here’s a real-life email from an employer that’s managing its re-opening well

As some companies start to figure out what bringing people back to work will look like, here’s a real-life example of an organization that’s doing it well. This is an email sent out this week by Stan Soderstrom, the executive director of Kiwanis International and the Kiwanis Children’s Fund, an international nonprofit focused on helping children around the world, with about 115 employees. “We have been working from home since mid March,” their COO, Ann Updegraff Spleth, told me. “We are in a hiring and promotion freeze and have had a modest across the board salary cut. No layoffs. Our governor has announced return to work for offices as possible on May 18 with social distancing and protective measures.”

Here’s the email they sent to all staff, which I’m sharing here as an example for others.

Happy Star Wars Day! I am celebrating it much as I plan to celebrate Cinco de Mayo tomorrow. At home, working from home, not going out, being safe. Sound familiar?

Now that we’ve heard from the state governor, we can firm up what our office operations will begin to look like in the weeks and months ahead.

This week (May 4-8), the Building Services team is working on making some of the changes to our workspace to make our building safer for when it is occupied by any of our staff team members.

Next week (May 11-15), we will allow a few selected staff to occupy their workspace to test the various updates.

Beginning May 18, which is the earliest date the governor and the mayor have set for workplace reopening, we will allow another small number of our staff to reenter the building for work, whether it is every day or just some days each week. This will require advance approval by your work supervisor and the Director of Operations. We’d like to ensure we know who is planning to work in the building, and who may need IT or other support.

We will offer this for those who either 1) have a work assignment that requires their presence in the building, or 2) believe they are more productive in the office or they do not have an advantageous work arrangement at home.

For the foreseeable future, working from home will remain our primary work arrangement. We will not accept outside visitors into our office. All deliveries will be required to be made via the loading dock.

The Building Services team will share a more detailed list of new protocols and resources for those working in the building in the days ahead.

We must acknowledge there are so many things we still don’t know regarding the pandemic, and we continue to see speculation and conflicting projections regarding testing, diagnosis, treatments, vaccines, and reopening of the economy…

Here’s what we do know.

We know that 90% of the COVID-19 casualties were patients who had an underlying health condition. This doesn’t mean that someone with one of these underlying conditions is going to contract the virus. It does mean that someone in one of those groups is more susceptible. By working smartly, we can reduce our risk. If this is you or a member of your family, we want you to work from home.

We know that many of our staff team are parents of children who aren’t in school and may not have any organized summer activities or childcare. If this is you, we want you to work from home.

We know that we can meet via Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Skype, and be very effective in this manner. If you are comfortable continuing in your work from home assignment, we want you to work from home.

We will review all of this later in June or July.

At the May 6 employee meeting, I’ll share how we see some various scenarios for the months ahead.

As always, thank you for being so patient and cooperative during these tough times. May the fourth be with you!

{ 123 comments… read them below }

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Yes, the amount of compassion here really caught my eye as well. Well done, Kiwanis!

      1. Midwest writer*

        Aww, nice. Hoosier (who no longer lives in Indiana) here. So nice to see an example of something really good from home. :)

      2. Belle of the Midwest*

        I work in downtown Indy at the state university. We have been working from home since March 16 and the chancellor has said to carry on with this until further notice. I miss my office and hanging with my co-workers and especially being able to talk in person with students, but I appreciate all our leaders have done to help us adjust to WFM in a rush and communicate with us along the way.

        On a personal note, my dad and my uncle were in Kiwanis. It’s a great organization.

    1. MeanieNini*

      Fellow Hoosier here! So glad to see Hoosier companies doing this right.
      We are starting to have similar conversations at our own company located in northeast Indianapolis. It’s tough to make these calls. There are just so many considerations. Lucky for us all of our Indiana employees have settled into working from home well so we aren’t in a hurry to get everyone back to the office.

  1. MistOrMister*

    I don’t know what I expected, but it was not this letter which is clearly putting employee safety front and center. CanI forward this to my management committee?? Because what we were told is, working from home is going great and we plan to bring you back within this month. I am not ready to go back and I think neither are a lot of other people!! I don’t see how the space can be made safe with everyone working daily.

    Big kudos to this employer!! I don’t see how anyone could have a problem with that letter.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You are free to forward it (and if you want me to change the user name on this comment so there’s no risk of your employer connecting this comment to you and then looking at other comments here under that name, I’d be happy to).

      1. MistOrMister*

        Thank you!! I was just kidding though. I don’t think it would go over well. I think we’re all just keeping our heads down and hoping they don’t force a speedy return. :)

    2. Liz*

      I will say my company is pretty good and has been but rumor has it our one VP is looking into what will be needed for people to come back to the office. Given that my state has no clear “date” to start doing anything, not sure when this might be. I’m hopeful i can continue to work from home as long as i choose/is needed. I’m slightly high risk with mild allergic asthma but also have never been sick at all since being diagnosed with it. So a bit nervous.

      But this is great. it recognizes challenges people may face, and if you have them, you can continue working from home.

      1. MistOrMister*

        Until the letter this morning, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that some people are not able to work from home easily, so it makes sense to open up safely for those people. But I hope everyone else gets to stay home if they want.

        I would not be at all comfortable going back with any type of asthma. Never mind having never had an episode, this thing is too scary to play fast and loose with! Hopefully you get to stay home where it’s safer.

      1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        I just sent this to a friend who has been assigned to make a plan for her company to return to work, and has no idea of where to start.

    3. Dragoning*

      At our last meeting, our director made a point to tell us that if we’re not ready to come back to work when the C-suite finally opens our offices again, he’s not going to make us as long as we can keep working from home, and I found that very reassuring.

    4. Tau*

      My company successfully panicked me earlier this month when everything we got from them revolved around “we’re working on a plan to reopen the office!!!” I – and a few other people, apparently – finally contacted the team going “um, I do not want to come back to the office in this situation?!” Then there was an announcement saying that they were shocked! and appalled! that people apparently thought they meant mandatory in-office work! and that naturally full-time WFH would continue to be allowed! They were simply thinking about the people who didn’t have good WFH setups!

      Lessons learned for everyone:
      – you obviously know your company better than I do, but is it possible that they mean it in an optional way and are very bad at communicating? In particular, is it possible for you to e-mail them asking for clarification?
      – for people doing the company communication: please, please, please make it really explicitly clear whether your “reopening plans” will be optional or mandatory (and if you plan to make them mandatory, maybe rethink that). It does not go without saying that full-time WFH will continue to be possible, particularly if you were remote work skeptical before (like my place), and you may cause a lot of your employees a great deal of anxiety if all your coronavirus communications go “of course we all can’t wait to get back to the office, so here’s what we’re doing to allow that!”

  2. General Organa*

    This is great, thank you! I’m part of a working group at my office that’s thinking about the best way to make reopening safe, and this is helpful. If commenters have other tips (particularly about how to handle formerly shared spaces like kitchen, conference room and a few of the larger offices) I would love to see those as well. My instinct is that no one should be sharing an office even if it is large enough to maintain 6 ft distance, but I think there are some who don’t agree with that.

    1. QED*

      My office is planning to split departments into two teams; each week one team will be in the office and one team will work from home and they’ll switch off (meaning each week half the department, max, will be in the office). We don’t have shared offices, but in the cubicle pods (they’re in groups of 4), the idea is that only people on the diagonals will be in at the same time. Maybe your office could do something similar? We obviously haven’t implemented this yet (my state is still under a stay-at-home order), but it sounds like it could work. People who have kids at home or health issues won’t have to come in at all.

      1. OtterB*

        My husband’s office is doing two teams also. They are an essential business that has some employees who must be on site to operate equipment, and others that can often work from home but sometimes need to come in. They have divided the operating staff into two teams with a fairly complex schedule, but the key is that staff who are not part of the operating shifts can only be on site with either A shift or B shift in any two-week period. So if my husband needs to go in to work to pick up some files or meet a contractor for a repair, fine, he gets permission from his supervisor and goes in. But if he goes in while A shift is working, then he can ONLY go in while A shift is on for the next two weeks. The idea is to reduce cross-team contact as much as possible.

    2. Atlantian*

      Someone complained and OSHA visited our office a few weeks ago (we never closed, but have move a ton of people to WAH and a ton more people are on various forms of paid leave. It’s a call center, if that helps). Here are some of the things they recommended (both that we were already doing and that we implemented on their suggestion.)

      1) All communal doors except security doors you need a badge to open are permanently propped open. Bathroom, break room, locker room, etc.

      2) We closed every other sink and urinal in the bathrooms. In order to do this, we had to verify that our headcount was low enough that this didn’t run a fowl of the other OSHA regulations about the number of toilets and sinks available per person.

      3) They also shut off all of the drinking fountains except the ones with the attached water bottle fillers and made drinking directly out of them forbidden. We can only use them to fill containers.

      4) In the breakroom, they removed all the chairs except one per table and made a rule that you can’t sit with more than one person at a single table. Think your standard 3×4 or 5 ft cafeteria tables.

      5) Also in the breakroom, they moved the microwaves from their regular places in a built in shelf by the sink to have them spread out around the room, plugged into various other outlets.

      6) We made the aisles between cubicles one-way.

      7) Masks are mandatory unless you are sitting at your own desk or in the breakroom eating. Even at my own desk, if someone comes to talk to me we both have to put our masks up before we start talking.

      8) One person per office, regardless of size. A couple of people who had shared offices took over training or conference rooms as their offices.

      9) If you need to have an in person meeting, or class, no more than 10 people are allowed in a room at a time. Again, regardless of size. Some of our sites have 1oo seat lecture hall like classrooms and even those are limited to 10 people at a time.

      All of that was in addition to providing very generous leave and paid FMLA for COVID specific situations, moving people to WAH who had never been even considered to before, really ramping up the cleaning regimen and sanitizing everything with this spray stuff that leaves a sticky residue on everything every night.

      They also implemented some more questionable policies like requiring every person to complete a brief health assessment before coming to work every day, requiring everyone to remove all personal items from workspaces to make it easier for the cleaners every day, being really, really strict about when people can return from leave (think, requiring people who have tested negative to also not have a cough for 5 days before returning. All the allergy sufferers, smokers and asthmatics are having a rough time with this one), and not relaxing the WAH requirements at all for people who may really need it (think, you still cannot be the sole childcare provider in your home, must have an office with a door that closes and locks that no one else can enter during the workday, etc.). So, it’s been a mixed response. But, coupled with the fact that we are operating with a fraction of our regular headcount, the changes in the actual building seem to be working well.

      1. Atlantian*

        Oh, also, essentially shut down every other or 2 out of every 3 workstations to allow for maximum social distancing. This had the added effect of making the closed stations available for the WAH people to remote into, since that is how they have to access the systems.

      2. Anon Anon*

        This is interesting. I’m curious to see how my employer handles the communal spaces like the kitchen and bathrooms, that are small (as we only have a 50 or person office) and it’s impossible to maintain social distance. We also share our bathrooms with the public as we share the building with therapists office.

      3. Stress*

        All this would make me mores stressed out. I get anxious when food shopping with all the lines and distancing and trying to follow the rules. I know I’d be constantly on edge in an office. Nevermind that with bathroom doors propped open people passing by in the halls could potentially hear me in there, yuck.

        1. Tau*

          Honestly, this is another reason I’m not too keen to come back to the office. Sure, I am not one of nature’s remote workers and I really miss the casual office environment… but that office environment is going to be gone during the crisis no matter what. At that point, I’d rather work at home and not have to do distancing calculations/have “do I need a mask right now?” running through my head eight hours a day.

      4. AnonForThisOne*

        Can I ask you if your employer is in a state where there is a state-run OSHA program in addition to federal OSHA? (States with their own programs must meet federal OSHA requirements but are allowed to set more rigorous standards). I was trying to make an OSHA complaint about my work, but my state does not have their own OSHA program. The representative I spoke with said the federal OSHA office was not able to enforce the safety issues I brought to their attention because the federal OSHA recommendations for coronavirus were not legally binding.
        The states with their own OSHA programs are listed here:

    3. Triumphant Fox*

      Atlantian’s comment is great and thorough.

      If possible, get mini-fridges (if your building allows them – some don’t) and spread them out. Ask people to eat at their desks or offsite, or eliminate a lot of the break room seating. I think the fridges and microwaves would give me the most anxiety – so more of those, with wipes next to them and a request to wipe down every time like you do at the gym would help.

      Bathrooms are another hot spot. You have to wear a mask when you go is a good rule. I like turning off every other faucet and toilet, but that may not be practical. Also, then you’re adding extra contact to just those ones, vs. spreading it out.

      No meetings in small offices. If this was a blanket rule, I’d feel more comfortable. I usually have people in and out of my office all day, but then I’d feel like its all communal space and no where was really safe for me.

    4. Scraps the Patchwork Girl*

      I work in a public art museum, which will not open anytime soon. Our administrative team has determined that staff will return on a rolling basis, based on job function. For example, those who work directly with the art every day (e.g., art handlers, registrars) will return first and will be staggered throughout the physical space. Staff who only sometimes need to be onsite (e.g., curators, educators) will come and go, but their onsite work will be tightly scheduled. Staff who never need physical collections access (e.g, communications, IT) can stay home for the foreseeable future. When we start to bring more people into the office, we take measures such as staggering onsite times and spreading out work spaces as much as possible.

      Shared spaces: kitchens, lobby, elevators, and stairs, will be routinely disinfected and will be accessed in intervals (how will this work? I do not know). Because of OSHA regulations, museums have PPE, though many of us donated it all during the beginning of the outbreak, my museum included. Disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, extra soap, gloves- will all be made available in the entrances, elevator, and at the tops of the stairs.

      As a note, I recognize that there aren’t a lot of actionable takeaways from this if you don’t have access to PPE or if you don’t have a significant amount of space in which you can spread out (temporary workstations in the galleries ftw)- or if your company does not necessarily recognize the danger of immediate reconvening. But I think the staggered, need-based approach will be the most helpful aspect of this.

    5. Nessun*

      My company has decided not to go back to the office until July. We can work remotely, so TPTB have decided that we can continue to work from home while other companies that can’t function with a WFH employee base can get back to their usual in office buildings without our presence – it may help them with the ongoing distancing. We’re also examining what can be done for those who want to continue WFH once the offices are fully opened, and expect that people will have a large degree of latitude based around what works best to keep them effective and productive.

      TPTB have also decided that all our offices will open on the same date, regardless of location. We’re across the country, and this will avoid confusion and possible anger/frustration/jealousy/feelings – and also is in line with our goal to be seen as a company working across various locations and geographies but not siloed into individual offices and little fiefdoms.

    6. Pennalynn Lott*

      Pre-COVID, I wiped my desk, mouse, and keyboard down every single morning with a rubbing alcohol wipe, even though I’m the only one who touched them. I carried paper towels with me everywhere, using them to open doors and discarding immediately afterward. I also used paper towels to touch any common surface (like the microwaves and elevator buttons). I keep my breakfast and lunch in an insulated bag with frozen paks to keep the food cold (and safe) during the day.

      Post-COVID, whenever we go back, I will wear an N95 mask at all times inside the building, even at my desk with its 6-foot high cube walls (the six of us in a cube cluster got sick when one guy in the cluster came in every day while he had a nasty head cold and coughed and coughed and coughed; fabric cube walls are no match for virus particles). I will eat in my car. I will take a baggie full of alcohol-soaked paper towels with me everywhere and use one (or part of one) to touch any common surfaces and to open doors.

      My hope, however, is to not be forced to go back. My elderly mother lives with me. She has COPD and has compromised lung function already. I have allergy-induced asthma. I’d really, really, REALLY like to limit our exposure until a reliable vaccine can be developed.

    7. AcademiaNut*

      Some things my office is doing/has done. This is mostly preventative – we’re not under stay at home orders, there hasn’t been a domestic case of the virus in almost three weeks, and only about 5 cases (in a country of 23 million) before that which couldn’t be easily traced to a known source of infection. We had a small cluster of cases in another department/building (traced to travel abroad) in mid March which was caught, contact traced and contained by government measures. I work at a research institute on a large university campus, so they’re being very careful about things so they don’t have to shut down classes.

      People are split in two groups with alternating work from home weeks. This way people who need office facilities to be effective can come in (we do lab work, for one thing), but if a case crops up, they can quarantine contacts without shutting down completely. Regular work from home is an option where it wasn’t before. We’re encouraged to flex time when possible so there are fewer people in the office at a time.

      We scan in with IDs when entering the office. That way, if a case crops up, contact tracing becomes easier. The routine is scan ID, check temperature at the automatic stand, use the hand sanitizer and then continue to the elevators. Visitors are not allowed on the campus without appointments, and have to be met at the entrance and fill out contact paperwork for tracing cases.

      Extra cleaning/disinfecting, particularly of common areas. The kitchen is closed on weekends and holidays, to discourage people from coming in when the cleaning staff isn’t scheduled.

      In shared offices, windows and doors should be open a crack to ensure good air flow (I’m not sure about this – it may make the A/C in summer ineffective, plus the issue of flooding during thunderstorms).

      All in person meetings and colloquia have been cancelled since late February. When colloquia restart, they’ll be held in the large auditorium so social distancing can be observed, rather than the smaller meeting rooms. People wear masks in common areas including bathrooms, kitchen, hallways.

      The government requires that people who have been exposed to a known case are required to quarantine for two weeks (full quarantine of the don’t leave the house ever variety). A government stipend and job protection are provided, and the quarantined person is monitored. My employer provides extra leave to cover quarantine, including if someone has been tested and is waiting for results, or for actual illness. Masks are legally required on public transit, government offices and classrooms, with fines for non compliance, and strongly recommended for any situation where people are indoors, or outdoors in crowded areas.

  3. Trixie, the Great and Pedantic*

    A clearly expressed plan with thought behind it and an appreciation for workers’ health and safety! What parallel universe is this from?!

    (seriously, this is awesome and shows a lot of forethought)

  4. Junior Dev*

    this is not necessarily a bad thing about the letter but something I’m wondering about public perceptions, based on this line:

    “We know that 90% of the COVID-19 casualties were patients who had an underlying health condition.”

    Do most people realize that “underlying health condition” includes fairly common chronic conditions that are often well-managed with medication, like asthma and diabetes? Because the way I see some people talking about this on social media it seems they think that “underlying health condition” means “you have some rare disease and were basically at death’s door already before catching the virus,” not “oh, a bunch of my friends and family members have these ‘underlying conditions’ so I’d better be really careful.” But I realize that what I’ve been seeing may not be representative of public opinion as a whole.

    1. Searching for a New Name*

      Not to mention that it’s possible to suffer quite a lot from COVID, including long-term damage, without actually dying from it.

      1. yala*

        My mom kept dismissing that, saying my brother needs to get out and work because he’s young and healthy and it’s the duty of the young able-bodied people to get exposed and create herd immunity (pause to imagine the actual smoke coming out of my ears)

        What finally got her to take the whole “Just because you don’t DIE doesn’t mean you’re ok” thing was finding out that the military is considering banning anyone who was hospitalized for COVID from joining. (Well, she found out from some sensationalist place to it was “They’re definitely banning anyone who tested positive for it”). That convinced her that the longterm health effects might actually be serious even for “young and healthy” people.

        fwiw, if anyone thinks that might help relatives realize the seriousness of the disease

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I think that no matter how carefully you word something, some people will be unreasonable and read their own perception into it. Plus we have access to so much information, and media outlets have agendas, so you never know what is fully factual, partially factual, or pure nonsense. I’m skeptical about everything, but many are not, and believe everything they read.

    3. Cat*

      From what I see among friends and acquaintances, yes – asthma, smokers, etc are all considered riskier.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Obesity is also turning out to be a comorbidity factor, particularly for young people who are otherwise healthy. That makes the underlying condition group a *lot* larger.

        1. yala*

          With obesity, there’s also the factor of doctor bias. As in, obese patients are at a higher risk of not having their symptoms taken seriously, and of receiving subpar care.

          1. tommy*

            thank you, yala. that’s very true. and in addition, sometimes there’s a lack of medical equipment that is made to suit very fat bodies.

    4. Triumphant Fox*

      I think in this context it was meant to point out another group that should stay home. You know if you have an underlying condition, or if your close family does (presumably) even if the population at large sees it as a death’s door type of thing. Since it’s to the company rather than as a PSA, you’re really only addressing the group who knows they are in the group – a later email will probably address safety while at work, which would maybe need to spell out the dire consequences of non-compliance more so than here.

      1. alienor*

        The thing I worry about is people starting to gossip and complain about whether or not their coworkers *really* have an underlying condition, or if they do, is it serious enough for them to stay home. E.g., “she says she has asthma, but I’ve never seen her use an inhaler/my cousin has the same thing and they’re going in to the office every day.” I’d like to think they won’t, but I’ll bet some will, so I hope companies are ready to crack down on that.

        1. Triumphant Fox*

          I would hope you wouldn’t need to tell anyone your underlying condition, especially not coworkers. Maybe you provide documentation to HR, but the tone of this letter seems to be “If you feel vulnerable at work, work from home,” not “If you HAVE to work from home, fine.” The ideal is that all your manager and coworkers know is you fall into one of the categories that mean you should work from home.

        2. Sunflower*

          There are lots of non-health related reasons people may not be able to go back into the office though including child care issues or having an immune compromised household resident.

        3. Pennalynn Lott*

          The day before my company instituted WFH for everyone who could do so, I requested that I be allowed to WFH because my mom, who is part of the especially-vunerable population, lives with me. I had to fill out several pages of FMLA-like paperwork so that management could sign off on my “unusual” accomodation.

          One of my coworkers, who is in her late 20’s, has no underlying health issues, and lives alone (no children out of school or anyone who is especially vulnerable to COVID) raced to her manager as soon as she found out that I was packing up my stuff to WFH and demanded to know why I was getting special treatment. She even said, “How do we know her mother is even still alive, let alone living with her??”

          So, yeah, people will absolutely do that.

          1. Pennalynn Lott*

            I should follow up and say that I 100% think she should be allowed to WFH if she wants to. Being afraid of getting sick with COVID, even if the symptoms are “minor”, is enough of a reason to self-isolate. And I think companies should honor that, for the folks who can absolutely be productive working from home.

      2. Threeve*

        I think that’s what was meant. The wording should have been “we realize that COVID-19 is especially dangerous to people with an underlying health condition.” The way it’s phrased sounds way more mercenary than what was probably intended.

      3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        I think one of the “underlying health conditions” that produces that statistic is being at least 60 years old.

        And some things just aren’t clear: “brain disorders” were being listed as risk factors, but after consulting our doctors, my partner and I determined that epilepsy, migraine, and multiple sclerosis aren’t risk factors.

        I would advise, If you have a doctor you see regularly for anything chronic, ask them whether you’re in a high-risk group. That’s for dealing with the pandemic generally, not just whether it’s safe to go back to working close to other people.

    5. alienor*

      I don’t think most people do realize it, and if they do, they may be guessing wrong about who has those conditions. I have high blood pressure that’s controlled easily with medication, but I’m also a thin woman (I mention that only because of the stereotype of hypertension as a heavier person’s ailment) who is rarely sick otherwise. I doubt anyone would look at me and think “there goes someone with an underlying health condition,” but I have one just the same, and I’m far from the only person in that situation.

    6. CL Cox*

      I had bronchitis and pneumonia in December and again in February. According to my doctor, this definitely puts me in the vulnerable group. I figured that was the case (I remember my dad having pneumonia decades ago and being told that he was more susceptible to getting it again for the next year), but a lot of people might not think that having an upper respiratory infection (like, IDK, the FLU?) in the winter also makes them vulnerable.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        There could be a link to another document with what underlying conditions mean. I think that would give people guidance on how to determine if they are in that group.

        1. 42*

          They should also throw in a link to that statistic they’re quoting. I don’t think I’ve heard the “90% of casualties…” stat since early March, when that was the conventional wisdom.

    7. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, when they call “obesity” an underlying health condition, they are talking about 70% of the US population! (IMO, obesity isn’t a condition, it’s a side effect of other metabolic problems like metabolic syndrome or low thyroid, but the AMA had decided to further stigmatize it as if it’s an independent condition so that diet plans can make money.)

      If you add to that diabetes, hypothyroid, heart conditions, clogged arteries, high cholesterol, immune disorders, cancers, asthma, etc, you can easily tag 80% of the population.

      I live in a house of 5 adults. All five are over 55, and have one or more underlying health condition, from gallstones, overweight, diabetes, prior stroke, IBS, etc. By the standard criteria, we’re all at risk. Same with most of my family. Same with at least half of my friends, that I know of. That’s just stuff that has been diagnosed.

      People who have no underlying conditions are very rare, IMO, and if you add in genetic risk factors, approach zero.

    8. weird magnet*

      They seem to be confusing casualty with fatality. Most fatalities have had an underlying health condition, but we have no idea how many people have long term health consequences (aka a casualty).

      1. Pommette!*

        And that’s a real, serious, and strangely under-discussed concern!

        We know that lots of viruses (including SARS, another coronavirus, and the 1918 Spanish Flu) have strange, unpredictable, and often severe and/or persistent sequelae. Lots of viruses cause what seem to be neurological and immune effects, through poorly understood mechanisms. Deaths are tragic and mortality rates are therefore important… but they only tell you about a portion of a virus’ true impact.

        I have no idea what to expect from coronavirus, but it’s a good guess that many (how many?) survivors are going to have to deal with some level of disability (how severe?) as a result. And it seems like all of our cost-benefit calculations are ignoring that right now.

  5. Re'lar Fela*

    My organization (also in Indiana) is handling things similarly well. Leadership surveyed all employees for things such as comfort level, personal situations (childcare, family health, etc), and precautions that would allow us to feel safer returning to the office. They’ve already begun stockpiling cleaning supplies, rearranging the office for maximum social distancing, and implementing other policies to make our eventual return more comfortable for everyone. The earliest we’ll be back in the office is June 1, though I imagine with the uptick in COVID cases due to the (IMO, extremely premature) reopening of the state it may end up being later. Either way, I was extremely anxious about the eventual easing of restrictions and I’m greatly comforted by my employer’s handling of the situation.

    1. Quinalla*

      My employer was very similar, June 1 at the earliest and even then likely a lot of folks will continue to work from home. They also did a check since this is extending on everyone’s computer, etc. situation at home if people needed a 2nd monitor, etc. which was great too.

    2. Amanda*

      Same, except it’s July 1st in my company. And they’ve already said that anyone in the riskier groups, such as me, can keep WFH until at least the December.

      This was a company that historically has never allowed WFH, so it’s a specially great step for them to take.

      1. Re'lar Fela*

        December!! How incredible!

        My organization has also historically disliked WFH (officially we were allowed one day/month, pre-approved, but no one ever took it because it was so frowned upon). We’ve all done so well, even with small children at home, etc, that I think telecommuting will likely become more allowable even beyond the pandemic.

      2. Anon Anon*

        I wish my employer would commit to longer term WFH. Right now we are scheduled to return in early June. And I know some of my co-workers are very eager to start working back in the office. However, I am not. In part, because while our office is closed to the public, things like the the bathrooms are not. I don’t know that I will feel comfortable until there is a proven treatment regime for COVID.

  6. ThatGirl*

    I appreciate this. I know our executive team has been working on “reopening” plans even though our shelter-in-place is in effect, at minimum, until the end of May. (I’m in Illinois.) I suspect our plans will look similar and that to for a good long while, only people who really can’t do their jobs from home without a lot of hassle will be back in the office building.

  7. Turquoisecow*

    This is pretty awesome. My husband’s company is doing something similar, saying that even when they do reopen offices, people will still be totally free to work from home if they’re more comfortable with that. Since his office is in NYC, I think a lot of his coworkers won’t be anxious to get on public transportation any time soon, which is how most people get there. Even driving, you have to park some distance away and walk through what will likely be crowded streets.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      One concern brought up in our update meetings was what to do about people who commute by transit. We have some people who don’t even own cars. The average age in our workplace is 44. The university has been incenting “green” (transit) commuting for years because of whining about traffic by the city it’s in. Now those folks have the added risk of transit exposure if they come in. They appear to be amenable to people continuing to WFH if there is an increased risk either due to transit or underlying conditions. I hope it keep up being that way. I don’t want to go back to the damned open plan until there’s a vaccine, and won’t be happy even then because of losing two hours a day to traffic.

  8. TiredMama*

    I’m not sure why, but this made me year up. What has the pandemic done to my emotional responses?!

    1. whistle*

      Lol. I’ve been crying at pretty much everything – good and bad – since the pandemic hit. I finished a book yesterday and balled my eyes out through the last 10 (happy) pages. It’s not unusual for me to cry at books, but I don’t think I’ve ever cried that long and hard while reading a book. I’ve been crying at commercials (for like no reason at all), and I’ve been crying a lot at small “look at how kind people can be” stories that I see online or on the local news.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Constant stress, anxiety, existential dread–however you want to frame it. Huge shift in how most of us function in our day-to-day lives: our workspaces, shopping, socializing, child care if we have kids, all of it. That’s on top of the worrying about our loved ones who are vulnerable, ourselves, our jobs.

      I mean, two of the biggest stressors in life are a change in job, and moving house. Because of the shift in how we live and work, many, many people are experiencing at least half of each of those stressors all at once, unplanned.

  9. Miss Muffet*

    My company (healthcare with administrative/corp offices where everyone is currently WFH) is doing something similar — stating on the firm-wide call that they are in no hurry to return everyone to work but those that want or need to (similar situations as Kiwanis outlined) are welcome back once the orders are lifted. Offices will be more frequently cleaned, social distancing will be required in elevators, conf rooms, and masks will be required 100% of the time, and I imagine they’ll be doing some reconfiguring to space our desks out more. But they also sent out a survey to see what people’s eagerness to return was. Managers seem to also be really on board – if you need to be home for whatever reason, we are ok with that. For a group that was really focused on being all together in the office most of the time, they transitioned well to the virtual realm and are seeing that it’s definitely workable, if not 100% ideal. Glad for companies that really truly put their employees first in these crazy times!

  10. CL Cox*

    What stood out to me what that their default is work from home and exceptions will be made for those who can’t. So many companies have the opposite mindset, where those who need to stay home are the odd ones out.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      We will offer this for those who […] believe they are more productive in the office or they do not have an advantageous work arrangement at home. For the foreseeable future, working from home will remain our primary work arrangement.

      It jumped out at me too. Stay safely at home if that works best for you, but we will try to accommodate as many people as possible who need to be in the office. Need includes business need, but also logistical or emotional.

      1. not that kind of Doctor*

        Yes, there are people on my team who hate working from home – bad internet, isolated setting, grumpy housemates – and those who will not do anything else because of the health risk to family members. It’s great to be accommodating both.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I love this. I’m hoping our management goes this way too.

      3. I coulda been a lawyer*

        I’ll be happy to have a choice, but I’m really up in the air right now. It has gotten a little easier to WFH as my laptop and I have adjusted but I really miss my standing desk and dual large monitors. Plus I live in a one room studio so I get very tired of my walls. But I’m over 60 with underlying conditions. If I could just bring my dock and monitors home …

    2. Anon Anon*

      Yes, that really stuck out to me as well. And that it was left, in part, at the discretion of the employee and their level of comfort. That the decision wasn’t being imposed on most employees.

    3. Jajabroty*

      That really caught my eye as well. My boss has done everything “correctly” during this, including having the staff who could easily transition to WFH start before there was an official order in my state. But there has been very little leeway for changed circumstances, if anything, we felt the expectation to do MORE. Not to mention the clearly conveyed irritation over some fairly minor tech glitches and other little bumps we couldn’t control as we were figuring things out. Now I’m very much getting the sense that they are champing at the bit for everyone’s butts to be back in seats the minute it’s allowed. I have mild asthma, but am not overly concerned for myself; but I have co-workers who are susceptible to everything that comes along, and I don’t think it will be optional to remain home once the order is lifted. (We did not do WFH prior, other than the ability put in more time on evenings and weekends if we “wanted to.”) I hope I’m wrong – I would be thrilled to get a message like this.

    4. nerfherder*

      YES. I love that, too.

      My employer is willing to “be flexible” once the local SIP is lifted, allowing some degree of WFH for your individual lack of childcare, or high-risk status. But the message is clear that the expected thing to do will be to go back, and that continued remote work is the exception. Even though the hoops we will have to jump through (masks, temperature checks, split days) kind of eliminate the purpose of going into the office at all. Why are we even bothering if we can’t safely have meetings together? Especially since we are hitting our numbers just fine (better than ever, in fact) from home.

      I’m not looking forward to this, because as a technically obese person, I’m really not wanting to get this disease. But at the same time I’m not wanting to prostrate myself for an exception to the “go back” rule on the basis of my obesity. It’s hard enough to walk around looking like most people’s version of damnation without calling formal attention to it! I wake up every day of my life fighting the horror show that is my body; I can win for a few weeks or months, sometimes, but I always end up back where I started. I don’t need this, too.

      That all said, my colleague who has no AC with the summer heat coming just around the corner – I’m sure she’d like to go in if she could. So an approach that lets her is thoughtful and sensitive.

      1. WorkingFromHome*

        Yah, I don’t really get it either. How do they think people are going to be more productive in an office where they’re going to start their day with temperature checks and wearing masks. I think those kind of things would put many people into a certain type of mindset (flight or fight) that is probably not conducive to doing their best work.
        Plus trying to stay away from colleagues, waiting to go to the bathroom until the person before you has left, skipping lunch because the kitchen has two people eating in it already and you can’t safely get to the fridge.
        Ugh. Nightmare.
        Just let me stay home please!

  11. RCB*

    As a former Indy resident whose husband and some close friends were involved with Kiwanis, I’ve met Stan on several occasions and can confirm he’s a genuine, caring guy.

  12. Midwest Marketer*

    My global company gave us an update today that:

    1) The current earliest they’ll allow anyone back into our Midwest HQ is June

    2) They’ll have unique re-opening plans per region

    3) During “phase one” of re-opening offices, they’ll only be operating at 15% capacity (that 15% will be based on job duties and WFH comfort)

    4) No one is going to be required to go into the office before the end of 2020 if they don’t feel comfortable.

  13. CBG*

    As a Kiwanian, I am proud of how our corporate office is handling this situation! Great job. Also, anyone interested in Kiwanis, please look up your local chapter. We do a lot of great work in our local communities, as well as provide business networking opportunities. I actually got my current job from a fellow Kiwanian! Right now my chapter is only meeting via Zoom, but we’re still striving to improve the world, one child and one community at a time!

  14. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

    The university I work for has already sent out some basic guidelines for when/if our SAH expires at the end of the month:
    1. Only people who are required by their job duties to be on campus should return
    2. Social distancing should be adhered to as much as possible
    3. All meetings are to take place over Zoom for the forseeable future; no in person meetings will be permitted.

    What this basically means for my role is that I doubt I will personally have cause to be back in the office anywhere in the forseeable future. That’s good, because there is definitely about 3-4 feet between some of the desks in our office space. However, I find it regrettable at the very least that these guidelines are likely up to the interpretation of managers, who could (and probably will) still pressure people who are not required to be on campus for their duties to come in.

    1. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

      Sorry, I meant to add a connection to the email above: I wish clearer direction, like in the OP, was sent out by a person so high up the pecking order that it could not be argued with. I love the compassion and firmness of the email–two things that have been lacking in official communications that I’ve received!

  15. Working From Home FTW*

    This is great! My husband’s job is planning for how to re-open, he works in a large office with about 100 people as a programmer and has been doing fine working from home. Their office has no provisions for anyone to work from home, they are planning that everyone come into work unless 1) the person has COVID-19, or is at high-risk for it or 2) they have children and no child care is available. We are neither but my husband can’t drive and takes the bus an hour into work every day, commuting in this way makes us very uncomfortable. If employees are able to work from home at normal productivity standards and are comfortable doing so, they should be able to continue working from home. I think any company that demands their employees come into work when they are able to work from home during a pandemic are heartless and placing everyone else at unnecessary risk. We all have a responsibility to continue to do our part to stop the spread in any way possible until a vaccine is made, and this includes corporations.

  16. Anon Anon*

    This is a great letter. And I really like this approach. I know I work with people who are eager to get back into the office because they feel more productive and/or they prefer that format. I know I am definitely not comfortable going back into the office. One of the things I appreciated about the letter was the emphasis of wanting people to work from home. That working from home is being encouraged, rather than something that they are trying to avoid at all costs.

    I’m curious if they have a reasonable and generous WFH policy before all this began?

    1. Emelle*

      My husband’s company had a firm No Working From Home policy before this. Now, they are saying pretty much the same thing this email says, with the caveat of “if you work in a bullpen…..we have no idea when we can bring you back. If you desperately need to work in an office, let your manager know and we will do what we can.” Husband’s group has been told their WFH has been super productive, they are ahead of schedule and they will probably be the last group to come back as long as they keep this up. (His group decided on like day 5 that they wanted to prove this could be done, to see if they could get the WFH rules relaxed in a no pandemic climate.)

  17. not that kind of Doctor*

    My employer has been pretty mindful throughout: setting people up to work from home, spreading out breakroom tables (we have a factory and therefore a large contingent who can’t work from home), providing sanitizing stations all over the building, offering flexible leave. As our state reopens over the next several weeks/months, all that will stay.

    The big shift for us is that our president was adamantly opposed to WFH, so much so that we lost a couple of great employees because of it. She allowed it lately only in the interest of public & employee health (we were a bit ahead of our state on that). Now, she has seen that people can work as effectively from home and she is a convert. No one will be required to return full time, and possibly not at all.

    It would be nice if it didn’t take a pandemic to show her the light, but we’ll take the win however we get it.

  18. anon for this*

    Someone please send this to my boss who asked me a few days ago “If I had thought about when I would come back to the office” even though we’re still under a stay at home order and our state’s re-opening plan says telework should continue through all of phase one (and we are not at phase one yet).

    1. Anon Anon*

      Our state’s re-opening plan says telework until we get to phase 4. Our CEO has historically hated WFH, however, one of the reasons he’s hated it was because he likes to pop his head into people’s offices and have small group meetings. All things that even when our office re-opens he cannot do.

      1. anon for this*

        Historically it’s never been allowed at my workplace, and a lot of people are still working in the office despite the stay at home order, including my boss. It’s an essential business, so anyone who “can’t” work from home can work in the office, but I am extremely skeptical that everyone working in the office actually HAS to work in the office.

      2. nerfherder*

        This is what drives me bananas. Our VP of HR was talking about this last week and she said they want to get the WFH people back into the office because “we like to see and talk to each other.”

        I mean, okay…but…we won’t be able to have meetings, really, and we’ll have to stand far apart when we talk and it won’t be appropriate for people to just walk up to you and chat. So is “liking to see each other” really a sensible argument here? The reality is, she’s just a fusspot still on the ass-in-seat metric, and she’s trying to backfill an explanation.

        1. anon for this*

          Exactly…like nothing is going to change when I’m back at the office except I’ll be able to print things. There is no point. But my boss says our company “works better” when we’re there in person. And also seems convinced that things will just go back to normal and keeps giving me advice about my “anxiety.” I referred to how there would likely be a second wave and he said “Well, I hope not!” Like, dude, there is going to be a second wave, this is not over.

  19. BenAdminGeek*

    This is wonderful. Compassionate and detailed.

    Our CHRO emailed last week to remind folks that just because a state is open, doesn’t mean that our office in that state is open, and reinforced that you aren’t allowed in the office unless directed, since we have some folks who have an essential need to be there, and we need to protect them. It was nice to have that clarity and specificity about what the rules were and why they were important.

  20. Hiring Mgr*

    It’s a very nice letter, but out of curiosity why are they reopening right away in the first place? I understand that the state has given a May 18 date, but if everyone can WFH anyway, and it’s what they’re encouraging, why open up the office at all at this point?

    1. Anon Anon*

      To me it sounds like they are trying to accommodate the employee’s who’s jobs are made much more difficult by working from home. For example, we have a couple members of our accounting staff who are managing at home, with some help from the two people who have been classified as essential and are working in the building, but they are finding it very challenging as they do not have access to a key piece of software (as it’s behind a specific kind of firewall as it banking routing numbers, etc.). I know they would find work easier if they could work in the office.

      And, then I also have co-workers who really don’t have a great set-up at home to work from home well. They find that they just generally work better in the office. My organization did not provide anyone who had an approved WFH arrangement pre-COVID, with computers or equipment. Some of those people’s WFH set-ups are fine for working from a couple times a month (it’s common that they have laptop and perhaps work from the kitchen table), but are really not set-up for WFH every day for weeks on end.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I mean, how many letters has Alison answered here, and how many comments have there been on the open threads, about people who are having difficulties with working from home?

    1. Kimmy Schmidt*

      I think it comes from a CDC report that 90% of hospitalizations had underlying health conditions, but I’m not sure about fatalities.

      There’s a few important caveats to that study. Underlying health conditions includes a lot more than people realize, including asthma, obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), gastrointestinal diseases, and pregnancy. This article is from the end of March, which means those numbers might be skewed now that we have more cases. The in-depth chart abstractions that give that percentage only included about 200 patients, and they don’t represent all states or counties.

      Link to follow.

  21. Aitch Arr*

    Our company is WFH until at least June 15th.
    We have a committee looking into how to best re-open.

    Today our CEO said “we are in no rush and will not be the first company to re-open even when the state says we can.”

  22. Buffy*

    I’m in WA and we are starting a 4 phased approach to reopening. My company was one of the first to send people to work from home (here since March 4!!) and they’ve been fantastic about the whole thing. There is a weekly email that gives us status of what we are to do. The latest one said that they are preparing to reopen the campus and allow people back in and the earliest would be June 1. However, they went on to say that we will come back in ‘hybrid’ mode, where some people will SFH and some VOLUNTARILY working at the worksite. Given this, to give people flexibility, returning to the workplace will be optional through October, unless we are in an essential role or local authorities mandate elsewise. My company has gone above and beyond to manage this crisis with grace and style. All those horror stories you read about the spyware and constant check ins didn’t happen to us. We went home and we didn’t miss a beat. The most glorious part is where the company protected the paychecks of all of the vendor staff that do our receptionists functions, janitorial, food service and internal transportation services. All 4500 of them have been getting their regular paychecks while furloughed. The shining silver lining to all of this is that I’m in finance which tends to be very traditional and doesn’t like WFH much. They are seeing first hand that we can do all of our close activities and regular functions easily from home without missing a beat. So this will open us up to the possibility of more people like me who have a hellish commute to at least WFH half of the week. So I’m really excited and just overall impressed with the way my company responded.

  23. nep*

    If you are comfortable continuing in your work from home assignment, we want you to work from home.
    Listen up, every company in the universe.
    Good sense. It works.

  24. Malarkey01*

    I LOVE this on so many levels but the part that really stood out to me was listing the 3 situations and then adding “we want you to stay home” for each.

    It’s a small thing but by saying “we want” instead of “you can” it makes very clear that there’s no underlying penalty for those that would otherwise choose to stay home. Just like companies that used to say oh stay home if you need to, but in the background the culture undertone is we will judge you if you think you need to stay home. Well good choice of wording for those!

  25. Potatoes gonna potate*

    Wow this is awesome.

    I’m hearing bits and pieces that the boss in my former company is telling people they have to come back into the office and if they don’t they’re fired.

  26. Forrest*

    Another great response from our university president last week (slightly paraphrased to remove identifying information):

    But should we expect everything to go back exactly as it was in February, even if we have that opportunity? Have there been aspects of working during the lockdown that you think are beneficial? To you, to our students, to other colleagues, and to our stakeholders?

    Later this month, we will share initial plans from colleagues who are looking at the steps we may need to take to help us reopen. We want your help with noting what we have learned from this period and how to integrate it into our working practices in the future. Are there adjustments we could consider that would make working at ____ more productive, enjoyable, efficient or effective?

    This is a genuinely open question. Please let me know what you think.

  27. thatsmystapler*

    Holy cow. That was amazing. So grateful they were willing to share that.

  28. Ann Perkins*

    I love this so much! It’s bringing back fond memories of being active in Key Club as a high schooler. Kiwanis is a great organization.

  29. Keymaster of Gozer*

    My husband’s manager tried to make a case for my husband to return to the office on the grounds of the fact my husband is healthy, never gets ill, exercises regularly, is a healthy weight etc.

    Husband had to tell him that yeah, he’s ok, but his wife (me) doesn’t fit into any of those categories and would be at risk.

    I’m sending husband a link to this post so he can read that email and maybe suggest his company does too and learns from it.

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