet in the background. I’m not always paying attention to it, but I can tell by the hosts’ voices what program it is, and thus what time of day it is. Also, the various show’s theme songs mark the hours: On Point is on at 9, Talk of Iowa at 10, Fresh Air at 11. It helps me keep track of time in the back of my mind.

            This won’t work, of course, if talk radio is too distracting, but you might be able to recreate similar audio cues with music/playlists.

            1. irene*

              NPR is a good background noise! I used to use it when I was doing art classes in school, to remind myself to stretch and move around a bit when the program changed, because otherwise I would sit hunched on my stool forever. My painting teacher actually taught me the trick. :) (Back when Talk of the Nation was airing, it was an hour into our 3-hour daily summer workshop and the whole class got really into listening every day… we loved Science Friday!)

              I find that with music or other regular noise, I’m more likely to lose time, so I like to keep things mostly quiet unless I want to go into a deep focus. But NPR is such a great compromise for background noise when it’s too quiet, and a very set schedule to indicate time passing. No multiple plays of the top hit song during the day! (though if you’re up early enough, Morning Edition repeats the stories two or three times, I found when on a road trip a few years ago)

          13. irene*

            I struggle a lot with awareness of time. Like a LOT. I can’t estimate how long things take to do, or how long i’ve been working on a project. How long does it take to drive somewhere? no idea!

            Working from home where I live alone and don’t have routines with others is a struggle – even if i’m just reading a book on the couch, sewing in my spare room, not even trying to do actual work!

            To compensate, I have Many Clocks. Like, so many. (I make sure to get the silent kind or the ticking drives me up a wall!) And calendars! Every room in my apartment has at least one of each, except the bathrooms (this is an unfortunate oversight which i am working on, but currently i can see my bedroom clock while at the sink, so it’s good enough for now). I use the analogue kind because the physical movement of the hands is more meaningful to my brain than numbers that stay in the same place. I also have an old phone that i keep charged pretty much specifically to use as extra alarms/clock so that i can keep my “real” phone on silent/DND. The old phone doesn’t have a SIM or anything else that can trigger a notification – just the clock and google calendar. My desk/workspace has a clock that sits right next to my laptop on the left, so that it’s always visible out of the corner of my eye and balances the taskbar clock on the right of the screen.

            I find that it also helps to angle myself to see out the windows just a bit, so that as the light changes from the sun, or as the people in my apt complex move around, i have an external input of time passing.

            Also, I make sure that I copy anything important to both my work calendar (Outlook) and my personal calendar (google). And I write it on my paper calendar visible from my workdesk.

            It’s probably overkill to a lot of folks, but this is what I need if I’m going to have any sense of time. I still get caught up in tasks and forget to switch to my meeting – even when I have it ready and open, but i can catch up within a minute or two instead of forgetting entirely or being extremely late.

          14. Sylvan*

            I don’t know what you mean by making time real or being set up for it, but timers, reminders, and checking the time on my laptop or phone once in a while works. For video meetings, I have Alexa remind me 10-15 minutes in advance to get ready and move to a “meeting area” (kitchen island).

            You could also ask your coworkers what they’re doing to log in on time.

            1. Sylvan*

              I also use the Sticky Notes app daily and write notes about important things like meetings.

          15. revueller*

            Something I discovered in college is that on Apple computers (and possibly other ones), you can set it to announce the time at different internals (every hour, 30 minutes, 15 minutes). It may not be helpful if your computer announces that it’s 11:15am and you have no memory of a meeting at 11:15am, but it may help make time more real in other parts of your life. (Of course, you have to make sure your computer’s volume is not muted.)

            Also, if you can, ask your coworkers for advice! You may get techniques and ideas that are more personalized to your particular industry/business/workflow.

            These are just some suggestions to supplement the timers, timers, and more timers advice you’re getting. (Because, like everyone else, I do unfortunately recommend timers!)

          16. Budgie Buddy*

            Some people don’t have to do anything special. I think everyone loses track of time eventually without external markers, but I have a sense of how much time is passing even without a clock. For example, I can decide to lie down for 40 minutes, lie down, and then after a bit think “hmm that must have been about the right length of time,” and then check the clock and it will be one minute before the alarm goes off.

            1. ellex42*

              I’m impressed! I have a kitchen timer that I use in the bathroom because I can take a shower, think I’ve been in there for 10-15 minutes, and get out only to find it’s been 30+ minutes!

          17. pamplemousse*

            I’m horribly time-blind (ADHD in my case, which means I’m either very distractable or hyperfocused, and even when medicated I have a lifetime of bad habits that are hard to overcome) and here are a few things I do:

            Clocks within eyesight at all times. I read somewhere that analog clocks are better for time-blind people because they help you visualize how much of the hour has passed. I have 3 of a travel alarm clock called Peakeep that’s like $10 on Amazon. In the olden days, I kept one on my desk at work (yes, even though there’s a clock on my computer). I’ve been known to carry them into the bathroom with me if I’m getting ready on a schedule.

            Wear a watch and get in the habit of checking it.

            Google Calendar (or whatever your organization uses) for EVERYTHING, with 2 alerts — one 10-15 minutes before to remind me what my next meeting is, one 2-5 minutes before so that I can actually switch gears.

            Timers. I have no sense of how long tasks take, even tasks I do literally every day. (How long is my morning routine? How long is my commute? I could probably tell you within a 10 minute window, but that often translates into me being 10 minutes late.) I’ll also sometimes convince myself to do something by setting a timer for 5 minutes to see how much I get done.

            Frankly, being aware of this is half the battle. Once you know you lose track of time passing / are bad at estimating how long a task will take you / whatever other form your time blindness takes, you can start trying different ways to fix it and become aware of what works for you. I am still not great at time awareness, but I’ve probably gone from the bottom decile to the third or fourth, and that’s a big improvement.

          18. J!*

            OP3 Is your kitchen near your living room? I ask because my kitchen is small and opens to the living room, and if I don’t have my phone handy I’ll often set my oven timer to remind me of the time. So if you’re about to sit down to work on something and know you have a meeting 3 hours from now but don’t want your phone around, you can set your oven timer to go off 2 hours and 55 minutes from now to remind you if you don’t already have calendar notifications on your computer and have do not disturb set on your phone.

          19. Properlike*

            OP3, I want to thank you for today’s reminder that we don’t all experience the world the same way.

            I have a built-in sense of time and elapsed time. Can’t shake it. And though I can get into hyperfocus, its’ really really hard for me to be there. I’m actually a bit envious that you seem to have the opposite problem. At least there’s an easy solution for yours! ;)

          20. sara*

            I’d also suggest adjusting the lead time on any alarms to be the actual time you need to transition from your work to the meeting. I had this problem in the office, also, when the default 10 minute alarm (in google calendar, anyways, that’s the default) would go off. I’d think, oh, I can keep working for a few minutes. And then a few turns into 20 or 30 or…

            So I now always adjust the reminder. So for huddle that’s across the hall, it was 1 minute, for other meetings where I’d want a coffee or farther away, it’s 5 min. Now at home it’s always 2 minutes – 1 to refill my water and 1 to make sure my background isn’t a total disaster!

          21. Filosofickle*

            I easily lose track for time and over-focus for extended periods. In my most busy phases, I’ve used a special reminder/alarm app on my phone. During the work day, I get a chime at 5 minutes before every hour, which pulls me out of whatever my brain is stuck in and gives me 5 minutes to take a quick break and get back on track if I’m in the weeds. I chose 5 minutes to the hour so that I wouldn’t miss any events that start on the hour. I also have a 2p sound (a different one) that tells me to get up and stretch. It was not easy to find an alarm that could do all these specialized things — ex. different schedules for different days of the week, repeating at a specific time and not an interval, different sounds for different alerts — but it made a huge difference in staying on track and be more aware of time.

          22. Qwerty*

            Large digital clocks are super helpful. Look for the kind intended for the elderly, where the time is in big numbers ( it also gives you the date and day of the week )

            When the time is all over, your brain starts picking up that info whenever you are looking at something else in the room, so you don’t have to consciously be checking the time. The job I worked that had a digital clock over half the rows of desks had great attendance metrics – my current job with no clocks does not. We got my grandparents some of those giant clocks and everyone is Very Aware of the time whenever we are in that house.

            Also second the suggestion to set alarms for meetings. As you get better at being on time, you can scale it back to the more important ones.

          23. Dove*

            Depending on the phone, you can set it so that certain things (alarms, for example) will override the DND mode. I set mine so that alarms and specific callers will override and go through, but alerts from phone apps will not override.

            It’s worth checking to see if that’s an option your phone allows.

          1. CL Cox*

            Alarms do, but notifications don’t. So if you’ve set a reminder up for calendar items, it won’t ring through a DND.

        2. NerdyKris*

          That’s why I’m an old man that still uses an alarm clock. I don’t trust my phone not to be on silent. I used to get so many calls from employees saying their battery died or their phone was on silent and I’d sing the praises of alarm clocks with a backup battery in them.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, my calendar alarms actually default to 10 minutes before and one minute before. I like the 10-minute alert so I’m not totally blindsided, but then the one-minute alert is helpful in case I lost track of time in that 10 minutes.

      1. Filosofickle*

        Yes, and if the defaults aren’t perfect they are easy to customize. You can choose not only specific times (30/10/1 minute) but also methods (email, phone pop-up, desktop pop-up). Figuring out what works for me was really important. I don’t have a busy schedule, but still depend heavily on digital calendars & reminders! It alleviates a lot of anxiety for me since I tend to over-focus.

        1. OP3*

          I did not realise you could customise the alerts! (I feel like Edith and Archie from yesterdays letter). Would you mind saying a bit more what works for you? I suspect I don’t want so many reminders that I just tune them out, but I definitely need something more than my current set up!

          1. anonymous 5*

            I currently have roughly a dozen alarms programmed into my phone; and I set additional ones as needed. In my phone, I differentiate the type of alarm by ring tone: the one to get me out of bed is a pretty standard-issue beep. The ones to tell me to step away from the screen or to turn everything off and start getting ready for bed are a gentle chime tone. The ones to alert me to prep for a class period or a meeting are a tone somewhere in the middle of jarring and soothing.

            The key for me is that I have to turn them off; and that they’re on my phone, rather than my computer, so I have to break what I’m doing and reset. (I also have been known to set a kitchen timer, which turns itself off, if I want a notification that doesn’t automatically force me to stop what I’m doing.)

          2. snowglobe*

            My office calendar is Outlook, which includes a reminder feature. I automatically set it to 3 minutes – any more than that and I would keep working and forget. When the alarm goes off, I save and close what I’m working on, and sign into the meeting. The only problem I’ve had is if the sound on my computer isn’t loud enough for me to notice. Don’t turn off the sound!

          3. boo bot*

            Don’t put your phone/alarm device next to you, put it somewhere you have to physically get up and get to it, preferably near the thing it’s alerting you to do. I realize that might be hard in an office situation, though. For meeting calls, I set the alarm at ten minutes before and one minute before, and start getting situated at that one minute before (so there’s no more time to lapse into something else, because yes I can lose track of time inside a minute).

            I used to have a kitchen timer, and when it broke and I started using my phone, I would silence the alarm, *thinking* I was about to get up and deal with whatever was on the stove… but once the alarm stopped making noise, the task it was alerting me to completely disappeared from my head, until it started burning. I’ve gotten better at this by switching to the next thing as soon as I silence the alarm (standing up, or opening a new document, or whatever) but it’s still hard. Time isn’t always the same thing.

            1. Laura H.*

              Seconded but as these are reminders for meetings rather than food, factoring in where you put the device is probably a good idea… kitchen so you can grab a quick glass of water before the meeting. Or factor in how long it’ll take you to get to where you can shut the alarm off.

              1. boo bot*

                Yeah, exactly. The main thing to me is using the alarm to immediately pivot to the next task, whether that’s by physically moving somewhere else, or by dialing into the meeting, or whatever.

                I think another way to say this might be, set an alarm to go off exactly when you need to switch tasks, not five or ten or two minutes before, because those two minutes are still plenty of time to get lost in, if you’re someone to whom time has no meaning.

          4. The Cosmic Avenger*

            My default reminder is 15 minutes before, just to remind me that I’ll need to stop soon so I can make sure I’m at a good stopping point by then. My biggest rule is that I NEVER dismiss a reminder until it’s taken care of, I only snooze. So when I needed to go to a meeting on a different floor, I’d snooze it until 5 minutes before. Now, for calls and virtual meetings, I snooze them until the start time.

            1. Two Dog Night*

              I’ve been WFH for 12 years, and I do the same thing–I get a reminder 15 minutes before a meeting, which I always snooze, but I like having the heads up that something is coming. Another reminder comes up at 5 minutes, at which point I start switching gears, and I don’t dismiss that one until I’m in the meeting room.

              (My company is really good at starting meetings right on time, so I usually join 2-3 minutes before the start. If that weren’t the case I’d probably push the second pop-up a bit later.)

              1. Person from the Resume*

                Yes! You can join virtual meetings a few minutes early, return to other work, and and when the meeting organizer starts the meeting you’ll hear it and know it’s time to give your attention to the meeting.

                1. SongbirdT*

                  I do this allll the time.

                  Monday and Friday are my “Swiss cheese” days – lots of meetings with small holes on my calendar here and there. I normally save focused work for days when I can block time on my calendar to dedicate to that task, but if I have to do a task with a heavy cognitive cost on Swiss cheese days, I join meetings early and work while I wait for other people to show up so I don’t get lost in my brain.

                  I also surround myself with clocks everywhere I look so time is always in my line of sight. Appointment reminders are good, but they’re not fool proof.

                  All tactics I’ve developed over ~5 years working from home.

                2. revueller*

                  I just discovered this was a thing after I was late to my own one-on-one quarterly feedback. I make sure to do this every time now.

                3. TootsNYC*

                  seconded (or thirded, or whatever)

                  As soon as you get the reminder, log in. Even if you work in other windows. Then you’ll hear people arrive.

                  Back in the in-office days, I used to get up and go sit in the meeting room when my alarm went off. My boss mentioned it, but she’d also mentioned that I didn’t want to be the person with the reputation of having to be called to meetings. So I pointed that out.
                  I’d often bring some level of work with me; there was organizing, or planning, or sometimes proofreading that I could bring along and do until everyone got there.

                4. TootsNYC*

                  for that matter–can you join them hours early?
                  I don’t know how Zoom works; there’s a “join before the host” setting, but you can also join and get a “waiting for the host” message.

                  Maybe you check your schedule every morning, and you join every meeting then. And when people start arriving, that window will start making noise.
                  That may be dependent on the settings for the meeting.

          5. Just Here for the Free Lunch*

            My Outlook defaults to 10 min, and then I snooze until the meeting start time. I don’t like 15 minutes – it’s too much of a warning for me. But YMMV!

          6. Filosofickle*

            For me the biggest things is where the alerts show up. I’m on my laptop all the time, so the very best place for me to be reached is there, with backup on my phone. It has to be a takeover pop-up, meaning it physically disrupts anything I’m working on to give me that notification. I don’t like email reminders, though, even though I have email up all the time and generally prefer it. My calendar and email are up 100% of the time.

            I see lots of good suggestions about timing of alerts. For that you have to pay attention to your personal preferences: Do you get sucked back into tasks and forget after you turned off the alert? Then you need just-before alerts or multiples. Do you need time to gather your thoughts and prepare? Then you need more like 10 minute out alerts. Keep an eye on it and adjust over time based on what actually works.

            Definitely turn off anything you don’t need. Too many alerts is not good. I think I saw you mention Slack elsewhere — yeah, turn off anything optional. I don’t let Slack pop up ANY of those upper-right-screen notifications because they were so annoying and were training me to tune them out. But I do keep the app running and scan the dock routinely for the red activity dot. Customize here too. I generally only allow the red dot for time-critical channels and then get emails for things that @me. Otherwise it’s off and I check the whole panel maybe twice a day.

            Good luck!

      2. Person from the Resume*

        Some people’s meeting invite default to 15 minute reminder and that is not useful to me at all. All meeting are online; I do not need to 15 minutes to wrap up and walk somewhere. I see it continue what I am doing and miss the start of the meeting if I didn’t reset it for right before the meeting. Use either the 5 minute or 0 minute reminder (MS Outlook doesn’t have a 1 minute) and when it goes off join the meeting right away. If you do join early and first, you can go back to doing other work because you’ll hear when the meeting actually gets started.

        I’m going to be honest, though, OP3. Your question about how to avoid missing meetings is completely baffling to me. Set an additional alarm on your phone or other loud device if the calendar reminder on your computer doesn’t work for you! This is a very basic office skill. I’m not saying this to be mean. but your question about how I can apologize when this keeps happening completely misses the point that it can’t keep happening. You need to figure out how to prevent it and since the solution is so simple and obvious if you don’t your career could be impacted.

        This is such a basic professional skill that I’d start to think that someone who completely misses or shows up half an hour late to meetings regularly while working from home if goofing off, sleeping, not actually in the house working.

        People are very often a little late to meetings in my Org. If they are a critical person and we wait for them they apologize with the valid excuse that the last meeting ran over or they were trying finish up an email. If they are needed and we’re wondering where they are someone IMs them and almost always gets a response because they are working at their computer. Anyone missing meeting entirely or being so late really would make people think that they were not working or having internet/VPN issues. But if it happens regularly, I think we’d think they were goofing off.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          I think the OP is getting some good advice on reminders and alarms etc that hopefully she’ll be able to continue putting into practice even when she’s back in the office. It sounds like she just… doesn’t have a very strong sense of the passage of time? and has been sort of relying on her colleagues to be talking calendar reminders? I think it would be helpful for OP to develop enough awareness of time passing that they don’t have to rely on that, or at least buy a really good alarm clock.

          Also, maybe this is just me but the lines she quotes from her coworkers kind of sound like they translate to “I know that you have forgotten about this meeting so this is your two-minute warning”, like, “hey do you want to get coffee? Coffee for the MEETING, YOU KNOW, the MEETING, that STARTS SOON?” Maybe not, or maybe they coworkers are totally fine with that, but it could be that this is a Thing that OP is known for.

        2. juliebulie*

          “MS Outlook doesn’t have a 1 minute”
          You can actually type a number in the box. I set a default of 3 minutes for all of my incoming meeting invites.

        3. allathian*

          I’m wondering if the OP has other issues with keeping track of time besides just meetings… When I get enough sleep, I usually wake up about 10 minutes before my wake-up light alarm starts its 30-minute sequence of growing brighter. There are few things I dislike more than being woken up by the sound of an alarm clock… Even if I’m tired, I usually wake up at some point during the brightening sequence. If I don’t wake up until the alarm goes off I’ve either had a really bad night or I’m sick.
          There are some neurological disorders such as ADHD that involve profound time-blindness. But even then, most people develop workarounds to deal with them. Relying on others to ensure that you make it to a meeting on time is unprofessional.

    4. Competent Commenter*

      In addition to setting phone alarms for each meeting, you might consider setting an alarm for the beginning of the day to remind you to review your schedule so you’re not blindsided by meetings.

      1. allathian*

        Agreed. And put every meeting on your calendar. We use Outlook and Skype for business, and it’s really easy to send a Skype invite from the calendar. When you accept the invite, you also get a notification (I have it set 15 and 5 minutes before the meeting and when the meeting starts).

        1. OP3*

          This is a good idea… and one I already do. It’s not that I don’t know the meeting is happening – often I’ve prepped stuff for it the day before, it’s just that I sit down at 8.30 and then realise it’s 11:15 and I may have finished the TPS report, but I’m supposed to be dialled into the teapot strategy meeting at 10:30.
          I’m also finding I just… don’t notice (?) the notifications? They don’t flash up for me unless I have Outlook open. Is there an easy way to change that?

          1. DerJungerLudendorff*

            You can make the notification play a sound when it pops up, maybe that helps?
            If a meeting is always at the same time, you can probably set a regular phone alert. That’s how I do my lunch breaks and daily meetings too.

            If the time or day keeps changing, you might just have to get in the habit of setting those alarms every morning/evening.

          2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            The very easy way to change that is always to have Outlook open but minimised?

            That said I live by Outlook tasks and reminders at the best of times, and my work is very email heavy so it’s highly unusual for me to have the app completely closed down. YMMV.

          3. EventPlannerGal*

            This will depend of what sort of things you work on, but is it possible for you to arrange what you’re working on around the meeting to avoid getting “sucked in” like this?

            Using myself as an example, I get very easily sucked in by repetitive data-based tasks like updating contact lists or invoicing, and I completely lose track of time doing those because it’s the same thing over and over. I don’t get that same effect from tasks where I’m interacting with other people, like calling suppliers or emailing clients. So if I knew had a meeting at 11.30, I would spend the morning doing people-based things and save the data-based things til the afternoon because then I could just get my head down and work without worrying about losing track of time. Are there any things that you find you always lose track of time doing?

            1. Sparrow*

              This is a good point! Whenever I have some sort of intensive task that isn’t easily interruptible, I also try to reserve for when I have a solid block of time cleared and there’s little chance I’ll have to stop to deal with something else. And at times when I’ve had a lot of meetings and couldn’t easily find 2-3 clear hours to do something like that, I’d preemptively block the time on my calendar. I can keep track of my time reasonably well with outlook reminders, but I also want to set myself up for success – if I can, I’m going to avoid a situation where I expect I’ll have to pause near the end of intensive project to deal with something else.

          4. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I’m a bit surprised you would close Outlook at all– is there a special reason for that? Generally, I and people I have worked with open Outlook in the morning and keep it open all day, for precisely this reason (calendar and email alerts).

            1. Annie*

              Yeah, this surprised me too. Outlook is intended to be open all day so it can it can alert you. This has been the expectation in every job that I’ve had.

              1. Sparrow*

                oh, same. It hadn’t actually occurred to me that they wouldn’t have an emailing/calendaring system open all day. If they use outlook but don’t want to see all their emails as they come in, they could keep outlook minimized and set it so they don’t get alerts for emails but do get a desktop alert (with sound! – that’s critical for me) for meeting reminders.

                1. allathian*

                  Agreed. This is what I do. I keep Outlook open at all times while I’m working, but minimized and with email alerts turned off. I only deal with internal customers and they know that we check our emails two or three times a day, and if they have something really urgent, they’ll send a heads-up on Skype. I really appreciate it when they do that, because it makes my email stress much more manageable.

            2. Mary*

              I did this on my work computer but my ropey old personal laptop can’t really cope with multiple background applications open. I have to have Skype for Business and MS Teams open so people can ring me, which means closing Outlook if I want to have another major application open.

              1. AvonLady Barksdale*

                Yes, but presumably your meetings are taking place on Skype or MS Teams so you don’t have this issue. And if your meetings are on another platform, your co-workers can ping you to ask where you are. And let’s not forget that you can keep a handwritten calendar somewhere if you have to.

                Unless the OP has a good reason to keep Outlook closed, keeping it open strikes me as the first step towards a solution.

              2. Sylvan*

                Does Teams not include your Outlook calendar? It does for me and I assumed it did that by default.

            3. Joielle*

              Same. In my experience, that’s the expected way to use it, and everyone’s advice for phone alerts, buying multiple clocks, etc is premised on the idea that OP already has Outlook open and those alerts are not enough. It really seems like keeping Outlook open all day and adding sounds to meeting alerts will solve the OP’s problem, or is at least the first step to take.

          5. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            OP3, you may also want to consider a mental shift. It appears that your current view is “I need to get the TPS report done” which means the meeting becomes secondary. Try this mental framework: “I have a 10:30am meeting and a TPS report to do”. Notice how the meeting (which is your challenge) is now listed first? That may help of you keep repeating it every day you have a meeting.

          6. Generic Name*

            Is there a reason you can’t keep outlook open? You can minimize it so you’re not looking at the window all the time. I’ve noticed with younger coworkers that we sometimes have to explain that they have to keep outlook open during the work day because it’s not like the email app on their phone where it will ping when you get emails even though the app is “closed”.

            1. Joielle*

              Or, I guess if they don’t want Outlook open on their computer all day for whatever reason, they could use the Outlook phone app and set it to push notifications. I’m pretty sure it will push meeting reminders that way too.

          7. Amanda*

            Keeping outlook open is actually the best option. If you’re closing it because, like me, you don’t like your taskbar cluttered, you can open Outlook Web and just keep it as a browser tab, the notifications will appear normally then.

          8. boo bot*

            OP3, I have a lot of the same issues you’re describing (time is NOT real) and I find that virtual calendars are almost useless to me, because if I can’t see it in front of my face, it doesn’t exist. It might as well be the future. What helps me is to have a paper planner with the current week always open on my desk; a calendar on the wall showing the month with meetings and appointments; and a white board where I can write stuff for the day.

            The important part is that all three of these are in my immediate workspace, immediately visible, and I interact with the planner every day – copying down my appointments from the calendar and listing what I plan to do that day forces me to kind of envision what the day will look like. So, in the planner, I’d write:

            8:30 work on TPS report
            10:30 Teapot Strategy meeting
            11:15 something else

            And then I’d write “10:30 Teapot Strategy Meeting” on the whiteboard, so that when the alarm went off at 10:30, I would have the reason for it right in front of my face. If I don’t ground my plans for the day in my head by writing them down somewhere that’s always visible to me, alarms are just sounds I know how to make stop.

            1. irene*

              i came back to look for additional tips before bed (because so many questions like this have helped me SO MUCH over the last year!) and i want to second boo bot’s recommendation. i described something similar in my earlier reply –
              but along with time, anything virtual doesn’t stick in my head the same way as physical. gotta have some kind of dimension, and digital is too ephemeral.

              I find that it’s really useful to do the 3 things ike boo bot describes, and also use the first and last 15 minutes of the day to review/consolidate. i started doing that with my new job and it helps a lot. My visual/written reminder tools include: daily notebook, Rhodia webplanner (weekly planner with a grid on the right page), project notebook, desktop whiteboard, big wall whiteboard, two analogue clocks (next to my monitor and on the wall behind me), three wall calendars, Outlook, a mostly non-functional phone for meetings/alarms.

              i carry my daily notebook everywhere and everything goes in it. i transfer my notes to the small whiteboard if i need to have it in my field of vision as a reminder. if by the end of the day, a note/reminder hasn’t been taken care of, it goes in my weekly list. if it’s a long-term project that needs to be planned out, it either goes into my project notebook, or on my big project-tracking/wishlist/targets whiteboard (depending if it’s a bullet point deliverable or background information/details). or if it’s meetings, those go into Outlook, my phone, and up on the appropriate wall calendar: this month and next month have boxes to write in, then a 3rd month out which is just the dates so i can count weeks and estimate timelines. my calendars double as wall art, of course :)

              when my outlook and phone alert me to a meeting, i start a new page in my notebook with a big label on top – and then i leave it like that next to my keyboard while i save my work and make sure nothing will be lost if windows decides to update while i’m gone. the blank page and header is another visual cue not to linger and get distracted by something else.

              it’s just me and my supervisor in the office right now, while most of the other departments are WFH, so i use that time for daily catch-up meetings as we get settled/pack up. i mention meetings on our schedules, ask if priorities are shifting, etc. we work closely together and are juggling a lot of projects, so the informal review works well for keeping me on track. and she has expressed gratitude for it, because she also has a ton on her plate, and our tasks/priorities are shifting a lot right now, due to covid.

              even when our department of transitions to WFH full time, I’ll likely continue the informal check-ins. both to confirm that i’m starting/ending my day and as an accommodation for my adhd brain. the repetition of “I have these meetings at these times” and seeing constant reminders in my calendars and clocks really, really helps. and it doesn’t really take up much time! maybe 5 minutes for the check-in? i kept adding to my system based on other suggestions on AAM threads, and the very best thing for me is the repetition and always seeing the reminders. also, too, having it handwritten instead of digital only.

              (I’m hoping that my detailed replies are going to help other folks the way all y’all’s replies have helped me!!!)

    5. R*

      LW 1: I don’t think that it will make a blind odds long term – I certainly doubt that there’ll be more pressure to allow homeworking from employees. I work with people who love working from home but even they’re going nuts and have had enough now. My observation is that people like homeworking on their terms.

      Coronavirus is not “on their terms”.

    6. OP3*

      So glad it’s not just me, and I had thought it was just an initial response to the disruption (happened twice in the first couple of weeks, but then again this week). I get the impression, in my workplace at least, that there was a lot of understanding around everyone’s non-ideal setup at first, but we’re now normalising and the expectations of, you know, turning up to meetings on time, is back. So very keen to never have that sinking feeling again…
      You’re right about the setting it for 10 minutes being a licence to get stuck into something else! I find I’m so easi;y distracted right now…

      1. Green great dragon*

        Definitely an alarm, and also consider putting the alarm in a place you have to stand up to get to. You could set the final alarm to be absolutely at the last second, so you know when it goes off you have to stand up, switch it off, then immediately dial in.

      2. Laure001*

        Op3, what I did for my kids at the time (they were teenagers and “unable” to wake up on time with their phone alarms) is buy a real, old fashioned alarm clock. Not even a digital one. An actual big ugly alarm clock that I put on the other side of their bedroom, they could not stop it unless they actually rose and walk across the room. Buy one on Amazon for two dollars, use it for meetings only, and believe me, you will hear it ringing! It’s very unpleasant… Which is perfect. Good luck! :) :)

        1. Nina*

          I did that for myself! Your phone beeps and rings for all kinds of stuff, it’s difficult to separate out that it’s actually an important alarm this time. Very effective.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            My phone alarm is set to a sound choice that I CANNOT STAND and would never use for anything I had to listen to on a regular basis, so I never ignore it.

      3. Fish*

        I don’t know if this is at all helpful to you, but since you’ve been asking whether you’re alone — the things you’re saying about not having a concept of time and getting completely sucked into your tasks sound very similar to things my friends with ADHD have said — I think the ADHD community has a lot of discussion/resources around these issues and maybe there could be some strategies there which might help you, regardless of whether you identify with the label or not?

        1. Amy Sly*

          Amen to this. I don’t know if I have ADHD — if I do, it’s the kind that high functioning women start to notice in adulthood when they finally have so many responsibilities that they overwhelm the makeshift systems the women have been using, but my ADHD tendencies also crop up when my depression isn’t controlled — but time management and information organization strategies don’t care about your diagnosis. Just use whatever works.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        This discussion reminds me of one we had awhile back about people who are chronically late because they always think they can squeeze in one or two more things before they go.

        You can’t. When the alarm goes off, it’s time to drop what you’re doing and go to the meeting. If you’ve got ten minutes, you get up, go to the bathroom, get a drink, and collect whatever you need for the meeting, which will a) make sure you’re ready to roll, and b) help you make both a physical and mental break from whatever you were doing.

        1. Malarkey01*

          This! And I’m finding that because people are teleworking they think oh I only need 30 seconds to call in, but you need a little time to open the invite, connect, get your materials, remember what you’re talking about, etc. I think a 5-10 drop everything is still helpful. A lot of our people have been on time for meetings but are not really set up yet.

      5. Sparrow*

        I set it up to get multiple reminders – 15 minutes out, and then 2-3 minutes out. First one signals me to get to a stopping place, run to the restroom, refill my water, etc., and the second one is a reminder to actually “go” to the meeting, because there is a chance I’ll get sucked back into something otherwise. I get a desktop pop up alert that makes a sound and appears in the corner of my screen – the combined visual and auditory cues are helpful for me.

      6. Malty*

        I don’t have anything helpful to add OP but i wonder how much of this is a reflection of the difference between work and home – I don’t have your problem of keeping track of time but my favourite thing to do when at home is lose track of time. I love having nothing to and nothing to keep track of. Sounds like you’re someone to whom this doesn’t come naturally and in work you’ve relied on others letting you know when meetings were, now at home you don’t have that crutch. While you put these methods that everyone else has mentioned in place and transition into tracking yourself, you could always ask a trusted friend to keep you on task and call you 5 mins before your meetings to replicate your work situation – I used to do this in uni for early exams when no amount of alarm hacks would work. Hopefully everyone elses solutions work but if you struggle at all maybe this will help!

      7. Oof*

        Aside from all the really great computer/phone based alarms, I have my old standby. Set that alarm loud, and put it out of reach. Physically having to move to shut off an alarm has always really helped me – sometime it can be just a few feet away, but others I’ve had it across the room with an obstacle in the path. (so I couldn’t sleepwalk it off)

    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      If you’re using computer calender alarms, watch for what hung me up the first week–I had set all sounds to go through headsets because I didn’t want to distract my daughter at the next table. Then I took my headset off…

    8. Morning reader*

      I second the idea of using old analog tech for extra alarms. I have a kitchen timer I set to a few minutes whenever I turn on the stove or let a cat out (on the porch/catio…semi-outdoor cats) so I don’t forget. It’s easier than doing anything with my phone because it’s just a quick twist of the dial. You could use one in combination with the automated alarms, e.g. at 30 minute warning you set it for 25 minutes. (It also ticks so if you can hear it, it’s a constant reminder that something is coming up.) it’s got a loud ding so I can hear it almost anywhere in the house, while hearing my phone depends on where I left it. Or if a cat is sitting on it. One of those annoying clocks that goes off every hour might also be helpful to alert you to the passage of time generally. It’s an Edith solution.

    9. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Meetings in the office can signal themselves. There is a small rush to the washroom, people refill coffee mugs and start to gather and talk. None of that happens at home. The cat is sleeping and you are knee deep in spreadsheets and suddenly realize the meeting has started. An alarm works. So does getting dressed in work clothes even if you aren’t going to be on video. It signals to you that today is slightly different and acts as another reminder.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        This reminds me of a time when I took a new leadership role in an underperforming office. My first day , I scheduled a 3:00pm team meeting. At 3:00pm, I walked in and saw…no one. After waiting a couple of minutes, I went over to the office manager and asked what was up. She said “you didn’t walk around and tell people the meeting was starting.” When I replied “it’s on their Outlook schedules”, her reply was “it’s not our job to keep track of those, it’s yours.” At that moment, I knew why the previous person had been removed and I was brought in to turn the office around.

        OP3, the lesson from this: it is ultimately your responsibility to keep track of your schedule. I am glad you reached out here and are getting good feedback, because even when you are in the office, one of your roles as an employee is to manage your own time. I hope these suggestions help you do that.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Seriously??? The idea that in an office of adults, you, their boss, was expected to walk around… I hope it didn’t take too long to disabuse them of the notion that you were some kind of border collie herding sheep into the conference room.

        2. Annonny Annonny*

          I will say when my Dept is actually in the office our lead will walk around a few mins before a meeting just to see if anybody is on the phone and may be a few mins late (we work hospital/ER notification lines for insurance payment – so the calls happen when they happen). Once it was helpful because they were able to get me off a call that had gone for 45 mins (average call is 8 mins long) because the person on the other end just didn’t want to hear “You have called the wrong department, you need to call AAAAA department.” But the leads aren’t reminding us of the meeting – just checking who may be just a sec late (we also didn’t have daily meetings until we finally got set up to work from home – equipment procurement issues caused the delay).

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          I had a former boss who believed that people couldn’t be trusted to manage their own schedules and required that we email to coordinate a time, email when the time was set, email the day before to remind of the meeting, and then email again 15 minutes before it started. They were also very anti-calendar invite. Drove me bonkers everyone involved was an adult, many of whom had 5+ years of professional experience and it seemed like both a waste of my time and insulting to all of them since 90% of them managed to turn up on schedule without being babied. We were playing to the 10%, and they complained loudly when no one “reminded” them to show up for the meeting.

          I do not miss that boss. My current one has been on a crusade to convert everyone over to using the corporate Outlook calendars for years. (Scheduling Assistant only works if your schedule is in the calendar.) The current work-from-home has really accelerated adoption of both that and of the company instant messaging platform.

    10. Half-Caf Latte*

      I really like Alexa for alarms. I can set it from across the room, and I can say “Alexa, set an important numbers meeting alarm for 10:20am” and the alert will be a tone and a voice saying “this is your important numbers reminder”.

      Also she’s not nearly as tempting a distraction as my phone.

      1. SweetestCin*

        Yes. She-who-shall-not-be-named tells the kids, who aren’t typically homeschooling types, that “hey, its 9 a.m. and you should be settled into your chairs and reading a good book” and “you have a 10:30 Zoom with Professor Sprout”. I’ve thrown a few in there too, including one that had the kids cracking up over “really important meeting with the Great Grand Boss, so don’t forget!”.

      2. LeahS*

        Yes! I got a google nest for less than $40 and it reminds me on my phone AND in my room when I set alerts for a certain time. It’s awesome.

    11. akiwiinlondon*

      I was coming to the comments to also add if you set a 10min alarm to put down the project and go make a cup of tea or otherwise get setup for the meeting.

      Like you said if I don’t step away at the point of my alarm I risk getting distracted and running late.

    12. NerdyKris*

      I agree with an alarm clock. You have a lot more options for things that wouldn’t be acceptable in an office due to the noise, but at home you can set an alarm clock to go off with minimal disruption to anyone else in the home. Or even just having your phone’s sound on, since most people mute their cell phones at the office.

    13. Roy G. Biv*

      I have an Amazon Echo that is normally used for streaming music, but now that we’re WFH, I’ve been using the timer & alarm functions. It really shakes me out of whatever I’m doing, not because it is loud or obnoxious, but because it is very different tone than phone or computer notification. I also have to verbally tell it to STOP, so that gets me into transition to the next activity mode. I know it can do a lot more than what I use it for, but I figure I have a couple more weeks (hoping not months!) to explore more of its skills.

    14. Emily S*

      This is similar to the system I use. I have saved recurring alarms in my phone to repeat every weekday at the :29s and :59s between 9 and 5, and one that goes off at 8:00 each morning. The alarm at 8 is my reminder to look at my schedule for the day and then enable the corresponding alarms and disable any that I might have used the previous day and not need today.

      My ADHD counselor recommended this because it’s so much easier to check the calendar and slide a few toggle bars than to program each alarm one by one every time – and I was constantly missing meetings even though I work from home full-time (even before this) because the 5-minute reminders Outlook was sending were popping up when it was still too early to join, giving me just enough time to forget about it before it started. After setting up the saved alarms I can toggle on and off I’ve had a much better track record with meeting attendance and punctuality.

      I also have a recurring alarm for 6:00 pm on Fridays to remind myself to disable any alarms I activated for that day, so that they don’t disturb me on Saturday.

    15. Artemesia*

      I keep a paper calendar and if it were me I’d just be putting an alarm on. my phone to go off 10 minutes before the meeting. ONCE is understandable, twice is really not and 3 times show deep disrespect for the colleagues being stood up constantly.

    16. Annony*

      I set two alarms. One ten minutes before so I can wrap up what I am working on and one two minutes before so I can jump on the call.

    17. LJay*


      This is exactly my problem. My Outlook warns me about the meeting like 15 minutes before it happens. But that’s too long in advance for my ADHD self now that all I need to do is dial the phone. Because I mentally go “okay noted” and then go right back to what I was doing, and then an hour later I realize that I’ve missed the meeting.

      I’ve set my phone alarm for 5 minutes before the meeting. That way I can get up and pee and then dial in, and don’t have time to get distracted further.

      Thankfully the meetings I’ve missed aren’t ones where I contribute in any way – just listen in mostly. I miss them when I’m on the road a lot. But I still feel incompetent when I’ve missed them because I just plain forgot.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        That’s where the snooze button comes in handy. I always hit snooze at 15 minutes and my Outlook defaults to another reminder at 5 minutes. If I’m still not ready– and I don’t need to use the bathroom– I hit snooze again and it alerts me when the meeting starts. Both reminders are helpful in jolting my brain and reminding me to change course.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          This is the same system I use, and it works both in and out of the office. Snooze to five minutes lets me wrap up what I’m working on and log into a meeting (or walk to the conference room) to arrive on time.

          1. allathian*

            Me too. Depending on the meeting I either log in at the 5-minute alarm or wait until it rolls down to zero. Usually those who join a bit early can have a round of social chitchat and those who are busy or just don’t feel like chatting only join when the meeting is actually supposed to start and then we can get down to business right away. It usually does, because in my org’s guidelines for good meetings, one crucial point is that we start when it’s supposed to start even if somebody’s late.

      2. sb51*

        The 15 minute reminders are usually OK for me, but the problem I’ve been having, which predates the WFH, is the one where I’m IN another meeting, that gets out maybe 10 minutes early. So the reminder has come and gone and I didn’t even see it to dismiss it. But I have some extra time……..oops.

    18. Tidewater 4-1009*

      OP’s first alarm should be for however long it will take her to put aside her work and prepare for the meeting. Then she should probably use alarms at shorter intervals like others are saying – 5 minutes, 2 minutes, etc.

    19. Richard Hershberger*

      I was an extremely late adopter of smart phones. I finally broke down about a year ago, as more and more daily functions required one. The alarm, I find, is one of the most useful functions. I can have something in the oven and no longer be tied to staying within hearing range of the range timer.

    20. Sue*

      I don’t know how you can have a job and have to write for advice on setting an alarm. I’m ADD and have been doing this for years.

      1. LemonLyman*

        I had to chuckle at this comment. It sounds like OP3 is habitually late to meetings, even in the office. It’s not WFH that’s causing her lateness. It’s that she didn’t have to worry about reminders because she relied on others. I wonder what she would have done if her coworkers had stopped alerting her to meeting start times?

    21. Momma Bear*

      Are there no Outlook or similar meeting invites? You can set meetings in Outlook to remind you x minutes ahead, and it can show up as a reminder on your screen even if you’re working on something else. Aside from that, absolutely start setting some kind of alarm (or several) especially for meetings where OP has missed more than one. Half an hour late is pretty significant.

      1. TootsNYC*

        but if you’re focusing on printed spreadsheets, etc., you won’t be looking at your screen.

        I find the calendar pop-ups, no matter which program, to be easily missed.

    22. TootsNYC*

      I too would set my alert for 10 minutes, and then I’d start something and get sucked in.
      I started just going to the meeting when it went off and just sitting in the room to wait.

      Then I moved the alarm closer to the meeting–5 minutes.
      Now that I’m home, I open the Zoom meeting the minute the alarm goes off, even if I do still work in another window. Then I can hear people “enter the room.”

  2. IT Relationship Manager*

    LW #4! I use outlook a lot. Have the chair send out an invitation to everyone so that it’s clear a meeting is happening if they aren’t already. I also have it on my phone and my computer goes BING 15 minutes before the meeting starts. If you know that you’re not good with keeping up with the time, you really do have to find something that works for you. Forgetting meetings is stressful and so is someone who can’t keep time well. Do it as a favor for yourself and your coworkers! (Also schedule time to make tea beforehand!)

    1. Willis*

      If no one else is confused or forgetting when the meetings are, I wouldn’t ask for a meeting invite. It would kind of look like OP is outsourcing the ability to keep a schedule. But she could definitely add them to an Outlook or Google calendar herself with reminders. Add them to the calendar as soon as they’re scheduled or as recurring meetings.

      1. JamieS*

        I don’t think OP would be out of line to suggest people start sending out meeting invites to attendees. It’s a pretty common practice, keeps things organized, and is just a good practice to get into especially since WFH is the norm now.

        1. Filosofickle*

          It really does help everyone! At first it felt kinda weird but now I set them up for anything scheduled in a work context, even catch-up calls and lunch dates in addition to formal meetings and events. (Added bonus: meeting invites clear up ambiguity about time zones!)

        2. KRM*

          With the added bonus that, if you misplace the link for the meeting dial in, it should be right there in the invite on your calendar! So if I was invited to the meeting three weeks ago, I don’t have to go searching for the link in my email, I just click on the invite on the calendar.
          IMO it’s foolish to not send out a meeting invite and just expect everyone to remember when it is when it takes literal seconds to send an invite instead of an email for the meeting.

          1. allathian*

            I agree.
            Even at the office, all our meetings are scheduled on the Outlook calendar, simply because that is also used for booking meeting rooms.

      2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        Both points are correct. Meeting organizers should send out a calendar invitation, so it’s fair for OP3 to make that request. At the same time, it’s also OP3’s responsibility to manger their own schedule even without that invitation.

        1. Jbryant*

          OP#3. 100% agree that if your organization has not routinely been using calendar appointments, that really be implemented. Then the meetings are automatically on your own calendar and you can still customize reminders.

          If using Outlook and you get a meeting notice as a regular message rather than appointment, you can drag it into the calendar icon at the bottom left and an appointment will pop up with the message text in the body. You’ll still have to fill in the details – time, date, etc. But it makes it go faster.

          On personal appointments, timers, and alarm clocks, I’ve started using Siri (iPhone user) and verbalizing the details which is much faster than me keying it in on my phone.

          Best of luck.

      3. Mike C.*

        What? This is a standard thing to ask for all over the world. Hundreds of millions of people use Outlook.

    2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I also use my Outlook calendar to keep track of meetings and everything else I need to do at a specific time or on a specific day. I even have some “work-friendly home stuff” in there, like reminding me if this is recycling week or yard debris week for trash collection. (I only do this with things I am 100% ok with anyone in the company knowing about and that aren’t part of any for-pay side gig, of course. Pretty much just appointments or vacation days that I’ll need to adjust my work schedule for and the trash collection schedule get added from my personal stuff. I figure my boss will need to know about the appointments and vacations anyway since they impact my work availability, and I do not consider the neighborhood trash schedule at all sensitive information and am happy to share it with any interested parties who may need to access my work calendar.)

      The default is that it’ll send a reminder 15 minutes before the meeting as long as you leave Outlook open, but you can adjust that as needed and also snooze reminders (which I use a lot for when I have a big thing outside my regular workflow due – I’ll have it pop up a few days in advance and snooze it a few times while I assemble whatever-it-is in case I forgot about it). If your office uses Google for email instead of Outlook, I’m pretty sure Google Calendar would be very similar in terms of being able to remind you of stuff if you leave it open.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I have Lotus Notes on my work computer, and if I haven’t received a calendar invitation, then I make one out of the Appointment or Reminder option. I can also set an alarm to go off shortly before.

      2. Green great dragon*

        There’s a ‘mark private’ option in outlook – I also don’t care if people see I’m getting my hair cut after work, but it keeps the calendar clearer in case other people are looking through (we have sufficient meetings that sometimes people are looking for which slot can be easily cleared by essential attendees rather than what slot is actually clear).

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          You can also have additional calendars and I’m 98% sure that only the first “main” calendar is the one that can be seen by others re: availability. I have a secondary “stuff I’m working on” calendar so I can block out my non-meeting activities for the day without it impacting my actual meeting calendar (plus I can toggle it on and off independent of the meeting calendar).

          1. irene*

            Wait, extra personal calendars in Outlook?! I would get so frustrated at old job at needing to chart out projects/all the misc stuff i was doing, but i didn’t want it to clutter up my meetings/deadlines calendar – or those meetings/deadlines would lose their importance to my dumb brain.

            I’m going to look into this for my newjob! I’ve got more roles to cover now, so multiple personal calendars to track my goals, targets, and progress could be really helpful… I have my paper ones, and white board, and notebooks…but an extra reminder popup that i have to snooze could be a nice tool :)

      3. allathian*

        You can also set a calendar appointment as private (the little lock). That way, nobody can see it unless they have access to your actual email inbox. I use it for doctor’s and hairdressing appointments, etc. for when I’m out of the office. Then it just shows up as private for everyone else, including my boss. But then, we have a very liberal working hours policy and I’m salaried. What I do off the clock is nobody’s business, including my boss… But of course, we don’t have boundary issues at my workplace, so YMM definitely V.

    3. OP3*

      Thank you for the suggestion – I learnt long ago that if a meeting isn’t in my calendar, it doesn’t exist, so I’m good about doing this. It’s just, erm, remembering they are there? Or more accurately being aware that it is now 10:55, so I can dial into the 11 o clock call. Another poster pointed out that the alarms are customisable, which I hope will go someway to solving it (feel like an idiot for not realising that before, but was in an “alarms don’t work, nothing works, I’m a failure” mode).

      1. Mongrel*

        If you do a Google for “synchronising Outlook calendar with Android\Apple” (delete the inappropriate one) you’ll be able to automatically import meetings to your phone, and I’ve found that my phone reminding me is more noticeable than my PC.
        The sharing functionality may be switched off by your IT people and if you don’t use Outlook then just substitute that in the search.

        1. Super Anon*

          I love that my meetings get automatically imported, especially for conference calls. Because I get a prompt, and all I need to do is click the prompt and my iphone does all the dialing in for me. So I don’t need to try and pull up the dial-in number or conference ID.

        2. Wheezy Weasel*

          I’ve gotten better about being on time when configuring my smartwatch: reminders are being pushed from Outlook to my phone via the app and them my wrist. Some more basic smartwatches and tracker will vibrate an alert, the ones with more features will vibrate, sound a little note and also display the calendar reminder on the watch display. I am careful to only set reminders for actual meetings and action items with a due date, so I don’t clutter up my wrist displays with calendar reminders for non=time sensitive tasks (or vacation days…I always remember to stay home!)

      2. Philly Redhead*

        Or even just set an alarm on your phone. In the label field, put in the meeting info.

        1. Mongrel*

          I prefer to automate as much as possible as I’m one of the people who if I don’t do ‘it’ immediately will often forget as I process other tasks.
          And, yes, it’s easy to say “…then do it immediately” but that’s not always possible

      3. Allonge*

        This does not make you a failure! Plenty of people have time blindness, it’s a major ADHD symptom, for one, and in any case, the major change to work circumstances throw people off balance.

        Do set alarms for yourself and make them make all the noise. On the other hand, disarm noises for new emails, or any other system sound that is distracting for you. The idea is that when your computer makes a noise, you listen.

        This is mentioned already but it bears repeating: get used to checking your calendar every day, or twice a day if you have a lot of meetings. Look at the following days too. I was so surprised that not everyone did this, but it’s absolutely the difference between me and my colleagues who in hte office always asked me if there is a meeting happening. It works!

        1. revueller*

          I found out that Google Calendar in Slack (and probably in other apps like Gmail) can send me an agenda every day of what meetings I have that day. Now that I have 3x the number of meetings — simply because it’s hard to virtually walk up to someone’s desk and ask for 15 minutes to discuss something — it’s been amazingly helpful for structuring my day.

    4. TootsNYC*

      oh, and in the morning, if I see a meeting on the calendar, I tell my phone to set an alarm for 5 minutes before, because the computer pop-ups are lost sometimes.

  3. Ralkana*

    LW3 should also set an alarm 2 minutes before the start. It’s very easy to think, “Oh, I’ve still got a few minutes to finish this up, and then forget again.

    1. Delta Delta*

      And 2 minutes is enough time to freshen a cup of tea or use the facilities or whatever you may need to do to shift gears to the meeting.

    2. BlueWolf*

      Exactly, the default in Outlook is 15 minutes, and I have definitely forgotten to dial in (only 5 minutes late, but still) because I get distracted by work in that time. I have to snooze for 5 minutes before so I see it right before the meeting.

    3. anon for this*

      Good idea. Google Calendar lets you set a default notification time; not sure if other calendar software does too.

    4. TootsNYC*

      Back when we were in the office, I started just getting up and going to the meeting room the moment the alarm went off. I’d sometimes grab something to work on (planning, proofreading…).

      At home now, I log into the Zoom meeting as soon as I get the alarm. Then if I want to work in another window, the Zoom window will still start making noise as people join it.

      1. sb51*

        Ugh, the one problem I have with this approach is we use Teams, and Teams will tell everyone in the meeting that so-and-so started it. Which, okay, fine, it’s not that big of a deal that people know that someone is joining early as to not forget.

        But now a lot of people are just clicking on the “join too” button and STARTING THE MEETING early, when some of us are in other meetings and this one was scheduled so that we could attend but we’re still in the other meeting because it’s too early. And we look late if we’re on time.

  4. Hello from the inside*

    #3, I’ve missed a meeting too and I felt really weird about it. Have you tried keeping a couple different systems to see what sticks? Like in the morning writing down all the meeting times in a planner? Or setting reminders on your email calendar? The alarm that Alison mentioned? Hopefully you can find an organizational tool that works well for your brain. Hey, maybe still make tea before the meeting, to prep for it or something else to remind you to go.

  5. PDL*

    My employer had plans for us to move to two new spaces in the fall, though that is probably now delayed. They were very proud of their open, “Google-style” design that’s already been implemented in another office.

    I’ve heard they’re reconsidering.

    1. Feline*

      My employer is rolling out open plan/hot desking one site at a time, too. It’s amusing to listen to them tap-dance about how much better we will collaborate that way, knowing it’s an excuse for warehousing more people in the same space. There’s a Harvard report on how there’s less collaboration in open plan offices, not more, and someone at corporate HQ must be aware of it by now. But they keep using that line like they’re doing us a favor by making our workplace unbearable.

      1. Megumin*

        I saw that Harvard report…and my boss forwarded it to our director. :) That was a highly amusing moment.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Just think how much more productive you can be with less spontaneous collaboration about last Sunday’s ball game!

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Seriously. There is nothing more damaging to morale than some management pollyanna blowing smoke up your nose about “collaboration and openness” when anyone with any brains knows it’s only about cutting costs, and that it will actually decrease productivity. I do not like being gaslit by management, but they just get mad at me for pointing out the elephant in the room.

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        I have entire web pages of articles and studies against it, including the hard data Harvard study.

        Management not only didn’t listen, but reprimanded me for being “negative”, “change averse” (like I had never done the open plan thing before), and “not resilient” (I had to recover from a stroke. Office moves don’t demand “resilience”.)

        I’m still mad about it, over a year later.

    2. Megumin*

      My dept is getting a floor in a new building on campus next year, and there was a lot of talk about having these 3-micro-desk pod things where everyone would hot desk (including managers), so they could fit as many people as possible in there. They did a trial with those things for one team, and they hated it, and got a ton of push back. Thankfully they decided to switch to (very small) cubes with actual walls, and no hot desking, shortly before the pandemic hit. I wonder if they will consider spacing us out a little more and letting more people WFH full-time.

      I think WFH is probably the least expensive option as far as offices are concerned, so I bet a lot of companies will be going with that, at least in the short-term.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        When this thing started I was really hoping WFH would become more normal. And while I would still appreciate being able to use it occasionally, man I would love to be able to see a different set of walls each day right now. I do have a very spacious cube though.

        1. Megumin*

          Me too, I was going to ask to WFH 2 days a week – that is what we are allowed – but now I kind of want to go in all the time. But that may be because I’m trying to work with two small kids in the house!

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, that. I was WFH about 5 days a month before the pandemic, and it was pleasant with few distractions. I don’t normally do a lot of meetings so often it was just a team meeting every two weeks and a monthly presentation by our department head. Sometimes there were other project meetings, but for me it was extreme when I had 3 meetings in one day. Some of my coworkers can have 3 meetings scheduled at the same time…
            For me, it was a lot easier to focus when I was home alone for most of the day, but with a husband and kid to spend time with after work. Now that my kid is in remote school and my husband’s also WFH, I’m starting to miss the office a bit!

        2. Windchime*

          Yeah, I am kind of digging my current office setup. I’m in a spare bedroom (no bed) and I just moved my desk to face the window. OMG, it is so much better than before! I’m loving WFH and hope I can turn it into a full time situation. Yes, I miss my coworkers but we still talk every day and, once this virus has passed, I will be able to resume going out for drinks with friends after work and then I think I will get my social fix from that.

          It’s going to be really, really hard to go back to getting up in the dark and driving an hour to Seattle in the rain every day.

      2. Artemesia*

        My daughter’s company is all work from home all the time. They have client meetings in the field and occasionally meeting in person at the home office — but the office will not accommodate the staff — everyone has resources to set up a home office and that is part of the deal when you work there. So with C19, they are not now stuck with huge rent on space unused and were able to get a paycheck support loan to tide them over as some clients are unable to pay right now although they have plenty of work. They anticipate being able to survive the disruption because their expenses are low besides salary. And because they already do much of their collaborating on line, they were also a step ahead on being productive using virtual collaborative tools.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      The SF tech company in Zoe’s Imaginary Playlist has scattered orbs in their open space. You can sit in the orb with your laptop and pull a cover around. So we could have some hellish hybrid future where everyone gets one laptop and an orb to scrunch into, then pull the covers down as sneeze shields.

      Though perhaps after some time gazing out over the field of sealed orbs the company will wonder why this is different from letting the people they think are inside the orbs work from home.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        The work set up in Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is my worst nightmare.

        I could go for the Food Bars, though.

    4. Amanda*

      Every office I’ve ever worked at was football-field-open style. I honestly can’t even imagine the utter luxury of having my own cube, lol.

      Now hot-desking sounds like a total nightmare! At least my teamseats close together and can actually collaborate even in an open space. Having to constantly move must be crazy!

      1. Skeptical Squirrel*

        I love cubicles. I had a job that didn’t have them and it’s not as easy to focus. My current job has great cubicles but we are WFH for now.

        1. Windchime*

          I love cubicles, too. My current job (when I’m in the office) has a nice cubicle, several drawers, even my own little personal cupboard and tiny little closet where I can hang my coat on a real hanger. Part of our cube walls are glass, so I can see the other people in my little 4-cube “pod”, but we still have our own space. I think it’s important to have a space where you can keep a few personal things.

          Our office is considering moving to a “hoteling” situation in a few months and I am dreading it. It seems like it would be the Hunger Games/Musical Chairs every morning, with people racing in to try to get a good desk.

        2. Filosofickle*

          For me low cubes were no better than an open space — I could see and hear everything going on around me, yet felt penned up. At least I had walls to stick things up on and it was mine, I guess? Once I had high cube walls which were in a way worse — I could hear everything, but not see where it was coming from, which was super distracting — but the upside was it allowed me to hide in a job where being invisible was helpful.

          I started my career in visual design, so we were often in open spaces. That didn’t bother me when I was a designer. The collaborative exchange of conversation and ideas and even music were actually helpful for the process and I preferred it. Once I moved on to research / writing / strategy work, I needed much more quiet. Now I’m basically only productive in my home office.

        3. Curmudgeon in California*

          I never thought anything would make me nostalgic for cubes, but open plan does.

          My preferences for work space goes like this
          1. WFH
          2. Solo office
          3. Shared office
          4. High wall cubes with bookshelves, etc
          5. Medium wall cubes (block view when seated, not when standing)
          6. Low wall cubes
          7. Half cubes
          8. Team room
          9. Open plan assigned seating
          10. Hot desking hell

      2. TootsNYC*

        I think there might be requirements for open-plan offices to put higher “walls” between rows, etc., to cut down on air circulation (like those plexiglas “sneeze shields” that have been put up in many of the supermarkets).

    5. Kes*

      Huh, interesting. TBH my office recently moved from one open-plan office to another and I doubt that will change any time soon, for us or for many other companies. The pandemic will (for now) force companies to give employees more space and may increase teleworking (which may also be used as an excuse to increase hotdesking), but for companies that value the “collaboration” benefits I doubt there’ll be much change to the office layout

      1. JustaTech*

        My SO’s company is considering only having folks come into the office one day a week, everyone on a given team in on the same day. They’d also get rid of a lot of the desks (to spread folks out because they’re like sardines in there now) and move to hotel-desks, so you don’t leave any stuff and the office is scrubbed every night.

        I’d still rather have my own desk (I work with a lot of paper and physical objects), but if you’ve already paid for an open office it’s a reasonable approach.

        Personally, I think not only is ope-office going to go out of style (more “pods” or something) but so are open layouts in houses; it’s hard to WFH if there’s no way to close yourself off from the kitchen/playroom/living room/ etc.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Open floor plan in the house would be miserable. I *like* doors to close.

          1. JustaTech*

            I didn’t think my house was super open floor plan until we finally got the TV installed and realized just how much the sound carries.
            When I was house hunting last year I saw a place where there was no door to the master bedroom, which was on a mezzanine above the kitchen/dining room. And it was a 3 bedroom place, not a loft!

        2. HR Exec Popping In*

          I agree that open office isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, with COVID-19 more companies will probably look to have people hoteling / hot desking a few days a week at work and then the rest of the week at home. That way you have fewer people at the office at any given time.

          1. TrainerGirl*

            That just seems like a petri dish explosion waiting to happen. Companies can say that they’ll have the spaces cleaned every night, but if you’ve ever stayed in the office late, you know what kind of “cleaning” office spaces get. It might take a major outbreak to get companies to rethink the open space concept.

        3. lilsheba*

          Great, so it could end up becoming a place where you can’t even have your own things at work now? just an empty boring desk, in a gray and white room, with nothing personal? Oh screw that. I’d shoot myself if I had to work in that for 10 hours a day.

    6. eshrai*

      Well my office didn’t open plan our cubicle farm…but they found a way to fit more people by making the tiniest cubicles you can imaging. I could touch both walls with outstretched arms and hit the wall backing up in my chair. Progress.

    7. I Love Llamas*

      I am on the facilities side of things and there is a lot of chatter on industry discussion boards about how to bring folks back to the office. How to get people socially distanced but on elevators, adding sneeze shields to benching work stations, spacing people out to every other station, having the workforce come back very slowly (ie. 25%, then 50%, then 75%), continuing WFH to lessen density, putting floor decals in high traffic areas to remind folks of social distancing, removing chairs in break and conference areas to lessen density, etc. I think hoteling/hot-desking may be less because personally I want to have a work area where the only cooties in it are mine! I am sure I am not alone in that. I would also suggest to help out and wipe down shared surfaces as you use them. There is no way janitorial staff can keep up with disinfecting high touch areas all day long.

    8. Curmudgeon in California*

      My university shoved all of our non-instructional staff into open plan offices about this time last year. I was against it at the time, knew it was a bad idea, but no one listened. I have 5 years worth of articles and studies against it.

      Data driven university management? Not where open offices are concerned. They only see the real estate cost data, not the productivity cost, increased commute cost to employees (the new location is not as convenient to transit) and the morale cost. Their “Modern, State of the Art” staff “campus” is designed for twenty-something tech bros, not forty-something (average age) university staff. The “architect” said “Some people argue against open plan. They’re wrong.” Not “They’re wrong, here’s the data” but just “they’re wrong”. Oh and directors and above have offices, line managers and peons don’t.

      Yes, they now allowed us *two* WFH days, not one, but it only partly helps.

      With COVID-19, most of us are WFH, fortunately. If it wasn’t for the fact that my entire household is home, I would be in heaven. No hour-plus commute up one of the busiest freeways in the area, no wear and tear on my car, my own bathroom and kitchen, not having to wear shoes.

      They say they may revisit the telecommute policy once this is over. Previously, you had to live at least 150 miles away to be allowed to be fully remote. (Yes, that meant people who lived 149 miles away had to drive in three days a week!) IMO, with the traffic in this area, I would prefer if it were 15 or 20 miles (I live 25 miles away.)

      IMO, there’s actually room in the new buildings to put in at least cubes or team rooms, rather than large expanses of noisy desks.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Fully-open office without having breakout rooms seems like an absolute nightmare. The college I worked at did open plan as well, but there were a lot of cubes and team rooms because of the recognition that not everything below the director level can be done in a discretion-free space.

        Although, as someone who works in higher ed, I’ve gotta say, the open plan design does have the benefit of helping to flatten what can be a very hierarchical culture (I was also non-instructional staff). Open-ish cube farms were good for informal learning opportunities and information sharing, and honestly made it a bit more difficult for people to hoard institutional knowledge. There’s people who can do flatness well even if everyone has their own office, but when you have a team with people who aren’t really wired for that, the environment can help change their behaviour.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Open plan hasn’t helped flatten things in our org. Yet I’ve worked where *everyone* had an office, but collaboration took place without format meetings (only had one conference room and it was seldom used) and frequently. Hallway “meetings” were literally a thing, and people not involved just closed their doors. If the whole industry hadn’t been gutted by the GOP contract on America in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I’d probably still be there.

  6. Lioness*

    Are you “accepting” these meetings? I always make sure I accept a meeting so it gets added to my calendar and then there is always a 15-minute reminder prior to the meeting. It adding it automatically means I don’t have to create any alarm myself for every meeting that can be at various hours of the day.
    Is there any method you can use so it saves the meeting onto a calendar you are using such as google calendar or just your phone’s calendar?

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I wonder if Op doesn’t have the calendar or email open while she works. If you don’t have an email app (like Outlook app for PC) and you don’t have your email/Calendar open your not going to get the reminders even if they are in the calendar. Op also needs to check the settings, incase something needs to be changed to get the alerts.

      1. Lioness*

        I don’t have my email app open and I still get reminders. It auto populates on my phone’s calendar and I get the 10 minute reminder before the meeting even if I’m not actively on my phone.

        It could be something in settings, but having the app open is not necessary, it’s more on how you have notifications set up.

  7. CuriousJane*

    One other suggestion to LW #3 I haven’t seen yet is there’s no harm in dialing in early and leaving yourself on mute so you can do a little more work until the meeting starts! For the first week or so I found when I got the 10 or 15 minute warning it wouldn’t work because I’d try to squeeze in one more thing before it started. Then I realized dialing in 15 minutes early and working quietly wasn’t quite the same thing as sitting by myself in a meeting room twiddling my thumbs.

    1. Anonariffic*

      Just make sure your video camera isn’t on if you want to floss or change clothes during those ten minutes before the meeting starts!

    2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I also use this strategy! I’ve kind of decided that the custom for virtual meetings is to get there 5-10 minutes early. Occasionally I talk to my earlybird co-workers, usually I just greet everyone and then go through my email, but it has made it easier to be on time if I just decide that 5 minutes early is on time for virtual meetings.

      It helps that I have multiple monitors, so I can leave the meeting up on one monitor while I work on things on a different screen (while muted but with my camera on, usually).

    3. Sam*

      It can depend on your teleconference set up. I’ve dialled in a few minutes early, only to end up crashing the end of the previous meeting on that line.

      1. Christy*

        Yes, this exactly! I can dial in early for large meetings (because they won’t be using the conference line immediately prior) but I wouldn’t dial in early for my boss or an executive. I think often my exec just sits in her conference line all day and various people dial in and hang up as they’re scheduled. I know I’ve definitely been sandwiched between calls before.

    4. LDN Layabout*

      Just a note of caution, it does depend on what software you’re using for meetings, otherwise you could be throwing other people off by starting the meeting early.

      In Teams you get a pop-up when the first person joins the meeting, even if they’re early.

    5. Beth*

      This is what I do! I’m a grad student, so my ‘meetings’ are classes which is maybe slightly different from a culture perspective, but I often enter the meeting early (up to about 10 minutes) and just hang out with my video off and audio muted. I turn everything on when I hear people talking. On Zoom (which is what my school is using) it’s never seemed to be a problem for anyone–in fact I’m often not the only one hanging around early.

    6. Birch*

      I would also say, it depends on your work culture. I intentionally do not join meetings early when I want to get a few more minutes’ work done because ours are generally 5-15 people max, and people expect us to be active conversation participants as soon as we sign in. I’m finding that it’s weirder to be hanging on a video call without speaking than sitting in a conference room with my laptop answering some emails–there isn’t that “I’m present if you need me but I’m focusing on this for a few minutes while we wait” visual cue in the video meeting, so people don’t really have any idea what you’re doing or what you’re paying attention to, which usually gives them a lot more information in person.

    7. Zircon*

      I set up a LOT of video meetings – was doing so before people started working from home. I’ve been using the Waiting Room feature for a while. It’s great. You can leave messages there for attendees, admit the people you want to talk to before the meeting starts and send messages to people in the waiting room, or people admitted or individuals. I don’t mind if people log in an hang out in the waiting room. I’ll finish up my other meeting, get myself organised and start the new meeting.

    8. TootsNYC*

      I’ve actually sat in a meeting room twiddling my thumbs, in order to not be late for meetings. Well, sometimes I took a notebook and did some planning. Or I had a work phone, so I’d clean out my email in box.

  8. I'm just here for the cats*

    #3 do you have a company email? Or calendar online? My company uses various webinar systems. For example Microsoft teams sends you a calendar invite (if your company uses outlook not sure for Google) you can accept it and it goes on your calendar with a link to the team.meeting room. Otherwise is there a link that gets sent out via email or chat? Just copy the link and make a calendar event for yourself with the link. Then make sure you have it set to remind you. Get it the habit of having your calendar up every day on your phone or computer. And make sure you have the settings so you get notifications. The great thing about the online calendar is you can often set it for multiple times (I know Google did). Set it for 30 mi Utes before,.or however long you think you might need to prepare. The. Ha e it go off 10 minutes and at the time of the event.

    Another thing is there a co worker that you are on good terms with and friends with? Maybe they would be willing to text you if they do t see you. If it’s just a call may e they can text you a few minutes before they dial in to remind you.

    I’m wondering, if your being missed why isn’t anyone reaching out when they see your not in the meeting. I’m assuming if you were all in the office and there was a meeting and you were t there that someone would come to you and ask why your not there. (Like if you were caught in a last minute call with a client and was just wrapping up).

    1. Professional Merchandiser*

      I was thinking the same thing. My bosses always text people who don’t log on the conference calls in case they forgot. That happened to me exactly once and I don’t want it to again.

    2. Cedarthea*

      I have my outlook setup with a Quick Step so that I can send a link to my calendar. So if it doesn’t come as a calendar invite, I can make it into one. It takes the email name as the purpose, but it reminds me and I can fiture it out from there. I do this for inperson meetings as well so that I see the convo trail that lead to the meeting.

    3. Senor Montoya*

      In our office, that depends on who’s running the meeting. Most assume that if someone’s not there, they have a good reason. There’s also the size of the meeting: the smaller the group, the more likely we are to hunt someone down.

      But then, we work with college students and expect *them* to show up on time; I think that colors our expectations of our colleagues. (And in our office, if you consistently miss meetings, you will for sure be hearing from your supervisor, and your co-workers will think a little less of you.)

  9. Heidi*

    For Letter 1: My building has all separate offices, and we’re still not supposed to come in. Having a non-open plan doesn’t completely prevent the spread of illness because we still have to go through the same spaces to get in and out and use the same bathrooms. Hopefully they will increase our bandwidth, though. The system isn’t handling the sudden increase in video conferencing that well.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      It helps though… after seeing laser photos of how far microdroplets travel after sneezes, I may be wearing my plague mask even after there’s a vaccine.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        My spouse is from Hong Kong and people always ask me if I know why folks in China and other Asian countries wear face masks so often. Pollution is a big reason but also, lots of people in small spaces is the other.

      2. Cinnamon*

        I live in a densely populated city and work in one room with 5 other people, I’ll be using my masks until next year (and any sign of sickness after that).

    2. EPLawyer*

      Will going back to actual offices stop the spread 100%? Of course not. But like masks and social distancing it sure will help. Plus its a lot easier to disinfect smaller common areas than the ENITRE office every day.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        This. Even shared offices (two to four people) reduce the count of people that are close to each other.

        Getting people to reliably wash their hands after using the restroom would help too.

    3. 2 Cents*

      Yeah, my OldJob moved from a fairly enclosed space to a totally open football field-like space. That winter, EVERYONE got sick. You couldn’t hide from the germs. They just spread everywhere, so what “saved” the company in spacing costs came back to bite them in sick time.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        It usually does. I got pneumonia for the first time in my life after a month in an open plan benching environment where each person had 36″ of bench space. You could literally reach out an touch the person next to you. You couldn’t actually collaborate with anyone because there was no place you could sit together. You had to pack up your stuff every day or it would wander off. I left there for a job with an office. Three years later that job shoved us all into a (fairly spacious) open plan.

    4. Old Cynic*

      I saw a news report this morning that indicated the virus might spread through air conditioning systems, so walls might be helpful…or not.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        They would be more helpful, because they would block a bit of the airflow spread. Better filtering to prevent HVAC re-entrainment would also help, but it would increase costs because of filter cost and increased power to move air through HEPA filters.

  10. Róisín*

    #2: Kudos for thinking about how best to take care of others in this crisis. Your kindness and thoughtfulness are so nice and so necessary right now. Thank you for that.

    #3: I was woken up by my phone ringing for the first conference call my team had after our store shut down. I completely missed the next two. I of course texted my manager right away apologizing, and she was totally cool about it. But it was excruciating personally and I haven’t missed a single conference since then because it is really important to be at those meetings. Even if they’re usually 10 minutes of “hello! You’re alive! I’m alive! I’m in my house!” it’s the professionalism of being where I’m supposed to be, on time, ready, that matters. So yeah, take all the above advice and set an alarm. It’ll reflect much better on you than “oops sorry” after the fact.

    1. OP3*

      So glad it’s not just me! I wrote to Alison after the third instance – I thought the embarrassment of the previous two occasions was enough, but nope… And I think whilst there was maybe more flexibility when this was all new, I know that we’re supposed to have adjusted now and normal standards of professionalism have returned.

      How do you make sure you don’t miss any calls? Do you use an alarm, or something else?

      1. Product Person*

        To be safe in case you miss the computer alert, what you can do is to set up a sound alarm on your phone. I don’t want to be distracted by notifications in general in my smartphone, so I go to Settings and turn them off except for Outlook. And like others have said, you can even leave the phone in another room if you set the sound high enough to hear it from distance.

        I can easily get lost for hours doing “deep work”, but as soon as I get my “3 minutes until the next meeting” alarm, I immediately stop. No “oh, let me just finish this one thing”, too risky that I’ll end up lost in thought again and miss or be late for the meeting.

        You can do it! Just find the notification settings that work for you.

      2. Róisín*

        My situation is a bit different from yours; I’m in the service industry and I’m on paid leave through the end of this month. I’m on the management team and we’re having a short check-in via Google Duo every few days randomly, so I get a text from the boss that says “call at 2 tomorrow?” and all I have to do is make sure my phone is in the same room. With all the free time in the world, all I’m doing is cleaning or watching TV or working on my own personal projects, and my phone will ring when it’s meeting time.

        The two meetings I missed were because 1) I slept through it because my sleep schedule hadn’t stabilized yet, and 2) my partner was over to help me with grocery shopping — he has car, I do not — and I both didn’t have my phone on me and lost track of time in the sheer joy of face-to-face human interaction.

  11. Mels*

    OP5: My employer is requesting the same — that every employee use a specific number of PTO hours by June 30 (end of fiscal year) in order to not accrue against our budget. It’s the type of relatively small sacrifice that is intended the reduce the need for larger sacrifices (eg layoffs). Do I love it? No. Is it 100% the right thing to do to help my colleagues keep their jobs? Yes.

    1. MJ*

      “…if people could take annual leave while we’re working from home to cut costs.”

      Do you have to work at the same time?

      1. Mels*

        No, and I read the initial letter as saying that the ask is for employees to take their time off during this work-from-home time — not literally to be working on the days that they’re taking leave.

        1. JustaTech*

          My company did the same and they were very clear: absolutely *no* working on days you’re taking vacation. My director reiterated that too, don’t even check your email (which he’s still doing some on his day off, but better than usual).

          I’m enjoying my 3-day weekends, and honestly, it’s a bit slow here now so it’s not like I’m getting a backlog of work.

        2. OP5*

          Yeah, they’re not asking us to work on days we’re taking annual leave, just asking if we could take it! I know at least one person is technically working 2 days a week, but is spreading those 16 hours over the week (because our system doesn’t allow you to take leave that way).

      2. Susie*

        My company is doing this, too. We are not expected to work on our days off.

        I have tomorrow off. My out of office message is turned on advising that someone else is checking my emails periodically, and that I’ll be back on Thursday.

    2. Ravenclawshorts*

      My workplace is doing the same. It does mean that the PTO could have been already taken though before the virus. I have already taken 3 days this year and now only need to take 2. It still kind of sucks that I have to use PTO but can’t go anywhere.

    3. Anon Today*

      I mean, if it actually prevents layoffs, then great.

      But it’s really, really terrible if a company forces employees to use up vacation time and then lays them off.

    4. noahwynn*

      My employer is doing this as well. They changed our carry-over to 80 hours of PTO to encourage people to use more before December 31st. They also suggested we take time off now because if everyone cancels their summer plans, it may be difficult to accommodate everyone in the fall/winter.

      Starting in 2022, they are further reducing carry-over from 80 hours to 40 hours. It complicates planning a bit since I’ll have to watch my PTO accrual in December, but it will force people to take vacation time which I think is a good thing. We have some people who never take a vacation.

    5. Nonprofiteer*

      This was a pretty common move in 2008-2009 as well. It doesn’t really affect cash flow for most companies, but does help the balance sheet and ability to get loans.

      Last recession my office had a 2-week shutdown over the winter holidays, and required non-essential staff to use vacation time.

  12. Sam*

    Tangent from #3: I’m OK with dialling into meetings but I’m finding keeping my to-do list up to date a lot harder than in the office and I can’t work out why. It’s like I need to pass Jan from accounting in the hall (without saying a word) to remember to submit my expense report each month.

    Anyone care to share how they’re keeping on top of the small random tasks?

    1. mark132*

      I sometimes use trello for this, I think of a task and I simply add it to the list inside trello.

      1. kiri*

        We’ve been using Trello to assign tasks within our department and I LOVE it! Using it to keep track of personal to-do’s is a great idea.

    2. Filosofickle*

      For something like an expense report, that can be set as a repeating calendar event or reminder. You just need to set up the event once, and have it repeat daily/weekly/monthly/annually at X day or X time. Since I tend to forget and procrastinate, anything critical gets a 2nd event entry a day or a couple of days later to nudge me if I haven’t done it. Any recurring event that can be automated should be. Any one-off that can be scheduled, like following up on something, can also go on the calendar.

    3. Avasarala*

      Much of my work is project-based, so I have it categorized as “things to do today”, “things to do soon” and “things to do when I have time.”
      I handwrite a fresh to-do list every so often when I’ve cleared most of the first two categories, and I try to carry the last bucket over every time until they eventually get done.

      I also write a weekly report every Friday of what I’ve done that week, what I’m doing next week, and any meetings/days off and share with my boss & teammates.

      And I set calendar reminders every Friday to send the weekly report, and every last day of the month to submit time worked, and once a month to backup my files and do some digital cleaning (I try to do physical desk cleaning every Wednesday or whenever I notice). I use calendar pop-up reminders for any small recurring task I forget more than once (and use Siri to remind me in my personal life). I just don’t have the brain space so I’ve outsourced it.

    4. Jeanne*

      My “to do” list is so huge that I will never achieve it!! This is from before everyone was working from home. My boss and I often laugh about it. I keep coming up with new ideas, and she adds suggestions and we get inspired and then one or other of us asks “And when will this happen?” and both of us put it on the “Great idea when we get time” list. I have another list of active projects, and a list of things that are slowly ticking over.
      I have an amazing team around me who remind me of deadlines, ask for information which prompts me and make great suggestions. I think if I was to miss something completely my boss would be very understanding.

      1. Jeanne*

        Ooops, forgot to add – I use my computer for all of my writing, but I’m better at developing ideas with drawing. I have a spiral A4 notebook with heavy art weight paper that I draw, doodle and make notes in. I have a number of “To do” lists in there.
        And I use my Outlook calendar to remind me of deadlines etc. I use colour coding in the calendar, so I can tell at a glance what is a reminder, what is a meeting I am attending, a meeting I am running, a webinar / large numbers meeting, etc. My calendar looks pretty!!

    5. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I use Outlook Tasks extensively, and particularly the “Recurrence” function.

      The options within that are very flexible – you can for example have “Submit expense report” as a task set to recur “the third Thursday of every month”, and tell it to remind you from the Monday immediately beforehand, and then snooze the reminder for 5 minutes/an hour/two days (and everything in between) as necessary.

      You can have tasks which will pop up again a set period after you last completed it if it’s the interval that matters rather than the schedule, eg “order copier paper” three weeks after you last ordered some. That’s as well as the million ad hoc tasks that only come up once.

      You can categorise them so you can filter for Accounting or $LlamaClient, you can set low/normal/high priority on them, and you can attach files and links to them so you can jump to content quickly and easily.

      If you drag an email from your Inbox on to the Tasks icon, it will create a task with the email subject line and email text as content – I then change the subject line to “reply to Fergus” or “review Sansa’s proposal” or whatever.

      I would not recommend using Calendar as a to-do list. Using Calendar for appointments and Tasks for, erm, tasks is a very powerful self-management strategy.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I forgot to say:

        The dragging emails into Tasks is super useful for not getting distracted while you’re reviewing your inbox – if there are any Matters Arising from an email, you drag it on to Tasks (which creates a new task) and then move on through the inbox. When you’ve triaged the entire inbox you can then rationalise the new tasks which are all sitting there as individual windows.

      2. Project Manager*

        Yep, this is what I do – I use Tasks very heavily. I have recurring tasks for my weekly, fortnightly, and monthly tasks, and I also use the tasks as records of what I did – so before closing the task as complete, I type up a quick summary of what I did to close it. And then when I’m doing a weekly report (one of my recurring tasks. Actually, four of them – I have three roles, none of which is under my direct supervisor, so I report to a minimum of four people (I also occasionally report to the people *they* report to). You can see why I need a lot of external reminders), I can look at Outlook, where tasks show up at the bottom of the day they were closed, to see what I did that day.

        I also set due dates not necessarily to the day they’re truly due (especially for a task that will take many hours) but to the day I intend to work on it. So when I look at my task list, I can see I need to do A, B, and C today, D and E tomorrow, and F-L by the end of the week. Sometimes urgent stuff comes up and I can’t get something done on the assigned day, whereupon I reassign the due date. (I have the kind of role where few of my due dates are externally set.) (despite the screen name, I’m not a PM anymore)

        OneNote also has a cool feature where you can highlight text and send it to Tasks. So if I get an action during a meeting, I can type it up in the meeting notes and send it to Tasks, where it will have a handy-dandy link back to the meeting notes.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            I know people complain about Office, but the interactivity of the different apps is fantastic.

      3. The Cosmic Avenger*

        All of my recurring but occasional (< once a week) duties have zero-minute Outlook appointments for the start of my day on the day I should do them. And, as I said in an earlier comment, I NEVER dismiss them even if I start to run or submit or write the report; they only get snoozed until the task is completed and submitted. I've learned that otherwise I will possibly forget about the partially complete task if I need to stop to put out a (figurative) fire.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Yes, absolutely critical to leave something outstanding until it’s genuinely complete (you can set its status to eg “waiting on someone else” and set the percentage complete).

          I don’t understand why an empty appointment in Calendar is more useful to you than a dated Task – could you possibly elaborate?

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            I like seeing these tasks on my calendar, and I’ve never liked the Tasks portion of Outlook when I’ve tried it. I might just need to get used to it, but I just looked at it, and while I can add due dates, I don’t see any way to have it recur.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              When I create a new Task, there’s a button to enter the Recurrence menu slightly to the right of centre on the tool bar, near the priority and privacy buttons. I’m on the latest version of Office and I don’t think I’ve chosen any non-standard settings.

              There’s definitely a “you like what you know” about Office or any system. I’ve used Tasks since my first proper job in 2004 when I had zero meetings and Calendar wouldn’t have been on my radar!

      4. Mockingjay*

        All these years using Outlook and I never knew about dragging an email to a Task!

        I love you guys.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          It is SO useful to have a bunch of information pertinent to a task RIGHT THERE in the task.

          For example, I get an automated email from a public register when something I am monitoring is changed. I drag that email to Tasks and retitle the task “check llama case”. When I later open the task, it contains the hyperlink sent by the register and a code about what kind of change was made. That sounds minor but it saves two or three clicks, a database search, and a bunch of copy typing. Multiply that across a week and you can see how useful a shortcut it is!

    6. Quinalla*

      I use GTD which for me means a combo of calendar items with reminders, some tasks with reminders and various to-do lists and checklists organized whatever way suits me best at the moment along with various other lists (reference, waiting-for, agendas, someday-maybe, etc.) that keeps things that aren’t to-dos organized too. Having one to-do list would NOT work for me, things would get lost on it if everything was on one list! If you are feeling you want to take your to-dos to the next level, I highly recommend the GTD book – just make sure you get the latest version as the original is pretty dated.

    7. Harper the Other One*

      I have so many lists and alarms right now – not just for work stuff, but also personal stuff!

      One thing I’ve found helpful in my iPhone (I’m sure Android has a similar feature, I’m just not familiar with them): when you set an alarm, you can use the “repeat” option to select a day of the week the alarm will go off, as well as a time. So if on Monday I realize I’ll need to call someone on Thursday at 11, I set a phone alarm immediately, change the alarm text to say “call X”, and set it to repeat “every Thursday.” That way I don’t forget to set it but it doesn’t go off every day.

      I know reminders are probably a more streamlined way to do this, but for whatever reason I can ignore/miss reminders much more easily than alarms.

    8. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I implement a few different things.
      *For something I do regularly, like “send the project plan to X”, I set up a recurring task with a reminder in Outlook
      *I use my inbox as a to-do list. I have many folders set up in Outlook, so once I reply/complete a request/etc, the email either goes into a folder for future reference or deleted (when I see others with thousands of emails in their inbox, it gives ME anxiety).
      *I’m also big on the old fashioned notebook and pen solution. If I’m in a meeting and someone asks me to do something, or I think of a random thing I have to get done, I write it down and check it off when I’m done. I check the list at the end of each day to make sure I haven’t missed anything.

      I’ve been with current company for almost 5 years and everyone is spread across the country so everything has always been done virtually, so I’ve had to make sure I’m extra diligent to keep track of things or I’ll forget to do them.

    9. EPLawyer*

      I use Google Tasks because if it ain’t written down, it ain’t happening. For recurring tasks, I just set up to recur on whatever schedule. it’;s simple. It integrates into google calendar on the computer, which prevents overscheduling. Oh I have 8 video calls on Wednesday, let’s not schedule that huge writing thing that day. There is an app for your phone too but it does not integrate with Google Calendar on the phone. That’s okay, I just make sure to enter tasks on the computer and just use the phone to keep an eye on what to do. That was when I was out and about and needed to check what I needed to do that day. Now …. that issue doesn’t come up so much.

      Oh ths is good advice for #3 too. You can schedule your tasks at specific times. So you can time block — like 9-11 review spreadsheet. 11 conference call. So you can see what time you need to be in a meeting — along with reminders of course.

    10. Cedarthea*

      I found that building “habits” helps me keep things on track because I struggle with this ALL THE TIME. The book “Atomic Habits” was a lightbulb book for me as he talks about stacking habits and triggers to make habits happen.

      So for me I have a trigger, my credit card statement comes in on the 15/16/17 of each month. When it arrives I do it, I do my personal expenses and I check in with our finance person if I have anything outstanding. This month I was WFH and so I saw it come in, I did all the paperwork associated with finance and I sent it off.

      For timesheets for payroll, I have it in my calendar as I find the external trigger doesn’t work for me.

      But when my statement came in this month, I realized I hadn’t done anything for payroll on April 1st so I emailed her to check. In my mind all these tasks “go together”.

      Are there ways for you to stack and trigger tasks to turn them into a habit?

      I am ADHD and struggle with some executive functioning, and so I have found this helpful in my whole life, I’ve set myself up so that I know my triggers and what sequence I need to follow when they are set off.

    11. Senor Montoya*

      At the end of every week I make a to do list for every day the next week — top part of the paper = list of appts, time-sensitive deadlines, bottom part of the paper = things to do that day. I have an online calendar, and I have appts in my calendar for key tasks (so that there’s dedicated time for completing them) but I’m old school and find the paper list works well for me. Plus I have the pleasure of drawing a thick line through things as I complete them.

      I keep the paper lists in a clipboard right next to my laptop. I add to the lists as things come up. I have an additional list of “coming soon” in there and add to it as I go along, for things that are past this week, or that I need to figure out steps and intermediate deadlines.

      BTW, I am not at all a naturally organized and structured person. (My study at home is like my office at work: a cozy nest lol.) This is all force of habit that I started in college.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        BTW, I am not at all a naturally organized and structured person. (My study at home is like my office at work: a cozy nest lol.) This is all force of habit that I started in college.

        I feel this! I think people who are naturally organised don’t need all these formal systems to manage their time and priorities. It’s precisely because I can’t hold it all in my head that I have electronic reminders and formal task lists and so on.

        I have three children with different extra curricular activities. In the Before Times I had 55 (fifty-five) alarms a week set on my phone to make sure nobody was waiting at a deserted sports field or late for a music lesson. I use the same learned skills in my private life as in my professional – tasks like cleaning the windows or running a washing machine maintenance cycle are on recurrent!

    12. Chili*

      I have a weekly “random tasks time” blocked out on my schedule to do all the miscellaneous things like submitting expenses, tidying up my digital workspace, doing employee engagement surveys, updating my calendar, etc. I personally schedule my random tasks time for 3:00pm on Friday because there’s generally nothing pressing happening then and it’s a good way to keep working but ease into the weekend.

    13. Nina*

      I put them on my calendar as an event, but set it to “available”. It’s a work block that reminds me to do something.

  13. mark132*

    @lw1, the open floor plan used at part of my company was very unpopular when implemented, during a meeting someone asked the vp if this would be reconsidered in light of the pandemic. Calling his sarcastic response dismissive is an understatement. I suspect his response is the norm.

    1. StellaBella*

      This is so sad. Having suffered thru two jobs in 6 years with open plans, I feel your pain. One job had 12 people crammed into one room that was 10x18feet in size, that was… Suboptimal on so many levels. Management did it because they mismanaged money so badly we had to downsize to one room where we rented the offices. The org has since dissolved.

  14. Nobody Here by That Name*

    OP 1: My personal hope is that companies will realize it’s cheaper to have employees work from home if possible. Sure there’s the costs of the technology but by the same token they could save money in office space rental.

    Which is to say I don’t have much faith that most companies would do this out of the best interests of their employees, but perhaps they’d do it out of interest in their bottom line.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      My company (a software company) is reconsidering having people work in the satellite offices they have around the globe after all of this. When I heard our CEO say this during our virtual employee update, it made me very happy (even though I already work from home full time).

    2. Amy Sly*

      To paraphrase Milton Friedman: I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to have the right people in charge. The important thing is to establish a climate which will make it profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.

    3. Runaway Shinobi*

      Well, it’s also a way for companies to transfer some of the costs of their business to employees. Not everyone has or can afford to have a separate home office.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I don’t have a separate home office – I live in a studio so don’t have the space and work from my dining room table with my laptop and external monitor. My company gave me the laptop, monitor, a cell phone, a conference speakerphone, and also said that if I needed any other work supplies (e.g., printer, paper, pens, stapler, etc.), to request the stuff from IT and they’d send it to me free of charge as well. Basically, our company policy is that whatever equipment and supplies the in-house employees are entitled to, so are the remote employees, and the company covers the cost (not sure about desks and chairs, though – they probably wouldn’t cover that).

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Oh – and they either pay for a cell phone for remote employees or reimburse our home internet costs up to $75 a month. And I get to keep my phone (an iPhone 8 Plus) should I leave my company after the two year phone contract is up.

      2. marmalade*

        Yes – being keen to work from home assumes that you have a comfortable home setup.
        Whereas for me, I have to share the space with 5 other flatmates, taking meetings is a pain in the ass (because sometimes there just isn’t a private space in the house where I can get internet), and our power bills have skyrocketed.

    4. NerdyKris*

      There’s a lot of back end stuff that goes into home offices. It’s not cheaper. Some of the things IT has to deal with:
      More people on the VPN. If something goes down, the impact is a lot worse if there’s 100 people vs 10.
      That VPN access is a vulnerability point.
      We don’t have direct access to your equipment if needed
      Equipment is leaving the building. What happens if it’s damaged or stolen? How are we getting it back when you leave, especially if you’re let go without warning.
      Are there now two setups for every employee, at home and at the office, for when they have to come in? Thats double the equipment to manage.
      Don’t get me started on home printers.
      Not everyone has reliable internet access. I used to do tier 3 support for Time Warner Cable in the NYC area. It’s a fact that those buildings are not designed to handle a modem and wifi in every unit. They were built when indoor plumbing was new! How do you handle someone having an unreliable internet connection? This ties back into the setup at home and office if they need to come in at a moment’s notice.

      And from the standpoint of other departments:
      Confidential or secure information is now being removed from the office regularly.
      When you need to let someone go, are you telling them to bring in all their equipment, at which point they know they’re being let go and might sabotage stuff? Are you assuming they’ll always give all company property back in a timely manner or at all?

      1. Lora*

        Oof, I hear you on the internet access. One of the reasons I refuse to move closer to the office is, I have fiber and live in a major metro area – and in the entire region where the office is, it’s Comcast or DSL. Since most of the management lives in the area, they cannot fathom how working from home is SO MUCH BETTER for me – they’re used to this 18 years old technology that runs like molasses in January when it runs at all. 4G is iffy at best there, due to large mountains blocking signals, a personal hotspot doesn’t always help much, and some areas really have no signal at all. They can’t reliably get a strong signal during meetings or calls, they can barely get on the network, and they have no idea how the rest of the world manages this awesome feat of connectivity – therefore it must be impossible for anyone else, since *they* can’t do it.

        I wish some of the government stimulus money would be put into training telecom people to put on PPE and go around installing fiber and more signal towers so more people can easily work from home.

      2. Clisby*

        About your last point: If you’re going to fire/lay off someone, wouldn’t you cut off their access *before* you tell them? That doesn’t speak to the question of whether they’d return the equipment, but when I worked from home the IT staff could gain access to my company-supplied laptop anytime they wanted (unless I shut it down, of course). They could have wiped out everything on it; they could have canceled my login. Not that the equipment was worth much – when I retired, my husband and I estimated that my company laptop and monitor *might* have been worth $500.

        1. NerdyKris*

          It depends on the VPN setup. But the problem would still be that they’d find out and could damage the equipment, and the equipment we’ve been sending home for this has been around $2000 worth, not counting employee cell phones.

    5. Senor Montoya*

      The technology costs may not even be that substantial, depending on needs. For our office, we need…laptops and chargers. Which are our office machines. There’s internet, but everyone in the office has that at home so our employee doesn’t have to pay that cost. Software: licenses paid for by the University, it’s not an expense for our office, and it’s not an *additional* expense for the U since they are buying those already.

    6. Christmas Carol*

      Judging by the amount of extra money I’m spending on my own coffee, toilet paper and hand sanitizer while WFH, my company is saving a fortune

      1. MissDisplaced*

        It’s a tradeoff.
        >My Internet/WiFi is $50/month and I get no stipend for that during WFH, though I would have this plan anyway for streaming and home use. I haven’t needed a speed upgrade yet.
        >I’m saving 2+ Hours of commute time daily and at least $60/week in gas. Time is money!
        >I haven’t worn my “office appropriate” clothes in a month, and if I went WFH 100% of the time, I would quite likely never have to buy dressy clothing again! I spend a lot on clothes for the office (I love fashion and clothes, but I’ve come to realize how much money I’ve truly wasted on them). Ditto for things like hair color and cuts — all geared towards grooming for the office.
        >TP use is about the same–haven’t really noticed an uptick.
        >Food + Coffee about the same. I was always a packer and I always made my AM coffee at home. Definitely more dirty dishes though, so Cascade is making out $ off me. :-)

        But for me it’s the 2+ hours of time wasted by commuting daily to an office.
        That equates to roughly 10 hours overtime per week and 4o hours a month YOU DON’T GET PAID FOR. Think about that a moment.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Agreed. I was setting aside $400 a month for fuel costs. I have recovered two plus hours a day with not having to drive in to an open plan. My network costs are the same, but my food and coffee costs have shifted. I am using more TP.

    7. Environmental Compliance*

      My previous position’s corporate office called me a couple days ago. Apparently they didn’t realize I left for another job (which, they would have if 1) they read my resignation email in any way, 2) they bothered to call me or answer the phone before I left, or 3) had any common sense) and wanted to know if I’d be interested in working for Corporate, which is based quite literally across the country. I said I didn’t want to be in that region, but appreciated the offer… apparently they’re seriously looking at opening up remote offices. I found it pretty interesting, as they’d fought hard against that before. For that position bracket, there’s no reason to require 100% office time.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          They’ve a variety of positions open. I do recommend the base company, to a point, just not my previous facility (it’s a dumpster fire). I’m happy to talk to you about them if you’re interested.

          Basically, they are a management company who provides HR, EHS, operations, maintenance management to facilities, mostly power/gas/oil. EHS has a big team. Some sites (like my previous one) had a designated EHS person, and some are covered by Corporate. Enviro & HS are kept pretty separate, which was nice for someone like me who only does the E. They’re scattered around the USA.

          1. lost academic*

            I have a couple national clients like that… safety isn’t even under the same sphere at all as environmental, it reports up through HR for one of them.

            Somewhat interested! What’s the best way to talk directly?

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              Can Alison pull out emails from the signature boxes? I don’t want to blast my email all over (it’s my full name), but for things like this I’m happy to share.

              Throwing in a link so it goes thru moderation

    8. Briefly Anon*

      Long before the pandemic we moved to hotdesking /because/ more people were working from home. It’s hard to justify giving people separate offices when they only use them a couple of times a month, and even full time homeworkers have to come in for meetings occasionally and need somewhere to sit for the day.

      I’m actually pretty happy with the open plan and hotdesking, as long as people don’t get precious about having a particular desk all of the time regardless (not including people with accomodations, though having enough equipment that means they aren’t limited to one desk all of the time is important too), but it irritated me when it was sold to us as “collaboration!” and “productivity!” because it’s not, it’s “cost saving!” and honestly, as a non-profit that’s a good enough reason on its own.

      1. Filosofickle*

        It’s a bit of a downward spiral. The more hotdesking there is, the less people want to be there, which leads to fewer true desks and more hotdesking. I prefer to WFH, so I understand that an office doesn’t want to give me my own space onsite for the 1-2 days a week I’m willing to go in. But then if it’s not “my” space, I’m not even willing to go in that much! Shrug.

    9. dragocucina*

      This week at new job, that has thousands of people working in multiple buildings, one of the grandbosses had a virtual town hall where he declared that this proves that much the work can be done securely via VPN. He’s looking at how many people can switch to working mostly time from home. It’s not all altruism. The lack of wear and tear on office space is a benefit. Since many average at least a 1 hour commute they were quite happy.

      I do salute all the IT people who have had to quickly get so many people ready and offering continuing support. Most of our big online meetings people have had enough sense to mute mics and turn off video cameras to save bandwidth.

  15. Zahra*

    OP1: I’m suspecting that with more WFH policies, hot desking will become more popular with management, not less. Unfortunately.

    1. Yes*

      This is what our ELT is saying. We’re not open office, but it sounds like we will be soon because of more WFH

    2. LQ*

      Yeah, I think this is going to lead to a lot fewer office spaces in general, more hot desking, and less space in the office for people.

    3. Koala dreams*

      Me too. Now with the economic crisis, many companies are looking at keeping costs down, and office space is a big cost. WFH and hot desking save money in rental fees.

    4. peachie*

      That was my thought as well. Honestly, hot desking makes NO sense to me for employees that are in the office most days. It barely makes sense at all, but I can see more of a justification if more people are out of the office on an average day. (Though I’d find the free-for-all that is hot desking frustrating no matter what — I think a ‘permanent hoteling’ situation is a better solution. We did that in my old office — there was a shared office for two employees who worked M-W and T-F, respectively. There were various locking cabinets, etc. where they could each store their belongings so they didn’t have to move in/out once a week. I still wouldn’t love the setup, personally, but at least you’d know you had a place to sit.)

    5. Brett*

      Yes, definitely this. It is looking highly likely that office space for our organization will be reduced and employees will be expected to routinely work from home and hot desk while they are in the office. Having everyone work from home has basically proven that it is viable to switch to hot desking.

    6. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, fully remote, or mostly remote, chops the real estate cost waaaay down. Yes, it leads to hot-desking when you wander in to the office, but I can tolerate one or two days a month. I just need a place to stick my workstation, like a closet or server room, and I’m good to go. They could put all the easily WFH people on FT remote, then give the people who have to work on-site their own offices, and still rent out half of the buildings.

  16. Courtney*

    LW 2: I am touched by your compassion and thoughtfulness for your nanny, her health, livelihood, and family. I just wanted to say a thank you on her behalf, even though I don’t know either of you!

    LW5: In my company and some of the companies my friends work for, PTO is a separate accounting line so the money is set aside each pay (i.e. a certain amount of the wage is set aside. It doesn’t affect the per hour OR take home pay, but allows the slow accrual of hours and money in the work bank account) to ensure people can take their leave. If your company has this, it might lessen a burden financially for them, as well as providing you a break for your own mental health.

  17. TechWorker*

    Have to admit the views on this site that open plan offices are Bad (TM) in all circumstances really surprise me. I am glad to not have to hot desk and I don’t think I would enjoy that but for the kind of work I do, open plan *works*, we are much less productive from home. I think the main conclusion from this will be ‘wow our jobs are so much easier now everything’s back to normal and we’re in the office’.

    (I feel this way about quite a few coronavirus things, like the folks saying how great it is that pollution has dropped cos no-ones travelling and it shows how easy it is to not travel… I mean… not travelling is keeping families apart, lots of people are struggling with mental health due to being isolated and the economy is tanking. None of this feels like a model for ‘the ideal way to do things’)

    1. Avasarala*

      I kind of agree, my work is very collaborative and I do like being able to just strike up a conversation with someone, or overhear people discussing something and chime in or get information. Or seeing that someone is really busy and deciding not to bother them. Or having an easier back and forth than on chat or a call.

      To your second paragraph, I hope people bring up those things as silver linings, not as genuine benefits. People travel for a reason and whole countries and industries rely on tourism for their economy.

      1. Workerbee*

        What’s cool about your office situation is that people respect each other’s time and visual cues of being busy or, you know, already in a working conversation with someone. My particular team, I found, is filled with folks who have no problem interrupting someone or someones just, because they suddenly hatched a glimmer of what they consider a great idea. All the time. Because there’s nowhere to hide. :)

        Then suddenly an hour is gone and you’re added to more meetings to keep developing this great idea. As you might discern, there’s far less implementation than ideating.

        I am getting more done at home by not being constantly at the mercy of what they like to call active collaboration (but which really boils down to lots of meetings with lots of repetition and with no real agenda, and where even the people who started out with their idea can’t find their own materials around it).

        We have internal IM, audio/video calls, and I’m actually implementing an open collaboration platform across the company that I hope will guide and shape people’s ideas, projects, files, and updates into more actual true collaboration and solutions. Some people already welcome it and can see the benefits, while others are struggling with not having a “willing” ear that they can physically get to whenever they want. They will, I suspect, be instrumental in smushing us back into our open office when the time comes.

        1. TechWorker*

          Do you not think the people who are constantly interrupting and adding you to meetings you don’t want to be in would do that regardless of the office layout..? (Like, I can see it might make it a bit worse but it sounds like your colleagues would be annoying wherever they sat :p)

    2. Erstwhile Lurker*

      I wouldn’t say bad in all circumstances, nothing meats sitting beside someone to look at a problem they are facing, or to work through a new process. For the majority of what I do though (software), open plan is a bit of a nightmare, with constant distractions.

      Hot desking in my opinion is quite demeaning, you don’t even have a designated work area and have to go in and try and find a seat every day? Really?

      The four hour blocks of time that I need come much easier without phones going off, people walking around, loud conversations etc. I understand that for the likes of a call centre, working from home isn’t ideal, but for me, after years of being in the office, and now having a job that allows remote work, I wont be back to the office in a hurry.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        Hot desking isn’t demeaning by definition, it depends how it’s implemented. A lot of companies don’t do it right or do it when it doesn’t fit the business.

        My org is 60% remote and additionally allows office based workers to wfh for 20% of their time. Having desks for every employee would be ludicrous.

        What they do well is calculating usage to determine desk usage by day and time of year. There are lockers for people’s things and they give you a laptop bag (normal or backpack), full docking stations and double monitors at each desk, lockers nearby and desks are split notionally by ‘area’ e.g. digital, policy etc so you’ll be within your group. A mix of bookable and non-bookable meeting rooms for small to big groups.

        We’re going to go down even more desks with the next office move so we’re moving to a desk booking system as well.

        It also helps if everyone’s exposed to it, my dad is a CEO without an office (although there’s a faux barrier of the company secretaries desks around him, with him in a corner). While his set-up has more privacy, no one’s looking and going ‘____ has an office, that’s not fair.’

        1. caps22*

          “What they do well is calculating usage to determine desk usage by day and time of year.”
          This is key. At a previous job they had 8 desks per 10 workers, on the theory that people travelled a certain percentage. What they failed to do was account for visitors from other sites (we were HQ), and the fact that travel was never uniformly distributed. Tues-Thurs was awful, and since they didn’t allow WFH, people had to work in hallways, in the visitors chairs at reception, etc. The place was so overcrowded that the toilets were constantly out of service due to over use causing problems (according to the building manager).

          1. LDN Layabout*

            Yup, that’s just bad planning. Pre-office move decision we had months of facilities doing a daily walkthrough to note desk occupation (only between 10-3, to account for people on differing schedules).

            I work at a bank of six desks, I’d say 1-2 times in a fortnight is it full and on Fridays at least a quarter of the time I’m the only occupant. People complain about having the number of desks reduced but it’s necessary.

        2. Amy*

          Same. My company is a mix of remote, travel and hot-desking. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. If anything, having a defined desk might feel like pressure for more office facetime.

      2. TechWorker*

        I’m also in software, though do a mix of focussed tasks and a lot of talking to other people. In our offices we have a general rule that you don’t have loud (or even quiet, long) conversations in the open bit, so if a conversation is going to be any longer than a few sentences it goes to a meeting room. We don’t take calls in the open office, and I guess the walking past thing depends where you sit… to be fair I now usually sit in corners/at the end of a row as I have some management responsibilities and need to be able to ‘hide’ my screen on occasion.

        I do understand that they don’t work for lots of people, I was mostly commenting on the blanket assertion that companies ‘should’ look at moving away from them, or that they’re solely driven by cost.

        1. JustaTech*

          When my office renovated away from cubes to a semi-open office (the desk have two half-walls), the floor where most of the people in charge of the renovation sat got plenty of conference rooms and three “phone rooms”. My floor (with fewer people, granted) got one conference room, and no phone rooms. We had to beg for them to let us use an untouched conference room, and if we didn’t have an empty office there would be no where private for anyone to take a call if the conference rooms are in use.

          There are better and worse ways to do an open office, and it sounds like your company did a better job than many.

    3. Batgirl*

      I think it depends on the industry. I’m a former journalist and I can’t imagine a newsroom that isn’t open plan but I’ve definitely worked in offices where it was a pain and actively worked against what you were trying to do. I don’t understand why it’s used in confidential or non collaborative work. Also, I think it’s pure torture to some individuals. I teach small classes of special needs students and they struggle to work if even one other person is talking. I often wonder how they’ll cope in an open plan office. Yes they’ll struggle working from home too but that doesn’t make the other extreme helpful for them.

    4. Grace*

      Yeah, I like my open-plan office. The main office with fifty people feels too cramped for me, but our little satellite office with 7-8 people benefits from it. There’s a lot of general announcing to the room “Hey, what’s the methodology for X?” or “The figures on this are XYZ, we don’t care about that, right?” Four out of the seven of us have been in the role for less than eight months, so being able to ask questions to the room at large is incredibly helpful. We’re all fairly introverted and there’s no shame in just putting your headphones on and getting on with it, but we all get on really well with our set-up.

      Now we’re all WFH, our office Slack channel is ridiculous. Be in a meeting for an hour and come back to 100+ missed messages. If you have something you want clarification on, you have to tag people to get them to notice. I can’t be having with that for the rest of my working life here. It’s too messy.

      1. MayLou*

        Number of people absolutely makes a difference. The most we ever have in my office is 14, and that’s if the CEO is visiting, the remote team member has come down for a meeting and everyone is in. Working from home, I do miss being able to quickly ask a question or learn something by overhearing a colleague talking. It gets noisy when we’re all in though (thankfully only happens maybe twice a year! Usually more like 10 for half a day a week) so more than 15 would be horrible.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I would add that being by people who are in the same general category as you as well. I had an office at Last Job, but when the traders would get rowdy out in the middle, I had to close my door. I could not function with them talking loudly at each other every 2-3 minutes about something something prices something something f*ckin’ riDICulous something something grumbling something. None of their work crossed over with mine, other than to remind them we could not store food on the dirt, stop purchasing corn when we have no place to store it properly. I’m on the phone with the City talking them down off a cliff for a minor deviation so we don’t get fined, could you PLEASE not be so loud about barrels of oil because they only hear like every third word and now they’re worried we’re dumping oil *frustrated Finland*.

          By other compliance/EHS/engineering/lab? Would have been actually enjoyable.

      2. mark132*

        You may like that, but for me that sounds like hell. If every time I got into the “zone someone were to interrupt me, I would have a hard time getting anything done.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Ditto. I don’t deal well with interruptions, and I’m having to train my roomies about it so I can get stuff done.

      3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Yeah, I appreciate hearing another introvert saying that they like their open-office situation. The Slack channel pile-on makes it difficult to organically take part in the dialogue of the office, and everyone being in their own offices can make it challenging to have a good baseline of informal discussion. The informal learning opportunities are such a big bonus – it feels different to keep having to go to someone’s office to ask a question.

        We moved to a less-open layout earlier this year, with some of the most introverted people on our team getting moved to personal offices and a few people left in an open cube area. Over time, one became pretty unhappy with the situation because they felt cut off from the broader team. Being off in an office on your own leads to a bit of an “out of sight, out of mind” scenario, and can make it more difficult to get or stay integrated with your team as a whole.

    5. Quinalla*

      For focus work, open offices are abysmal and most of the time when they are switched to, there is not a taking into account of how focus work will get done. You have to have a mix of collaborative and focus spaces that people can ACTUALLY USE (this is where it usually falls down if they have thought about it). I can’t drag my desktop PC into a focus space for example so a space where I can’t remote log-in or the mouse/keyboard/screen setup sucks is not a usable space for anything but maybe a quick phone call. And yes, you also have to make sure there are still private spaces for HR conversations, etc.

      I also hate talking on the phone in an open office, but I do it anyway even though I dread making phone calls.

      Are their benefits to open offices, sure, read the positive articles about them. But for a lot of folks the negatives way outweigh the benefits with the way they are implemented and a lot of work doesn’t just not benefit from collaboration, collaboration is actually a negative. There is a lot of work that just needs to be done by one person who is able to focus for a stretch of time. Having people around you talking/collaborating and you can’t get away from it makes that work take much longer and be of poorer quality.

    6. High School Teacher*

      I’m a high school teacher so of course my WFH situation is different but this has also shown me that for all the advances in technology education has made, there is still SO much value in face-to-face, traditional school. My students are miserable and miss their friends and teachers. I miss my colleagues, I miss my students…and teaching 100% online just isn’t feeling as effective as our normal lessons in the classroom.

      I have friends in jobs WFH now who are THRIVING. I am not.

    7. Kes*

      Eh, I think the answer is not ‘We can totally keep doing what we are now all the time for everything’ but more ‘Some of this is more feasible than we previously thought and we could probably do this more’. I am looking forward to getting back in the office and seeing my coworkers there but I also hope this will increase our (and others’) ability to work remotely. Ditto travelling… I definitely don’t think people will stop travelling once they can again but if we can cut down on the amount of commuting and business travel by being able to do more remotely, that already could make a huge impact.

    8. Richard Hershberger*

      I don’t think that open plan offices are bad in all circumstances. I think they are bad in a lot–perhaps most–circumstances, and the reasons why they are good, in those circumstances where they are indeed good, are misapplied (often disingenuously) to all circumstances.

      Also, you jump from open office plans to working from home. There are at least two intermediate steps there: cubicles, and traditional offices with doors. It is certainly true that many jobs don’t work as well WFH. It is also certainly true that some employees, for whatever reason, work better in the office than they do at home. In an ideal world, the office situation would be adapted to the individual role and employee. This requires more insight than many employees are capable of.

      Also, while I totally believe that some jobs really do benefit from opportunities for spontaneous collaboration, there can also be jobs in the very same office made far more difficult by all this spontaneity. Also, that this spontaneous collaboration often is devoted to last nights’ reality show.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Team rooms, rather than cattle stall open offices, might be a nice way to get a hybrid environment. Then the loud teams could collaborate at volume, and the quiet teams could get their work done.

    9. peachie*

      I think I agree? Though I think that ‘open office’ can describe a wide range of setups — from ‘cubicles are all in a centralized area and have low-ish dividers, lots of glass walls and meeting areas’ (which is how my last office was, and it was great!) to ‘tables, tables everywhere’ (to which I say: no thank you, absolutely not).

      One thing that REALLY helped in my previous semi-office was they installed what was basically a central white noise machine. I don’t know what kind of wizardry that was — you couldn’t actually here it, but it WORKED.

    10. Claire*

      For the record, it’s not just this site that dislikes open plan offices–the majority of people in open plan offices dislike them. Which is not to say that they never work, I suppose, nor does it mean that no office should ever be open plan and all open plan offices should be converted immediately, but the negative opinion is far from just being an AAM quirk.

  18. Jules the First*

    Weighing in from the designer perspective, we’re still looking at open plan office spaces. (Sidebar: I’m sorry…as a non-designer working in a design firm, I know it sucks, but architects have had open plan offices themselves since the 1930s and they love them and simply cannot comprehend that anyone might not, and then clients visit our office and see open plan working beautifully and everyone clearly in love with it and they come away believing the architect when he says that open plan is the best solution and it just needs to be designed well and for everyone to get used to it and then everyone will love it.)

    Things that will likely change post-pandemic:
    – density of workstations will fall so fewer people crammed together
    – materials will change. Lots of firms looking at antiviral or antibacterial surfaces or new ways of cleaning
    – the types of spaces in your office. We’ll see more handwash stations and distributed bathrooms and kitchens and coffeepoints to try and spread users around the floor. We’ll also see more “conversation clusters” (comfy chairs and those weird booths that you can snuggle into), more web-enabled meeting rooms (and probably more smaller meeting rooms), which was already happening but will happen more frequently.
    – no-contact surfaces and services. Self-opening doors, voice-activated lifts, hands-free taps in bathrooms, gadgets you control with your phone rather than a shared remote, etc.

    Hot desking is here to stay, probably worse post-pandemic because more people will be equipped to work from home and companies simply can’t afford to pay for office space that sits empty two or three days a week. They’ll have a better cleaning regime, though. (Sidebar 2: hot desking is even translating into other design types…some of the newest hospitals under design are meant to have the individual rooms “hot desk” between regular wards and intensive care…)

    Office trends take a long time to change because we design on a 5-8 year horizon and clients rent offices on 5, 10, 15, or 20-year leases, so it will take a while for major design shifts to happen…longer if your company built its own building. We’re redesigning some stuff that’s in construction, and tweaking some things that were recently finished, but it will take four or five years before you start to see major changes in the way your typical office space looks.

    1. Rubyrose*

      Great insight – thanks!

      Hot desking of hospital rooms – that sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Would love to hear input from health care workers on that one.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        Hospitals being able to shift works from one use to another more easily would be useful in the case of pandemics, large scale accidents or terrorist attacks. Especially in the case of large city hospitals you’d be able to have one go all ITU, while the others set up for cancer, immunocompromised etc.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        As described, being able to switch a patient room or ward from regular inpatient care to intensive care? No disaster at all; quite the opposite. Presumably they’d only be switching it between patients, unless the current occupant needed to go from one type to the other, in which case they can be switched without moving them out through the regular hospital to a whole different room – much safer and less exposure risk for everyone.

        Gets a little fiddly on the billing potentially – our room charges, at least, are largely automated and structured on the notion that bed x is a regular inpatient bed, bed y is an observation bed and bed z is an ICU bed, so the resource management system might get a little more complex if that’s variable, but certainly deal-able.

    2. Batgirl*

      I wonder if it is possible for more architects to get into the mindset of other professions. What you said made me think of my teaching colleagues’ bitter complainants about a meeting with architects before a new school was built. Most of the large high schools in the UK are extremely open plan now and very unpopular with teachers. We often teach students in corridors (or ‘collaboration hubs’) with people passing through. There are no staff workrooms, classrooms are shared and constantly in use, so staff have nowhere to work. In the meeting for my school, staff had gotten wind of this trend and specifically asked for as many classroom walls and doors as possible as well as for storage cupboards and offices. Staff also begged them to abandon the trend for balconies on upper floors (Why this is A Thing, I don’t know) and for providing wheeled spinning office chairs instead of ordinary classroom chairs. Every single suggestion was routinely ignored. But apparently the local council were really impressed with an open plan office they visited full of well behaved adults! Yes, that’s the same.
      Cue first month in new school building: staff doing all work later into the night because there’s no daytime work space, staff doing extra break duties to keep students away from the dangerous balconies until they can be sealed off, students who are a handful deciding to skip class in front of a ready made audience made up of corridor classes to disrupt and students in the few classrooms spinning like tops on the swivel chairs instead of facing front. No library whatsoever, and the one place you’d expect to be open plan – the outside grounds – had shrank to a small yard to make room for the ‘collaboration hubs’.
      Yet I hear the architects were truly keen on this plan?

      1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*


        Seriously, this sounds like an almost literal dumpster fire. Creativity should be used to respond to the brief, not supplant it.

          1. Sara without an H*

            Indeed. Your observation, WellRed, explains a lot of bad libraries and bad churches, as well.

          2. Richard Hershberger*

            Architecture critics, too. Read the reviews of any new public structure, whether it is a concert hall or a baseball stadium. The reviews will go on at length about how the structure fits in with the neighborhood aesthetics. They will give no attention whatsoever to whether the seats are comfortable, the sight lines good, or (in the case of the concert hall) the acoustics. These simply don’t matter.

            1. Amy Sly*

              And their notions of “fitting the neighborhood aesthetics” are crazy. When I hear that, I think a building should look like it has always been there. When architects and architectural critics use it, they seem to mean that it’s what they wish the neighborhood had always looked like but is actually a giant eyesore.

            2. Gumby*

              I usher at a relatively newly built performance venue. I’m not sure if it’s true, but rumors say that one of the big donors had a lot of input into details. If so, I heartily congratulate her on her good sense. The aisles are wide enough that you can get to your seat past other people in your row without inadvertently committing sexual harassment, the bathrooms have lights over the stall doors that indicate whether there is an occupant and a file folder thing on the doors where you can place tickets/programs, and they hired a well-known, well-regarded acoustician and designed the space for the most common type of performance. The layout is not great for, say, dance performances but is amazing for orchestras and chamber music groups. Dance performances just take place in a different on campus venue usually. I regularly go to other venues and bemoan the lack of a convenient place to put my cast list / program booklet when visiting the restrooms (much less purse hooks by the sink, paper towels by the individual sinks rather than the opposite side of the bathroom, etc.).

            3. selena81*

              That’s such a waste. I can appreciate a cool building, but function should always come first.

              I love open plan offices: they jive with my line of work and my personality. They are great for keeping an eye on what your colleagues are doing.
              But a school (or any other place with long meetings) should have mostly classrooms. And a stadium should be optimized for large gatherings and clear lines of sight.

          3. Jules the First*

            Hah. It’s not that form doesn’t follow function – my friendly neighbourly architects do absolutely, sincerely believe that form follows function. They also deeply, sincerely believe that y’all are going to a great deal of trouble to deliberately use the building wrong and they are completely and utterly baffled as to why y’all would do that when they worked so dang hard to optimise it for you.

            I can only conclude that the genius that allows an architect to look at a derelict warehouse and envision the mind-blowing experience of swimming in the sky that is the London aquatics centre is the same genius that, on failing to learn to tie a shoelace, concludes that everyone should just wear scuba booties instead.

        1. Amy Sly*

          I have never understood how an industry that takes “form follows function” as an axiom manages to create spaces that are terrible for the nominal function. If a house is a machine for living, it damn well needs closets!

          1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

            I remember seeing or reading about a particular Frank Lloyd Wright house where the owners tried to have some input into the layout of the furniture, so he designed it to be bolted in place. It was also in a particularly warm climate and he designed the whole thing without adequate airflow or ventilation, because, Art.

            Literally telling someone how to live, that their comfort in their own home is secondary to your creative expression? GUMPTION.

            1. Amy Sly*

              Haven’t heard those stories, but they track with the other stories of FLW houses I’ve heard. I think it’s Falling Water where to make the living room seem even bigger, he dropped the ceiling of the hallway to lower than code.

              Given me Henry and Charles Greene, possibly the last famous architects who thought their job was to make useful and beautiful buildings instead of just monuments to their own egos and ideologies, over Frank Lloyd Wright and Gropius and le Corbusier.

              1. Richard Hershberger*

                He also did cute tricks of cantilevering with Falling Waters, but got the math wrong. They had to go back and add emergency supports lest the whole thing collapse. But it is indeed a very pretty building.

      2. Lizzy May*

        I know it’s not as common in the UK but I read about that and then I think about an active shooter situation and I feel very uncomfortable.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          Not as common is very much an understatement, our last school shooting was also the deadliest mass shooting in Britain, 24 years ago.

          I wouldn’t expect architects to consider an event that last happened a quarter of a century ago and led to massive overhauls of the law in their designs.

          1. Batgirl*

            Well, we consider it. We have drills regularly and tend to hide behind curtains instead of in rooms. There have been intruders of the domestic violence variety and irate former pupils in similar schools. Armed with knives, but still. We had a very disturbed pupil threaten to shoot a colleague last year which gave us all pause. Ann Maguires death wasn’t that long ago. I think you’re right though that none of this is notorious or widespread enough to make an architects radar.

      3. Zahra*

        Uh. My high school had “shared” classrooms. You could have French, English or mathematics in a room, depending on the day and time slot. All subjects requiring a lab (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) would happen in classrooms that had the equipment (plus there was a shared space to store additional material for experiments).

        There were teacher offices, shared between teachers of the same subject. And a library.

        1. Claire*

          Yeah, my high school had shared classrooms as well and it was fine, but, like yours, there were teacher offices (some shared and some not)–Batgirl is saying that she also doesn’t have staff workrooms, so she can’t get work done in empty classrooms or in designated teacher offices. Which, it seems to me like the bigger problem is the lack of a staff workroom, as it wouldn’t be super practical to just go around working in whatever classroom was empty, but the fact that she doesn’t even have that option is VERY impractical.

      4. SweetestCin*

        In order to have that happen, I suspect that architecture programs are going to have to quit rewarding the most “provocative” and “creative” designs on the basis of them solely being “provocative” and “creative” for the sake of being so.

        The program I was in regularly awarded the best grades and remarks for those types of projects, most of which couldn’t have even existed in anything other than sketched on paper form. This was an internationally known, NCARB accredited program, so basically, considered one of the best.

        There are reasons why I left the practice of architectural overall. The utter nonsense spouted by those in charge was one of them.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Also blame the people hiring the architect. They would do better hiring someone from a no-name school who isn’t creative, but gets the math right. My church installed an elevator in a century old building a while back, with the elevator shaft an addition outside the original footprint. This required an architecture, who was blessedly uncreative. The addition has a brick exterior that is a close match to the rest of the building, and the plans presented no difficulty to the buildings. This is what we wanted.

        2. Claire*

          It seems like the fashion industry has a decent divide going on here–there’s the provocative and creative stuff, which goes on runways, and the stuff real people want to wear on a day to day basis, which goes to department stores. Architects can have fun making crazy designs, I support that, but you have to accept then that this is just art for art’s sake, not something a real office worker would appreciate really working in.

      5. Idril Celebrindal*

        Oh my goodness yes!

        We’re going through this at my library. The architects say, “X is so cool and the students will love it because it is state of the art.” The administration says, “Yay! Prospective students will love it!.” We say, “X won’t work because of Y and Z, also A, B, C, and D. The current students loudly say they hate X. Also, you forgot an entire department in your plan. We need L, M, N, and O in order for this to work.” The architects say, “Oh, I see, we didn’t think of that, we’ll work on it.”

        Cue next meeting. The architects say, “X is so cool and the students will love it because it is state of the art.” The administration says, “Yay! prospective students will love it!.” We say, “Ummmm….”

        1. Jules the First*

          I am so sorry! This is why practices hire people like me, whose job is to figure out what the client actually needs and then hit the architects over the head with it relentlessly until you get a building that does what you actually want it to do and also looks awesome (and is hopefully within its contingency budget and less than a year late…I say hopefully because I am only one woman. If you want it functional, beautiful, on budget AND on time, then I will also need the ghosts of Mies van der Rohe and Ove Arup as spiritual advisors, Hermione’s time spinner, and a bottomless supply of artisan espresso and German chocolate cake.)

          1. Idril Celebrindal*

            Bless you on behalf of everyone you saved from the purgatory that is a counter-intuitive buildings. May you have all the German Chocolate Cake and Artisan Espresso that your heart desires.

            Honestly, I blame the administration the most, they hired a firm with no experience designing libraries, and they didn’t even think to include the librarians until about halfway through. So the architects are probably getting lots of mixed signals. But yeah, I wish they had stopped to think, “Wait, maybe the people who are going to be using this building, who also have advanced degrees that include training in space planning for this type of building, are probably on to something.”

            1. Idril Celebrindal*

              *a counter-intuitive building (not buildings)

              Good grief, I need to stop editing mid thought, or at least read more carefully.

    3. Jesicka309*

      Our office has been hot desking for a few years – the office was designed in the ways you mentioned above and it works great. We get an rdo every 4 weeks and have very flexible working policies (lots of part timers/wfh/working school hours/work off site %) so it actually works pretty well as no team ever has everyone in at once. Rules include no camping for longer than 2 hours if you’re not using the desk, no eating, general neighborhoods for different departments, clean your desk/keyboard with wipes when you set up and the desks get cleaned nightly.

      When Coronavirus hit the main change was that we were encouraged to pick a desk and stay there all day instead of moving throughout the day. When they decided everyone was wfh, everyone just took their laptops home, no dramas, no stuff left behind to worry about. I can’t see us going back to assigned seats, maybe more defined neighborhoods so teams sit in the same zones more regularly? I actually find the hot desking cleaning regime more thorough than assigned seats!!

        1. Daisychain*

          I’m not sure if it’s the same in other professions, but in my husband’s job (law enforcement) RDO stands for regular day off.

          1. WellRed*

            Thanks, yes, I heard roster and immediately thought “military,” so not surprised it’s also a law enforcement term. Definitely not an office term.

            1. Renamis*

              I work in hospitality and we use RDO as “regular day off” too. Mostly as a notation when we take holiday time so it’s easy to see which day is vacation and which is your normal times, particularly as your days off when you scheduled the vacation might not be the same as when you took the vacation.

              1. doreen*

                I think RDO or something similar, ( like ” My weekend is Mon- Tues” ) is probably common in any environment, office or not, where people have a set scheduled that’s not always M-F

    4. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      A friend of mine is an architect who for a while specialised in children’s centres (a now-defunct government initiative to support families with young children, especially in lower-income areas).

      Then she had her first baby.

      After that, her designs were COMPLETELY DIFFERENT because she suddenly understood why people didn’t want to leave strollers in outdoor corrals, why concertina walls aren’t sufficient between confidential support appointments even if they do permit flexible space arrangements etc.

    5. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

      I’m curious to know if all this will have any lasting effect on changing attitudes about in-the-office arrangements in general.

      Eg: if a company realises that it could save a lot on rent by having only hot desks and cycling staff to WFH half the week. Or doing 2 daily split shifts (early and a late) instead of one 9-5 – they could effectively double the staff they could fit into the same space. I know many people who would happily give up “owning” a deskspace if it meant they could have the flexibility of finishing work by, or not having to start until, 1-2pm. Imagine how much more work you could get done too, if only half your shift was during standard business hours (during peak interruption time?)

      Wouldn’t work for everyone obviously, but definitely could be of benefit for some.

      1. Sydney Bristow*

        My firm is moving to a brand new building in a few years. My department has been pushing for partial WFH partially as a way to save money in the new space. Leadership was opposed for a long time, but now that the entire firm has been working remotely for weeks and they saw how well it can work (especially for my department), it was finally approved.

        The plan in the new office is open plan with hot desking. They were planning for an open office setup for my department anyway. Instead of switching away from this open office plan for my department, they’ve decided to stick with it and are going to have to figure out how to thoroughly clean those desks daily.

        1. Mazzy*

          I’m usually not the first to bring privilege into a discussion but I think it definitely implies here. WFH is one of the quickest ways to highlight disparities between people, and show who lives in a cramped space and doesn’t have room to isolate or do a zoom meeting in privacy. Or someone asking if they can stay in the office because they need to avoid a crazy roommate. Lower level employees know management makes more, but it might make them a bit resentful if they actually need to see their designing kitchens while they’re working from bed because they have no other private place.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah, it is. More money buys bigger housing. Management gets offices, but is usually in meetings so doesn’t use them.

            But there’s no reason to require highly paid employees who do mostly skull work to come in to a cattle-call office. Is that privilege? Yes. It’s also more productive. Have an office for the people who need to work in an office for whatever reason (space, kids, roommates, etc.) There’s no good reason for a programmer to come in to an office just because the accounting clerk has to. Offices are not egalitarian anyway, as evidenced by the fact that execs get real offices, while everyone else gets open plan noise pits.

      2. Delta Delta*

        I’m also curious to see what happens with businesses who realize there are other ways of doing things. Right now my husband, who is an attorney, is WFH in our kitchen. His colleagues are all also generally WFH except for the office manager who goes in a couple times a week (alone! distanced! appropriately within our state guidelines!). They realized this enormous office they spend many thousands of dollars in rent on per month could be pared back to a third or less in a smaller place if people WFH more frequently. This is just 1 example, of course, but I’m sure there are other businesses having similar thoughts.

        1. Law Office Anon*

          Our law firm is also looking at this. The office manager is going in twice per week (within guidelines!) and everyone else stays home. We could realistically do with half the space we currently have if we allowed regular WFH, which has been working just fine. Why not cut our lease expense by half? Especially since all the WFH tech has already been bought, is well tested and working fine.

          What’s really going to ruffle feathers is the cut back in travel expenses. Some of our attorneys previously lived on the road, visiting clients, attending board meetings and industry conferences, etc. Our business is booming, without all that expense, so why go back to paying for all that? I’m sure some of it will resume, but at nowhere near the level of pre-COVID.

      3. Overeducated*

        I bet nobody would want the late shift! The parents and people with long commutes in my office all want to work early already (starting from 6 to 8 AM), the childless people who live in the city like starting around 9-9:30 AM but I can’t imagine them wanting to give up their evenings to start in the early afternoon. Makes core hours tough, too.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Not necessarily. i had one job where I worked the later shift. I’m a night owl anyway so it fit my natural cycle better. Plus by going in later and leaving later I missed rush hour.

          It’s not even childless people who will want the late shift only. Someone with kids may want the late shift so they can take the kids to school and their partner/family member can pick the kids up after, therefore no need for daycare. You never know what actually works for someone.

        2. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

          Childfree, city-living night-owl here, whose natural rhythm dictates her best work productivity is after 4pm. I’d happily take the late shift :)

        3. Environmental Compliance*

          Childfree here. I’d take a late shift. Gives me time in the morning to go riding. :)

        4. Filosofickle*

          I had a terrible commute for awhile, and rather than shifting early to beat the traffic — which, around here, means before 6am — I chose late and happily worked 11-7. I got up at 9 and it was glorious.

        5. Curmudgeon in California*

          I would love the late shift! I get in at the start of our “core hours” at 10 am, and it’s still too early for my biological clock. Our society is brutally biased against night people. I would happily give up my weekday evenings to not have to get up before noon.

      4. That Millennial*

        I’m hoping the benefit of WFH is seen beyond rent which is what everyone here seems to be mentioning first! I’m an academic librarian so there’s no way my building will shrink for rent purposes but because my work is project-based and completely apart from students, I’m finding certain aspects of my workflow really benefit from not being in office. I’d still want to go in for meeting and some of my more hands-on-books duties that have been suspended while the campus is closed, but partial WFH would be great for me. Remains to be seen if the Head Librarian will release their very staunch butts-in-seats productivity viewpoint though.

        1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

          I think many of us here are only focusing on the rent aspect because dollars are what the staunch productivity-misers understand. Maybe it could help change set minds?

          1. That Millennial*

            Oh yes I definitely see the merit in the argument at large! It just doesn’t benefit my specific, non-profit, public service job, haha.

      5. doreen*

        You might be surprised. I once worked in the back office of a bank on the night sift. We were part-timers who worked at night, so of course the full time day shift people owned the desks – everybody hated sharing the desks. The day shift because they felt like people were using their desks and the night shift because had nowhere to leave anything, not even a box of tissues ( and God forbid we touched the day shift’s tissues ) No lockers or anything because this was literally the only group of people in this situation.

      6. selena81*

        And continuing that argument: if companies need fewer physical desks it will presumably affect rent and such.
        I think there will be a lot more small offices in convenient places (f.i. near public transport) while all the huge edge-of-the-city offices that were already on their last legs will suffer the same fate as malls.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      *steeples fingers* This explains why the architects in The Bad Place had an open plan office set-up from the 30s.

    7. JustaTech*

      When you say “antiviral or antibacterial surfaces”, are you thinking specifically hard surfaces?

      Because I’m imagining an office of all hard surfaces and it would be *so loud*. Are there soft/sound absorbing materials that are easy to clean?
      (Or maybe this will mean my office will get our carpet shampoo’d more often than never.)

      1. Jules the First*

        No, actually the hard surfaces are the ones that are proving most difficult to effectively clean at the moment. We’re looking at innovative fabrics with weave patterns that repel dirt and make it hard for viruses and bacteria to set up home, fabrics and woven wood or wicker or plastic that are impregnated with antibacterial or antiviral chemicals, synthetic stone or plastic with nanoparticles that puncture viruses like soaps do, surfaces optimised for UV cleaning…

        My colleagues in our materials research team have been working for a while on a squidgy plastic flooring for one of our healthcare projects that is acoustically deadening, low-impact for falls and long days on your feet, and hoseable/moppable for efficient cleaning…it doesn’t quite work yet but we’re tantalisingly close. It probably won’t be ready for this new building, but give them another five years of development and I wouldn’t bet that it will stay science fiction.

        1. JustaTech*

          Ooh, that floor sounds *amazing*!
          I doubt we’d ever get it since we already have perfectly functional lino, but I can see how that would be awesome in hospitals and nursing homes.

  19. Monroe*

    OP5, if you’re in Australia (as your use of annual leave implies), your employer is legally required to pay out your annual leave when your employment ends. So if you earn $2000 a fortnight and you have three week of leave accrued, the council you work for effectively owes you $3000. If they get you to take two weeks of leave they reduce the debt to $1000.

    Fair Work Australia’s information about annual leave including recent changes to the Fair Work act is here:

    1. OP5*

      Not Australia, but not far off! The legal part is true though, we are paid out our remaining holiday time if we leave or presumably get made redundant (fingers crossed this doesn’t happen!).

  20. Mookie*

    Don’t necessarily disagree with the response to LW1 but, as ever, it’s more complicated than that. Open-plan office design as we currently despise, navigate, and know is, of course, not a product of 21st century disrupters operating with too much money and too little sense but the careful if not fully realized or understood culmination of egalitarian impulses belonging to students of early 20th century school of public policy and sociology. Lots of interesting and enduring advances, between then and now, were facilitated by the planned, plotted, and defensible absence of doors, of separate floors, and/or of cubicles (invented before, perfected in an Orwellian sense thereafter). Somebody rich, lazy, and stupid noticed a method, failed to heed its purpose, lessons, and self-imposed limitations, and decided to market it as both new and universally effective.

    As an easy catch-all “solution” for any old office, a gimmick, it’s a loser. For industries once or now in desperate need of cross-disciplinary cooperation in the first-person, it’s very effective and has justified its cost even if disappears hereaftee for all time. Many of us don’t live or work in those alternative, segregated, sectioned-off, precisely demarcated and classified spaces, but we do suffer similar functional defects from working out of privatized, catch-all commercial minimalist environments leased to us by unicorns posing as proper techs running on fumes, venture capital, and the good will of their young, overeducated, and undercompensated staff. Staff which, like all early victims of would-be technocrat dilettantes with cash and delusions of grandeur are working under upper management who have either sincerely or slyly and self-servingly bought into the notion that (a) an app lacking a proper and substantial IT support team, (b) but boasting a single and underanalyzed house algorithm, (c ) along with a risibly optimistic wish list-like mission statement serving deceptively as a real forecast, (d) followed by an overly grand introduction to public trade, (d) and coupled with a founder’s conservative but carefully concealed exit plan are the only things standing in their immediate goal of personal plaudits + lucrative, long-term professional success. So what’s the harm in overworking and intimidating their teams, often in language, design, and architecture that to our ears and ehes sound collective, humanist, and logical.

    The really weird thing about this precise moment in history is watching my white-collar late Boomer mother try to “report” (read: fictionalize in order to compress 40 hours’ worth of work into the 22 she’s been generously granted after 45+ years) her newly-minted remote hours for a public power job to her early Boomer supervisor—out of his element and totally unfamiliar and utterly deprived of training that teaches the logic and the tools needed to make telecommuting successful (and help avoid lay-offs)—instructed to operate with the unimpeachable guidance of panoptican-like, counter-productive, busy-work surveillance. All the while, he attempts to find familiar water to tread an aging but familiar industry in which he treads water or tries to ape the values and policies of one of those fashionable start-ups that should but do not understand the greater good sort of nuance needed to justify overworking and harrying everyone below engineering but above administration who’ve never experienced telecommuting in their life.

    Meanwhile, as a skilled and essential laborer in a lo-fi production unit with almost impossibly difficult native conditions to overcome should we want to both meet our role’s obligations and practice the distancing and appropriate personal hygiene that protect one anorhee, I’m in no immediate danger of losing my job or having my hours or wages reduced. Fat lot of luck, of course, because as a seasoned Millennial I know that no amount of present-day loyalty and faithful devotion toward my employer, no amount of skill, experience, and accomplishments, will help preserve this and any future job opportunities in a market that will soon be crowded with people of all description and background who will understandably take any amount of wages to do my job worse because the alternative is a safety net made of gauze and misplaced hope, a total failure of democracy exercised in undemocratic times.

    We debate, kindly, who has it worse between us. The employee expected to do the employers’s work for them and rely on a fad hostile to labor but with dubious health and safety benefits, like badly-executed Open Floor plans, to save us from a wholesale failure of government, or those working in industries and (in the US) states intent on serving corporate interests under the guise of philanthropy for the working class, a strategy designed to privilege the boss and which gives workers no option but to show up, stay the course, operate as usual or with token gestures of hygiene and distancing. No matter who could file for partial unemployment in this household, should my employer bite that bullet and turn me into part-time, we will be rewarded with the same paltry sums.

    The substantive difference is, should she become redundant and too costly, the work will be located abroad and to a human or humans, who cannot afford to insist on conditions that lower the risk of regular exposure and transmission. I will be replaced with low-maintenance machinery susceptible to a different kind of virus. The fate of open floor, especially done poorly, is the least of our global and interconnected troubles.

  21. MistOrMister*

    OP2 – please consider the fact that many people are not able to get through to their state unemployment offices as there is such high demand right now. All I hear are stories of people who have been out of work for weeks and call MANY times a day but can’t reach anyone. Or the websites keep crashing from everyone applying. I definitely understand where you’re coming from and it’s wonderful that you’re trying to do what is best for your nanny. Just be aware that furloughing her might result in her having no income at all. Somone told me a week or two ago that their son had applied for unemployment at the beginning of march and had yet to receive a single dime. My feeling is, if you can afford to pay her, it would be safest for her if you just keep paying her as if she was working at your house.

    1. berin*

      YES, this! If you can afford to keep paying her, please do so. Otherwise, you’re unnecessarily adding an additional person to an already maxed-out system for a maximum of 3 months, without the financial need for you to do so.

    2. Snark no more!*

      My daughter just received her denial letter – 5 days after the appeal period had ended. She has to start over!

    3. Anon Today*

      Yep. I’ve called our unemployment office over 100 times. Three times I made it through to the menu options; every other time it was an actual busy signal. (Of the three times I made it through to the connect to the menu, once I made it all the way to be put on hold… and then was disconnected when it got to be 2:00 p.m., i.e. the end of their office hours. The other two times I got halfway through the menu and then got the “fast busy” sound.)


      My other half, who is in theater arts, went through the process multiple time and had to get a senior advisor involved just to get his 15 jobs in the last 18 months recorded into the system. He did that in the early days of #stayathome. Shortly thereafter, they told people to call only on certain days. Not sure if anyone is answering calls now.

  22. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    #2: consider also that if your nanny applies for UI it’ll probably be at least a month, if not more, before she sees any money from it, during which income from you will reduce her eligibility. (Are these long-delayed UI claims getting back filled, anyone know? I’ve recently heard from folks who applied mid March and still hadn’t seen a first payment. Should they be getting the money for that interim month-plus eventually?)

    1. WellRed*

      My understanding is yes, they get the “back pay.” As to the nanny here, she wouldn’t file until she’s “unemployed” (at least in my state), so earnings up until then won’t reduce her eligibility unless I am misunderstanding something. At any rate, a good reminder for OP to research how this works in her state to understand the actual nanny impact.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Right – I meant, whenever she does file, they can’t pay her for the next however long it takes for her UI to start coming in after she files, which is probably going to be at least a month if not more.

    2. Jennifer*

      I get an email this morning saying that my UI claim has been processed. It’s been about two weeks since I filed. Still no eligibility determination. According to the message, that should be another week.

  23. boredatwork*

    OP#2 I would think very seriously about the cost/benefit of furloughing your nanny. I have no idea what the current childcare situation is like in your area, but in mine (and others like Chicago) there is an absolute huge hiring boom for nannies.

    I’d file this under advice for “top talent” and being willing to pay generously to keep it.

    1. Overeducated*

      This is a real risk. As people start going back to work with the prospect of unexpected school and day care closures, I imagine nannies only becoming more in demand.

    2. Misty*

      That was my thought pattern too. I have friends who have children who are considering getting nannies and they never wanted one in the past. If OP lets the nanny go in the sense of furloughing, the nanny could receive new offers of work from others.

    3. Parenthetically*

      Gosh, thanks for this take — it’s an angle I wouldn’t have considered but you are definitely right that nannies are going to be in high demand.

    4. The Bad Place*

      Also to OP#2- I would argue that the most “ethical” thing to do would be to a) talk to your nanny about it, what do they feel comfortable with, especially if they are concerned about health care and b) Donate any savings you do get if they go on unemployment to undocumented people or others who are unable to tap into this benefit. As Allison said, with the extra $600 a week, even with the reduced %, many people are able to make more than they otherwise would. What if you continued paying her health insurance, but laid her off and allowed her to collected that unemployment, while also donating the difference? This is an opportunity to think creatively about how to support the most people in your community that you can, and use government programs to provide greater stability to people!

  24. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

    OP#4 I have a (rare!) divergence of opinion to Alison on this one.

    I think it would really depend on your industry and the role you’re applying for. There are some positions where it could come across as oddly tone-deaf to not acknowledge it in your cover letter somehow. Ones where the nature of their service/s, staffing or output have been significantly impacted, you’d want to demonstrate that you’re aware of their challenges and have some kind of valuable quality to bring to the team in light of the current circumstances.

    So I wouldn’t say mentioning it is unnecessary and won’t add anything as a blanket statement. Just consider whether you’re trying to add humour only for the sake of it, or whether there’s legitimate value in including it for that particular application.

    1. V*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. Not mentioning it seems like you must be re-using a cover letter from pre-Covid-19, which is not a good look.

    2. Jennifer*

      Yes, like in healthcare, for example. It might seem strange not to mention the huge elephant in the room.

      1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        Even beyond healthcare:
        – Accountants are pivoting from largely routine taxation work to mostly advice and planning, desperately trying to keep clients afloat.
        – Some clothing manufacturers are pivoting to PPE to address the shortage.
        – Essential stores are employing/redeploying staff to security roles to enforce social distancing (where personality and interpersonal skills will be especially important).
        – Any public-facing role will have to deal with more stressed customers.
        – Professional services in general are diversifying beyond their usual niches just to keep any kind of work flowing in.

        The nature of work for many, many businesses will be very different to usual right now. If the OP has a skill that may be especially beneficial to them right now, it’s worth mentioning in the cover letter.

    3. Yorick*

      But just MENTIONING it is unnecessary and doesn’t add. It only adds if it’s a way to show that you’d excel at the work.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, that’s exactly it. Mentioning it in a substantive way — totally fine! It’s just the casual references the OP was contemplating that don’t add anything.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, My ears hurt from too much time in headphones. I can only tolerate two hours a day, and I’m going on three already today.

  25. Fabulous*

    #3 – Do you use the Outlook calendar? You can add a reminder to all meetings to go off at an interval before the meeting so it will pop up on your computer whenever something is coming up. That’s the only way I can stay on top of meetings too!

  26. Nina*

    I actually think you should set the alarm clock closer to the start of the meeting – maybe 2 minutes before. It doesn’t take any time to join a video meeting, and with 10 minutes I often get re-absorbed into work.

    I also integrated my google calendar with slack. Since my company uses google calendar that sometimes won’t notify you if you don’t have it open in the browser, but slack is always
    Open and slack always will

  27. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #3

    These are trying times for everyone right now, but I think you need to focus much less on the apology and much more on how to get yourself to meetings on time. As a manager, I appreciate getting an apology. But I’d much rather someone recognize it’s a problem, take ownership, and then fix it. A brief, “Sorry this happened and I’m doing X to fix it,” would go a long way. People here have a lot of good suggestions. It looks like you have Outlook and you’re getting the pop-up reminders, so then maybe set it to hear the sound, too. Also, change the default reminder time.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      A very good point and one that stands reiterating. The OP is getting all kinds of advice about calendar reminders, but the bottom line is that she’s missing meetings, and I can’t imagine that “I lost track of time” will go over too well after a while.

  28. Koala dreams*

    There are alarm clocks where you can set several alarms a day. If you have any old alarm clocks lying around, you can search for instructions online. Most smart phones have calenders with built in alarm function, so that you can put the meeting in the calender and choose a ring tone to beep before the meeting starts. My mind starts to tune out alarms after a while, so I need to change them. I’ve also heard of alarms where the alarm is light based and not sound based, but I have no experience with them myself.

    Your comment about tea breaks before office meetings makes me wonder if it would help to make a tea break for yourself before meetings. If you set the alarm 10 minutes before, it should be enough time to get a cup of tea and open the meeting software. That way you have a familiar routine to help you out.

  29. LGC*

    One more tip for LW3: if you have a Windows laptop and it’s not your work laptop, sync the Calendar app to your work account. (This should work whether you’re an Office 365 office or a G-suite office.) It should push notifications by default, I think.

    And set it to notify you TWICE. Once a little bit in advance, and once just before the meeting.

    1. LGC*

      (Also, this trick works for phones as well. Set a reminder before you have to go, and then set one for exactly WHEN you have to go.)

      1. whome*

        I recommend 1-2 minutes before, not exactly when you have to go. Inevitably you will need a moment to wrap up what you’re doing, log in, etc.

        1. LGC*

          Yeah, I should have made that clear. What I meant by that was “set it for when you have to wrap up your work and log into the meeting.”

          (So, kind of like “travel time?” Like, when you have to be somewhere, the phone will estimate that it takes x minutes for you to walk there and then notify you x minutes before to leave now. That’s what I was thinking of.)

  30. StressedButOkay*

    OP3, I don’t know about you but I have GOT to have meetings (and tasks) not just in my Outlook but also on a physical calendar. I was making my meetings but felt pretty lost and panicked every day that I’d forgotten something, and kept double checking the Outlook calendar. I finally ordered a physical calendar/planner from Etsy for my home office and I feel so much better.

    Every Monday morning before I start work, I write down all my meetings and the times, plus any tasks for the week. I update it whenever a new meeting/task comes in during the week. The physical calendar lives right next to me so it’s always out of the corner of my eye. I review it and my Outlook calendar every morning.

    This, combined with the Outlook reminders have have been whats kept me on time and on task!

  31. Justin*

    Yeah, even when we go to a middle ground where we can leave home more freely but with masks, my office is DEFINITELY going to have to allow a lot of WFH because we are on TOP of each other. But as Alison says, they did it to save money, so there’s… nowhere to separate us.

    I will volunteer to WFH!

  32. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

    I’m curious to know how the number of bedrooms in the average home will change in a decade. Cause there are probably going to be a lot more spare bedrooms turned into home offices.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I am single, live alone, work from home, and I have a 3 bedroom house. I used to be in the Air Force and the 3rd bedroom was the guest bedroom when family visited. I realized after moving to my hometown that I really don’t need that guest bedroom anymore. But as I consider moving, I will not have less than a 2 bedroom because I want my home office which I leave behind when I am not working.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      My house had the “living room and family room” separation that was popular in mid-80s designs – I took over one of those two as my home office. My husband has one of the extra bedrooms as his, and our housemate has pretty much the whole finished basement as his bedroom/office/living space. (Housemate and I WFH normally, husband doesn’t, but we all like to have our own space.)

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The thing is that most people can’t afford more bedrooms. Not here anyways. I sure couldn’t afford the cost of a two room without a second income.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        I have a feeling the houses won’t get bigger, the rooms will get smaller or the space will be better utilized.

        1. SweetestCin*


          We have no spare bedroom, but the formal dining room? Its been repurposed to roughly half my office, half the kids’ school space.

          1. Amy Sly*

            I used to do quality control on residential appraisals. You would not believe how common it is for a “dining” room to actually be a home office or kid’s playroom — I once came across an appraisal for the vacation house of a former governor who had a kid’s teepee set up in his “dining room”!

        2. RC Rascal*

          Depends where you live. On the coasts, yes.

          Middle of the county, land is plentiful and not so expensive. Those houses will grow.

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            I live in a major metro area of Texas. We’ve got plenty of land…on the outskirts of town. And plenty of people are moving there! But you’re looking at an hour minimum to commute to work if you move out there. All the desirable housing locations already have houses on them, built anywhere from between 1950-2000. So I think, personally, that as we start to see the older houses getting renovated, the house layouts will probably change to have more rooms in the same amount of space and make better use of the space available. I guess they could eat up more yard space to make room to add on to the house, though.

            Not a Realtor or a civil engineer or anything, just a layperson thinking out loud while watching the ever-changing housing landscape and dreaming of getting out of this poorly constructed townhome. I might be totally off base!

      2. Chili*

        Yeah, while I support letting more employees WFH because it is better for a lot of people, I don’t want all offices to pivot to 100% remote because a lot of people do not live in remote-friendly spaces. My partner and I are both working remotely from our 1 bedroom apartment. It’s fine but not ideal– we really don’t have room for two dedicated workspaces, but we can make-do with working from the couch or kitchen table for now. I also think of all the young people who live in cramped spaces with lots of roommates– that’s definitely not an environment conducive to great work. Unless companies are increasing wages or providing stipends for home offices, I feel like pivoting to 100% remote (in non-pandemic times) is yet another way of pushing operating costs onto employees.

    4. Third or Nothing!*

      Now that I have a small child and parents that live more than 2 hours away, I find myself nixing any house layout that won’t include some sort of space where I can set up a sleeping area for guests. This area will likely double as a workspace for me and eventually the children as they age into the school system.

      You know what would be awesome though? A little mother-in-law house in the backyard!

    5. Filosofickle*

      It’s a dueling battle in my head. I was looking at buying soon and debating the merits of a larger place, which more flexible for the long haul and my home business, versus a smaller one with the lowest possible payments to reduce risk but no room to grow or rent out a room in an emergency.

      This period has shown us how much we value and love the extra space we have in our rental. It has made this massively easier and we don’t want to give that up! And yet I also feel the need to create a safe future, which means conserving money. I have no idea what we’ll choose.

  33. Rusty Shackelford*

    #2, I’m struck by this: As long as we’re both still getting our full salaries, we can afford to keep paying her just as we would in normal times. Does that mean there’s a concern that, at some point, you won’t both be getting your full salaries? Or am I reading too much into it?

    1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

      I interpreted that as the kind of general conservatism that many, even in “safe” jobs, are demonstrating at the moment. With this amount of uncertainty, people tend to save. Because who knows what may come up? Even if not to you, to someone you may need to support?

      Right now the OP is paying for a service they’re not receiving. And I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t be… just that it’s a pretty normal thing to be questioning in the circumstances, even if everything appears to be fine currently.

      1. Jennifer*

        +1 There are a lot of people that would like to keep paying their employees indefinitely but know they likely won’t be able to. It’s a good idea to try and sock some money away while they can.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      I think that was more of an moral/ethical question. They can afford to keep paying but since there is a program set up right now to help offset those costs (they’ve paid in to) can they utilize it even though paying her isn’t causing a financial hardship for them at the moment.
      It is a question I would struggle with as well – they area paying for a service they are not getting and having to care for a toddler while attempting to WFH is hard.
      If it were me and the UI + $600 was more than I was paying her, I would absolutely do this. That would be financially beneficial to both parties. If the payout was equal, I would talk with the nanny about her thoughts and the amount of work required on her end to get signed up. If she would end up taking a pay cut, hard no.

    3. Mediamaven*

      Anyone should be afraid that they may be losing their full salaries because global pandemic, unemployment, recession? I don’t understand your question?

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Some people have more reason to be concerned than others. I was wondering if the LW was one of those people.

  34. whome*

    OP3, everybody here has good suggestions! Make use of built-in reminders from calendar apps, your phone may also have one if you sync a digital calendar to it. I don’t do well with work timers (forget to reset them!) In-office I used to have a whiteboard with big, red letters for meetings. I have ADD so quickly grow accustomed to “nudges” and easily tune them out. For me, visual reminders usually work best. I also will repeat something to myself several dozen times if it really needs to stick: “after lunch, meeting at 2. meeting at 2. make tea, do spreadsheet, meeting at 2.” I sound like Rain Main probably but when it gets rhythmic it’s like getting song lyrics stuck in your head!

    I time block my day:
    I have a similar work distribution as you, and can get lost in things. It’s a combo of the “maker” and “manager” schedule and it can be rough! When I own meetings, I block them all together. I look at my calendar as an “AM block” and a “PM block”. Knowing I will inevitably have both meetings and substantial deep work, I try to make sure that one of these blocks is free for deep work. The other, I fit admin type work or pet projects between meetings (emails, catching up, making lists, etc). I’ve gotten bolder about asking to reschedule meetings to a time that works for me (I am about 1/2 senior, so this might not work for junior roles), and I am more careful to guard my “free” blocks as I plan to use them and they aren’t actually free!

    The other time blocking thing I do is when I make my to-do list for the day (I use Google Keep as an easily reordered checklist, drag and drop if priorities change, widget on both phone and laptop) I include tasks + meetings. So, for instance:
    – Flag client emails for follow up
    – Edit piece from Aaron
    – 10:00 call with project team
    – watch Excel tutorial
    (lunch break)
    – Do expense report
    – 3:30 team meeting
    I typically keep to the order of things unless my boss specifically asks for something with a higher priority than what’s on my list. I don’t put more than 1-2 “large” tasks (for me that’s 2+ hours on it) and 2 or 3 “small” (30 min) tasks on my day because I get overwhelmed and will inevitable not finish it. Monday AMs and Friday PMs are usually tying up loose ends / planning time as well.

  35. MissMyGoodChair*

    I work for an office furniture manufacturer and we are putting a ton of effort into this question. Funnily enough, one of the things they found is that this particular virus lives longer on hard surfaces than on fabric/mesh. We were very surprised by that. We have a healthcare line so that research and trends in those areas have been very helpful.
    While I doubt you will be seeing a return to the high walled cube farms, we are getting orders for glass panels to add to existing open desks as a barrier (keep the look of open but a bit more protection when sitting).

    1. JustaTech*

      Since the virus doesn’t live as long on fabric, does that mean we’ll hopefully get to keep the sound-dampening materials?

      I’ve had my desk in a lab (all hard surfaces) before and it gets *loud*, even will all the lab stuff in the way. A whole open office in cafeteria-style materials would be bedlam.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Oooof, no kidding. I would hate that.

        The worst things about an open office are noise pollution and visual (motion) pollution. They also really bother people who are hyper-aware/situationally aware.

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      I want high cubes or an office if I’m not WFH. High walled cube farms with translucent walls would still allow privacy and isolation but also allow natural light to diffuse through the office. Cubes don’t need to be dark, they just need to not be transparent.

  36. Courtney Kupets*

    OP3, do you not use an Outlook calendar or something that will alert you when you have a meeting? It pops up on your screen and you could sync it to your phone, etc. All of my meetings are in my calendar and then the alerts pop up for me.

  37. staceyizme*

    Op2- the only thing about releasing your nanny by shifting the burden of her salary to UI payments is that she would then be free to (and required to) seek and accept suitable employment elsewhere. Nannies that match your family’s way of doing things might take time to locate, interview, background check and hire. So there’s that.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        True, but that doesn’t mean she can’t look if she wants to. It’s a good thing for the OP to consider.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          THIS is where my mind went.

          She doesn’t have to look for a new family but honestly, why wouldn’t she!? Surviving off 55% of your income is difficult for just about anyone. Unemployment even now with the extra amount, isn’t ideal for most.

          I’d be looking for a new family because who knows if she’d be brought back because you have to self preserve. You lay ANYONE off right now, you risk them not being available, people do what they have to.


    Op #3…I have struggled with missed meetings as well, but IN the office. Usually it was because someone asked for help and I stopped by to help and missed my meeting notice.

    I ended up making a change to my inbox so my schedule was visible on the main page of my inbox (available in Outlook). I also added my meeting times to my fitbit in the morning, which helped if I happened to be away from my desk. It also helped get into the habit of knowing what meetings I would have for the day.

    The phone option is better. My workarounds might be helpful if you tend to ignore phone alerts or happen to be away from your phone a lot.

  39. Jennifer*

    #1 I also hope that this makes more workplaces consider working from home at least a few days a week for their employees. Traffic and air quality will improve so much. This has really shown that so many people don’t actually need to be in the office every day.

    1. Super Anon*

      I think most employers are going to have consider offering more relaxed work from home policies. Under the feds reopening plan, they are encouraging telework for all employees who can telework until phase 3. That could be months. And then once staff can work in the office, I think in order to maintain social distancing they are probably going to need more people to work from home. Not to mention, as soon as someone feels even remotely sick they are going to have to work from home. The idea that you can come into the office and work through whatever symptoms you have is something that won’t and shouldn’t be acceptable at the moment (it shouldn’t ever be, but until there is a vaccine it is even more critical).

      Where I work, we have a monthly all staff meeting. Our CEO requires everyone physically attend the meeting. You are not permitted to work-from-home on those days. I think that requirement will be eliminated. Because cramming 75 people into a conference room (that has a capacity of about 60) simply because the CEO wants to see everyone in person isn’t going to be safe any longer.

        1. Super Anon*

          It is outdated. And if nothing else I think the current situation is going to push some employers into the current day. I also think that some employers will start realizing that they can save a bunch of money on office space if not everyone works in the building.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          Seriously. But our CIO literally reprimanded me, in writing, when I used that term in a discussion about our movement to open plan and core hours. He literally was pissed about calling it “butts in seats management versus results oriented management”. I now call it “presence based management” – more syllables of euphemism.

      1. JustMyOpinion*

        I hate to say it, but I think those are just empty words. Given the push by the federal government to eliminate telework for it’s workers, I have a sinking feeling that max telework will be on paper and not in reality used or allowed.

        1. Super Anon*

          I guess it depends on how concerned employers are about being sued by employees if they catch COVID-19 in the workplace because of the lack of social distancing. I am not sure if an employee would even have a case. But, for some employers I am not sure that even matters. Some employers are very concerned about being sued, and others don’t give a crap. I work for the, we are terrified of getting sued, which is why no one is ever fired, type of employer.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      It would also mean less money spent on gas, and less wear-and-tear on your car.

      I am currently job hunting, and am definitely hoping that WFH at least some of the time is an option.

      1. blaise zamboni*

        Yup. I’m still in my office twice a week, but since I have a 45+ min commute one-way, my 3-day WFH arrangement is uhhhh-mazing. I work at a healthcare nonprofit, so we are hemorrhaging money right now, and I’m certain it will impact raises and bonuses at the end of the financial year. As soon as we start moving people back into the office I’m asking my boss to make our 3/2 WFH schedule permanent because it’s such a financial (and personal) incentive for me, and costs the company much less than the raise I would ask for otherwise.

        I’ve put almost 20k miles on my car this year just from driving to and from work. It’s not sustainable and it makes me a worse employee because I’m already fatigued by the time I clock in. I really hope we see a change in attitudes about WFH for those who are willing and able to do so.

    3. Parenthetically*

      Hell, my husband has a job that, on paper, is field based, and even he’s been able to WFH at least half the time.

  40. Super Anon*

    OP1…I think many employers are going to find it challenging to have their employees maintain social distance in an any time of floor plan. I do think open floor plans represent unique challenges. However, I work for an office where 95% of the staff have their own office with a door. But, even then maintaining social distance is difficult, unless you ban others from coming into your office. And depending on where you sit you may not be 6 feet away from the hallway where people walk. To be honest, I’m not sure what we are going to do.

    I also think the days of group meetings in a conference room and done for the forseeable future.

    1. JustaTech*

      At least in my office the trick to keeping social distance is a sparsely-populated open plan. There’s no true hallways in the office areas anymore, so it’s easier to step aside and not pass by folks too closely.

      But for that to work you have to be willing to have your desk pods spaced 8-10 feet apart.

  41. Parenthetically*

    Just ducking in to say you’re a good person, OP2. Thanks for your selflessness.

  42. Alex*

    OP #2 I’m not sure about the rules at the moment, but in normal times, if a former employee puts in an unemployment claim, I think that causes your unemployment insurance rates to go up. I am not sure if that is waived at the moment, but it might be something to consider and look into if you plan to employ nannies or other workers privately in the future.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s usually an insignificant amount if you’re only employing few people and have one claim hit. It’s multiple claims that get your rates to start really increasing.

      And with the collective economy, they’re going up regardless.

  43. MissDisplaced*

    #1 Open Offices
    I do not want to go back to it!
    Even before COVID, I often had allergy issues, and I was sitting in the open office one day and basically started painfully sneezing for like an hour straight. It was awful, but I couldn’t get up and leave because I was on a call and also the managers don’t LIKE us to get up or be gone for long stretches. I don’t want people to see me blowing my nose and sneezing into a napkin, even if I’m not “sick.” I’m sure they don’t want to have to see me do it either!

    I want my cubicle back! At least you had the semi-privacy of facing three walls and no one had to see that crap.
    I cannot even bear to think of the return to open offices workspaces post-COVID. Open offices, bad for germ spreading at the best of times, would now be like horrid Office of Doom petri dishes.

    #2 Nanny furlough
    It’s not wrong if you really can’t swing it anymore, and personally I think you’ve been generous to have her stay home at regular wages, but still paying her. But if you’re planning to WFH longer, you still will need the help of the Nanny, correct? I mean, WFH does not generally mean childcare is built in. I think a lot of this will depend on her situation with the elderly relative, so you may want to talk to her about what makes sense going forward.

    #3 Missed Meetings
    I had this issue sometimes, because I got really, really into something and don’t want to lose my train of thought or idea. Make sure the calendar reminders are set on your computer so the window pops up and you can’t ignore it. If that fails or you’re not on a computer, set alarms on your mobile that is LOUD. You must, because it’s really not good to miss meetings.

    But I’d also explore whether or not you really need to be at ALL of these meetings.
    If there is a lot of them, and they’re spread hodgepodge throughout the day, it can be really distracting and disruptive to conducting deep work. Can you pare them down to the essential ones and/or arrange scheduling of the meetings so you have, certain hours blocked off for doing your deep work that requires more concentration?

    I don’t know your level at the company, but can you block out your “work time” and others see you’re unavailable, so they’ll schedule meetings around it. My manager used to do that, and she’d show as unavailable between 11-3 unless you specifically asked for a time during those hours. Generally this plan only works for the higher-level managers though, not so much us worker-bees.

  44. President Porpoise*

    K, for #5… what if your employer cuts your salary by 10% while giving you 15 paid vacation days to be taken at specified times?

  45. Julia*

    Can someone explain what the answer to #5 means? I don’t understand what “getting a liability off their books” means. Like the employees are a liability because they could get each other sick? But then “books” doesn’t quite make sense… I just can’t parse it

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      Unused PTO is a debt owed to the employee, especially in states that require PTO to be paid out when the employee leaves. Therefore, because it is a debt that is payable when the employee chooses (essentially), it must show on the books.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      In most states (I think– many if not most), unused PTO is required to be paid when someone leaves. So it’s basically sitting in a bank waiting to be used and is kind of like having a number of days that are double-paid. For example, I have, let’s say, 10 days of unused PTO. My employer has 10 extra days of my salary waiting in that bank. But if I take a PTO day, I do not get “regular” pay for that day– the company pays me out of that bank. Having the extra “bank” money makes it look like the company is slightly better off than it truly is, which can be an issue when applying for loans and grants.

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Accountants are weird. But here we go.

      This basically the difference between the cash-flow view of things and the double-entry accounting method.

      If an employee has accumulated 10 days of sick pay, and the employee’s salary works out to $500/day, then the company has an effective obligation of $5000. That money is eventually going to go to the employee, either as paid time off that can’t be charged to a customer, or as a cash payout. But the company has no money that’s going to come in, either now or in the future, to offset that.

      Similarly, when somebody buys a gift card for a restaurant, the cash-flow perspective of that is good – the restaurant now has $100 they didn’t have yesterday. But the double-entry perspective is neutral – sure, we’ve got $100 in cash, but at some point we’re going to have to pay out $100 in food and services.

    4. LQ*

      No, like someone has a giant green and white ledger that is “the books”.

      It says that the company owes it’s employees 300 days worth of 8 hours of pay, because it does. But that makes the company have a debt “on the books” of 300x8xhourly pay. Which can be a lot of money.

      It’s not about the employees being a liability. It’s about the money owed.

    5. irene adler*

      The cost of all that unused PTO is a liability because at some point they will have to pay it out.
      It is on the books as something they owe the employees. Getting the employees to use up some of their accrued PTO reduces the amount the employer owes.

    6. Joa*

      Like others have said, it is largely a bookkeeping thing. But it can also be a practical liability when there are big vacation payouts when someone leaves a job. I am the head of a local government department and I have a set annual amount of funding for salaries that is based on the total salary for each position. When someone leaves and has a large vacation payout, that means that I essentially have to wait for the equivalent amount of time to pass before their replacement can start, if they are at the same pay rate. I am always relieved when a person resigns and has a small vacation accrual.

    7. Ktelzbeth*

      With vacation accrual, it does make sense for the reason you explain. At my org, PTO is on a yearly use it or loose it basis with NO roll over (that’s a different complaint). The fiscal year ends June 30. How does requiring us to take our PTO, which they are doing, help in that case?

      1. Five after Midnight*

        That’s because using your built-up PTO is not an expense for the company. It’s a way of improving immediate profitability, which they are doing to partly offset the missing revenue. Let me try to explain.
        1. Let’s say you salary is $6,000/mo and you get 24 days of PTO per month (I can dream…)
        2. Now, in Q1 (Jan-Mar) you get paid $18,000 and accrue 6 days of PTO at $200/day ($6000/mo salary for 30 days = $200 daily salary). The company records the ENTIRE $19,200 as the quarterly expense ($18,000 + 6 x $200). $18,000 is paid in cash and the remaining $1,200 is an accounting entry that “puts the PTO liability on the books”.
        3. Then in Q2 (Apr-Jun) they tell you there is no work for you and ask you to take 12 days vacation (6 days from Q1 and 6 days from Q2). First they will still record $19,200 as an “normal” expense just like in Q1, but now they also get to record a $2,400 (12 days x $200/day) accounting entry to “remove the PTO liability from the books”. Because this entry is a removal of liability it will show up on the income statement as a reduction in expense . So the NET expense for Q2 will be $16,800 ($18,000 salary + $1,200 PTO accrual – $2,400 PTO reduction). You still get paid $18,000 in cash.
        4. So, in summary, using PTO does not help with the cash flow, but it does help with profit if the company is using accrual-basis accounting (which is most of the non-mom-and-pop-shops). If the company is a public company or reports their results to the lenders, any small changes like that will help them show better results.

      2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Uh, something not-good came to mind, which is that perhaps they’re planning to terminate a bunch of positions prior to the end of your fiscal year? I mean, if you have a use-it-or-lose-it policy I can’t imagine that there’s that much vacation liability left on the books that they would need to pay out, but if they’re in a bad enough financial position it may be enough of a liability to matter.

    8. Koala dreams*

      It’s an accounting term, and “the books” are the company finances. From an accounting point of view, the PTO is a debt for the employer. The employees worked for the company and earned their PTO, so the company owes the PTO to the employee. This debt will be paid when the employees take their PTO, or sometimes when employees quit.

  46. Mediamaven*

    LW 3 – I keep doing this too! Fortunately I’m the boss so it’s forgivable but we talked about it and when you are in the office someone’s prepping for the call or heading to the conference room or something so it’s hard to get distracted and forget, but now, it’s all you. Anyway, I just set an alarm on my phone for 5 minutes before the call. It helps!

  47. COBOL Dinosaur*

    The amazon alexa (or google home) devices might be useful. ‘Alexa, remind me at 1:45 that I have a 2pm meeting’

  48. The one with childish shirt*

    I feel like I’m in minority as I do miss our open office – however this might be down to general culture of not bothering others if they seem to be busy.
    And, as everyone is wearing headphones, noise is less of an issue.

  49. Clementine*

    Another way to manage alarms is with Alexa. I can usually manage with alarms on my phone, but if important enough, I will also set alarms with Alexa.

  50. worker bee*

    Nanny employers, I applaud you for doing such a great job looking out for your nanny. If she can get her full salary through the state, I think you should, as Alison suggested. It is entirely reasonable to signal to your state that this situation is a strain on your household by having to take care of a toddler when you wouldn’t otherwise.

    Some families suddenly let their nannies go when this started, before there was new legislation. You’re being far more ethical and decent.

  51. cncx*

    what i’m scared of with home office becoming the norm is the uberization of it- like watch all office jobs become remote only and byod and gig style. That’s what i really don’t want in home office. Then again i am an outlier, i absolutely despise working from home because i don’t want work energy where i live.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      It’s a valid concern about Gig economy. BYOD won’t work really due to security risks (at a lot of companies).
      On the upside, people could think about working from nearly anywhere in the country (and maybe even other countries). This means you could move to those “flyover” places further from urban cities where houses are still affordable and the air is clean, and still work for companies in those urban cities. That’s a plus for many people wanting to leave the rat race. Plus it may revitalize the American heartland, rust belts and small towns.

      I understand about not having work energy bleedover into life. If you go WFH 100% of time, you’ve got to create a separate space to work. It’s a must. But see my comment about moving or living in areas where cost of living is lower and you can get a house with more space than the tiny city apartment. What if you really could live anywhere and still maintain that good job?

  52. Binderry*

    OP #3, can I also suggest that you reconsider your approach to time-keeping in the office? I saw you mentioned that you usually rely on your coworkers to remind you about meetings. I’ve been that person that has had to be schedule-keeper for a coworker. If I didn’t remind him of every meeting and event, he wouldn’t show up. He never kept a calendar and just expected others to manage for him. It gets tiring after a while and is kind of disrespectful and displacing responsibility onto others. This may not be you and may not be what you meant, but I wanted to comment on it just in case. Whatever strategies you develop to help you while working form home, consider adopting those long term so you don’t have to rely on others to keep track of you.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Yes, I agree. I said this up thread but the stuff OP’s colleagues are saying to her really sounds like the kind of thing people say when they know perfectly well that you’ve forgotten again and if they don’t remind you you won’t go. They might be fine with that, but I’m not sure it’s a good thing to be known for.

    2. Actual Vampire*

      Yes. I am in grad school and I have a friend like this. I love her, but I hate feeling like her babysitter. And it affects how I feel about her professionally. She is very smart and talented, but she is the only one of my classmates that I’d hesitate to recommend for a job.

  53. drpuma*

    OP3, you write that while you would normally save your deep focus work for work at home days, you can’t do that any more… but you can! Check with your boss first, but you can block your calendar for a whole afternoon or even a whole day (again, if your boss gives you the okay) with a “meeting” that’s just you to do that incredibly focused work. You’ll show as unavailable for meetings to other people and can spend hours on task without worrying about when you’ll need to break away. That should also make it easier for you to save your less intense work for more meeting-heavy days.

  54. juliebulie*

    OP3 I don’t know if this will help, but I keep my TV on in the next room (so I can’t see it), tuned to a reruns channel. The sound helps to mask noises from outside (I live on a busy street), I find it easy to ignore the shows and commercials, and when I hear the various theme songs I know what time it is. (Bonanza means 2 o’clock, etc.) It is very easy to keep track of time that way without really being distracted (because I don’t like Westerns much).

    I tried it with some other channels, but found game shows REALLY distracting and was annoyed by the talk shows/celebrity/judge shows.

  55. ellex42*

    RE: Letter 1: Considering the company I work for just moved us from an office with (nice) cubicles to a smaller building where we were stuffed in like sardines (this was apparently supposed to be a money-saving move, but they spent a lot of money on new desks and other stuff), I doubt my company, or many others, will reconsider the open office. But I’m frankly dreading going back to the office, as it was horrendously noisy and I often couldn’t hear myself think, which is a significant detriment to work that involves quite a lot of research.

    Working from home was previously discouraged – or simply not allowed at all for a significant number of employees – and I hope to see that change going forward. I’m far more productive (and less stressed) at home, and have made sure my work reflects that, and a lot of my coworkers have expressed the same opinion.

    RE: Letter 3: I have a very poor internal sense of the passage of time and even in the office, would set multiple reminders for meetings. One at 15 minutes before, and one at 5 minutes before, because 15 minutes was just enough time to get involved in something and completely forget about the meeting!

  56. Recreational Moderation*

    #3 I’m in Year 30 of being a full-time work-from-home person. For pretty much that entire time my embarrassingly low-tech but totally reliable (so far) reminder system has been a battery-powered kitchen timer with two separate timers. Each timer can be set for any amount of time up to 24 hours (okay, 23 hours, 59 minutes).
    Sometimes, when I’m working on a large project, I’ll stagger the alarms to remind me to get up and walk around for a bit every few hours. If nothing else, it gets me out of my chair to go shut off the alarm because the timer is magnet-attached to the refrigerator.
    It’s been a perfect system—for me, at least. Even better, the timer cost less than $10 at Target, and the batteries are also inexpensive and easy to find.
    The only drawback, I guess, is that I’m hearing a beeping tone instead of a sultry, Alexa-type voice saying “Recreational, you have (a meeting, to put the stew in the oven, etc.),” but I can live with that.

  57. Barefoot Librarian*

    “I work for a city council and our CEO has asked if people could take annual leave while we’re working from home to cut costs.” — does that mean OP#5 is using their PTO and ALSO expected to work. I get them wanting to burn through some of the accrued PTO money rather than paying regular wages, but this sounds terribly unethical if they are also going to make the OP work from home. Work is work and PTO is time off. Am I misunderstanding this somehow? I admit the ways of accounting wizards are a mystery to me.

    1. JustaTech*

      At my company we were asked to take vacation time (because it is debt the company owes the employees), but were told firmly by the CEO, HR and my director that this was *time off* and we were not to be working then, not even checking email.

      So *hopefully* OP5 is just being asked to take time off. Just taking time off (and not expecting staff to work) will benefit the company because they’re reducing their debt.

    2. OP5*

      No, we’re not expected to work when we’re on annual leave! One person has set it up so they’re working 2 days per week, but spreading those hours over the week, which isn’t my ideal way to spend holiday time because I would still be thinking about work for the whole time! But it seems to work for them!

  58. Chili*

    So this isn’t a solution if you have a lot of meetings per day, but I have found that planning coffee, a snack, or meal right before a meeting helps me be on time. So if I have a meeting at 1pm, I start lunch at 12:15. If I have a meeting at 3pm, I put together a plate of grapes and cheese at 2:40pm. It makes me dislike meetings less and helps me transition from my deep work focus zone into meeting zone.

  59. Super Happy Fun Time*

    OP#3 – I had the same problem – I have ADHD, and it’s far worse with no time markers and kids interrupting me every 5 minutes (not to mention the tantrums that always seem to start just before a meeting). I’ve started going through my schedule every Sunday night and setting phone alarms for all my meetings the following week – either 15 minutes before, 5 minutes before, or both, depending on how important it is and/or how easily distracted you are. You can also set them every time you schedule a meeting, but I find that more cumbersome (and all my important meetings are scheduled fairly well in advance – the ones with my immediate team aren’t a big deal if they get pushed back an hour because one of us got busy/distracted).


    Question for all advisees on LW #3 – Many of you suggested alarms on her phone. How do you do that unless you sync your phone to your computer and allow calendars to sync? Do you do that with a work-issued phone or your personal phone? Or do you manually type in each meeting? I don’t sync my personal phone to my work computer and I do not want to type in each meeting manually. Just wondering.

    Btw, what I do is type in the details for my first meeting of the day, typically my only meeting, just so if I am running late, I can dial in from the car. That reminder is also helpful for stay at home because my alarm at 45 mins before tells me “Get Out of Bed” and the 20 mins prior alarm also tells me “Make Breakfast Now!”. They used to mean, “Get dressed now or no breakfast b4 1st meeting” and the 2nd one was “Get in the car now! Or give it up as a good try, go set up computer downstairs.”

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      It could literally be as simple as starting a countdown timer to the next meeting. Like if you start your day at 9 and see your first meeting is at 10:30, start a 90-minute countdown. Or put a simple calendar entry in, “get ready for meeting!” at 10:30, first alarm at 5 minutes before. Not all the details about “this meeting is for stakeholders of the Weasel Project to discuss progress toward the anticipated etc etc etc Zoom dial-in instructions: etc etc”.

      Personally, I would not connect my personal phone calendar to my work calendar. You hear horror stories about the company wiping everything from someone’s phone after they leave in that case. I also just like to keep work and personal as separate as possible.

    2. Koala dreams*

      If it’s for alarms, you can just put it in manually. I set it as a one-time alarm, so after it’s used it’s de-activated. Next time I have something, I just need to change the time. If you just type “meeting” the first time, you would just need to type the time when you activitate it next time, I believe. I don’t use the calendar function as much, but I recommend the calendar both because you probably have it already (no need to go out and buy something), and because you can set alarms for the notifications and change them as often as you like.

    3. Observer*

      Setting a countdown alarm is one way to do it and if you have a smart phone you can just tell the phone “set timer for x minutes”. You can also say “Set alarm for x o’clock” and it will do that, too. For the OP’s purposes, all the extra information is not really that important, just something to make them realize the time. So, set the first alarm or time in the morning then set the next one when done with the last one should work fine.

      If you want calendar reminders on your phone rather than alarms, you can probably set your work calendar to send invitations to your personal calendar, which generally works reasonably well.

  61. Retail4Life*

    LW2 – I appreciate your letter, you sound like a very compassionate person. Paying them this long is a class act. As someone who recently lost their job I would also like to point out that unemployment agencies across the US are facing a huge backlog. I applied for unemployment 2 weeks ago and my claim hasn’t been processed yet. I believe I will get the claim filled eventually but I don’t expect to have any income for weeks or months.

    It might be worth talking through a strategy to leave her with some cash to bridge the gap. I don’t know exact unemployment laws but severance, vacation pay, or even a personal loan might be something to consider. Maybe read some of the rules too, the extra $600 is only if they are laid off or furloughed due to corona so you have to be specific.

    I personally believe it’s ethical to furlough her and think taking some extra steps and considerations will be helpful to put it over the top ethically.

  62. nnn*

    One more thing for #2: If you anticipate reaching a point where you can no longer swing her salary, the kind thing to do would be to warn her as far as possible in advance, so she can plan for the reduction in income.

  63. Curmudgeon in California*

    I second (or third, fourth, fifth, etc) Alison’s suggestion to use alarms.

    I set mine for 5 minutes before and 1 minute before. At 5 minutes, I put my headphones on. At one minute, my Slack add-on for Outlook Calendar Messages alerts me (audio via my headphones), and gives me the Zoom link. Since I have the 5 minute warning, I wrap up stuff and prep for the meeting.

  64. If Lucid*

    OP5: At my corganization our PTO hits the budget when it’s accrued, so your PTO bank is already “paid for”. Using vacation time allows the employee to continue getting their full pay without additional payroll expenses.

  65. Penny*

    #3- I use alarms for EVERYTHING. There are certain things I must do at certain times of the day, or else. I use a combo of occasional phone alarms with a less annoying ringer than what I wake to, and the silent alarm on my Fitbit. My wrist buzzes, and I know what I need to do, and no one around me hears it. More importantly, I don’t miss doing it.

  66. lilsheba*

    Oh I can only HOPE that this is the end of that horrible terrible mistake of an idea…open offices. I’ve hated that for years because it’s not private, and it’s loud, and us introverts HATE THAT. Please let this stupid trend end and turn around to something more private, or better yet just work from home because it’s the 21st century people! Every call center in the country can have people work from home. Just do it!

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