when can managers expect employees to adjust to the “new normal”?

A reader writes:

Your advice around the pandemic and expectations for managers has been extremely helpful. However, I am struggling with when it is reasonable for employers to expect employees to get closer to pre-coronavirus work outputs. It seems clear that we will not be going back to a “normal” work environment anytime soon, so do you have any guidance on how long it may take people to readjust?

For context, my company is working directly on the fight against coronavirus, though we are able to work from home. We are also a small business, so our workload is increasing, we don’t have a lot of staff redundancies built in, and it’s a make-or-break moment for our success.

I have one employee in particular who is finding it hard to focus on work. He has been with us for a year and is a good worker though not our highest performer, and has been open about his mental health struggles. I have been flexible with him and my other team members in terms of taking breaks or time off, and understanding of the difficulty of meeting deadlines. However, the fact is there’s not a lot we can deprioritize. I have been taking on an increased workload to help out, but this doesn’t seem like a sustainable solution. I have also suggested we could switch the projects he is assigned to with me or other team members if there are some he is more comfortable working on. Is there anything else I should be doing, and when is it reasonable to expect employees to have adjusted to this new situation? When should we worry that some may never perform well in this environment?

I don’t have an answer to “when?” but I know we’re not there yet.

Things are still in chaos! Covid-19 cases are still increasing in many parts of the country, (many) people are (sensibly) afraid to leave their homes, and people and businesses that are trying to accelerate our path into some kind of new normal are stumbling and encountering or causing more problems when they do.

It’s still early days, really. We are maybe approaching the end of the beginning — but that leaves us still just barely starting to figure out what the rest of the year will look like.

And for employees with young kids at home, nothing has changed — because schools and daycares and summer camps are mostly still closed, they’re still in the impossible situation of trying to work while doing full-time child care.

To be clear, I don’t think you’re wrong for asking this question! Work still has to get done, and we have to figure out how to navigate this. But it’s understandable that people haven’t adjusted enough to return to pre-pandemic work levels yet.

With the employee you’re asking about in particular, I think it depends on how his work is being affected. If he’s a little scattered and not as productive as he used to be but is still getting work done to acceptable standards, well … that doesn’t sound out of the realm of an understandable response, and one you should expect to see on your staff. I think you chalk that up to the pandemic penalty and accept it’ll be the case for a while.

But if he’s regularly missing deadlines and turning in low-quality work and creating genuine problems for your team, that’s a different situation. If that’s the case, I think you manage it how you normally would, just with extra empathy and more chances to improve. But it is okay to say, “I know it’s a hard time and none of us are at our best, but your work is really far afield from where I need it, even building in extra leeway because of the current situation. What I’m seeing from you is ___ and what I need to see change is ___. What do you need from me to help make that happen? Some ways I can support you are ___ and ____.”

And then all the normal pieces of how to manage performance problems will be extra important to get right — being very clear about what needs to change, being clear about how important those changes are, and being clear if things are getting to the point where they could jeopardize the person’s job.

The idea is to (a) cut the person more slack than you usually would, because global pandemic, and (b) when things are truly unworkable given what your team needs to achieve, give the person every chance to hear exactly what they need to do differently and to talk to you about whether there are obstacles to that and to collaborate with you on solutions.

But as for expecting people to be adjusted, that’s not now and it won’t be for a while. This is about how to manage meanwhile.

{ 274 comments… read them below }

  1. Dave*

    Also does your employee truly have all the tools to work from home? It took me a month for my office to provide a proper computer. At this point I am also starting to run low on things like printer toner for my personal printer (my job requires hard copies for many things) and other offices supplies not to mention our VPN is painfully slow. My office is still working out the new normal in other ways like you go to this person on these days and this person on the opposite days because of new work schedules, which I often learn about after the fact. None of this is helping my productivity. (My office is becoming a bit of how not to do this.)

    1. Deliliah*

      This so much. I was smart enough to grab my mouse as I was leaving the office the last time, but I am sorely missing my second monitor and keyboard. I also don’t have any sort of desk space in my apartment. I could work at the kitchen table, but I have a roommate who likes cooking and I can’t commandeer the table all day every day when she needs to use it. So I mostly work from my couch or my bed, which are not optimal work spaces. I’m getting done what I can, but I know I’m not as productive as I usually am.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        I wish I had also grabbed my keyboard tray (allows you to stand at your desk without raising monitors) and I really wish I had brought my plants home. Also the cordless mouse and keyboard would be nice. But who imagined we’d be WFH this long back then?

        1. Threeve*

          My work explicitly told us not to take any of our equipment home. For some reason, monitors, keyboards, even MICE have to stay in the office collecting dust while most of us are hunched over personal laptops.

          1. Rachel in NYC*

            My office paid for second monitors- at least for my group. I sorta wish I had bought a larger one but (1) I didn’t know the office was paying for it at the time and (2) ultimately I’m not going to keep it so it will be easier to move a smaller monitor.

            And I finally invested in keyboard and mouse rests- and a back cushion. I would kill for a real desk chair. But since everything is still so vague time wise, it’s hard to make large financial investments.

            My problem is I’m having a hard time focusing. Some days I get an okay amount done. Some days- nothing…and I just feel sorta grrrr… about the whole thing.

            1. Mimi*

              I’m really wondering about the chair situation. I could buy an expensive one I know I like, or a cheap(er) one and risk being only marginally (if at all) better off than where I am now.

              It’s looking likely that I will still be working from home a lot over the coming months, if not exclusively, so *a* chair is probably worth it…

              1. Eleaner*

                I had the same debate, my desk chair at home had a mesh seat that ripped all the way through in March. I wasn’t willing to blindly buy a proper office chair at $600+, so I can say that Poppin’s task chair is livable, decent foam. Not a ringing endorsement, but better than the $100-$200 staples ones our office normally gets. Thought I’d put that PSA out there.

              2. Ashely*

                I bought a new chair and it was worth it. I would keep an eye out for sales or refurbished items to help soften the blow if you don’t think your company will pay.

              3. Gatomon*

                I bought my home office chair (Steelcase) years ago pre-pandemic, but I was really glad to have something comfortable and rated for a full workday when this all hit. If you can spare the cash and think you would still use it otherwise, I’d buy a nice chair. If it will just collect dust in a corner or need to go for space reasons when this is over, then I would go low end.

                When I bought my chair, I was going to school online and doing weekly on call rotations and gamed a lot in my free time, so I spent a lot of time in my desk chair. I feel it was worth every penny.

              4. emmelemm*

                Same. I have a really nice, expensive! office chair at the office that I bought myself. But, I didn’t bring it home and I’m loathe to go back to the office and get it. I have no good chairs at home. I could buy a modestly expensive chair, untested/un-sat in by my butt, that might not be that great, and still have spent a bunch of money. And I’m not sure I’m ready to buy a duplicate expensive chair.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            This would make my InfoSec guy lose his mind. Everyone working on personal machines? That’s the stuff of nightmares.

            We were also not allowed to remove monitors/printers/etc. from the office (violation of equipment lease, loss of business insurance coverage), but we also have a home shipping program for those devices from our suppliers at our expense for people who need them and anyone who needed one was issued a company laptop.

          3. many bells down*

            I work at a freaking nonprofit and they told me to take home whatever supplies I needed; laptop, monitors, whatever. Fortunately my spouse’s refusal to ever discard a working electronic device has left us with at least 2 extra monitors.

        2. Quill*

          I knew it would be long enough to take the plants home, but I did not think it would last until May. I figured just March and April would be a wash…

          1. New Job So Much Better*

            So did I, but initially a coworker was being allowed to keep going in, and she was going to water everyone’s. Then they told her she’d have to WFH too. :(

          2. many bells down*

            Yeah this is the real issue: we were all “making do” with temporary solutions but now it looks like we may need longer term ones and we have to catch up. My organization was already planning to stay close through June 19 this year, and then last week our parent organization said we should all plan to keep working from home until MAY 2021.

            So the stopgap measures aren’t going to cut it anymore. My boss can no longer run our public events from just a laptop on her sofa. I’ve ditched the folding table in the living room and I’m getting a real desk. And a chair that isn’t broken.

            Everyone’s still catching up to the new normal and we’re not all there yet.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        I invested in a laptop docking station and a second monitor, and it’s making ALL the difference for me. If you have the space, it might be worth looking into.

        1. Roy G. Biv*

          I left my external monitor at work, so I bought an inexpensive 32″ TV and have been using that with my laptop, with a USB mini dock. It was considerably less expensive than a monitor, and serves the purpose. It’s also Roku enabled, but I have not succumbed to the temptation to stream TV while I’m working. Not yet, anyway…..

          1. IvyGirl*

            This – chances are most folks have an extra hdmi cable to use to make their tv a second monitor.
            Cordless mice are lifesavers.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              Yes I have always had my desktop computer hooked up to a TV. I can surf the net, Netflix all from my couch with a wireless keyboard/mouse. I have to TVs so I set them both up next to each other. I have a 55″ and a 32″ TV set up. I brought my office chair last time I was in the office. I go in one day every other week and I am the only person in the office.

            2. Quill*

              I went through three different cables before I got one that would hook up to both my work laptop and this monitor. VGA, two HDMI cords…

      3. CorporateDroneLiz*

        Oh man, I really feel for you Deliliah. I work at about 50% of my max productivity without my second monitor, which I fortunately have access to at home. I hope you’re able to get a better set up soon!

      4. NYWeasel*

        They wouldn’t let us take our second monitors or docking stations so I’m way less productive at home, sigh.

        1. Kitty Cathleen*

          Our IT department told me they’d prefer if I didn’t take my second monitor. I asked if that was a preference or a rule, they reluctantly said I could take it if I wanted. I’m so glad I asked, I’m substantially more productive with two monitors.

      5. Ranon*

        I’m lucky my boss let us take anything that wasn’t nailed down that we needed for our work- I’ve got two desktop machines, both monitors, my mouse/ keyboard/ cables, office chair, carpet samples to go under the office chair, pretty much everything that had ever been at my work station. I didn’t take my work corded phone just because I don’t have desk space at home (our phones are VoIP so they work wherever) but most of my coworkers did. It was almost helpful that we didn’t all have laptops as it made it clear that taking our desktops home was the only reasonable solution.

        And if I had needed something that was nailed down I probably could have had it if I promised to be careful with the crowbar…

      6. Nita*

        I miss my work setup too. My work is heavy on maps and graphics, and having one small monitor instead of two big ones is hard. I also have to jump through all kinds of hoops to get things printed and scanned (home printer has expensive cartridges that don’t last long, it’s not in my work space, I can’t set up wireless printing directly from my laptop, and in any case the printer has to stay unplugged and out of paper to avoid destruction by toddler). The printing thing is really not helping – I’ve made do with marking up drawings on the computer, but it takes twice as long as sketching on them by hand.

        1. many bells down*

          Ugh home printer cartridges are the worst. WHY ARE YOU OUT OF CYAN IM NOT EVEN PRINTING IN COLOR!

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I had this *exact* same conversation with my printer last week. CYAN??? Most of the printing we’re doing is B&W worksheets and info from school.

          2. Gatomon*

            I HATED that! I only buy ones with separate cartridges for each color now so I can just replace Cyan when I need it. I had an Epson like this and I currently use a Canon that is the same way.

            The other half of the trick is to buy remanufactured cartridges on Amazon. Dirt cheap comparatively and they work just as well in my experience.

            My mom literally just buys a new one… wasteful environmentally speaking but she is right that it’s often cheaper to get a new printer than it is to buy ink.

            1. many bells down*

              Last time I tried remanufactured cartridges they bricked the printer. But you’re right, my current printer barely cost more than an ink refill does.

              1. TardyTardis*

                I hear you, I learned my lesson, HP (and bought a different brand of printer to replace it).

            2. Amy Sly*

              At least if you go with the cheapest printers each time. They’re cheap because the manufacturers fully expect to make up the difference on overpriced ink. Buying a laserjet printer for $100 or so (my 10 year old one is a Brother HL-L2320D), with $60 toner cartridges that last for 1500+ pages, will save you quite a lot over time.

          3. nonegiven*

            Or magenta. I have not printed anything in color since the last time I replaced it.

      7. August*

        Same! We were sent an email the Friday before this all started telling us to grab what we thought we might need and get out of the building. Took a month to get company-provided laptops. No expensing of any WFH supplies allowed. They’re doing a feature on the intranet right now about cool WFH setups, and I’m really tempted to send in a picture of my workspace – my living room floor, with an ottoman as a desk (not everyone lives in the suburbs! Some of us have studio apartments!).

    2. Justme, the OG*

      Yes, this. I had only my laptop at first when campus was closed (I work at a university for online programs). I got permission to go in and get my desktop computer, and my office chair. I thankfully don’t need hard copies of things. The correct tools has helped a lot.

      1. WellRed*

        I just last week went in and grabbed my chair (so much better) and a monitor. (and plants, but didn’t think to grab a keyboard or mouse). Also, part of my job is much easier with hard copies and I. don’t have a printer, so that’s harder (and slower). So is the VPN. Etc.

        1. Quill*

          TBH just yesterday I ran into a situation where I needed a printer and was lucky to have one.

    3. Mama Bear*

      This is a good point. My office had to quickly make the VPN more robust to handle the load. I provided my own second monitor, but there are still people working off single (small) screen laptops instead of the setups they have in the office. It’s worth asking every employee if they have what the need, and if not, see what can be done about it. For this particular employee, what are his other distractions and could there (for example) be some flex in his workday? Is he home with kids who need the morning to get breakfast and then get rolling on schoolwork? Could he be your after hours guy? Etc. Keeping track of who is in/out or on/off the clock may require a new SOP or better use of Skype/Teams. Do you use online Kanban boards to help everyone see the big picture when they can’t pop into someone’s office?

    4. Rebecca*

      I am so glad I grabbed EVERYTHING that last day – except my office chair, but a coworker grabbed it for me later that week when she went to the office. I had my small car that day and it wouldn’t fit. I’m using my personal laser printer, and with the extra printing (I need hard copies too) I’ll need a cartridge sooner rather than later. I have a decent desk, and all the equipment I need, and my cell plan has unlimited calls and texts, so I’m set. But – I have connectivity issues, things were fairly dicey for the first two weeks, until unfortunately more people were furloughed, so fewer people accessing the system means better access now. My wireless mouse died one afternoon, and I realized I didn’t have batteries because before I’d just go to the supply closet – which is now miles away in a closed building.

      All that being said, I am very very very thankful to still be working.

      1. ellex42*

        Your comment is perfect timing – I need to get extra batteries for my wireless mouse before it dies in the middle of a workday!

        I’m really glad I had a spare monitor at home, because our work laptops are really tiny and we need to have a lot of different software and screens open at the same time, and that I had my own wireless mouse, and that I thought to grab the keyboard from my setup at work, because I really, really need that number pad.

        My employer improved the VPN and set up a new, easier authorization software (that also works faster), so I’m doing pretty good right now.

          1. Amy Sly*

            Especially for something like a wireless mouse, where changing the batteries is so easy and is unlikely to happen in the middle of something that can’t be paused to change them.

          1. Laaal*

            Quill, I feel you! It feels bonkers to have to go back to bbn using just the number row :(

    5. Anon Anon*

      I wonder this as well. Many places have expected employees to use their own personal equipment. For example, where I work we have an employee who is working on a chromebook, and so isn’t able to remote into our server due to some sort of IT related constraint. It’s only been in the last couple of weeks that our leadership has asked if anyone needs additional equipment. I think for many it’s just becoming clear that this isn’t going to be working from home for 4-6 weeks and then back to the office as usual.

      1. Miki*

        Many places still do that. I have a Macbook at home, but Windows machine at work and our LIS system can only be done on Windows. Guess what I don’t have: Windows and I can’t get it on my old macbook. The few laptops they had were gone by Match 20th so if you weren’t lucky to get it, you are SOL. No one ever asked if we needed anything here. Had to go buy wireless mouse for laptop and a chair to sit on.

        All coworkers managed to get their plants out though.

    6. Fleahhhh*

      Even if you have access to the same stuff – the environment is so different!

      My seating options are all less than ideal, so it’s affecting my back, neck, shoulders, wrists. Plus my husband and I are dancing around each other in our decently large (1,000 sq ft) place bc we’re both WFH – he’s a therapist and I work for a food bank. So I’m never able to SETTLE in for the day in a quiet, comfortable spot.

      And we’re so f***ing lucky!!! We’re both able to work, we aren’t caring for children or elders, we have our car and grocery delivery / pick up options – and we’re STILL struggling. Panic attacks, anxiety, stress is the new norm for me and it’s destroying my concentration.

      All this to say – please be patient and give it time. Also please communicate! It helps so much to hear “I need this by xx” from my boss bc my brain is just so overloaded and it’s hard to focus.

      1. NYWeasel*

        Yes, I was suffering in our wooden dining room chairs, which are comfy for a meal, but not so great for an 8 hour work day. I almost cried the moment I remembered that I had a spare office chair in my basement!

    7. Smithy*

      This to infinity and beyond.

      I know that for a number of business, COVID-19 remote work has also come along with budget cuts. And equipping staff for full remote work set-ups likely wasn’t part of the budget to begin with. I had truly invested zero dollars in any kind of a home work space, and after one week of working off my laptop on my couch (apartment with no true table/chair situation of any kind) – I was in so much pain, I buckled and bought an ergonomic chair, desk, keyboard, laptop stand, foot rest etc. I was lucky to be able to afford that, but I still wish I had at least one large monitor. A few weeks later, my organization did provide access to their supply systems to buy items at a discount – but I truly could not have waited that long and been productive.

      If I hadn’t been able to make that investment in my workspace – on top of COVID-19 stress – there’s no way productivity wouldn’t have dipped considerably. I have a lot of friends who’s living set ups at least have a table and chair, and every week I have people circle back to me and ask “what chair did you get….was it really worth that much money.”

      I do believe that my office should have ultimately given us some kind of a stipend for buying remote work equipment. Even if a symbolic amount – because without a doubt it’s made a huge difference in my productivity.

    8. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      This is key.

      It’s not an interim situation – people and companies have to get the technical, managerial and communications systems in place to make extended WFH work well.

    9. Refracted_Rach*

      I work for a very large, international tech company (they were recently in the news for not taking worker safety seriously enough regarding covid-19). I use 3 screens at work but can get away with 2 and still properly perform my job. They did not allow us to take any items from work and only gave us a $50 allowance for a monitor and told our admin to limit the amount of small items we could purchase (mice, keyboards, etc). We were not allowed to take our chairs and we were not given an allowance to buy chairs. And to top it all off, my manager who has one middle school aged son and SAHM wife, told our team that he expected us to maintain our productivity level. He goes into his office, tells his son not to disturb him, and closes the door during our core hours (7 to 4). I’m sure my co-workers with babies and toddlers can definitely do that as well.

      Bottom line, OP you should be asking yourself what you’re doing to enable your (probably) understaffed employees to perform their jobs.

    10. yala*

      Yeah. In the paperwork we filled out before starting WFH, I said I had wifi, because I DO. But then something happened in our apartment complex and basically the internet was down for over a week, and spotty even before then. I managed to do what I could on mobile, but it was something I hadn’t thought about.

      TBH, even just getting things set up around here. It’s been two months, and I’m STILL finding new ways that work better for doing work on things I usually have physically in front of me. But that takes time, and I worry (know) it’s not Productive Enough.

  2. Batty Twerp*

    General question – are you still considering 9-5 to be part of the new normal? Is it ok to expect 40-60 hours a week to be stretched or compressed as long as the work is being done? I don’t mean for specific time-sensitive deadlines where a client needs information by 3 pm on Wednesday, obviously, but as long as the deadline is met, does it matter if the employee doesn’t log on until 10 am and logs off at 7 pm, if that’s what makes sense for him? Unless everything about the work needs to be done within original office hours, isn’t this where the “new normal” bit kicks in?

    1. Ra*

      I’m not sure if this is aimed at the specific situation in the letter or a more general comment. If the latter, I don’t think this is a reasonable expectation. I have two toddlers and if I were still putting in 40-60 hours a week while also providing full time childcare, I would be spending every waking hour either watching my kids or working. I’d have no time for showering or eating or chores or, you know, occasionally relaxing. Parents are humans and it’s not realistic to expect them to cope for months with no down time.

      1. Employee of the Bearimy*

        I have young kids, and “either watching my kids or working” is more or less where I am right now. My spouse is the same way except he’s still working out of the house, so he at least gets to switch from one to the other instead of trying to do both simultaneously. It sucks and I’m so tired.

      2. LSP*

        THIS! I am fortunate that my 16 month old still is able to go to daycare, but my 6 year old is home and though my husband and I are splitting the homeschooling duties somewhat, it’s mostly falling to me because my job just has more flexibility. Luckily, my manager is reasonable and understands that there may be things I’ll have to hand off to someone else, and that I’ll just need a break now and then. Some weeks, 40 hours just isn’t going to happen.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This is a very good thing to bring up. Nothing is “normal” right now, but a little flexibility can go a long way. If the expectation is a “regular” day but being flexible is possible, it’s a great place to start. May not be the solution, but certainly worth a try and might remove some of the pressure.

    3. Ann Onny Muss*

      I can only speak for my company, but core business hours (9:00-3:00) are still generally expected. But employees have been encouraged to work with their managers if they are juggling other priorities (kids, parents, etc.) in order to figure out what works best for them (splitting their shift, burning PTO, temporary part-time arrangements, etc.).

    4. CorporateDroneLiz*

      IMO it’ll vary based on your company, manager, and role. Obviously if you work in a role with scheduled shifts there won’t be flexibility on this, but if you’re in a role like mine that’s a mix of analysis and project management, this is likely okay assuming you’re communicating. For example, in my job I don’t have a ton of specific deadlines (e.g. send to client by 3 pm on Wednesday), but rather “draft report must be reviewed and sent to client by end of week.” While I have some freedom in starting and ending my day later, I also have to leave time for my boss and his to review drafts, and make edits and changes in between – so I need to communicate to them when I expect to have work ready for review. I imagine this is doubly true for any parents working from home with kids, since they have to juggle those schedules too.

      1. hbc*

        Even the scheduled shifts thing is often fungible, though. I know a lot of people whose scheduled shifts were never necessary at all, and plenty of others that were about the physical space (walk-in customers, not wanting to pay for lighting for two people at midnight, etc..) There are definitely reasons for management to reevaluate how necessary things like fixed scheduling or face-to-face meetings really are.

        1. many bells down*

          Yeah half my job was being in the physical space and I just… can’t do that part anymore.

      2. Gumby*

        Ayup. My roommate works someplace that has scheduled shifts. And it is completely unnecessary. She has to log on at a certain time every day even though it would change basically nothing work-wise if she could flex by an hour here or there. It is nuts. I do not know how she can stand it.

    5. NYWeasel*

      It’s even hard bc things like grocery shopping can’t be done after 7pm anymore, so we have to make time during the day!

    6. Refracted_Rach*

      60 hour work weeks should not be normal, ever. I regularly work 50-60+ hours a week (process engineer) because my company (one of the top international tech companies) refuses to keep proper staffing and it is ridiculous.

    7. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      I’m on close to my usual total hours but spread over a much longer day due to my child not being in school. I often start the day at 530AMish.

    8. Quill*

      I’m on mostly my normal hours but I’m on contract and it’s enabled the rest of the team to contact me pretty reliably, which is great considering that my role has expanded since February from “everyone’s assistant” to “everyone’s assistant + a major time suck process that needs to be done by someone working out of the U.S.”

      But psychologically and culturally speaking… There isn’t a single “new normal” during a societal disruption, even one that drags on for months. There’s new routines and new ways to cope, but the additional difficulties and stresses will not go away until the problem is resolved, and possibly not even then.

    9. many bells down*

      My husband’s boss used to be a purely remote worker, and she says that you can’t expect more than 4 solid hours of dedicated work from someone who isn’t used to working from home. Everything takes longer! I can’t just pop my head into my boss’ office and ask her a question, I have to text her or message her on Teams or set up a meeting and wait for her to get back to me. And heaven forbid you need to rope in a third person!

    10. Bookworm1858*

      I’ve been encouraging a lot of flexibility with my reports – one usually works 5 hours (8-1) and then logs on later maybe (6-9) to finish his day and I’ve encouraged all of them to take longer lunches if they want or use PTO for an hour or two each week to help. The company expectation is still 8 hr a day/40 hours a week, tracked by a time clock in CA.

  3. Nesprin*

    I feel like I’ve adjusted to about 60% of my normal productivity working from home, and I’m fairly proud of that given how tricky doing my work from home has proven, and the ongoing issues of VPN, resource access, and lack of access to my coworkers. I don’t know that I could be more productive while staying safe.

    1. Amanda*

      It’s also worth noting every day can be different in out current situation. Most days I’m pretty good, even cheerful, and at about 100% productivity.

      Today, I’m at an all time low. I can’t focus, and actually had trouble getting up at all. I’m immunocrompromised, and haven’t left the house at all since early March (my husband is doing errand runs), and it’s driving me crazy not to see anyone else. Today, I actually teared up because I couldn’t choose my own produce.

      My manager is fortunately very understanding, and I’m taking the day off to rest and recover. But it’s good to remember even the best adjusted of employees, with all the tools they need and without kids to care for, can have really bad days too.

      1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

        Hey Amanda. The lowly-low days are the worst. Crying over not being able to personally select produce actually seems like a healthy response to the general sh*t show if you ask me. Hang in there.

      2. SPDM*

        I am also immunocompromised and I nearly lost it last week when there were only 6 good raspberries in the container in my pickup order! UGGGHHHH.

        Being able to go for walks and sit on the back porch in our tiny yard have been helping me quite a bit, but I still get lonely despite video chats with friends and my husband. I feel like I hold it together very well 90% of the time and then the other 10% is wanting to nap through this (despite not being really tired?) or just wishing someone would walk by the house to yell at the window.

        Best wishes for you, Amanda. I am with you on the randomness of the good/bad times… and the bad produce ;)

        1. Amanda*

          Aaaand I’m tearing up again! =)

          Thank you so much for this, it really helps knowing I’m not alone even in the craziest of my emotional reactions. And I wish you better luck with your raspberries!

      3. The IT Plebe*

        Hmm, my name is also Amanda, I’m also immunocompromised, haven’t left the house since mid-March and having a horrible time focusing on work stuff. Aaaand I may or may not have had a bit of a breakdown at some point about not choosing my own groceries as well.

        I know this probably rings hollow, but hang in there. We will get through this one day at a time.

      4. Code Monkey, the SQL*

        I hear you Amanda!

        The meme going around my timeline is that everyone in self-isolation goes on a 3-5 day cycle of : coping coping coping Aw S%^T. I am coping today, but these waves of depression/anxiety/anger/twitchy-brain come out of absolutely nowhere.

        And I am having the same aggravated/sad response to not getting to select the pears I want! It’s just pears but… dangit. I wanted to pick.

        1. Avasarala*

          Yes, this is accurate. I also notice several days of “OK, at least I have netflix” to “the world is ending and nothing matters.”

          I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect normal levels of productivity in these circumstances.

  4. 3DogNight*

    There is so much that is still in flux that I am also having a hard time focusing. On one hand, states are “opening up”, but the cases are still rising. Income has gone down and expenses have gone up. This brings the dilemma, do we get delivery and pay all of the surcharges that go with that? Or do we go to the store in person? Friends are starting to want to get together, but can we safely do that? Are my grown kids safe?
    On the work front, even though the transition to WFH seems to be set up, there are real changes. People just don’t do change well. So you’re adding the work changes to a ton of personal stress and a global health problem, and someone who already has some mental health issues (and some who don’t) is going to take longer to adjust.
    Can some of the work be done overnight? Or some other hours than 8 to 5? I find I’m more productive if I don’t have the feeling that someone is going to ask me for something, or reach out and add things to my list. I like to work after hours.

    1. Ann Onny Muss*

      I agree all the changes have been difficult to adjust to. Its one thing to discuss with your manager about working from home, and take the necessary steps to do so. Quite another to start working from home overnight, with very little preparation, and no idea when or even if you’ll be going back. And then add in not having a proper workspace, attempting to homeschool kids, social distancing from everyone, and just plain stressing about everything, and it’s a miracle people can be productive at all.

  5. Just J.*

    OP: I am a senior project manager at a large, multi-office company. I think you are asking the wrong question. You should not be asking when you can expect your employees to return to their “normal” work output. You should be asking what if this new normal becomes the permanent normal. How do you adjust your business to if everyone has reduced productivity? And that reduction is permanent? I am being a bit fatalistic here but: The world may never be normal again and wishing for it is not good management. You must deal with the reality of what you have and not pine for a life and a business model that may never return.

    Someone on AAM posted this in a comment weeks ago: “We are not working from home. We are at home in a crisis and trying to do work.”

    Keep that in mind as you talk to and manage your staff. And remember the comments from yesterday: The question “How did you treat your employees through the pandemic?” will become the norm as people evaluate what really matters in life.

    1. A*

      Yes, I feel like Alison’s response overlooked that the pre-COVID19 work output might not be the same as ‘the new normal’ – either in the next few years, or ever.

    2. Spearmint*

      “ You should be asking what if this new normal becomes the permanent normal.”

      I think this is a bit hyperbolic. While I do think many/most people are dramatically underestimating how long it will be before we get completely back to “normal”, it will happen eventually. If nothing else, give it enough time and we’ll achieve nature herd immunity once most people have had the disease. And it seems unlikely that we’ll never develop a vaccine or effective treatment.

      That said, yeah, I think manager should work with the assumption that this is the new normal for at least the next year.

      1. Just J.*

        Yes, it is probably hyperbolic. But for the next quarter or two, or longer, it is the new normal. And that is my point: You plan for the worst and hope for the best.

        1. serenity*

          Not to derail but the concept of “herd immunity” for this virus, in particular, has been thoroughly debunked.

          There will be a point where in-person contact resumes to close the level it was was pre-pandemic but it’s going to be *quite a while* until it becomes safe enough to do so. Planning for this long-term adjustment to our lives is absolutely not “hyperbolic”.

          1. Spearmint*

            What I think is hyperbolic is the idea that it might “never” go back to normal. I agree it might take years, but social distancing for the rest of our lives isn’t sustainable nor even worth the trade off (it is for a year or two, to be clear, I am pro-social distancing).

            Yes, the virus may mutate, but selection pressures tend to make viruses mutate to be less severe (see the Spanish flu). Not a guarantee, but it seems likely.

            And, of course, eventually we will probably have a vaccine or treatment.

            Again, all I’m saying is that we won’t be in quarantine 4 years from now, not that we can just reopen tomorrow.

            1. High School Teacher*

              I think the issue is that when people say “things aren’t going back to normal” it could mean about a million different things. Do you mean that for now on people will wash their hands way more frequently? Sure, I agree with that. Will employers be less hostile to taking sick time? Maybe. Do you mean not for at least a year or two? I can agree with that as well. But if someone is implying that we are going to be in lockdown literally for the rest of their lives, that is just not realistic.

            2. kt*

              It’s useful to look at history, though. After WWII, factory work changed forever. After the Depression, government policies and programs changed for decades. After the Spanish flu, architecture reflected the needs of that time for a while. Things will never go back to exactly the way they were, because time doesn’t work like that. Vaccine whatever — do you think teenagers will all be on TikTok instead of something else in 2 years? Do you think arts organizations won’t have changed their funding models? Factories will have reconfigured, restaurant delivery will never be the same….

              1. Swiftly Tilting Planet*

                Exactly this.

                The changes that are currently being made to society to cope and function during a crisis will simply become part of all of our normal lives as we strive to find a balance between lockdown/quarantine and pre-covid openness, and unless something *really* astonishing & unprecedented happens on the vaccine/treatment front, i don’t even think we’ll reach THAT point until next year- we’ve still got flu season PLUS Covid to deal with :-(
                And by the time that we get to a point where it’s as safe to open back up as it will ever be, those changes will be engrained into our society, influencing it for years to come, maybe forever.
                So yes, we’ll someday get back to the “normal” of near pre-covid openness and contact, but it will be vastly different from the *old* normal, in ways we cannot yet predict.

              2. allathian*

                We don’t even need to go that far back. Just think how 9/11 changed air travel forever.
                I just hope that intermittent or occasional WFH will become even more common than it is and that open offices will become unfashionable because they’re unhygienic. Even low cubicle walls are better than nothing at preventing infection.

          2. anon right now*

            “Not to derail but the concept of “herd immunity” for this virus, in particular, has been thoroughly debunked.”

            I’m pretty sure it hasn’t. There’s a lot we don’t know about immunity to this virus, but we don’t know anywhere near enough about it to say that herd immunity has been “thoroughly debunked.”

          3. Eukomos*

            Uh, herd immunity has not been debunked. There does seem to be a period of immunity after recovery for most people, and once 60-80% of the population has it then we have herd immunity. Now, no sensible person wants to do that the hard way, given the death rate, so we’re planning to do that with vaccines in a year or two rather than by letting everyone get sick, but the vaccine research is going all right so we will have herd immunity eventually. It just won’t be soon.

      2. Handwashing Hero*

        Herd immunity is not a guarantee. There is no herd immunity to HIV/AIDS nor is there a workable vaccine. There is no herd immunity to Influenza A, Influenza B and we battle those yearly with mutated vaccination GUESSES.

        I repeat. Herd immunity is not a guarantee.

        1. Spearmint*

          Right, but presumably there would be selection pressures on the coronavirus to become less severe (as happened with the Spanish flu).

          We can’t live in quarantine forever. If there is no herd immunity or vaccine (which seems very unlikely), at some point (years from now) we’ll then just have to go back to normal anyway.

          1. pamela voorhees*

            There’s an area between total quarantine & lockdown and pre-COVID normal, though, and we’re going to be in that area for a good, long while. That’s the new normal we’re talking about.

        2. Anon Anon*

          It’s why I think that there should be more focus on treatments. The game changer for HIV has been PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis). PEP is very effective at preventing HIV, it’s not 100%, but it’s excellent. And even if you do contract HIV, for most people there are now treatments that means that HIV is a chronic condition versus a death sentence.

          I think finding those types of therapeutics would be a huge game changer. We just don’t have 20 years to find those therapeutics.

          1. ...*

            Also HIV isn’t spread through breathing…..It is so much less transmissible than a flu or Covid or a cold.

        3. Nita*

          Unless I completely misunderstand how this works, we DO have a sort of herd immunity to the flu thanks partly to people’s past exposures, and partly to vaccination. Neither one protects fully, but it gives a chance of having an easier bout with the illness. I suspect most of us come into contact with flu viruses every winter – but no one gets sick every single year. Even if coronavirus mutates, we may end up with enough immunity for more people to fight it off without dying or having permanent complications.

        4. Eukomos*

          What? Of course herd immunity can be developed to the flu, why do you think we get vaccines every year? Then it mutates, but there wouldn’t be any point in the vaccines if we didn’t create herd immunity with them. Which is why we don’t have HIV vaccines, because the proteins in it change too much for vaccines to be able to create immunity. And we know that the coronavirus doesn’t shift as much as HIV, it’s actually quite stable. There’s no reason to think we cannot achieve herd immunity with this virus.

      3. CJM*

        Covid-19 could very will mutate, just like colds and influneza do, and neither a vaccine or herd immunity can help with that.

        1. Littorally*

          Not to mention that reinfections are occurring. For herd immunity to happen, people actually need to be… you know… immune.

          IIRC, under 85% immunity in the population there is no herd immunity, and it really isn’t fully there until there’s 95% or better immunity. Preliminary numbers from China sound like there’s no way we’re reaching full immunity, and may not even be reaching the minimum.

          1. pamela voorhees*

            Data suggests that a lot of reinfection reports were either previous false positives the first time or the test detecting the remains of the virus still in the system even though it’s not active anymore. It’s totally possible some patients are getting reinfected – the virus is still super super new, there’s a lot we don’t know! – but I just wanted to chime in so folks don’t panic or worry too much.

        2. Quill*

          A vaccine could (see: our yearly battle with the flu) but I don’t anticipate us having a handle on that in 2020 and then able to reissue a more accurate vaccine for 2021 Covid, based on vaccine progress so far. Fortunately, vaccines are made to target specific structures on the outside of viruses that change far slower than other aspects of them, so it’s more likely that a vaccine would offer partial protection in the case of a major mutation, like the flu vaccine does in years where they’ve miscalculated which strains will go around, than that it wouldn’t help.

          … This has been Quill, flashing back to college because I need to use my major for something.

      4. Lana Kane*

        In certain industries, it’s not hyperbole . I’m in healthcare, and the big discussion is what our new normal will be, because we’re not going back to certain ways of doing things.

        1. brushandfloss*

          In dentistry almost everything we do produces an aerosol, trying to figure out how we can practice without risking patients/clinicians health is being debated right now. Going to a dental appointment anytime soon is going to look completely different.

      5. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

        Historian weighing in here quickly. Yeah, it’s a littler hyperbolic to ask whether the new normal might become the permanent normal, but it is absolutely a useful thought exercise in a business context. Because let me tell you, stuff never really goes back to “normal” after major historical disruptions. The workforce underwent wholesale changes during WWII, for example, and while the changes weren’t “permanent” — in that they didn’t survive intact — they sure were predictive of and catalyzing for future changes. Rosie the Riveter lost her job in 1946, but the numbers of working women actually *increased* in the 1950s as they found different sorts of jobs. If you’d worked out a business model in 1946 that anticipated “no women in the workforce,” you’d have been shooting yourself in the foot. But if you’d worked out a business model that left room for the possibility that may changes would become permanent, you’d be in better shape.

      6. Quill*

        Hyperbolic? Maybe. But historically, societies have changed permanently due to plagues, and I find it a bit arrogant of us to think that our modern society is necessarily more resilient. More localized economies have dried up over much less life-altering changes, after all.

        Ultimately I hope no one takes the idea that we won’t return exactly to pre-covid normal as a scare tactic or necessarily pesimistic: We are always living in the post-event reality of some smaller change, that’s just the nature of history. For example, most of us commenters remember a world before 9/11 and airport security. A few less of us remember a time before school shootings were common events. Many of us have older relatives who grew up before mixed race marriages were legal, or before antibiotics or some life-changing vaccines were available to the public.

        1. booksbooksbooksmorebooks*

          Thank you for this. Agreed, and I’ll note the curve of that change in reaction to plagues and pandemics has historically been measured in decades – not months, not years. We’re just at the beginning right now.

      7. Nita*

        Well considering there’s no effective treatment now, I’m not planning to let anyone in my family to “just get sick and get it over with” if I can help it. This stuff kills. And there’s no good way to predict who will get zero zip nada, and who will die. With the recent data, even kids are not safe (and just like with adults, there is no way to predict who’s going to get hammered).

        Also, it looks like we are a very long way off on schools and other child-care situations going back to normal. Here in NYC, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen in the fall, but it sounds more and more like it won’t be what we’re used to. And no regular child care = no things going back to normal for many people.

      8. Perse's Mom*

        In terms of work, my employer is never going back to pre-COVID normal. They’re taking the opportunity to push us from about 60% remote to 95% remote work, permanently, going forward.

    3. Barney*

      I agree with your fatalistic view. Everyone’s life has changed and things are not going to go back to the way they were before. It’s going to take a few years to figure out how to get on with our lives and we need to expect that people’s work productivity is going to be lower during that time. Lowering expectations of how much work employees are able to produce should be a part of adjusting to this new normal.

      1. Mazzy*

        There seems to be a theme in some areas of the internet that this fatalistic view is accepted or good. I disagree with that personally as a way to go through life, but also, I’ve been seeing the tide turn for a solid month already, regardless of my own view. I had employees who basically did nothing the first week and showed up late when working from home and were taking two weeks to get back to me on simple thing. Some were scared and not wanting to go back to the office ever. Now, with more information available and news fatigue, even the one who was most pro-WFH is over it. Also, some even seem to be looking forward to office life again at some point in a few months. We’re not rushing, and at the same time, no one is talking about lysol or changing up the office plan anymore, and projects are flying according to regular/good levels of productivity.

        1. Barney*

          I get what you’re saying, but I do think we will experience some massive changes to how we work. It sounds like your colleagues are mostly just burnt out on corona, but a lot of employers are talking about keeping WFH in place until there is a vaccine, if not forever. I expect we’ll see a general increase in the use of PPE and IPC practices at work and in other parts of our lives, even after there’s a vaccine. There will also be a shift in the types of jobs that are common. There’s going to be a ton of others changes that we can’t even anticipate yet. This is literally one of those events that changes the world.

      2. ...*

        I do understand where you’re coming from, but what about jobs where less productivity literally isn’t possible. We can’t have doctors or food growers or cleaners or police officers be “less productive”. I work in a bonafide non essential industry and you can bet our customers still want products and gosh darn they want them now. We’re not just going to say okay less lose money but accepting that we all work at 50% productivity.

        1. Gruntie*

          We might need to push automation or hire more workers to maintain the same level of production. We might need to change hiring practices and salaries to attract more workers. We might need to invest more in cross training and onboarding. We might need to reevaluate the skills needed to achieve 100% productivity.

          My manufacturing company is doing this right now.

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        And some of the changes might be positive. Hot desking and open plan offices, which many people hate, might fall out of favor. WFH may become more common, making people’s commutes and work life balance more bearable. People might practice better hand hygiene. Folks might start wearing masks when they are sick making flu and cold season less severe. Infection control might become a part of design in public settings and in workflows.

        1. WorkingGirl*

          My job is a semi-open office? It’s a pretty small space, and cubicles wouldn’t make sense. Due to rotating WFH schedules, some people hotdesked, but I’m hoping that’s a thing of the past.

    4. MK*

      Also, OP, what is the company doing to make the “new normal” sustainable and functional? Because if you are a small business with increasing workload and “no staff redundancies” (which I suspect means understaffed) and it’s a make-or-break moment for your success, then maybe you should be investing in more staff, even if it is temps. It is reasonable to expect workers to adapt to the new conditions of life eventually; it is not reasonable to expect them to adjust to more work in more difficult work conditions.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        ^This. No staff redundancies is a recipe for disaster even in the absence of a pandemic. What would you do if John went on parental leave, Jane quit, Jill was injured and needed FMLA, and Jeff got fired over the past 11 weeks, rather than a pandemic affecting productivity? You need some buffer for the normal stuff that happens

    5. AnotherAlison*

      I’m in a similar role as Just J. My company is considering making WFH permanent for some people, and I don’t know if it will be me, others in my department, or just other departments and divisions. I feel fairly well adjusted to my current working situation and I’m okay if this goes on as-is for months, but I feel like I could adjust better if the company could tell me the long-term plan for me. This is independent of the uncertainty with the state’s reopen plan. We could go back to the office now, but our management has said we won’t return this phase or the next one and the one after that is TBD. I think the OP’s question is a fair one when management can provide more than a day-by-day plan to employees. We can’t adjust to the new normal, because the normal is new each day.

      (NM any related discussion of child care, schooling, access to goods and services outside your home, etc.)

    6. MsSolo*

      Yes, I think you have to assume that the current level of productivity is going to be ‘normal’ for the rest of the financial year as a minimum, more likely the next 18 months, and plan accordingly. Even if everyone goes back to the office in September, it’s still not going to be normal, and there’ll be a whole ‘nother readjustment period to factor in, and odds are the pump-the-breaks approach means you’ll be shifting back and forth between ‘normals’. There are some things you can do to improve productivity, like make sure people’s equipment is of the same standard they had in the office, but it’s not within your hands to bring the whole shebang back up to where it was before.

      What does your year look like if some people’s childcare arrangements never come back fully? What does it look like if your meetings remain remote? What does coverage look like when you have to factor in the significantly increased odds of staff being off sick for multiple weeks? How do you encourage them to take vacations to avoid burnout when there’s nowhere to go? Are you renting an empty office with money that could be better spent elsewhere because letting go of it means letting go of the old normal?

    7. Bella*

      if this is the new normal forever, it sounds like this isn’t the employee to keep on board… I have a little bit more compassion for this manager b/c it seems like the extra work is getting put onto their plate for now, which isn’t sustainable longterm

    8. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I mean, we’ve had things way worse than COVID-19 happen and we always adapt to them. At some point we will adapt and life will go on in a slightly altered way.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        or… a dramatically altered way. Bubonic plague permanently altered the path of western civilization, as the increased payments to laborers increased the middle class and drove the Renaissance. The 1918 epidemic caused Europe to start public health care, among other significant changes to social attitudes.

        Good employers will be putting together plans not just for this crisis, but for the other ones that are likely to happen in the future. I suspect WFH will become a valuable recruiting tool, and that the US’s large homes will start to fill up with home offices and more multi-generational families, but I haven’t figured out much beyond that. Current behavior re: reopening is not matching my expectations, so I have to really dig into my assumptions.

        If you want to read more on it:
        Smithsonian, 2017, “How the 1918 Flu Pandemic Revolutionized Public Health”
        Daily History.org, 2020 “How did the Bubonic Plague make the Italian Renaissance possible?”
        NY Mag, 2020 “Why Humanity Will Probably Botch the Next Pandemic, Too”
        _Guns, Germs, and Steel_ by Jared Diamond was a fun read too, though I’m taking it with a grain of salt. It’s very Western-centric, and we need a bigger model now.

        1. ...*

          And this isn’t the plague because it doesn’t kill 30% of people and we also have things like running water and modern medicine! I agree it will change things but comparing it to bubonic plague or HIV as someone did above are both incredibly disingenuous.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            The 1918 flu and Great Depression both changed society profoundly. I’d actually put this on par with those more than bubonic plague. But thinking ‘oh, humans adjust and we just go back to BAU’ is ignoring history.

            The question isn’t whether we’ll change, it’s how and how much.

          2. kt*

            We had running water during 9/11 and it only killed a small number of people in a geographically limited area — but it changed a lot of stuff in America, from attitudes to government spending.

            I don’t think the comparisons to HIV or bubonic plague are disingenuous at all. We’re not comparing death counts here, we’re comparing effects on work life. Don’t you remember when HIV emerged and suddenly gloves appeared in first aid kits and people got paranoid about toilet seats so the disposable toilet seat guard/shield was invented?

          3. Eukomos*

            The black plague killed literally half of Europe, so no, we’re not on that level. The odds of this having a larger impact on society than HIV are pretty darn high though, given how much more infectious it is. A low death rate doesn’t matter that much when the infection rate is really high, and this isn’t honestly all that low a death rate even if it isn’t quite the black death.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          OR – work from an office will be a valuable recruiting tool. Lots of businesses were reluctant to do it before, but people wanted it. Now, people are seeing the negatives for individuals, but more businesses are open to it. As for multi-generational housing, why do you see that trend? Costs? Keeping the elderly out of nursing homes? For me, the last thing I would want post-pandemic is to live with my 22 yo and my parents forever.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Keeping parents out of nursing homes, yes.

            Maybe ‘the ability to choose wfh or wfo seamlessly’ will be the recruiting tool…

            1. nonegiven*

              Having the grandparents live in for homeschooling and childcare, keeping the kids and the grandparents out of the germ factories.

              I’m seeing parents of grade school kids on Facebook talking about doing homeschooling for real for at least a few years.

          2. TurtleIScream*

            Even older citizens who aren’t in nursing home are feeling the isolation. Many of my mother’s generation are healthy, but considered “high-risk”, and they are the ones we might invite to live in a well-appointed MIL suite to help with meals, childcare, and be close that we can make sure they’re okay. I could definitely see a rise in carefully planned multi-generational home designs becoming popular among young Gen-Xers and millenials.

    9. Anon Anon*

      I think the problem with this line of thinking is that with 20+% unemployment that many companies simply won’t be able to manage if their employees are less productive for months on end. And they will start laying off employees.

      1. Alex*

        A lot of industries will also “never” get out of this, because the whole situation has made them (mostly) redundant – that will drive unemployment as well.

        Travel will be severely reduced (especially business travel), as people adjust to online meetings and remote collaboration. I will get out of the situation as a permanent WFH (with exceptions if needed) worker, whereas until march I was driving 40 miles a day – this leads to less gas bought, the need for a new car greatly diminished…

        The current situation also drives innovation on the software side of things – the colab tools we already have will get much better as a result (and Microsoft BUILD teased some of these changes just today).

        A lot of events that were big, in-person events like Conferences will move online, because they will recognize this time around that it works – with way less effort for everyone involved.

        Shortly, the world will NEVER go back to exactly as it was. A lot of things will change. Maybe even parts of what is accepted as the social norm will change.

        Maybe the current situation with unprecedented unemployment putting people out of healthcare in the US will lead to a reformation to uncouple (affordable) healthcare and employment in the US, as it is in Europe and other parts of the world. Not all changes that might be coming are necessarily bad – we as a society just need to be willing to actually change with the times as well – especially employers like OP as well.

    10. Quill*

      This. Culturally speaking, most of us in the US outside of recent major storm disaster zones have no experience with major societal disruption, but with enough damage, a society or location does not “go back to normal.” Even without the psychological and cultural changes, what we’re seeing now is more long term than most evacuations with less outside support.

    11. A Non E. Mouse*

      How do you adjust your business to if everyone has reduced productivity?

      This – what if you’re previous expectations were unrealistic, and this crisis has shown that to you?

    12. Duvie*

      It’s also important to remember that no one is out of the woods yet. There is no effective vaccine available, and development of one may take a year, unless we’re very lucky. There are many diseases for which no prevention or treatment is available, and many people who will be reluctant to use one anyway. The second wave of the Spanish flu was more deadly than the first. There was also a third wave. And there is no guarantee, none at all, that the day we throw open the doors and declare victory, and everyone rejoices and goes back to “normal”, some tiny bat won’t deposit another bit of industrious DNA into another animal, and we’re all looking at a new, different plague. Hope for the best, as the man said, but be prepared for the worst.

    13. Accountant in the PNW*

      Totally agree about being cognizant of your companies response because it could affect your ability to get top candidates in the future.
      I just got contacted by a company about a position they are looking to fill. One of my first screener questions is “How is your company responding to the Pandemic?” and I will continue asking it long after this is over.

    14. pamplemousse*

      I don’t think this is fatalistic. In hard-hit areas of the US especially, many offices where people have the option to work from home won’t fully reopen for months. Even when they do, it’s going to necessitate changes to the way we do business (my office is redoing seating plans, requiring masks indoors, dramatically rethinking what requires an in-person meeting, making provisions for more people to work from home, etc). Even if a vaccine arrives in 18 months and accelerates the return to normal, there will still be long-term effects to contend with.

      One way to think of it is that the economy eventually recovered from the 2008 recession — but that didn’t mean business owners in 2014 could pull out their pre-recession business plan they’d finished in December 2007 and start executing it.

      It’s natural to imagine a return to “normal” because it feels like the “normal” world vanished overnight in March. But the best thing businesses, employers and bosses can do right now is assume the future will look more like the present than the past.

  6. Emw*

    If your workload is increasing, are you bringing on more people, or just assigning work to people who are already overwhelmed with work?

    1. NowWhat?456*

      This. This. This.

      My office has been remote since the second week of March, and I was working from home the week prior due to finishing up some medical leave.

      Due to the nature of my job duties and skills, I got stuck with the brunt of adapting to the new way of doing things and making sure our events could happen online instead of in person. I kept being told that this person was now available to help me with this or that. But when I asked them for help I kept being told I need to go to their supervisor to ask permission for each and every assignment and task (even though I asked for a blanket, I need someone 3 hours a week to do the data cleanup). Turns out their supervisor did not want them to do any of my excess work, but wanted them to say they’re helping me in order to shield them from layoffs.

      In addition to this, we got a memo from HR saying that there would be no more overtime authorized. I’m hourly, and my union contract is very strict. If HR did an audit and found out my working times did not match with my time sheet, we would be in a lot of trouble. So I was expected to get 50 hours of work done in a 35 hour week. I was also expected to be available to answer emails to my coworkers who now have wildly differing schedules. My work quality began to suffer since I was making mistakes by trying to get everything done, which upset my team. It honestly took a minor mental breakdown for my director to realize there was just too much on my plate.

      OP, instead of asking what effect the pandemic is having on your employee, ask him how his workload has changed. Does he have the supplies at home to get his work done? Have the people he relies on for his deliverables have significant schedule or priority changes? Is he expected to now adapt to others schedule changes to answer emails and provide support outside of his regular schedule? If he doesn’t have answers to these, then by all means have the discussion that you understand it’s a hard time but he needs to do better. But if he does say that he can’t get answers from Cathy during business hours, that he’s used to two full screen monitors and now he’s on a laptop, or that he was up late at night answering Bill’s emails and was burnt out the next morning, that’s on you.

      Just to let you know, my team and director were super apologetic. They were all doing one of the above (off hours emails that required immediate responses, saying they were available to help when they don’t do the tasks, increasing my workload thinking I had help from others, and direct supervisors not receiving the email that overtime was eliminated) without realizing seven other people were also doing this to me. We immediately reworked priorities, got people the training they needed to take on some of my work, and I was immediately given a long weekend off since I was at such a high risk of burning out. It’s gotten significantly better the past month now that they know my limitations and I’m back to being a high performer.

      1. Mazzy*

        Turns out their supervisor did not want them to do any of my excess work, but wanted them to say they’re helping me in order to shield them from layoffs.

        Wow this is pretty lousy of them!

        1. NowWhat?456*

          Yeah… apparently the poor kid thought they were helping me too and wasn’t aware that their supervisor was playing gatekeeper. They honestly thought the task was just done by me because I had the time.

          It was a big wake-up call for the rest of the team, because the work that everyone thought they was doing was actually being done by me. I also think the supervisor had some fears that if he was no longer managing my colleague’s daily tasks, then he could be at risk. Hence, the gatekeeping and saying my colleague was helping me but never allowing them to be available.

  7. Kate*

    The timing of this question is really fortuitous! I had a giant cry this morning after it became clear that my boss is of the mind that everything is getting back to normal, whereas for me, single mom with a kid whose school is shut until September and without childcare options thanks to COVID restrictions, nothing has changed at all.

    Talk to me again when schools or camps or even babysitting comes back online, boss, and then I’ll have a better answer. /rant

    1. Sally*

      I agree! Adding the stress of a manager thinking everything should “get back to normal” now to an already stressful situation makes the stress so much worse.

    2. Mama Bear*

      I don’t know about you, but while some of our grads have already accepted that their year is over, some of the younger kids are slowly realizing their own losses, too, and all the angst that comes along with it. My kid realized their year is ending soon without good-byes to friends or looking forward to camps or even playdates. No pool. No parks. The prospect of a whole lot of nothing has hit hard. A lot of parents are in your boat and looking at a summer of no support or resources. It will not be possible to ramp up at work for a long time.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yes, the lack of social interaction outside the family is really starting to hit my daughter hard.

        And the home schooling thing changes over time, too. My kids are young and resilient and doing well enough academically that I haven’t felt much urgency around making sure they keep up with the remote learning stuff or add extra enrichment beyond the minimal content the school is providing. But if this starts to impact next school year, then we’re going to have to think hard about what our long-term plan is for their education, or at least the structure of our days, so that they get a bit more learning in there. And that may mean less focus on work and more focus on kids than now, at least at times.

        1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

          So much this. If the schools don’t open in the fall, or only open part-time, it’s gonna be a whole new ballgame for working parents because “limping along for a few months” will have ended.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            I’m just hoping desperately that if the schools go back on a staggered schedule they’ll find some way of making sure that siblings are on the same shift. If my two kids are going to school on alternate days and kicking around the house alone when their sibling is at school, it’s gonna be rougher than it is now from a work productivity standpoint. Though I’m sure there are families that feel the opposite way…

            But yes, limping along for a few months describes it well. We’ve managed to keep a pretty pleasant atmosphere for the kids, they play well together, and I can believe that so far my particular kids won’t emerge from this with too many long-term impacts to their social, emotional, or academic development. But the longer it drags on, the more concerned I become about how it will affect them.

    3. Nonsense alert*

      I feel exactly this way, with the added caveat that someone in my household is high risk, so even when daycare is open, I don’t think it’s safe to send my child. I am terrified for what will happen when the empathy from my leadership at work completely dissipates. I cry every day. This is not getting easier. And I don’t see my family being safe until we have a vaccine. Work just gets worse and worse. I really don’t know what to do.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        EVERYONE in my household is high risk, and my husband finally ran out of unpaid leave and had to go back to work 2 weeks ago. I’m scared. He’s scared. Our toddler begs almost daily to see her friends or her grandparents or to go to the playground. It’s breaking my heart. And I’m an ambivert who desperately wants a hug from someone who is not my husband or daughter and I have no idea when I’ll be able to get it.

        1. Nita*

          Ugh. My husband may be going back to work in mid-summer. We’re sill getting over 1,000 known cases per day in NYC. These are just the people who got tested, so you get the picture… and he’s going to be taking the subway unless I convince him that it’s not worth the risk, and it’s better for the whole family gets to pile into the car at 7 AM and 5 PM to drive him back and forth. And I’ve been very productive at work because he’s here, but this is not going to work so well in two weeks (when he starts working remotely), and once he’s at the office my ability to work will hit a brick wall.

          I guess the only good thing is, he’ll get to see other people who aren’t family, which will be great for his mental health. But also, before coronavirus, his coworkers had a habit of coming to work sick and walking around coughing on people (their sick leave policy is fine, other than the office didn’t allow many people to WFH back then). This is all so scary.

          1. Alex*

            Best wishes to all of you. I have visited New York for a while a long time ago, and even then, it was a tollhouse and madness all around (coming from a sizeable city myself that just pales in comparison).

            We have less (active) cases as a state than New York alone right now has added in a DAY and my whole country has less active cases than the US adds in a single day – and even we are scared. I cannot imagine how much worse it must be for all of you.

            Stay strong, and I hope you all come through all of this unharmed and safe!

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Even non-parenting stuff? It. Just. Takes. Longer. One way aisles at the grocery. Restrictions on how many people may enter the hardware store at one time. Even the transfer station for the landfill has every other parking space blocked off.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        PS and this is before the issues that arise if someone has a medical issue to care for. As simple as an ingrown toenail or a toothache will require more risk and more logistics than before.

        1. Quill*

          I am NOT looking forward to replacing my orthodics (which requires an in-person appointment because they need my feet to make the molds…) which are already a year overdue.

          And I’ve got maybe a year before I necessarily *have* to do it or have decreased mobility. Previously the insurance was the only hurdle, but now? Yikes.

          1. WellRed*

            There are options to make the molds at home and send them back. I imagine we’ll see more of that as a result of all this. Just a thought for you.

        2. Dahlia*

          I had to get an xray about a month ago (spine shit) and it was… not fun.

          Now that hospital is closed! Because that’s something they’re doing here, closing ERs.

      2. WellRed*

        My god. When will going to the grocery store stop requiring military precision planning?

    5. some dude*

      We got news about the summer camps being closed last week and it was a gut punch, even if we knew it was coming. Now we are getting rumblings about what a sh*tshow school will be in the fall, and it makes it so hard to keep a stiff upper lip.

    6. J.B.*

      Yes. I don’t really think things will be back to normal in September either. Our state is talking about alternating day schools. Unless an effective treatment comes along, I am expecting less school and not more.

      I wonder what the long term consequences will be for parents in the workplace.

    7. glitter writer*

      Yes. I’ll be “back to normal” when schools and daycares are open and I’m not trying (and failing) to parent two kids while also trying (and failing) to do my paid job full-time.

  8. Ranon*

    I say this as someone who was able to get a work station set up and a schedule in place at the beginning of this that hasn’t changed in two months- what new normal? The rules for just, like, functioning as a person in my city change every week or two, nothing has really settled per se. Particularly if your company hasn’t announced a long term plan (e.g. “we’ll be working remotely until 2021” not “we’ll reevaluate the situation in June”) I don’t think you can really expect people to settle in yet- so many things are still changing all the time.

    1. Ann Onny Muss*

      Yeah, the uncertainty of when/if people will return is a major concern. I’m a planner and control freak by nature, so all the unknowns associated with the pandemic is killing me.

      1. many bells down*

        Yes our parent organization just recommended we cease in-person operations until May 2021 and I can’t tell you what a load off that is to not have to try to figure it out ourselves on a weekly basis.

        We have a whole set of NEW problems to deal with now, but knowing what to plan for will help us tackle them.

    2. Anon Anon*

      I agree about organizations making long-term plans. For me the most stressful part of this is that the WFH stuff is being re-evaluated every 3-4 weeks. I don’t want to go back and work in the office (if I had my way, ever). And for my co-workers who desperately want to go back they get their hopes up and then have them dashed.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        And the real irony on this is that if half of you would prefer to telecommute forever and half of you would like to go back in the office, Staffing the office every other desk would actually be a third option and more predictably safe than bringing 100% of the company back onsite before there is a vaccine.

      2. Turquoisecow*

        My company sends an email every Friday to tell us we’ll be working from home the following week. They have no long-term plan and are already talking about reopening the office. I’m permanently remote and was before this but if I wasn’t I’d push back hard on the idea of going in. I don’t know how my coworkers with kids are expected to deal.

    3. WorkingGirl*

      Around March 10 I was told I could work from home “the rest of that week.” The next morning, I was told “all of next week.” It was evaluated week by week the first few weeks – before it was decided “for the foreseeable future” – and the uncertainty was always KILLING me. I still have no idea how long it’ll be, but at least now I have the comfort that we’re “remote until the state opens up”, essentially.

    4. Librarian1*

      This was my thought as well. We haven’t even settled on a new normal yet. There’s nothing to adjust to.

  9. Coverage Associate*

    Over and over again, I am learning how important just having a space dedicated to work is. I don’t exactly miss my office monitor and printer so much, but I do miss being able to take and make calls whenever at the office without disturbing my family.

    Anyway, OP, what level of output would you expect if offices were open but in disarray? Maybe a painting project where employees’ normal work spaces were only sometimes available. Or if the phones were down, or the internet was at half speed. Wouldn’t you understand that’s going to affect work? Wouldn’t you fight really hard to get everything fixed so people could get back to work? Well, we’re entering month 3 of the most disorganized painting project ever.

    1. CorporateDroneLiz*

      I feel the same. While I’ve grown to appreciate some of the perks from working from home full time (no commute! more flexibility! can squeeze in a load of laundry in the middle of the day!), I do somewhat miss having the physical, tangible separation of my work office from my life at home. It’s so much easier to disconnect completely the second I leave the office, but it’s been more of a struggle mimicking that mentality while working from home.

  10. Amber Rose*

    I saw someone on FB comment: Oh, work from home? You mean Time is now meaningless, and Work exists as a thing I can no longer interact with.

    Some of us are never going to be able to adapt to this. We didn’t want it, didn’t sign up for it, and would never have taken it if we’d known it was an option. I don’t know that it’s fair to expect everyone to just adapt to this as the new norm, at least, not to the same level they would have been at before.

    1. Bunny Lady*


      I did not sign up for working like this. I have adjusted to the best of my ability, but will never be as productive under these circumstances as I was before.

      1. Amber Rose*

        I’m back at the office this week and next, and although I miss sleeping in it’s still so much better.

        But I’m still less productive than I was, because so many of my coworkers are home, and the silence in the building is a painful reminder of how abnormal things are, and I can’t relax by going out for a drink after work or shut off my mind of all my worries and fears at night.

        I think I got two hours of sleep last night. It’s rough.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          My take in the company survey’s has basically been that I don’t want to go back until the office is old normal. The building is open, but people are discouraged from going in now. In a few weeks or months, though, they may have people returning with specific protocols in place. No water fountains, no coffee machines, wear a mask outside your own workspace–including conference rooms if you’re holding group meetings. No thanks. I’ll just stay home. From what they’ve said so far, we will have that choice as they want to make sure people are comfortable with returning when they do return to the office.

          1. Quill*

            Not looking forward to masked life in my cube in, say, September. Lack of access to food and drink for the majority of the workday is a bummer.

          2. Alex*

            That’s basically the rules my workplace enacted while “opening again” yesterday, but adding 6ft between each desk, no conference room usage at all, (zoom meetings even while in the same building) – no coffee machine, etc. etc.

            Yes, I’ll just stay home, thank you…

        2. Quill*

          The return plan for my office (which isn’t going to happen before July at earliest) is that people will be working from home at least 50% of the time. Which, now that our VPN actually does all the things I need it to do, is fine by me, save for the added hassle of keeping track when my boss is in-office so I can coordinate with her, and having to drop literally everything else on those days to get the covid-era backlog of mail out of my cube. Every time a state “reopens” prematurely I mentally adjust my expectations for being able to return to the office back another two weeks. My director says 4th of July if the governor says it’s safe, my brain says August.

    2. Mediamaven*

      But, I don’t think it has anything to do with being “fair.” It’s reality. It’s a terrible reality, but it is the current situation. Companies still need people to get work done or our economy will never recover and more jobs will be lost. It’s also not “fair” to say to an employer, I can’t work like this so deal with it. It’s not “fair” to say to a high performer, Joe isn’t able to produce right now so you have to do twice as much. Fairness has nothing to do with any of this – everyone on the planet is going through this right now so no one is being singled out.

      It’s one thing to have a reduction in productivity for a month or two but if this goes on for another six months or so, employees have got to figure out how to acclimate. That’s not being a jerk, it’s just the reality of the situation as budgets get drained, work gets reduced. I’d like to see a post on here about how to optimize productivity in suboptimal conditions or how to remind your employer of how awesome you are during times of downsizing. It’s not reasonable to expect the same output as before but it is reasonable to expect people to achieve a decent level of output of results.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Regarding fairness. . .

        We all signed up for our jobs to do XYZ at ABC location, typically working for Manager X. I’ve been at one company a long time and have change roles, locations, and managers countless times, but each time, I know it might work out or the current iteration of my job could mean that I’d rather work somewhere else doing something else. Similarly, all employees were greenlighted by some manager for their ability to do XYZ.

        I don’t think it’s fair for either party to expect the same conditions to apply even if our job description didn’t change–our locations changed and resources changed. The companies are effectively revising the roles, and we have to decide if we accept that revision. (Most of us probably do because we don’t want to change jobs now.) But the definition of what needs to be done, by whom, and where needs to be made clear. The OP has been working with the employee, but I think at some point, the fair thing to do is tell him that these are the current job requirements and you need to meet them. It isn’t normal how this came about, but changing job expectations and definitions are pretty normal, and I think we have to apply the same processes now that we did before. There is a learning curve window when you move to a new role or have a new manager, and I think that window applies here, too.

      2. Amber Rose*

        There it is.

        We’re in an exceptionally hard situation all at the same time, and you’d think that would be a good time for everyone to come together and feel empathy, but instead half of us would prefer that we all just ignore that emotions are a thing and fully embrace the cog in the machine inside.

        “Just deal with it” and “figure it out” are the words constantly thrown at people suffering from depression, and most of us recognize how shitty of a thing that is to say to someone who is sick, but now somehow when everyone is feeling it, it’s become OK again.

        Why is is the unpaid, overburdened average worker that has to learn how to adapt, and not the huge corporations and companies who should, theoretically, already be equipped to handle sudden disasters? I’m tired of being told my humanity is a burden to everyone around me.

        1. Mediamaven*

          I think it’s unreasonable to think that companies should have been equipped to handle an unexpected pandemic. That’s really similar to expecting employees to acclimate without a hitch. Everyone has had to change course and learn how to operate differently.

          1. Amber Rose*

            The average company would be expected to adapt and quickly if their most productive worker suddenly quit or got abducted by aliens or hit by a bus or something. They should be able to adapt with a slightly decreased level of output from their workers, regardless of the cause.

            It can take months and months of therapy to even start adjusting to mental health issues. And most of us can’t get therapy right now, or won’t. I’m not sure why, after only two or three months, we’re suddenly seeing an outpouring of “well just suck it up and adapt you failure.”

            1. AnotherAlison*

              If my employee quit or was hit by a bus, I get to quit paying them and redirect those funds to a new employee who can tackle that workload. In this case, I have to let the employee produce at, say, 50% AND adjust by hiring someone to take on the other 50% with two 100% salaries?

              I’m not against companies carrying their share of the burden, but my personal employer is doing a ton. They completely shifted their operations in a matter of weeks, support employees, and offer generous health ins., wellness, and PTO benefits. I think they would also be considerate in this situation if I could not produce at 100%, but they’re also a $10B privately held company, top 5 in our industry, with a lot of resources. AVERAGE companies and AVERAGE employees don’t get premium benefits. Used-to-be great companies, highly leveraged companies, or companies in industries hit disproportionately hard (like hospitality and tourism) can’t afford it, either. I don’t think companies are inconsiderate of people’s emotional states, but it is somewhere around item 27 on the list of things they can support right now. The personal energy of managers and the company resources can only go so far.

        2. NYC Taxi*

          Why do you assume the average worker is underpaid and overburdened? That might be your issue, but hardly universal. And it’s unrealistic to expect that companies should have planned and had a covid-specific protocol in place in anticipation of such an event. How were they supposed to do that?

          I have empathy fatigue with hearing the endless litany of complaints in the “my pain is greater than yours” marathon which has become a staple of every conversation. There does come a point when people do need to just deal with it and figure it out if they want to move forward or want to keep their jobs. That’s reality.

          1. Amber Rose*

            Because over 50% of the population feels like they’re underpaid, and since retail very nearly universally underpays and overworks their employees, this isn’t really an unrealistic assumption to make. I said average employee, not that it was a universal truth. Those two terms mean completely different things.

            And I’ll just copy and paste what I said above here: The average company would be expected to adapt and quickly if their most productive worker suddenly quit or got abducted by aliens or hit by a bus or something. They should be able to adapt with a slightly decreased level of output from their workers, regardless of the cause.

            It can take months and months of therapy to even start adjusting to mental health issues. And most of us can’t get therapy right now, or won’t. I’m not sure why, after only two or three months of this disaster, we’re suddenly seeing an outpouring of “well just suck it up and adapt you failure.”

            1. NYC Taxi*

              Feels like they’re underpaid is different from actually being underpaid.

              Let’s be realistic here. There are millions of unemployed people who would be happy to get a new job and employers will have their pick of skilled job seekers. How long is an employer supposed to carry employees who refuse to move forward?

              1. Mediamaven*

                This is unfortunately realistic and it needs to said even if it’s not the popular opinion.

                I had an employee who was underperforming before Covid. As soon as we went to work from home she stopped producing 100 percent. I don’t think she accomplished one single thing in 3 weeks. Her direct reports were consequently underperforming. Clients threatening to let us go. We lost business and I couldn’t afford to keep everyone so I made the sad decision to lay her off.

                In one week all of her clients and team turned everything around. It was miraculous. It meant we didn’t have to lay anyone else off. Morale went way up.

                We’re making tough decisions right now and at the end of the day adapting isn’t going to be an option everywhere.

      3. Coverage Associate*

        I think there have been lots of posts on doing the best possible under the circumstances.

        For a lot of workers, employers and industries, this will be a paradigm change, like when a new technology makes a job obsolete or a new law makes it illegal. But if that’s the case for an employer, they should say that. “We can’t anticipate the bar ever being as crowded as before, so we have to cut pay.” “We can’t make our offices safe in light of 21st century infections, so we’re going remote indefinitely.” As long as it’s all unknown and undecided, it’s going to be in an employer’s best interest to keep trained people who are adequate at their jobs.

      4. Librarian1*

        “It’s not reasonable to expect the same output as before but it is reasonable to expect people to achieve a decent level of output of results.”

        But… what does “decent level” mean here? People are working while taking care of children, they’re trying to share small spaces w/SOs, roommates, or others who are also trying to work from home, people are scared of getting sick. There are many people who simply can’t produce as much as you expect them to because there are other things that are in the way.

  11. Bunny Lady*

    I would add: it is a moving target. Some days I think, “a ha! I’ve adjusted” and the next day, I realize I have not. There is no light switch on this one and for some of us, working from home (or working from any one chair) all the time is hard – pandemic or not. I would never intentionally chose a job that required me to sit still all the time because it isn’t how I work best. Right now, I don’t have a choice, but I am not going to adjust to normal until we’re back to normal-ish.

  12. Alice*

    If the workload is increasing, as OP said, and the size of the team isn’t, then I think you have two problems: this employee’s productivity, and a larger issue that it’s not sustainable for X people to do the work of X+2 people in the long term. Sorry, these problems are both hard to solve.

  13. anon for this*

    Hi, your experienced remote worker checking in. Let’s take my team as an control group.

    Until the start of this crisis I didn’t realize how hard this would be for “normal” office workers to adjust to, because I’m so used to it! But guess what? Everyone on my fully remote team is struggling to be productive. People aren’t sleeping well. People are dealing with kids and pets they no longer have care for, spouses who are now in the house all the time.

    My control group of experienced, full time remote workers are struggling. And we have home office set ups and know how to manage our time and work not in an office. What we don’t have? Any release valves any more. My weekly trip to the grocery store and library were my chances to leave the house and feel connected to the world–that’s over for now. Going out for dinner, running to the hardware store? That was literally the only time I saw other people and was something I took a lot of pleasure in. I don’t have a pet to walk, but I can go for a walk in my neighborhood. That’s about it.

    We’re all in the same boat here. If your employee is struggling, there’s only going to be so much he or you can do to mitigate it.

    1. Kiki*

      Completely agree on the release valve thing. I didn’t work at home very often pre-COVID, but I am definitely in the privileged group of folks who aren’t dealing with anything particularly major right now (not a caretaker, my family is all doing well and taking distancing seriously, I am financially stable, etc.). But I am still finding it hard to be as productive as before because most of the ways I decompressed from work pre-COVID have been taken away or are severely limited. I’m trying hard and still spending the same amount of hours (sometimes more) working from home, but my output is still reduced. Things that would take me 15 minutes before take a half hour because my brain is muddled and just not seeing the solution in front of me. I was in an endless slog of work where I never had a true break or release to keep my brain sharp. I took the Friday before last and that really helped me get back in the zone the following week.

      1. many bells down*

        Yes I LIKE being at home! Home is comfy! But… now I can’t do anything else and half the comfort of home is coming back to it after you’ve been out.

    2. Lana Kane*

      I manage a remote team and I co-sign on this. The bit about the relief valve is especially on point. Not having a meaningful way to get out of the house can really make stress escalate.

      My team used to work 3 weeks at home, 1 week in the office. We’re going on 2 months 100% remote and I am absolutely noticing the strain on some people through their work quality, small mistakes, and general way of communicating. Some are people I would have expected, others are surprising to me. My workplace experienced a serious amount of upheaval in processes when this all exploded and a lot of my time was spent in creating guidelines, resource documents, and putting out fires – this means that things like my regular 1:1s fell through the cracks (although I made sure to check in with teams and individuals on a less formal basis). Last week, after having to cite the Code of Conduct around collegial communication with coworkers to 2 people in the same day, and having another just not do any work at all on another day, I realized it was time to delegate some fires and restart 1:1s.

      My focus right now is on checking in, answering questions, and then at the end bringing up my concerns. Each person has something going on right now, so I try to tailor the conversation to what they are experiencing and asking what I can do to help support them. And I do mean all of that, but I’m also banking on the fact that I’m bringing up the issues (even if gently) to let them know that I’m noticing preventable issues.

      This is uncharted management territory, for sure. My approach is to lead with compassion and vulnerability (hey Brene Brown!). During the general course of things – and especially when I mess up – I acknowledge when I am having a hard time. I think this helps people open up more. When bringing up issues, I assume that the issues right now are stemming from the current stressors and I ask if they have ideas on how I can support them. I’m not expecting performance to improve right away or to be at pre-COVID levels because that ain’t happening. But if I see *some* improvement after we talk, I am considering that a win right now.

    3. Silicon Valley Girl*

      Absolutely agree! I’ve WFH for years & enjoy it. But right now is so very different. I used to enjoy WFH because I didn’t have to commute & I had more time for myself & to see family & friends. But now, I can’t leave “work” to see family & friends or travel or simply get a coffee & bagel. I feel permanently confined to my home office that is next to my bedroom & living room & kitchen. My world has been severely reduced, & that takes a mental toll.

    4. glitter writer*

      +100. I work on a distributed, all-remote team and many members are starting to go a bit mad from losing every valve they had. And the work itself has also changed, making everything more difficult.

  14. A*

    First, I don’t think we can assume that the ‘new normal’ work output expectations will be in line with pre-COVID19 expectations.

    Secondly, I think the short answer in the immediate is – at the very least not until the resources previously available that allowed everyone to function on a daily basis return. You cannot expect the same-as-before output while school/caps/daycares are still closed, and people are unable to see friends and family etc.

    I for one live alone in a remote area I only recently moved to, and my best friend (only non-work friend in the area, part of the reason I moved here) works directly with COVID-19 patients and is high enough risk that I cannot safely see her right now. My boss has made it abundantly clear that she doesn’t expect me to perform at my best while being completely isolated, and that she ties the expectation of a return to ‘normal’ output to when social distancing is lifted and people can start to recover some level of positive mental health and wellness. It would be unrealistic to expect people to have nothing in their life aside from work and home… and perform at top levels.

    1. Nita*

      Exactly. Things can’t be back to normal until the framework that allowed them to be “normal” is back. Also, whatever adjustments people make are based on circumstances that are a moving target. And it’s all a bit of a house of cards, because most of the usual support networks are gone.

  15. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

    Some of us just aren’t built to work from home all by ourselves. I am doing my best, but I have never done my best work without other people around who were also working. In college, I spent a lot of time in the computer lab and library because of this, and also carefully chose my classes to maximize my number of proctored exams and performances and minimize my number of big research papers. The only time I ever got substantial schoolwork done at home was when I was living with a significant other who was also in grad school and we were both spending a lot of time at home working on schoolwork.

    I chose my career field with this in mind as well. I could, based on my other skills and aptitudes, make significantly more money doing something else if I were good at focusing on work all day sitting in a room by myself. I’m not, so I chose a field where I’d be talking to other people frequently and rarely trying to complete big projects alone.

    Short of taking on a roommate who has a job similar to mine, I’m just not going to be as productive until I’m back around people regularly. If I do figure out how to complete large, intellectual tasks well without being around other people, my current employer is likely to lose me to one of those higher-paying fields I’ve been avoiding anyway, so I don’t see a scenario where my current job gets a fully functional set of work-from-home hobbits long term. Luckily, my boss seems to understand that none of us are at our best right now and isn’t expecting us to be up to our usual standards. (My boss as an individual human is also one of the reasons I stick with my particular job – she’s generally good about seeing workers as people with individual strengths that make it worth working with their weaknesses rather than interchangeable parts that you get rid of when you find a flaw.)

    1. Tessera Member 042*

      @Seven hobbits, could you set up a video work session with a coworker or two or another friend working remotely? I’m not sure if having someone in a small screen also working provides you with that atmosphere, but that accountability is something that helped me focus while working on my dissertation this semester.

  16. hmmmm*

    OP I totally understand your frustrations. It is hard to get work done with a new normal.

    While employees have to make adjustments, I do want to point out (not as a negative to you, but in general) that employers/ companies need to make adjustments as well and realize that they too are facing a new normal to what can realistically be achieved and how.

  17. Bluesboy*

    I do sympathise with your worker. I am actually back in the office now (in Italy; we are maybe a month ahead of the curve compared to you). I found working from home really tough, which surprised me – I used to think I would like to work from home, now I realise that a couple of days a week might be nice, but not ALL the time…

    That said, it might seem a long way away now, but if things in the States progress as here, you might find ‘normality’ returns in a month. By normality, I mean you go to the office, you do your job while respecting social distances, you wear a mask, some people work from home sometimes…but essentially professional life returns to what it was for people who already sometimes worked from home.

    I mean, I don’t want to raise false hope, but that’s where we are getting in Milan right now (consider that Lombardy, the region Milan is in, was one of the worst hit places in the world – about the same number of deaths as NYC with a similar population. So NYC will be hit worse after it takes its full effect, but we’re up there).

    (To be clear, not everyone here is back at work, it depends on your office. But many are (I am excluding people who work in retail or consumer services as OP seems to be talking about office work).

    To be more specific to your comment, if you weren’t working directly in relation to coronavirus I would tell you to live with decreased productivity for a bit longer – things might change faster than you think. But your work is crucial right now. Would it be possible to try speaking to him to suggest that you know things are tough, but that if he can battle through it and get back to something like his normal productivity then you will make sure that he gets time/space to decompress afterwards, when the worst is past? I don’t have a lot of experience with mental health issues, so I apologise if this is inaccurate, but when I have spoken to people with issues in the past they have told me that often it isn’t so much one event, but constant pressure upon pressure, stress upon stress that mounts up. Knowing that you have his back once this is over and he will be able to destress afterwards…might that help him?

  18. Anon Anon*

    I think a lot of this depends on your location, the type of work, the personality of the employee, and what equipment or resources the employee has access to.

    I love working from home. I live in location where childcare facilities are still open. More critically, the work I do can easily be done from home. And finally, because I worked from home regularly before any of this started, I have a great set-up at home with a large monitor, fast computer, good printer/scanner, etc. For someone like me I don’t think the expectations of how much I produce should have changed that much.

    However, if I lived in an area where things like childcare were closed, if the work I did couldn’t easily be done from home, if I didn’t have the right kind of equipment, etc., then I think the expectations for me should be significantly lower.

    But, I also think that some people who want to get back into the office because they feel that they work better in the office because of the face-to-face communication, are going to find that even back in the office things are going to be radically different for a lot of organizations. For example, even when my office reopens, we must maintain social distancing, so that means almost all work that must be collaborated on will still take place via Zoom, Skype, etc.

    1. Secret Squirrel*

      Your last sentence +100.
      At my giant multinational corporation that manufactures the second most expensive llama you’ll ever buy, we’ve already been told don’t expect to be back in the office this year if our job is not place dependent, and when we are back everyone won’t be there every day – we will be alternating days and maintaining whatever social distancing requirements are in place in Jan 2021. Plus if people still do not feel safe, they will not be required to work on site. So there will still be microsoft teams meetings and all the things we’re doing now, just from the office for some people.

      1. Lyudie*

        Not to derail but “At my giant multinational corporation that manufactures the second most expensive llama you’ll ever buy” is maybe the best sentence I’ve read all week.

  19. Manon*

    I really sympathize with this employee; I seem to be one of the few people who don’t like working from home because I am constantly distracted. Even with very few obligations other than work, it’s too easy for me to wake up late, check social media every 5 minutes, and get caught up with doing things around the house.

    1. Nesprin*

      Am another member of team dislike working from home even in the best of circumstances

    2. Blueberry*

      There are a lot of us who find home constantly distracting. (I actually use AAM to help with that a bit.) You are not alone, as the sappy song says.

    3. pamplemousse*

      I’m in the same boat. My problem isn’t that I find being at home boring or unstimulating; it’s the opposite! When I worked from an office, if I was having a day when I felt unmotivated, my options were 1) sit at my desk and waste time on the internet or 2) finally do the thing I needed to do. If I had a slow day, I could 1) waste time on the internet or 2) do non-urgent but important stuff like strategic planning, brainstorming, or just organizing my inbox. And, sure, I did plenty of (1), but eventually I usually did (2).

      Having the option to mess around in the kitchen/clean the house/go for a walk/play a video game/lie down in bed/read a book as long as I keep an eye on Slack and email… it’s overwhelming, and it’s definitely messing with my ability to get things done that aren’t mission critical. (I’m not a disaster — I’m getting my most important tasks done, showing up to meetings, meeting my deadlines, etc. — but while this is fine for a few weeks, it is not how I want to treat my job, which I normally enjoy and excel at, for a full year.)

  20. Talley*

    “We are also a small business, so our workload is increasing, we don’t have a lot of staff redundancies built in, and it’s a make-or-break moment for our success.” This sounds to me like it’s time to consider hiring. If any of your staff falls ill, or if your workload continues to increase, even if people weren’t having trouble getting back to “normal” your “make-or-break moment” will break. Continue working with this employee, but I’m sure there are a lot of qualified people out there looking for work right now!

    1. Anon Anon*

      What happens if you can’t afford to hire?

      Where I work our revenues are declining. We were hiring before all this started and now we have a hiring freeze. Because with declining revenues we can’t afford to hire people. We are just hoping we can avoid layoffs.

      1. AVP*

        This is the problem for so many people right now! More work to do to save the business and keep your existing clients afloat, less human-hours to do them because we’re all doing so many of these other time-consuming life projects. Some people aren’t going to figure out how to run a viable business with the current situation….it just sucks all round.

      2. Pescadero*

        What happens if you can’t afford to hire? Then less work gets done.

        No matter how much you wish to squeeze blood from a stone, reality interferes.

        1. Alex*

          Another phrasing I’ve read is, that if your business needs to squeeze blood from a stone (more work than is possible in the time allotted by staffing) to survive, then maybe, just maybe, you don’t have a valid business anymore and deserve to die.

  21. AVP*

    I think OP and anyone else running their own SMB need to seriously a new business plan for the rest of 2020 and probably 2021. I know at my company, we’ve changed ours pretty significantly and don’t expect to go back to the old one until 2022, if we ever do. In some ways that’s fine – the new plan is more resilient. In some ways it’s not – we’re focusing less on the work that we’re passionate about, and that’s going to have consequences for workers and maybe for the long-term brand viability. But it is what it is.

    Keeping that in mind, OP…can you continue in the current set up if the output you have right now is what you’ll have for the rest of the year? What changes do you need to make if that’s the case? I would consider making them.

  22. Lizzy May*

    I’ve noticed with myself that I’m going through a new type of stress as social distancing fatigue is setting in. I knew we were going to have to distance to flatten the curve and when that started in March, I figured a month or two of that before things go back to normal. It’s two months later and normal is not going to be happening any time soon and that is sinking in. I’m going to keep distancing but that realization that this is a long-term thing and that I am going to be spending most of this year in my apartment alone is a new adjustment and it’s really freaking me out. Some days it really hits me and other days it’s fine and I think I’m going to be like this for a very long time.

    So normal isn’t one way of being. For me it’s being really great one day and barely able to get through my work the next. And I don’t know how to level that off completely. I try but the new normal isn’t a fixed point. Sorry.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes, I’m right there with you on this. We’re starting to think about whether there are low-risk things we can do to make this feel sustainable for the long haul, because we’re losing confidence that anything will change until the fall, and even then our kids’ schools may not be operating normally. Things like socially-distanced outdoor chats on the lawn with friends, or possibly hiring one person to come do some child care/offer socialization and engagement to the kids while we’re working now and then (if we can find someone who is also being careful about social distancing).

      Because having current conditions stretch out into the endless horizon is really taking a toll on me.

    2. Quill*

      Yeah, I’m with you. I was following the news pretty closely in late February and was telling people in early march that we weren’t going to be in office for all of april, but even my brain, which mentally doubled the incubation period, then tacked on two weeks coordination of social isolation as buffer time, did not expect it to outlast the end of the school year.

      I’ve been out of office since March tenth or so. At present there’s no expectation of a change from social distancing being the way of life (regardless of states’ economic decisions) until July, at least double what I expected.

    3. Swiftly Tilting Planet*

      I’m sorry.

      As a high risk person, I knew I’d be doing it til a vaccine was developed, even if it takes years. It’s just too dangerous for me.

      It makes me very glad that I’m freakishly introverted.

  23. Fikly*

    You are doing yourself and your employees a disfavor by referring to the current circumstances as normal.

    They are not. Normal implies sustainable. Things are not sustainable as is.

    To answer your question, you can expect your employees to go back to normal output when you and your company provide them the tools to do so. That means removing the external stressors. Some of those you can do, and some of those you can’t. And for the ones that you can’t, well, that’s your answer – employees won’t be able to go back to normal output, because these are not circumstances that allow for normal output for all.

  24. Employment Lawyer*

    When should we worry that some may never perform well in this environment?
    If someone has been improving they should continue to improve. If they have not changed over the last month then they are probably not going to change in the next month, unless there are new inputs.

    You can be the catalyst for change either by changing things like assignments/more salary/work assistance/etc. Or you can try to force the employee to be the catalyst for change by making more demands, etc. Either are fine at this point if you have a business to run, though the latter may result in him getting fired.

    1. Fikly*

      They have the option to do either.

      I would not say both are morally and ethically the same.

      1. AVP*

        But if you screw up a project or lose a client and have to lay other people off, or the employee in question, is that any better? Larger businesses might be okay here, but smaller ones (at the size where a company head is writing to a blog for advice) are extremely struggling with how to balance this. OP didn’t say that his situation has gotten that bad yet but personally I feel like I’d rather have the option to improve if it’s there.

      2. Employment Lawyer*

        Well, we DO have social services and unemployment and a variety of other outcomes which are designed to–at least somewhat–help people. Obviously they are not always complete, but that’s what it is for everyone, and a business is not unethical or immoral if it declines to act as a private charity towards its employees.

        An alternate way of thinking about it: There are two people. One has a job and isn’t doing well; the other WILL have the job when the first one is fired, and will do a better job (or be replaced, etc.). There isn’t any particular reason for preferring the livelihood of Person A (currently employed, but not doing well) over Person B (currently unemployed, possibly better at the job). Person A isn’t writing the question.

  25. AnonymousToday*

    Those of us who aren’t furloughed were required to return to work at our regular schedule on May 1st. Many employees, including management are not wearing masks as required, and not fact social distancing. In fact, we’ve had several potlucks and they keep bringing in food. Everyone sits around the the lunch table with slow cooker crocks and casseroles in the middle of the table eating like it was a normal day. Meanwhile, we don’t have enough work to keep us busy, but still have to come in every day so we can get paid. It’s really weird that we can’t serve our customers, half our coworkers are furloughed, and the rest of us come to work with nothing to do.

    1. nat*

      My work made some bizarre snafus like this earlier on and it made me want to bang my head against a wall. Hope you’re hanging in there, and hope someone in charge starts making better decisions soon!!

    2. allathian*

      Yikes. I’m not in the habit of wishing misfortune on people, but the folks in charge at your job deserve a COVID-sized bite in the butt. As in, the entire C-suite in ICU…
      I hope you’re polishing off your resume.

  26. Anonymous Liz*

    I have a related question regarding childcare. I live in a state where childcare has been allowed to open back up, but not all facilities are in a position to do so quite yet. Daycare in my area is also usually quite competitive, and it’s hard to switch facilities without a year + long wait. Is it reasonable to expect that employers should have patience with employees whose facilities have not yet opened despite them being able to do so?

    I am a parent with a lot of apprehension about sending my kids back to daycare. If I have the option, I would prefer to deal with juggling parenting and childcare, but I think I am lucky in that my spouse and I are able to split the duties and neither of us feel that our productivity has had any negative impacts. (In fact, I think I am accomplishing more than before simply because I am overcompensating/having terrible work-life balance.)

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Yes, employers should be thoughtful about daycare, and about a likely increase in eldercare / recovery care at home. So many of the deaths were in elder care group situations that I think people will avoid elder care facilities in the future if they can. And a lot of those facilities also do long-term recovery care / therapy, I bet people try to do that at home more too.

      This does not mean that employers *will*, just that they *should*.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, the statistics for eldercare facilities are horrendous. My country has been lucky so far with fewer than 1,000 deaths in total, but half of those have been at eldercare facilities.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I think what surprised me last week and this week were things that were not opening up, even though they could. Our non-essential retail can open, but I saw only 1 of 4 major department stores was open at the local mall and their hours are reduced (same with gyms). So, I think it’s important to communicate back up your management chain that all day cares are not open. What is reported by the news and the state as being open apparently is not, but your management won’t know unless they have small kids, too.

      Whether you want to take kids to daycare when they are open is trickier, I think. Rational thinking says you should be able to decide as long as you’re being productive, but I can also see not allowing accommodations to go on for 12 full months. Who knows? You could burn out by that point.

      1. allathian*

        There’s no point in opening if there aren’t enough customers to make opening worth while. If you’re in the US, I bet many businesses are delaying opening for as long as the federal unemployment supplement lasts.

    3. Half-Caf Latte*

      Yeah, & I said this on the supporting parents post, but I’ve been put out at some of the language HR at my org used to communicate the childcare options they had sourced for essential staff- there wasn’t any acknowledgment that kids aren’t equivalent to dry cleaning, and dropping them off at any location nearby should work out just fine.

      1. WellRed*

        “kids aren’t equivalent to dry cleaning, and dropping them off at any location nearby should work out just fine.”
        I think this would be a great way to frame it for people wishing to push back on this sort of thinking.

  27. JustKnope*

    I think other commenters have addressed the employee perspective well but looking at your business, now is the time to bring in more staff. If it’s make or break for your company, it’s probably time to create some staff redundancies, increase your capabilities, and build out more resources so you can account for a less-productive-than-normal staff. Because that’s just reality right now.

    1. Mediamaven*

      That’s incredibly unrealistic. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but people aren’t hiring right now. There’s a reason for that.

      1. WellRed*

        Well, they are saying make or break time, which as its pandemic related, I am reading as an opportunity. They might have to find the money to hire.

      2. Librarian1*

        some places are still hiring and if business is increasing, revenue might be increasing as well

  28. Penguin*

    Adjustment to “the new normal” is complete when said ‘normal’ is stable. Until most of us understand what we can expect from our jobs, governments, health, and fellow humans on a day-to-day basis and have some confidence in what life is going to look like a month or a year down the road, productivity will be affected.

    Maybe that means the answer is “when a vaccine is readily available.” Or maybe it’s “when most of us have internalized a new level of risk for day-to-day activities.”

    But whatever stability looks like, ‘normal’ won’t happen without it.

  29. HermitCrab*

    It’s awful we’re in this situation, but hearing other people are reacting the same way I am is kind of reassuring? The rest of my team is either putting on a brave face or adjusting to this a lot better than I am so I’ve been feeling like a screwup a lot of the time.

    Prior to all this I considered myself an introvert and could happily be a hermit at my home for like 5 days at a time. But this is involuntary, I’m anxious, stressed, can’t sleep and have nowhere to separate out my workspace so things are just tough.

    I feel like something that gets forgotten a lot is internet speeds – even if you don’t have to VPN, if your internet is slow it causes so much frustration and take a lot longer to get stuff done. Kids have to stream stuff for homework, there’s more people online all day in close proximity and providers can’t magically lay more fiber and increase bandwidth inside a month. That means you might get dropped off calls, your screen freezes, you have to refresh things a lot etc.

  30. I think I've said this before*

    I think a lot of people, especially some in upper management and the C-Suite, are way too invested in getting ‘back to normal’ vs accepting what’s in front of them. I keep hoping they will use the opportunity to review their expectations to see what is reasonable.

    My transition has been easy. We’re a Google shop, so most of us don’t need VPNs. I also live alone, so I don’t have to content with a spouse, roommates, offspring, or pets, plus I’ve worked at home before. It’s unreasonable for a manager to expect the same output from someone with any of those things.

    Management has an opportunity right now to analyze what really needs doing and they should be questioning if the pre-quaranting workload was unreasonable. I bet more people would have satisfactory output if their workload expectations were more reasonable.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      “I think a lot of people, especially some in upper management and the C-Suite, are way too invested in getting ‘back to normal’ vs accepting what’s in front of them.”


      Plus, depending on which side of the political spectrum these C-Suites fall on, they’re unfortunately taking their cues from the top that “Covid will all just disappear and we’ll be all back to normal.”

      They are so wrong. It will not be back to normal until there is a viable vaccine and people are fully protected. Even then, certain parts of the economy will NEVER be back to normal for some years.

  31. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — I haven’t read all the comments yet, so possibly someone else has already made this point. But your post actually involves two separate issues, 1) when will employees get back to “normal” productivity, and 2) what to do about one employee who is struggling. Other commenters are dealing eloquently with the first issue, so I’d like to talk about the second, your struggling employee.

    As you describe him, he’s only been with you about a year and has mentioned some mental health issues, which may be making it hard for him to function under stress and without the structure supplied by office routine. You mentioned that you’ve been flexible and have offered to switch him to other projects, but what are you doing to provide clarity and structure? When you’ve talked with him about these issues, just how clear and explicit have you really been?

    Alison is right, treat this as you normally would any employee performance issue, with added empathy and time. I’d add that you should probably try to over-communicate with this employee. Be very, very specific about what you need from him, set up clear and explicit benchmarks, and make sure he gets prompt, clear and specific feedback from you as he goes along.

    You also need to spend some time thinking to yourself about how long you want this process to go on, and what would you consider evidence that it wasn’t working, and you needed to let this employee go. (I know — that’s ugly and I hate the words even as I type them. But you need to be sure in your own mind what the point of no return looks like.)

    In looking over this post, I notice that I’ve used the words “clear” and “clarity” a lot. That’s because most of my failures as a manager have been due to failure to be clear. Don’t imitate me.

  32. Ann O'Nemity*

    I’m going to take the opposite approach from a lot of the comments, and offer some sympathy to the OP and managers in this situation.

    What I’m seeing a lot of managers deal with is this: “It’s not going back to normal, at least not for a long time. Revenues are down, productivity is down, and we’re in survival mode. What changes do we have to make to survive?”

    For some businesses, the solution can’t be to give people as much flexibility as they need for as long as they need it, because that’s going to mean bankruptcy and job loss for all employees. Or at the very least, it means putting all that extra work on some employees’ shoulders, and that’s not sustainable long-term.

    Alison’s advice is good, because it stresses empathy and transparency when having these tough conversations. I think we’re going to consider to see previously accommodating employers increase expectations. And sometimes it’s going to be because their back is up against the wall.

  33. Come On Eileen*

    My “new normal” since the pandemic started: working from a tiny corner of my condo using a folding picnic table as a desk. Doing the grocery shopping for my elderly parents while helping them hold video conferences with their doctors. Worrying about all of my co-workers who got laid off and coordinating gifts for a few of them. Picking up the work of team members who got laid off while still trying to do my own. Shifting priorities to new work that’s more important than old work. Trying to look some semblance of presentable on the 50,ooo video calls we have every day. And then going to sleep and doing it again the next day. I give myself a ton of grace and I expect my boss to do the same.

  34. OP*

    OP here, thanks for the comments – here are some answers to the main points I saw –

    -WFH setup/flexible hours – While my company hasn’t been the absolute strongest around providing WFH setups, we have allowed employees to get things like monitors and laptop stands so I know this employee has a desk setup. I am not making him stick to a specific schedule so he is taking breaks during the day and could work ‘off hours’ if needed, though so far seems to be fine working generally the same hours as before.

    -Additional staff – I 100% agree that we need more staff as a company in general and have now brought this up with my manager and they have told me that they are hiring help for some departments – unfortunately dealing with COVID it’s tricky as we are busy now but things a few months down the line look less clear, so management is trying to balance those things. My department is not likely to get new staff right away as other departments are struggling much more – people working 70-80 hours a week, etc., but your comments has demonstrated I need to advocate from some additional contract or temporary help for my department in the mean time.

    -It’ll never be normal! – I understand this sentiment, my question was really around wondering if/when it may be possible to expect *more* normal work outputs – or indeed when we need to recognize as a company that this won’t ever happen. One challenge has been that our more senior management team in generally is not that sympathetic to challenges working right now, something I have been trying to advocate for with the higher-ups. Most of my other team members are ‘get shit done’ types who are ok working more hours during important times – I can already anticipate the comments to this one but I have been checking in with other team members and also other managers and generally a lot of our employees feel this way. Of course companies should have a balance of different personality and work types, but one worry is that the added stress of COVID is highlighting those who are struggling. As a company commenters are correct we don’t yet have a long-term solution in place for COVID-19 and when we will go back to our office or what it will look like, which is not helping.

    -More empathy/clarity – This is a helpful point, I think sometimes I have not been clear enough around expectations and the company’s needs, and am trying to do better on this. The company is also trying to become better at understanding the difficulty of WFH while managing business needs but I still think as a whole all managers could be doing better on this point.

    I think these comments emphasize that everyone is in a tough situation right now – managers balancing employee struggles along with real business needs, employees having difficulty with childcare, poor WFH setups, and general stress, and everything else. I hope to balance this all better over time and that my question was useful for other managers.

    1. J.B.*

      It is tough, and thank you for being thoughtful. I think the best thing you can do as a manager is think about what you need to see and be very clear about what that looks at as a big picture, while being as flexible as possible on the details. Basically the metrics instead of the how.

      I think that reducing hours as much as possible – or at least avoiding piling more hours and expectations on – would be the way to go as this continues. And I expect it to continue for a long time. In the short term a lot of people were really focused on getting sh!+ done…but that wears off after a while. Keep an eye out for burnout.

  35. OwlEditor*

    My work sent us home for two weeks in mid-March. We were told to take things we needed (my manager had me take my plants, thank heavens), but it was only going to be for two weeks, so I grabbed a monitor and my dock. That was over two months ago and I’m struggling. I live alone and my mental health has taken a hit without the social environment of an office. I do okay, but when they announced we were WFH until June, I freaked out and my productivity took a nosedive. I completely dropped a project and had to have two coworkers do the majority of the work.
    Then last Thursday my work announced that we would WFH until October. October! While I am very happy my employer is taking COVID seriously, my mental health took another hit. I took a day off yesterday and learned I had dropped another project. That I’m able to complete today, but still… be gentle with this coworker, OP.
    The thing with mental health is you can cope fine and then all the stress, etc., builds up and overwhelms you. It takes a couple days to recover. We’re doing the best we can.

  36. G*

    I must admit, I’d love that conversation right now. I really appreciate the extra freedom and my company have bern fantastic. An ‘I’ve noticed your performance slipping’ conversation would give me the push I need to get it back up though. I know I could do better but I’m not feeling that performance drive right now.

  37. DataSci*

    When schools/summer camps and childcare fully open, people can get back to their original productivity levels. Not before then. Why is this even a question?

Comments are closed.