my company is issuing new work-from-home standards because we should have the hang of it by now

A reader writes:

I’m in a senior position at a mid-sized company that has been working from home since March, and would love your thoughts on something that was communicated to us in a leadership meeting this week. The C-level has decided to create new work-from-home standards that employees are expected to comply with, including a strict dress code for video calls, making sure that our backgrounds are neat and tidy while on camera, and a mandate to “eliminate distractions” (i.e., pets and kids/family members). Examples of “good” employee behavior included someone locking their dog in the bedroom during a meeting, and another seeking childcare from a relative across town.

It isn’t clear what prompted this or how it will be enforced, but the rationale behind it was “now that we’ve been home for six months, you should be used to it, and making changes to make your home more of a professional space.”

The part about distractions made me cringe. Our region opened and then mostly closed again, distance learning is in effect for all schools, and many people are sharing their work from home setup with other members of the household. I manage staff who live with multiple roommates, who have spouses and kids at home, and most do not have a dedicated office space in their house. (I myself have a large dog who mostly sleeps during the day, but occasionally likes to look out the window behind my desk. He would howl if I shut him in a room.)

Compounding this, the company keeps telling us they want us to return to the office as soon as our region is off of the COVID watch list, and won’t give us any idea of how long we might be working from home. I have asked if there’s a date we won’t return before, so I can give staff some sense of “we will be working remotely at least until January 31st” or something along those lines, and they won’t give me one. They want staff back in office as soon as possible.

I know you’ve given advice on how to communicate decisions you don’t agree with but I’m really struggling with this one. Making sure you are wearing something professional and that your background is tidy I can get on board with (and really, just put up a zoom background if you don’t want to clean), but the distraction one I disagree with and have no idea how to enforce. What are your thoughts on this?

Two things: Can you push back? And if you can’t push back or won’t succeed in changing it, will you be able to avoid enforcing it with your own team in practice?

Pushing back is optimal, obviously, because your company’s management needs to hear from its managers that the new policies are unrealistic, unworkable, and unnecessary and will demoralize people. If you can explain the change won’t do anything to improve your team’s actual work results, explain that as well.

Point out, too, that if the distraction policy is enforced, it will mean a lot of parents simply can’t work there any more — which will disproportionately affect women (who have already been driven out of the workforce in massive numbers this year because of child care issues). Ask what their plan is for that.

If you’ve talked to fellow managers who feel the same (and I bet there are lots who do), enlist them in pushing back too. It’s possible your company will back off if enough of you speak up.

If that fails, is there room for you to add some common sense to the distraction policy when you relay it to your team? For example, you could explain this is what the company is asking for but add that you understand that not everyone is in a situation where they’ll be able to have a distraction-free environment, and that you’ll work with people to accommodate them based on their situations. It’s still going to cause people stress, but you’ll be able to mitigate some of it by making clear that you intend to work with the realties of what’s possible, not require people to lock their kids and pets in a closet for the day.

And boo to employers who have decided that because they’re tired of accommodating the pandemic, they can just magically order its effects on people’s working and living situations to disappear.

{ 628 comments… read them below }

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Lol, this kind of makes me wish Alison would sell “Generic Bad Boss” voodoo dolls for Halloween swag. Actually, it makes me wish she had swag in general…

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I do! They are not particularly creative. (What I’ve been told by people in merchandising is that this kind of thing rarely sells on a large enough scale to really invest in great designs, unless you just want to do it for the pure joy of it. So I have not put much into it.)

              1. Schioedt*

                The fun thing is, that Heston Blumenthal in one tv-program made edible chockolate teapots. I can’t remember the name of the program.

              1. Lucky*

                Seriously, I would like a “Hello my name is”name tag with Wakeen written in as a sticker for my laptop.

                1. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Or Bob from Accounting asking who approved that extravagant Chipotle guacamole purchase on your expense report.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              I feel the urge to point out that Zazzle now offers a customizable teapot…if you port your art over there, let us know.

            2. TeeeeeKayyyyy*

              Please make merch for when we do worst boss of the year (I’m sure it’s getting more spectacular in terms of candidates by the minute!)… and let’s buy that and give it to poor managers anonymously instead of the singing telegrams for “Bosses’ Day” like that one email you screenshotted

            3. Mongrel*

              I’ve had a couple of items from Makeship (https://makeship.com/) and was impressed.
              It’s a little like a Kickstarter for plushies and they’re one-shot campaigns so you don’t need to keep stock.

          2. He's just this guy, you know?*

            Awww…. I read the part about voodoo dolls and then my eyes skipped ahead to “She does have some!” and I got all excited. The swag is nice looking, no doubt – but “Generic Bad Boss” voodoo dolls would be truly next level!

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          There actually are multiple bad boss voodoo dolls on the market already, so that might not be worth Alison’s while (although an Ask a Manager branded one would certainly be extra cool).

          Google “bad boss voodoo doll to see what’s already out there.

      2. Cats and Bats Rule*

        May a cat then eat stinky food and then barf on that poop! Seriously, these c-levels are being ridiculous…..

            1. Tabby*

              Partly Cloudy, let me tell you there has never been a more accurate statement than “Poop that has been re-consumed and then thrown up is the pinnacle of gross.” I’ve got a strong constitution, but dear lord when the dogs at the daycare eat poop, then barf it up (despite our best efforts to scoop up poop before it can be eaten), I internally want to barf myself. Dogs are gross little nasties sometimes!

              1. 10Isee*

                Can you give them some pumpkin? That helped a ton with our puppy. It made her find her poop unpalatable (because somehow it being poop just wasn’t enough)

                1. Commonsensesometimesmakessense*

                  Yes, dogs eating poop are dealing with a vitamin deficiency and pumpkin helps!

                2. Mongrel*

                  Alton Brown had a recipe for dog biscuits that dealt with this issue, look it up on his You Tube channel.

      3. Lucien Nova*

        May the fleas of a thousand camels infest their armpits.

        May a Canadian not apologise to them.

      4. Happy Pineapple*

        Haha just yesterday I was on a Zoom webinar with the CEO of our company (and about 30,000 other employees) and even he was interrupted by his dog who needed a potty break! Life happens. The LW’s executives need to get over themselves.

    1. Elenna*

      +1. Yeah, we’re all tired of the pandemic too. Shockingly enough, being tired of something does not make it magically go away! Who’d have thought.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        I’m tired of not being a millionaire. Following this company’s example, I should just draft a memorandum demanding a million dollars cash arrive at my door and wait for the *poof.*

        1. Artemesia*

          The ‘C Suite’ twits who like to make these pronouncements probably live in giant suburban houses where they have a den and everyone has their own bedroom and there is a big yard etc etc. For a struggling family like my daughter’s where two working adults are in a small space with two kids, one of whom is doing distance learning and the other is a toddler, it is a joke. And she has a much better set up than most and does have day care now for the toddler (but only recently and it always iffy). There are plenty of people who don’t have private space for WFH and have to share resources. Those relatives across town are probably older grandparents who cannot safely baby sit.

          Yeah suggest everyone use a zoom background to cut visual distraction and require people to be wearing a reasonably professional looking top — but then give it a rest.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            I wouldn’t be able to work for this company, being in an apartment. I might be single and childless, but cannot guarantee someone else’s kid won’t be running screaming down the Hallway during a meeting or that someone won’t randomly set off the fire alarm. We’ve had 2 in the past month. Also, sometimes there are construction noises and they randomly test smoke alarms.

            1. Chinook*

              As I was reading this in my childless house with 2 dogs in their crate (their choice – they literally wait at the basement door when they see me grabbing my coffee, even when DH is home and on the couch) and the neighbors dog is loudly barking. Last week there was construction generators on my street. I cannot control distractions, just mitigate as best I can.

              1. My Cat Works Here Too*

                I hear you. The back of my living room couch is behind my chair, so occasionally when I’m on calls, my cat likes to hang out there. Twice now while I was on video she apparently gave herself a full-body grooming session, leaving no body part to chance, that lasted about 25 minutes each time. I didn’t notice because she blends into the couch pretty well, and I wasn’t paying attention to my own video. Both times, the colleague on the other end didn’t tell me until the cat had finished her bath, and they found it hilarious. She also killed a bird on the balcony during a one on one I had with an employee a few weeks back. She marched in with the bird, and might have panicked. It was just an audio call, but the guy told everybody that it highly entertaining and he wishes he had gotten my reaction video. He said “All I could hear was her yelling “No! No! Drop it… you murderer!” :)

                1. Jennifer Juniper*

                  If I were the C[-suite executive, I’d encourage people to bring their pets onscreen with them when working … so I could coo all over them!

                  As for the dress code? Something that covers all significant body parts, is not see-through, and hair needs to be combed/styled or put in a ponytail. Manbuns are discouraged, because they look stupid :P

            2. Hush42*

              Thankfully my company is more reasonable because I wouldn’t be able to follow these guidelines either. I still live with my parents (Two more weeks until I move out!). I do have my own bedroom and my family is pretty good about leaving me alone for the most part but there is always noise in my house. I have two teenaged sisters who are home-schooled (not as a result of the pandemic- they’ve been home-schooled their whole lives as was I and my two brothers) who are always home and sound really carries in this house. But we also live in a more country setting and my neighbors have chickens, sheep, goats, and dogs all of which can be very noisy. I have morning meetings with my team every day and several times, especially when we first started, I got comments like “wait is that a rooster in the background?” or “what is that noise?”. I have absolutely no control over the noise my neighbors animals make and telling me I to get rid of background noise and distractions would not be helpful. Honestly I’d love to not listen to the cacophony when all the animals get going at once but it’s not my call. ALSO the note about locking your dogs in a bedroom while on calls seems silly to me because every single person on my team gets super excited when a dogs comes onto someone screen. Sure it’s distracting for a minute or two but it makes people happy which helps with morale.

            3. Quill*

              On days that I’ve been in office the last three months we’ve had

              1 tornado warning
              2 fire drills
              1 very loud scream of a printer coming unspooled

          2. Not So NewReader*

            OP, tell TPTB that if they do not pay for the workspace they do not get to dictate what goes on inside that space nor how the space is used.

            Following Artemesia’s example, the employer should provide a room for the employee spouse to work in away from the other spouse. Space will also need to be allocated to put the kiddos and their sitter…. that the company will be providing. Sound proofing materials and installation would be another need, as I am sure that if this is an apartment, the employee has no control over what sounds the neighbors make.

            Or you could point out that these employees are busting their butts to keep the company up and running during this pandemic. You could point out all the companies that have gone under because of the pandemic and all the preventative measures. And you could land on perhaps the correct answer is to give everyone raises for their herculean effort on behalf of the company. Maybe, if the company is lucky a few of the employees will be able to do some little thing about on the distractions they have in the background. BTW, those little distractions have NAMES: “Home” and “Life”, without which there is not much point in working for the company.

            1. FriendlyCanadian*

              I feel like saying that to your boss will just get you fired/burn a bunch of bridges. They’re paying you for your work and they can (but shouldn’t) make a perfectly quiet room a condition of employment

              1. Anon for this*

                I don’t think saying it exactly this way is the right approach, but taking the “they’re paying you so they can ask you for this” approach isn’t right either. They’re paying me…in exchange for my labor. A perfectly quiet room is an impossible and unrealistic condition to expect right now, especially if it does not affect my ability to get my work done. It’s not a bad thing to point out to your employer that their expectations are unfeasible and they’re going to be dealing with unhappy employees – and perhaps attrition – if they attempt to enforce this. The pandemic won’t last forever, but employees WILL remember how they were treated in times of crisis and may try to jump ship at their earliest convenience.

          3. Ophelia*

            Exactly. We are lucky enough to have a separate “office” space in our apartment, but that means two of us are working in it, while one kid works from the kitchen table (or we mix up that arrangement a bit). If our preschooler’s school closes, then office space will be the least of our worries.

          4. Phred*

            Fortunately, “professional dress” for me on a video conference means wearing a shirt with sleeves, though I might wear one with a collar if I’m talking to someone new. I also have a green screen so I can choose different backgrounds as I want. At a recent online conference (library computer geeks) I started my presentation “hello, I’m coming to you from beautiful (background picture)! Actually I’m in my basement (pulled screen aside for a moment).” I also have a background picture of my cubicle at work. :-)

            Yes, I have a very nice boss.

            1. 7 months*

              Seven months = the amount of time working from home that it has taken for me to catch myself wearing jammies on the job. Why? Overtime because my team is playing catchup for someone else’s poor planning. If they want me online at 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. and everything in between, they get jammies, they get a blanket on the chair behind me, and they get to hear my family.

          5. willow for now*

            I agree with all of this. It is so incredibly tone-deaf – “I can do this, why can’t you?”. The execs just want stuff to be pretty – pretty background, pretty clothes to look at during the meetings. And that across-town daycare – how do the kids get there, do the parents have to schlep them there, taking out a big chunk of their working day, then they (parents) will get in trouble for not being available? Maybe the execs will pay for a live-in nanny for everyone, or a car service to take the kids to the sitter. I just … I’m spluttering.

          6. HGS*

            A few months ago at my (super large, household name) company we got a snooty message about how we should all be working from our homes and nowhere else for “tax reasons” (not doubting they exist but my company can figure it out I am sure if they were so inclined) and I spoke up to innocently ask if this rule applied to vacation homes as well? I don’t have one, but my boss’s boss sure does and is very clearly working from there in front of gorgeous sweeping mountain views.

    2. Tabby*

      Right? I’ve made it clear to my dogwalking client that if they need me to come over and distract their dog for a meeting, as long as I’m not at my other job I’ll come over and take the dog for an extra long walk or play with them, at no extra expense (I can’t do it for free, but I am happy to hang out for an hour or 3 at the same 15 minute rate). Copper will be very noisy if he knows mom is home while he’s stuck in a crate, but is very quiet otherwise, so there’s that. Obviously we’d do this with social distancing and a mask. So far it hasn’t been needed, but she’s relieved to know I will.

      These companies can be so ridiculous!

    3. Typical*

      Do what I’ve always done in the same situation, as a leader who sometimes agrees with the top down direction. Give the outward appearance of complying and agreeing with it, but give lenience to your team when appropriate (and be discreet about it). I guarantee that many other teams will do the same anyway, then the next leadership meeting will be about “how do we enforce this as no one is following the rules”. Oldest story ever, when management gives dumb direction people just won’t do it. Just remember that there are people higher than you that make these dumb decisions, and as a leader, it’s your job to give the overall impression of support.

      1. Chinook*

        The best expression of leadership that I have heard is to be an umbrella that shields your employees from whatever rains down from above.

    4. iglwif*

      May they buy expensive new shoes that turn out not to fit and cannot be returned.

      May they be caught on camera eating boogers, and may the resulting video go viral on twitter, and may their identity be revealed in a LinkedIn post about zoom meeting etiquette.

      May they order their favourite takeaway for lunch, and may they put it down for a second to get out a plate, and may their dog grab the bag off the counter and devour the food that spills out, and may the dog then barf on the food remaining in the takeaway container.

    5. BasicWitch*

      Very much feels like instead of working from home, we live at work. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to do all we can to prevent this being normalized.

  1. I'm A Little Teapot*

    Realistically, this is why asking about how companies are handling COVID is going to be so important. Because frankly, I don’t want to work for that company.

    Signed, someone who is on day 3 of having a real desk at home, and who has a cat playing loudly 2 feet behind me.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Except these people would answer “Oh, we’re having everyone WFH and it’s going great!”

    2. Emma L*

      I also brought this up as an interviewer (asking them how it was going where they were)as an opening to discussing what we were doing.

    3. Jennifer Juniper*

      If I were your company, I’d require that the cat be in the room with you at all times so I could see her and hear her purr!

    4. Lygeia*

      I have a dedicated workspace and no kids, and I still can’t guarantee no distractions! Just presented a webinar a couple weeks that featured my cat meowing in the background because I’d locked her out of the office for the duration.

  2. Peridot*

    That’s some impressively privileged BS. Ah yes, let me drop my children (who are probably doing some form of e-learning) with my readily available relative for all or part of the day, while I wear my fancy clothes and participate in video calls from my spotless home.

    1. Teapot Librarian*

      My boss not only suggested relatives watching kids, but also suggested buying our own new devices (printers, better laptops, and such)–and that was back in April. “Impressively privileged BS” is accurate.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Right – what if you don’t have relatives that can watch your children? Or have money to buy office equipment out of pocket and wait (and hope) for your company to reimburse the costs?

        1. DataGirl*

          And the fact is, laptops, printers, web cams etc are almost impossible to get right now because EVERYONE needs them for work from home and home schooling.

          1. Old Woman in Purple*

            Add ‘Desks’ to that list of near-impossible-to-find items. My visits to ~15 assorted furniture stores earlier this month resulted in 2 options: a phenomenal one for $2,500 [gasp! nope], or a gets-the-job-done-for-$35 from the local thrift store [winner!].

            1. Bee*

              I recently bought a desk online and wound up choosing the only one that was approximately the right size & shape that would arrive within the week instead of a month out. Two days later, when it arrived and my downstairs neighbor asked about it, it was out of stock again. If you need something, you really have to buy it the INSTANT you find it, because it’ll be gone the next day.

              1. Mockingjay*

                I signed up for email notices from Wayfair and Staples to let me know when desks will be back in stock. I’ve cobbled together a makeshift office, including buying furniture risers to elevate my tiny sewing table which I now use for my desk.

                Hubby’s been under the weather, otherwise I’d have him use his woodworking skills to build me a desk. I want a long, wide surface with table legs at MY typing height. Plywood and unpainted table legs from the big box home store would work fine.

            2. Quill*

              I am so lucky that I had random furniture lying around the basement from cleaning out my grandmother’s house.

          2. CouldntPickAUsername*

            I work for Staples in Canada and you’re absolutely right.

            what happened was in march we had our normal stock, which frankly isn’t much, we’re coming off the christmas sales and stuff is going clearance and we’re getting ready for our slow season which is the summer, we’re just dead in summer until we hit back to school season.

            So what happened is our small supply of headsets and webcams were just gone, absolutely gone right away unless you want high end 400 dollar ones. For microphones we basically only carried 2 models that were for gaming, people wanted a cheap microphone, the cheapest we carried was 70 bucks.

            Laptops and printers we weren’t too bad on because a lot of people already have those but…. the manufacturers all shut down for four months and we kept selling.

            So now we’re in October after the back to school rush and we have effing nothing. We have less than 20 laptops in stock, not models, just 20 actual laptops. Printers, well if you want to spend less than 250 dollars? come back in a month. we got some webcams in again at least. People are surprised and complain about all the out of stock tags on display models and there’s nothing I can do. I don’t even bother checking other stores because they’ll all be out just like us.

          3. Lavender Menace*

            I purchased a standing desk from the only company that had semi-reasonable prices on it, and it took a month to arrive.

          4. lailaaaaah*

            Yep. I work for an IT department, and trying to get hold of literally any of our suppliers is a nightmare- all our deliveries have been delayed by months because all this stuff is like gold dust now.

        2. Elliott*

          The part about relatives concerns me from a social distancing perspective, too. If someone already lives with relatives, great, but now may not be the safest time for relatives–especially older relatives like grandparents–to leave their own quarantine bubbles to help babysit. A lot of people aren’t able to see their families much right now because of social distancing.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Yeah…my only nearby relative is in his seventies, on immunosuppressants, and recovering from surgery with visiting home health aides. He’s at high risk and he is himself a huge risk factor. We see each other outside only.
        My other nearby relative is 60 miles away in a nursing home.
        Neither is childcare. I doubt I’m the only one.

    2. Impressive Privilege Indeed*

      Agreed, this is both an unrealistic expectation *and* violates work/home boundaries even further. I get why we have to blur that second line *a bit* during a pandemic, but some caution not to overdo it would be nice? Not everyone lives in a miniature mansion, and most of us don’t just *have* a cleaning service come through weekly.

      One thing that has become abundantly clear as so many of us get regular access to videos from the top of our command chains is that the people at the top have *so many extra rooms* at home! If I’m in a meeting, you either see my living room or my bedroom, because *those are the two rooms*. I think my boss (top of department, it’s a weirdly-shaped hierarchy) has done meetings from at least 3 or 4 distinct rooms, all of which look pristine and empty.

      Like, did many of us know this already before COVID? Yeah, kinda, probably. Was it this blindingly apparent? Well, I think all of the video chatting has certainly put a focus on the difference between being paid “enough” vs “generously” for what you do. I hate to imagine what someone with my income who *has kids* needs to do to make this work.

      The more abundantly clear this situation makes it how different lives are at the top, the more desperately I want a societal conversation about how these differences play out and why that leads to the results it does. Keeping the status quo with all these baked-in faulty assumptions is just not sustainable.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Pssshhh, my boss is rotating between her first home (a fantastically restored colonial), her summer home ot he ocean, AND her summer home on the lake…. and complained to us that at her lake home, the only spot that worked as an office was the laundry room and the dryer put off too much heat, so she made people stop doing laundry during the day.

          1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

            Hahaha, my parents used to use that reference too… “And here’s the world’s tiniest violin playing the world’s saddest song just for you”. These POOR CEOs with their 3rd home that just doesn’t have a home office. How ever will they survive? /sarcasm

                1. Typing Away in the Storage Room*

                  My grandfather tended to say, “My heart bleeds peanut butter for you,” which caused no end of confusion for my young mind.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              My dad once handed me a magnifying glass – said I’d need it in order to see the miniature violin he was going to play.

              Can’t remember what I was complaining about at the time – I remember being put off at the time though because he wasn’t willing to sympathize with me.

              1. A*

                Oh gosh I love this idea, I’m now searching online for keychain magnifying glasses just so I can bust this out when needed

            2. lilsheba*

              Amy Farrah Fowler I love your name! Huge fan of the show :)

              On another note, when I am working from home you get what you get. You get me in a tshirt and shorts, with a tapestry in the background, and that is as good as it gets. No makeup, no fussing with hair, none of that. I’m HOME and I’m going to be comfortable. I’m lucky it’s not noisy in here but that’s just luck.

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        Plus, even if people have relatives in town, most of them probably areas seeing them much less leaning on them for childcare because we are **still in the middle of a raging pandemic!!**

        1. Quinalla*

          Right, seriously, my kids are not in daycare or school right now because of the pandemic. It isn’t like I can just magically get pandemic-safe childcare! It is actually worse for me now than in the summer because of distance learning with my elementary school age kids who need a lot of hand holding to get to things on time, get things turned in and just pay attention since they are doing school at home where all their toys and other home distractions are. My company had starting ramping up some initiatives they shut down when the pandemic first hit, but we are still very much operating in pandemic normal, not trying to get back to pre-pandemic ways.

          1. Malarkey01*

            And the reason my kids were in daycare in the “before times” is because I didn’t have a relative or private caregiver. The pandemic did not magically create MORE childcare options.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              And people ask me why DH and I choose to work opposite shifts, sigh…..

              Child care as a whole is something our country does not do well.

              1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                This is so true. It’s bad enough under normal circumstances. Throw in a pandemic, and you have the recipe for a ginormous clusterfork.

        2. Jayn*

          Or can’t help for other reasons. It’s a good thing I’m a SAHM because literally everyone else I know in the city works (some of whom have also had to juggle working and childcare this year). A lot of people don’t have many childcare options in NORMAL circumstances.

      3. AnonInTheCity*

        Yeah, I’m trying to think if any parts of my home would meet the criteria for that policy. I’ve got my bedroom, my kid’s bedroom, my kitchen, or my living room couch which is surrounded by a playpen. As much as I’d love a nice professional office I can’t actually create an extra room in my house out of nothing.

        1. Artemesia*

          Use a virtual background — not only means an uncluttered backdrop but it also protects your privacy from the snoops in the office. You can make your own e.g. photograph an anodyne section of book case and use that photo or use one of the beach, whatever — or there are some standard ones you can choose from. It is bad enough having to work from the couch with the kids and the dogs; worrying about privacy should not be on the list when it is so easy to do.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            Not everyone’s computer can do that. Mine cannot and it’s only 2 years old. I just make sure to face a wall. But my wall has a picture up, and the end table behind me has a lamp.

            1. Deliliah*

              Yep. My macbook won’t let me do zoom background and the only spot in my bedroom where I had the space to cram a desk into definitely does not have a wall behind it.

              1. Ariaflame*

                Really? My several years old iMac does. You just might have to hunt for where to put the background images

                1. Metadata minion*

                  It really depends on the computer. My work computer will do it but my home computer won’t unless I’m using a green screen.

                2. Lizzo*

                  No, this is a legit problem even with newer laptops. I can only use a virtual background if I have a green screen behind me (in my case, two pieces of fluorescent yellow poster board pinned to the wall).

            2. Old Computers... *sigh**

              Yeah, I hear that. My work-issued machine is ancient (and so many other machines at my work are in the same boat). Apparently I *can* use a background in Zoom… if I have a solid-color, evenly lit wall behind me? Teams *just* figured out how to do backgrounds without a screen like last month, but alas, only half the meetings I’m in bother using Teams.

              I’m glad for all the folks who get issued newer machines (or are comfortable using newer personal machines, or whatever other circumstance leads to backgrounds working), but I think the last time I checked Zoom has some oddly high requirements.

              I guess one silver lining in all this is that it’ll be much easier to argue for an actual IT budget once we’re physically present to pick up new machines again.

          2. I'd love to, but...*

            Zoom says that my computer processor isn’t good enough to do a virtual background. Just using Zoom taxes it pretty badly. Can’t afford a new computer, so…

            1. Phred*

              How about an inexpensive (<$20) green screen? (See my comments above.) If they object to a picture, try all black.

              1. JustaTech*

                Or a bedsheet, if you’ve got a spare set. If you can find shower curtain (or regular curtain) hangers that are clips (instead of hooks going through holes) and some Command hooks you can hang up a sheet without damaging a wall (assuming that you have a wall in the right place).

            2. Bee*

              My camera isn’t good enough, apparently! I can put one up, but half my face disappears and I look like a ghost haunting whatever background I’ve chosen. (This was actually hilarious when it was a pub!) And it’s a brand-new computer, albeit a cheap one. If I were actually concerned about my background, I’d probably tack a sheet to the ceiling, but fortunately my company is super easy-going.

          3. EvilQueenRegina*

            That’s what I do (I’m now attending all my Webexes from St Andrews beach, having used a holiday photo from ages ago) but this company sounds like one that might object to that and say it’s not professional enough – a standard office one might shut them up though.

          4. Director of Alpaca Exams*

            Or suggest switching to Google Meet and using its “blur background” feature.

          5. Ealasaid*

            I sit with my back to the center of the room, and have a bookbinding workbench on the opposite wall. It is waaaay too cluttered for Zoom to do a virtual background. It tries and then gives up because it can’t tell what’s me and what’s a pile of text blocks/shelf support/book press/etc. If I cared more, I’d hang a greenscreen or something, but management doesn’t seem to mind (and now if I log on early sometimes my coworkers ask me about my bookbinding projects while we wait for the meeting to start).

            Meanwhile my partner gave up and bought a cheap greenscreen because Zoom can’t differentiate between the wall behind him and his pale face, lol.

        2. Hush42*

          I live with my parents still. My only space to work is my bedroom, where I thankfully already had a desk and monitors set up from when I was going to school online up until Dec 2018 (Glad I didn’t decide that I didn’t need the set up I almost never used anymore!). The last time my bedroom was painted I was 16 and decided I wanted pink walls and my walls are VERY pink. So, while my room was clean, as soon as Microsoft Teams released the backgrounds option my boss asked me to start using them on important calls so as not to have my back ground be my bright pink walls.

          1. Circe*

            How pink are we talking? Unless it’s extra-ordinarily distracting, I’m kind of surprised your boss would tell you this. I’d think your boss was overstepping.

            1. FriendlyCanadian*

              Considering they capitalized very it sounds like Barbie pink. That’s a little much for a meeting if there are alternatives

              1. Lavender Menace*

                There’s nothing wrong with a pink wall. Thinking it’s a “bit much” is a pretty old school mindset even in the best of times, but in a pandemic when everyone’s working from home? Some of these bosses have lost their minds out here.

                1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  Look up Pantone ‘fuschia purple.” It’s about the shade of hot pink my friend talked her parents into letting her paint her high school bedroom.
                  On Zoom, it would give me a migraine.

                2. A*

                  I don’t think that is necessarily the case and we should give the benefit of the doubt. In my line of work this would be a reasonable request because we are on calls with suppliers negotiating million+ dollar deals. It’s unfortunate, but as a society there are some things that are viewed as less than professional even if that isn’t *fair*. Super intense pink walls would definitely be one of them in my industry. Again, not fair, but it’s part of the reality of the society we live in.

      4. HoHumDrum*

        I will never forget being in all-staff meetings in April from my apartment in NYC and slowly realizing that literally all of our leadership team were at second homes in the country. Just thinking about how scared I was to get sick and listening to sirens at all hours as my neighbors got sick, and then having to show up to meetings where people jokingly complained about bad the internet service was in their cottage in the Catskills. I’m still mad about it. I mean I’m at a non-profit, none of these seemed like massive homes or anything, but it was the pain of realizing that they had the money to opt out of the trauma I was experiencing was just…yeah, I’m not over it.

        1. teapot product analyzer*

          nothing has been more alienating than finding out apparently all my coworkers have vacation homes, it is so infuriating.

        2. jph in the heartland*

          HoHumDrum, I have worked in nonprofits almost all my life, and have NEVER worked with anybody who had a vacation home–not even a little cabin. I am an executive director of a small nonprofit, and I can’t imagine every having that kind of money. (and I would never make these kind of silly rules for our employees!)

      5. mgguy*

        I’m somewhat fortunate in that even though my wife and I live in a small home(bedroom, living room, kitchen/ dining room) with 3 interior doors(bedroom door, 2 bathroom doors one leading to the bedroom, the other to the kitchen) we can make WFH work well enough for one of us. Among other things, sitting at the correct spot on the kitchen table we can have a plain gray wall with nothing but a(closed) white door in the background, which I think would count as neat and orderly. The couch works also, but isn’t my first choice for a call where I’m actively participating(as opposed to passively listening). For one thing, she’s an essential employee(nurse) who has worked continuously through her normal 12 hour a day, 3 day a week schedule, although she has other meetings and things that have shifted to mostly online. For another, I’m permitted(but not required) for now to go into the office, so on her days off work I go in so as to allow her to be able to actually get things done around the house.

        If we both have to take a call at the same time, if one of us can do without video we can each get privacy/cut background noise with one of us in the bedroom and doors shut, but that’s not practical if both of us need to be on video. If it comes down to it, I’ve gone out on the front porch before, but again that has its downsides and also isn’t an option for everyone.

        We don’t have kids(yet) but if we did having relatives watch them is an easy thing to throw around and a hard one to implement. A lot of her family is nearby(sister, parents, and aunt all within reasonable walking distance if wanted), while mine are all a couple states away. Her parents both work full time still, and not at home, as do most of her other relatives. Her grandparents are all retired, but but understandably(particularly with one set of them being in their 90s) are limiting their outside contact and probably, in the current environment, wouldn’t want to act as babysitters. We could afford daycare, but a lot of folks can’t and there are also reasons why that’s less than ideal in the current climate.

        So yeah, for us even though we can manage a clean and distraction-free environment most of the time, there are situations where it’s not possible and recognize a lot of people can’t.

        I’m a professor, so most of my time “working” on video is me talking to the computer screen. I see a pretty wide variety of environments in my students cameras, with some shoved into the corner of a bedroom or wherever they can find. I don’t think twice of seeing someone on screen with their child in their lap(or having to keep their kids out of stuff) or having to get up to let the dog out. These are crazy times, and not everything can be perfect.

        1. Free now (and forever)*

          I’m glad you get to see students and their backgrounds. The professors I know keep. I’m plain ing that they can’t get their remote students to turn on their cameras AND they stay silent f dc using class.

          1. mgguy*

            Oh trust me-I have that issue too. I’m new at this school, so am at this point walking a VERY narrow line of following rules as tightly as I can. With this semester fully online(I wish I could do in person, because I would), I was told by department coordinator-my sort-of boss who doesn’t really have any “power” so to speak-that I couldn’t require cameras on. When the dean-my actual boss-observed my class(standard for new faculty)-she commented on the number of gray boxes and told me I should require cameras on. I brought up the “no cameras required” rule I had been told, and she said the correct interpretation was that cameras COULD be a requirement and that I had to allow exceptions but could grant them case-by-case…

            I can’t change course policies mid-semester, but some have answer my urgent plea to turn on their cameras. Those are the students who largely are already engaged in class, though, where most aren’t.

            Heck, I met with one today one-on-one during my office hours, where I’ve said that my general expectation(since those are “private” so to speak) is that cameras be on, and this student wouldn’t turn his on.

            1. Formerly Ella Vader*

              Cameras-required rules with the instructor-student power imbalance don’t feel right, to me. I wonder if there are some alternative – possibly even better! – ways to promote and monitor engagement.

      6. Pink Dahlia*

        Learning accidental things about colleagues’ home life is only going to get worse the longer we do this. I would find it interesting from a sociological perspective if I could observe it from outside the burning dumpster.

        Today I saw a post on Twitter in which a woman said her students figured out that another teacher was her husband, based on recognizing the same cats in both of their Zoom lectures. Obviously that isn’t a huge crisis in and of itself, but the creeping boundary line it exemplifies just keeps moving back.

        1. Corrvin*

          I’m assuming it was the cats’ names? I mean, I know my boy from every other cat in the world, BUT in my 15 person class, someone else has another tuxie that looks surprisingly identical, so I’m not sure other people could tell my cats from any other cats. (We had a cat show when the professor was a couple of minutes late.)

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            I think it could be Ms. X teacher has a Siamese and also an orange doll faced Persian. Mr. Y also has a Siamese and orange Persian. Whate are the odds? And if someone has an unusal breed like a Sphynx or Lykoi, yep, that’d be pretty much a certainity. Even if the cats are simply a tuxedo and grey tabby, what are the odd of two teachers having the exact same color pair of cats? And if there is more than two cats and a third identical cat shows up…

      7. miss chevious*

        The head of our division did a little intro to one of his meeting where he drew a map of his “work from home commute.” It would have been cute, except it made clear that he had soooooooo many rooms in his house, including an underground movie theatre and it ended up just being tone deaf and awkward, especially when most of his work force lives in small New York apartments.

          1. allathian*

            Maybe not needs, but I love ours. It’s not underground, granted, and it only seats three people at most, but it has dark, lightproof curtains and a 100 in HD projector screen and 7.1 surround sound. It doubles as our library because our book collection really improves the acoustics. It was also less expensive than you’d think, because my husband is a hifi geek and we saved a ton because he built the speakers.

            Our cars are barely from this millennium and my husband fixes them himself. My salary is barely above the median in our country and my husband’s is somewhat higher, but we’re not rich by any stretch. We just put most of our disposable income in our house and will be paying off the mortgage until we retire. I can tell you that this investment has really paid off in COVID times. Some of my coworkers live in tiny apartments, because under normal circmstances, home was only for sleeping. It’s obvious that they’re finding the travel restrictions etc. much harder than I am. I love having enough space that my husband, my son, and I have a room to work in each.

            That said, what miss chievous’s head of division did was definitely tone deaf. I bet that went down like a lead balloon…

      8. CatMintCat*

        My boss did most video meetings from his lounge room, with his wife rattling away in the kitchen, the 9 year old workin behind him and the cat sitting on his shoulder. I’m so thankful for this.

        1. Super Admin*

          My boss has to repeatedly move the cat out of the way when she stands in front of the camera. Her husband or kids creep into the back of the room every so often to get stuff. She’s opened her office window to take a parcel delivery in the middle of meetings. It is so reassuring when even department directors and VPs have the same problems as the rest of us!

      9. carolyn*

        I’ve been hoping I don’t come off badly around this. I’m in my mid-20s, but moved back in with parents while a lot of my coworkers are in sisters apartments. I’ve taken meetings from basically either my childhood bedroom, my siblings childhood bedroom, or the basement. I’m not rich, but yes, my parents have a bigger house than my apartment would be!

      10. DarnTheMan*

        Maybe this is why my work hasn’t handed down any strange edicts since this all started; our CEO has been working from his kitchen table because the only dedicated office in his house was dibsed by his wife because she was working from home well before COVID.

    3. chewingle*

      All of my relatives are a 10+ hour drive away. Because I had to move for work. Privileged indeed.

    4. Justme, the OG*

      I could have my mom watch my kid. Except she also works from home and has more meetings than I do.

      1. Dawbs*

        And when the childcare option is “grandma”, you’ve got the increased odds that they’re older, which makes them more at risk. My kid has 4 grandparents and all of them are at high risk–even if they weren’t high risk because of age, every one has something that makes me need to protect them.

        We’re making things work. It was easier when everybody was 100% at home–then it was easy to have them as a part of our ‘bubble’.
        But my husband and I both work with ‘the public’ (he’s essential, I’m not)–which means we have germ exposure.
        If things spike in my county again (and they well may), I’m going to have to push the grandparents back out of the bubble, for their protection (because our immediate family bubble is possibly very infected). Which shoots my chance at childcare (as well as upsetting the kid and the grandparents).

        (And the other family childcare I have would be Covid-deniers. Who are outside of our bubble for the OPPOSITE reason)

    5. Bre*

      Mixing households is against CDC guidelines in a bunch of places. It’s not like someone watching kids can do so outside from six feet apart all day either. So maddening.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Mixing households is how my brother, his wife, and their small children contracted Covid – his mother-in-law’s house is corona central.

      2. Not A Girl Boss*

        Yep. We had a heartbreaking call with a coworker today who’s young kid picked up COVID at his 2-day-a-week hybrid school program and gave it to grandma, who is now hospitalized.

    6. Media Monkey*

      in the UK we were specifically told not to have grandparents watching children during lockdown. something about not mashing up the most vulnerable group with a group that are massive disease vectors? so what other relatives are likely to be available to watch children?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        My sister’s employer told her to drop her kids off with me (I don’t have kids and was uneemployed) since ‘she’s only a few miles away and doesn’t have a job or kids of her own’

        And I was asked. And pointed out 1) my house is not kid friendly at all 2) I don’t even like being around kids so would make a rotten guardian and 3) I’m disabled and therefore higher risk.

        Her firm then told her to ‘ask your neighbours then’. No clue.

      2. JustaTech*

        Let’s see, my husband’s cousin lives in the same city as us. We never see them socially, only when other family comes into town or there’s a big family celebration (wedding or something), and my husband’s cousin, while a successful businessman also has the risk-taking instincts of a teenage boy. Oh, and he works full time. So I guess we would ask his wife? Who we basically don’t know? Who is probably thrilled to only have one “child” to look after now that her kids are all in college?

        Yeah, I can see that going over like a lead balloon.
        (We don’t have kids.)

    7. Emma*

      Anyone who was working in the office prior to covid shouldn’t have any trouble with the dress code aspect. But even though I have plenty of professional attire, this is still patently absurd. Hell, the last time I saw our head of legal on a video call, she was wearing a workout top of some sort and had her hair in a messy bun. I’m sure if the meeting had been higher level she would have dressed differently. It’s almost as if different standards are acceptable for different scenarios.

    8. Darsynia*

      Overall it seems that so many ‘manager types’ are having trouble with empathy and disparity in the pandemic. Just now my 5 year old came and told me her gym teacher has told her today is ‘family obstacle course’ day and he wanted parents and siblings to participate. Then she told me I ‘had to’ follow her through the house with the camera so the teacher and classmates could see her obstacle course.

      I get that the teachers want to encourage the kids to have something fun for gym at home, and that some kids have younger siblings, and some parents are bored supervising e-learning and would love to do stuff like that. But the truth is, many families are struggling, many parents are too busy working from home to help, and asking kids to *show their house* to classmates is honestly a terrible idea. I wish more companies and schools would think about the implications of their policies and activities on the families who don’t fit into the stereotype of ‘upper middle class family with 2 parents, one of whom is a full time stay at home parent.’

  3. Dasein9*

    Hard cringe at “make your home more of a professional space.”

    No. Just. . . no. It’s a home.

    Yes, many people have a professional space in their home, but expecting people’s whole homes to be “a professional space” is exploitative and unreasonable.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Especially when you refuse to commit to any kind of timeline. “Make your home a professional space, even though we may call you back to the office next week.”

      1. Code Monkey the SQL*

        That’s an excellent point. They are refusing to provide leadership while simultaneously demanding more professionalism from employees who are trying to cope with absurd circumstances. That’s definitionally unfair and unreasonable.

      2. Researcher*

        Yep, this is my hang up.

        If the company could tell me, “we’ve decided that your position will be 100% remote (or 3 days per week remote, etc.) in the future” and these will be the expectations…sure, I’d be happy to start looking into necessary arrangements. However, expecting it to be done *now*, and then to undo it all whenever they deem necessary, is unreasonable and a bit disrespectful.

      3. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I bought an actual desk and office chair for our guest room/office *only* when it was announced in June that we’d be home until the first of the year at the earliest. From March – June I had a tiny vanity table and dining room chair. And I’m aware that I’m privileged to 1) have a home with a space were I can put a desk and 2) afford to buy a desk.

        Boooooooo on this company.

        1. Artemesia*

          MY SIL has his WFH desk in his toddler son’s room; his wife has the alcove downstairs that used to be the nursery. So if the toddler doesn’t have day care like last Monday, Dad has no obvious place to work during nap time. And of course day care is always a pins and needles thing — they haven’t had an outbreak yet — but could any day.

        2. DataGirl*

          I’ve been trying to buy a desk for my virtual learning teen for a month- there aren’t any available unless they are super expensive designer things for 1K or more.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Have you tried places like Target? They’ve got a lot of affordable choices online right now.

            1. DataGirl*

              We went to Ikea and everything was sold out. Tried online- Ikea, Wayfair, Overstock… nothing under 1K. I will try Target, thanks.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                We bought the Campaign Wood Writing Desk with Drawers in August. Nothing fancy, but sturdy, easy to assemble, and a drawer that will hold a laptop.

              2. Ophelia*

                We bought a wall-mounted, fold-down workbench from Home Depot. It wasn’t super cheap, but it was ok, it’s made of actual wood, and it’s plenty sturdy for use as a desk. It’s called the “quick bench” and I think it’s $120? There are a few different brands, all around the same price point. I think they’re still in stock.

              3. Bee*

                I found a $100 desk on Wayfair a month ago that I think was only in stock for about a week. And I’ve gone to look now and it’s still gone! But they definitely have cheap ones available, as long as you aren’t too picky. You just have to look often and buy it as soon as you find it. I was browsing for weeks and the selection seemed to change every day.

              4. Dawbs*

                We literally waited ALL SUMMER for the Ikea desk my kid wanted to end up in stock. Which, it finally did (YAY) but the shelves were BARE.

                You might also try the home improvement stores; Home Depot has them in stock local to me.

              5. Insert Clever Name Here*

                I had the same experience getting mine. I was stalking several things and when I found out Ikea had something in stock, I dropped everything, told my boss I was taking a sick day, and drove 3 hours round trip. 2020 is insanity.

          2. Werd Nerd*

            We bought a desk for our daughter in early August and were told it would be here in late September. Last update they said it would be late October. I will be lucky to get it by spring I think.

            1. DataGirl*

              That sucks Werd Nerd. We waited until September as our state doesn’t start school until after Labor Day, and at the time daughter insisted she could do school with a laptop on her bed. A week of that and her back was killing her, but by that time everything was sold out.

          3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

            Cheap door or other broad plank of something from your favorite building supplier, and then two cheap file cabinets (or two of anything else that’s the right height.)

            1. Triumphant Fox*

              yeah – my desk downstairs is a flat door from craigslist with two barstools underneath. I put some of those drawer liners between the stool and the door so it doesn’t move. This has been my desk for 8 years now and I love it. Even has the hole from the doorknob for cords!

            2. Tin Cormorant*

              When I was a kid, one of the many desks in my dad’s study was literally just some planks resting on cinder blocks.

            3. LizM*

              This is what I used in high school. The hole for the door knob is the perfect size to run cords through, so that was an added bonus.

            4. Workerbee*

              That’s what my dad has done for decades! Took a slider door from a recessed wardrobe and put that on two metal stands that double as under desk storage. He’s got more space than normal desks. :)

            5. EchoGirl*

              I have a desk like this — just a big finished plank over filing cabinets. We inherited it when we bought the house so I have no clue where it came from or why they went with that, just “oh, guess that’s a thing”. (It’s currently on two file cabinets and a shelf bracket, actually, because I found that if I could put it so the right half hangs over the radiator, it doesn’t get in the way nearly as much; the bracket provides support without blocking the radiator like a file cabinet would.)

          4. Ally McBeal*

            Wayfair has a wealth of options – I’m seeing some very stylish options for around $225. I also grew up with my “desk” being either a folding card table or the old dining room table after we got a new one (my brother’s dresser was repurposed from the changing table we’d both put our poopy butts on as babies… we’re a thrifty family).

          5. A Non E. Mouse*

            Can you make one?

            I made myself one out of two file cabinets I found at a thrift store and a large (deep) shelf for a top I purchased from a home improvement store.

            We made one for our teen out of scrap wood for one end, a cheap metal shelving unit from Walmart for the other, and another shelf like mine for a top.

            Most desks are 30″ tall, and the shelves I used only came in certain depths – so carry a tape measure when shopping and keep in mind you can add feet (hardware store) to make a file cabinet or bookshelf taller if needed.

          6. NotAnotherManager!*

            We are spectacularly classy people, but my tween is working on the plastic folding table we use for Girl Scout Cookie sales and picnics with a $6 desk organizer from Staples and a portable file box for storage. The table was $50-60 on Amazon, but Costco has them for in-store purchase cheaper.

          7. Director of Alpaca Exams*

            Our kid’s “desk” is an adjustable-height table designed for a classroom; we just extend the legs as the child gets taller. It’s sturdy and easy to clean and will serve us for years. Search Am*zon for ECR4Kids and you’ll find many different table and desk options in stock.

          8. TiffIf*

            My roommate was working for months on a laptop stand with a desktop setup (desktop on the floor, monitor keyboard and mouse on laptop stand). Then her work started requiring everyone to have second monitors (they provided them) so she needed a place to put them. She had looked at Ikea and Walmart and there were a few option (in the low 100-200 range) but ended up instead getting one super cheap on Facebook Marketplace/Craigslist (can’t remember which).

          9. Lily C*

            We made a partners’ desk in our home office a few years ago from two butcher block countertops from Ikea, with a Kallax (the one with the square openings) bookcase laid on its side to support one end, and adjustable height legs on the other end. It’s a bit high (i have my chair set to the highest it will go and I sit on a pillow), but nice and wide and deep and sturdy.

            1. Chinook*

              My 2×4 Kallax is my desk. I use the shelves as foot rests (I sit like a yogi) as my books are far enough back not to kick them. I am lucky enough that it is the right height for me.

          10. FriendlyCanadian*

            You need to check back in with IKEA every day. They get small batches of desks, if you do that and are not picky on color you’ll be fine

          11. Old Woman in Purple*

            I got lucky and found a decent one at a local Thrift Store for ~$35.

            Considering current demand for affordable desks, you might have to ‘haunt’ said thrift stores with some regularity for a while. Persistence pays eventually, tho. :)

          12. Thrifter*

            If you have a Goodwill/thrift stores nearby, those can be good places to find furniture. Garage sales as well, but there probably aren’t many of those now that it’s getting colder.

        3. Darsynia*

          And, not for nothing, but these companies may still be paying rent/lease/mortgage on buildings that they’re not fully using, but heating, cooling, and electricity bills for those spaces are probably down. It feels like it’s universal to expect most employees to cover their own electricity, internet, and furniture costs for WFH, not to mention many companies have had people use their own computer equipment.

          At what point do employees push back and say, ‘if you’re going to expect my home to look like an office, you need to lend me the tools from my office at work to furnish my home in the way you’re expecting it to look?’

          Admittedly I’m seeing this from the outside, watching my husband WFH, with only a few pieces that he’s programming code for brought home from work. Everything else is what we’ve provided–fast internet, desk, chair, monitors, computer, etc. It just feels like a lot of the costs usually ascribed to ‘doing business’ are wholly onto the employees now. Yes, we had some of those things already, but the lifetime of a chair when you sit on it for 2 hours a day vs. 11 hours a day is decreased.

      4. Rose by another name*

        100% agree on this. I’ve been renting a desk at a coworking space since summer because I moved to a team that relies more on video calls, and there was no reasonable way to meet my job’s expectations for appearance and background noise in my apartment. (For various reasons, the expense needs to be on my plate and there are many fantastic things about the job that make up for this inconvenience.) But because I don’t have a timeline on returning, I don’t know whether to sign a 6-12 month contract, which would be cheaper *if* I have to provide my own office for that long.

      5. Elenna*

        But y’know, everyone has spare cash to buy office supplies with, and spare relatives to drop kids off with, without any inconvenience to their future budget? Right? Surely a few hundred dollars of office supplies can’t be a big deal? And of course everyone has homes with plenty of extra rooms, don’t they? :P

        Yeah, it’s pretty clearly a case of “the C-levels have forgotten/never knew what everyone else’s life is like”.

        1. Phred*

          If you don’t have enough space, maybe you can talk your butler into giving up his dressing room for a few months–make him use his sitting room instead.

      6. OP*

        OP here. This is exactly my biggest issue with it. Even as a well-paid senior manager, I don’t want to spend a bunch of money on my home office when I’m only using it temporarily. What’s been communicated to me is that once we are all able to go back, WFH will be going away except in very special circumstances and then only very occasionally. I hope they change their minds about that – I am certain we will lose a ton of good employees.

        1. LizM*

          This is my fear. Pre-COVID, we had a really strict telework policy. To turn around and reinstate it, after we’ve been keeping my agency functioning at almost 100% telework for months, will be a huge slap in the face and I think we will lose employees over it.

        2. PersephoneUnderground*

          And it’s especially unreasonable if the company won’t front the money! My company (a small semi-nonprofit, about 50 people total, not rolling in cash) approved reimbursement up to $150 when we started remote work, then again after a few months, adding up to $300 total to spend on home office setupd while working remote. It’s not a ton, but it’s enough that people can cover an inexpensive chair or headphones/camera/microphone without paying out of pocket. And if they needed something more expensive they were supposed to raise it with their manager, not just expected to cover it themselves. Now that this has been going on a while *the company* should be used to it and better able to manage the business expenses.

          Sorry, I don’t know how helpful this is, but my point is that your company is failing on multiple levels at this, and you’re right to think it should be handled differently. If the company doesn’t care enough to pay for these things they don’t get to enforce them either. Sheesh.

      7. B*

        Exactly. My spouse held out for six months with a makeshift set up and only bought a real desk once it was announced it would be at least another six months. And his company provided a stipend to all employees to cover this so it wasn’t a cost issue, we just didn’t want to rearrange the whole house for a short term thing. I can’t imagine doing this at our own cost knowing it might be unnecessary any day now.

    2. Everdene*

      I have recently created an office space for myself as I won’t be going back to the office for a long time. I have gone the opposite of ‘professional’. I have/am designing for joy and comfort. This is my home and I want it to still feel like my space not something filled with corporate branding.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Right, this is like… the *only* perk of having to put in cash to create a home office.

        Of course, if my company wants to pay the outrageous monies to have someone come set up a full on corporate cubicle, with my old beloved standing desk and collating stapling copier and giant white board, I’d be willing to negotiate the hominess factor.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Right? Are you giving me an allowance for my space? No? Then thank you very much, I will keep my house to my liking. Seems like companies don’t quite see the difference as the usual unicorn work-from-home perk and mandatory work-from-home. If you hire me to WFH and want me to have a dedicated office, sure, I can choose to accept that job and condition or not. This, not so much.

        For what it is worth, my company went from a very pro-WFH attitude where they kept telling us we would keep doing it as long as it continued to be successful to “everyone get back to the office asap” practically overnight, back in July. They phased in the office return, and I have been full-time at the office since 8/31. Some started back the last week of July, though. Most people are back at least part-time.

        1. Hlyssande*

          Mine just started phase 2 of bringing everyone back to the office. We started phase 1 in June.

          The exec for my group pushed hard for everyone to be back as soon as it was allowed. The only people still WFH are immune-compromised or have children in e-learning.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            We have a few return hold-outs who don’t have a health or family reason. The official message may be “that’s okay, you do what you need to do” but in one-on-ones, I hear different words about those folks.

            1. Crivens!*

              That’s terrible. I’m job searching and will continue to be a WFH holdout because I care about safety and it sucks that people are being judged for that.

        2. Mel_05*

          Sad! Mine has been the opposite. They quickly moved us to WFH, but were very anxious to get us all back in the office ASAP. The longer this has dragged on, the more they’ve become flexible with out work arrangements.

          Right now, people are allowed to work in the office, but there are strict rules for doing so. Most people have opted not to, especially if they don’t have an office with a door. My department has discussed it and decided not to come back till 2021 and the idea has been floated that we might…just not.

      3. Ally McBeal*

        I recently moved into a much larger apartment (in a much lower COL area) and one of the pages on my planning notebook has a little section where I’d originally written “buy a desk?” then scratched it out and said “just work off your dining room table until you know what’s happening at work.” Past Me gives solid advice.

    3. Researcher*

      A company-provided Zoom background with their logo, etc., and a generic set of earbuds with integrated microphone would go a long way toward accomplishing their goals without asking employees to re-work their homes and occupants.

      And it’s a relatively small expense to the company.

      1. Super Admin*

        This is what my company has done (though we’re allowed pretty much any background for internal meetings – mine is an F1 track!) – we have plain backgrounds with the company logo, or photos of the office, or even Pride and Black History Month backgrounds for everyone to use, and we have company provided wireless headsets (with a choice of styles, so you can have ear buds, full headphones, or a set with a flip down mic). I recognise I am lucky that my company provides this, but really this should be the BASIC requirements for a company expecting people to WFH at this time.

    4. Diahann Carroll*

      I would say, “Sure, I’ll make my home more professional – as soon as you give me the raise I need to be able to afford to move out of my studio apartment and into a two bedroom. I’ll convert one of the rooms into a home office, but I’ll also need a stipend to buy the equipment.”

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Also, do something about the fact that decent houses/apartments are super expensive in my area.

    5. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I’m laughing because my flat right now looks like a junkyard, we had to move all the stuff we hid in the kitchen to make space for the washing machine technician. I’d laugh for days if my boss threatened to fire me because of it.

    6. InfoSec SemiPro*

      One of the things my company has done that I enjoy is lean into the refrain that we are uninvited guests in our staff’s homes right now, and we expect management to behave accordingly.

      No, it’s not a professional space. Work, work stuff, work people, work demands have invaded our staff’s personal space, without warning or consent, during a global emergency. Be polite, be generous, be gentle, be grateful for what people can and are doing during this time.

      The idea of demanding that people make their homes “professional” and “free of distractions” while schools can’t operate is mind boggling overreach and everyone involved who thought that message was okay needs to be visited by three ghosts and a muppet.

      1. SeluciaMD*

        I love your company. This is a beautiful and 100% accurate sentiment that EVERY SINGLE WORKPLACE should be endorsing. While we are all required to WFH (or while it is still the best most prudent option for personal and public health) the work stuff is regularly invading space that most of us treated as our own little sacrosanct oasis. It boggles my mind that so many companies do not seem to understand this.

      2. lisa*

        “We are uninvited guests in our staff’s homes right now, and we expect management to behave accordingly …” I love this so much I want to embroider it on a pillow, or frame it as a cross-stitch sampler.

      3. OP*

        I love this attitude! I might adopt it with my team once these new standards are released to the whole staff. They work SUPER hard and the last thing I want is for morale to tank because of this.

        1. Super Admin*

          You are a good manager – your team will be super grateful that you recognise the situation is cruddy, and that you’re more invested in their morale and wellbeing than abiding by arbitrary rules.

      4. ChiJD Doug*

        Thank you for this. I hadn’t seen it articulated before, but my dog (home office companion) and I endorse it *100%*.

    7. Chinook*

      It can also lead into religious or cultural discrimination. I would never bring in “religious” articles to my office but they are hung predominantly around my house. I use Teams backgrounds, so no one can see, but I would be resentful if I was told to remove a crucifix or icon or Bible because it was deemed to unprofessional. This is my home that my place of business is insisting I use at no extra cost to them. It is eerily intrusive for my boss to tell me what I can or cannot display in my own home.

    8. Ryn*

      I don’t like to use the line “corporate fascism” a lot since it’s so often hyperbole, but this is literally “We control every aspect of your life and have the power to force you to change things about your entire life for the benefit of our profit, and if you don’t comply you will no longer have access to the money you need to secure food and shelter.”

  4. Partly Cloudy*

    Just… what? How is it possible to be so out of touch with reality? Are they going to fire people for “non-compliance” (using quotes because compliance implies choice, which a lot of people do not have)?

    1. anon73*

      Someone mentioned it above…it’s all about privilege. They can afford a live-in nanny that can take care of their kids, and have big houses with a dedicated office space away from any distractions. And they can’t even imagine* how us regular people struggle with everyday things in the middle of a pandemic.

      *And yes I realize I’m generalizing and not everyone is this way, but we see this attitude frequently with upper level execs.

      1. babblemouth*

        Right. My department lead is a single mom, and has been emphasizing that a lot, in terms of “I understand what you’re going through”. But it turns out, her kid goes to boarding school. So as a single mom, she only has a child in the house in the weekends. Not *quite* what the rest of the parents in the team have to deal with… So when she works overtime, and expects everyone to deliver on the same schedule as before… there’s a lot of unhappy people in the team.

    2. That is Important to Say Aloud*

      Excellent point about *compliance* relying on *choice*. Like, it’s technically implicit, but it doesn’t feel like anyone says that out loud very often. Work is already so riddled with a distorted idea of “choice”, and it’s important to remember that people are supposed to *have* choice about so many aspects of this.

  5. JC*

    This annoys me because most people can’t magic up a home office or spare bedroom, and are still doing the best they can from the kitchen table or a makeshift desk. Long term maybe people can look at changing living situations to have less roommates or a dedicated space, but this is a real AH move by the company. Will they start reprimanding people for having family or pets around?

    1. A.N. O'Nyme*

      This is what I’m wondering – how do they intend to enforce this.
      Also will the company be paying for its employees to move into a different home? Because if you are demanding they have a “professional” space at home that would mean moving becomes a business expense, no?

      1. Elenna*

        Lol, good point. I’d be so tempted to email whoever’s pushing this with “So, each of my employees can now submit an expense report to be reimbursed for the cost of a new home, right?” Probably a bad idea, but I’d be tempted.

        Not to mention the cost of hiring nannies/pet-sitters for the presumably-many employees who don’t have magical relatives living in the same city with time to watch kids for 8+ hours a day…

        1. HR Bee*

          Yea, my nearest relatives live 7 1/2 HOURS away. Even if I was working from home (which I’m not, despite my best efforts to convince the leadership team otherwise), I couldn’t just magically create relatives across town. I do have a home office, but I didn’t at the start of the pandemic. And while my husband and I looked for homes, a flex space for that was at the top of my list. I was using a little thrown together corner in my basement. I’m assuming concrete block wall wouldn’t be considered “professional” enough.

          1. InfoSec SemiPro*

            My child’s nearest relatives are several states away. One works in medical testing so… Busy right now. And my in-laws are full on deniers so they aren’t getting a visit from their grandchild until I’m sure everyone involved has been vaccinated.

    2. 3DogNight*

      Agreed. I was given a stipend 10 years ago for a work from home set up. The stipend was $400. My desk is professionally set up, however, it’s in a room that I use for crafting, so behind me is never neat and “professional looking” by my day-job standards. This is beyond reach for the vast majority of employees.

      1. DataGirl*

        I finally broke down after 6 months working at the kitchen table and converted my sewing area into a desk. I bought a cheap room screen online to put behind my chair and block the mess behind me (mostly laundry)

    3. Kiki*

      Right. I think most people would have a very professional office setup if were feasible for them, the issue is that it is not feasible for most people in the year 2020.

  6. Oof*

    Is it possible that this is the result of one/a few individuals? I think we’ve all seen how managers often go by new rules rather than managing the ones with the problems. I think that’s worth investigating if there was a reason this came up.

    1. sacados*

      I think it’s more likely to be a result of the fact that the decision/policy makers are all people with large enough homes to have a separate private office/working space and spouses/nannies/tutors to take care of distance learning — so to them it all seems like a perfectly manageable request.

      1. AnonMurphy*

        Just to add the perspective of someone who professionally writes policies and standards (who is also a lady with kids and a dog who would be screwed by the enforcement of this policy and would push back at the writing level):

        Some companies (mine included) are actually accelerating operations and adding capacity. Often governance functions will set a policy according to ‘best practice’ (read: an ideal unrealistic in the business world). This allows them to demonstrate to clients/auditors that they have the Policy in place and they may even demonstrate (or be asked to demonstrate) that all employees read and accept.

        That’s why, as a senior manager, finding out your personal leeway to enforce is critical. I know it’s easy to think it’s an itchy trigger finger from someone in the C suite. It might very well be.

        But my job is both to help set policy like this and give guidance within the company for how it’s applied (with HR and Legal). Give us some credit.

        I said, while waiting in the car to get my kindergartener on the bus, and then rushing back to my dedicated workspace with toys on the floor.

    2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I second this, I worked somewhere that LOVED management-via-mass-email, and pretty much all it does is make the reasonable employees go “Oh no, was I the reason for the dress code email? Is my blouse see through and I don’t realize it? Did my skirt ride up at that last meeting? Were the leggings under a tunic sweater too casual for casual Friday? Am I being unprofessional?” while Lucinda-Just-Left-the-Nightclub is like “Awesome my leopard print tube top and booty shorts and glitter smoky eye are still in dress code!”

        1. Nesprin*

          When will people learn that the nastygram never hits its targets? Only the conscientious pay attention, and they usually weren’t the nastygram target in the first place.

      1. 2 Cents*

        Yep. Had a corowker whose thong was visible in her summer dress (why wear anything?) and she never thought those emails were for her. THEY WERE. (Also, managing by email was one of the many sins this place had.)

    3. Not A Girl Boss*

      I will begrudgingly admit this is a good point. While honestly, this is a pandemic and whatever you get as my background is what you get, I have seen some pretty uncomfortable things on work video that seemed really easily avoidable (Or, you know, just put up an electronic background? Or don’t turn on the video, which my company doesn’t require?).

      Notably, a toddler’s potty training toilet smack dab in the back corner of the screen every single day, complete with toddler demonstrating its use a few times. Piles of laundry featuring bras and undies. And the usual “I feel weird seeing into your bedroom” stuff like artfully nude pregnancy portraits and a wedding garter belt. We also partner with a foreign team and overheard a full on adult melt down temper tantrum with throwing/smashing things while on a call the other day. I assume there were a lot of swear words involved, but since I don’t speak the language I can only amuse myself by guessing….

      The point is, maybe this is a really, really, really horribly executed attempt at saying “guys I know this is a pandemic but maybe please don’t do grossly inappropriate things on video camera, ok??”

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        But if that’s the problem, it should be addressed in a general way for most people (“please try to limit distractions in the background”) and in a specific way for actual offenders (“your toddler going potty is a little distracting, can you please make sure it doesn’t show up, by moving it or using a background image?”)

        1. Not A Girl Boss*

          100% Agree. Its bad management either way. Just tilts the scales more toward “incompetence” than “gross privilege”.

      2. Artemesia*

        This is why individually managing is so important. The people who need to hear it, never hear it, when it is a general email to all. Ask everyone to use a virtual background, if there is someone inappropriately dressed, ask THAT person to wear a more professional top — don’t annoy and harass everyone. If someone has a lot of distracting family member incidents, be both sympathetic but also talk to them about thinking of ways to reduce that. Sometimes by scheduling times for meetings and some advance planning this can be better controlled. But don’t make everyone feel like dirt for living in these tough times.

      3. alienor*

        I was on a video call yesterday where one participant’s spouse/parter/roommate was lying stretched out on the couch behind them, with bare feet propped up and pointed directly at the camera. The person who was on the call noticed after a few minutes and re-angled their laptop, but there were lots of calluses and toe hairs in view until then.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Gotta admit, I’ve looked up a lot of co-workers’ noses since this all began. I’m fine with everyone leaving their cameras off!

      4. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Folding screens can be very useful in WFH situations, they come in various sizes and price points.

    4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Yes, and as well as being just a problem with a couple of individuals (rather than a ‘systemic’ issue) it may not necessarily be that the policy has come from “the c-suite” as a unified whole, as the OP seems to assume, either. It seems equally likely to me that one particular c-level person has gone out on their own initiative and sent this (based on the information given).

      It does seem to have an air of “run out of bread? Why don’t they just eat cake?!” about it, but I think on some level it’s a somewhat reasonable request if there really are continual disruptions and it comes off as unprofessional etc. I appreciate that some things like childcare can’t be easily solved, but six months is more than enough time IMO to get used to a “new normal”, clear out a workspace even if that is just in the corner of a bedroom, etc.

      In my role I work “cross-company” with a lot of different people and get involved in a lot of conference calls so I see how it is for many different people. What I’m finding is that (almost orthogonal to ‘life situation’ or whatever you want to call it) there seem to be some people who have adapted and some who seem to have just thrown their hands up and said “well, OH and I are both on calls in the dining room and sitting next to each other” – (well, could one of you use the bedroom for example?) – “nah, cos the way the bed is, there isn’t room to fit a desk in, we’d have to push it right up against the wall” or similar things.

      1. hbc*

        Yes, this seems a heavy-handed way to nudge the people who have the capability of tightening things up to actually do so. We had a guy who had his washer and dryer in the background in March, then got sick of the jokes and hid them with garish beach towels in May. By July, he had moved some stuff around and looked more professional. That’s the kind of trajectory most people should be hitting if possible.

        The key being “if possible.” The guy who has 6 roommates is going to have noise or random people walking through occasionally, even when doing his best.

        1. Chinook*

          Exactly. If the company is willing to work with what’s possible, then setting standards is a good idea. My students are encouraged to be dressed in office casual for class, which to me means a minimum “don’t come in pajamas and brush your hair.” We want them to have a professional background, so no naked toddlers potty training or random underwear, though I can understand if the toddler starts to randomly scream – some thins can be controlled while others can’t.

          1. TiffIf*

            I almost never use my camera (we’re not required to) but today I was involved in some second round interviews and my manager had specifically asked that I use my camera. I had to remind myself to get dressed this morning (at least form the waist up) since I am usually in my pajamas until about noon.

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Some of the things (like wearing more ‘professional’ clothing — presumably in line with what they would have been wearing before when they were working in the office, so it’s not like they would have to buy a load of new clothes as they would already have them — methinks there’s been a few too many “apartment t-shirts” etc on calls lately?) are eminently reasonable as “tightening up” for pretty much everyone.

          Where it diverges I suppose is in the “kids ought to be out of the picture [literally and figuratively], offloaded to Aunt or Uncle Ashley across town perhaps” sort of thing, as this is where individual people’s “leeway” is going to differ – as you say: “if possible”.

          It won’t be a popular opinion I’m sure, but I think if people do have the option to make alternate arrangements for children, pets etc then they should.

          1. Annony*

            I agree that asking for professional clothes is not really that unreasonable. Presumably they already have the wardrobe so it isn’t that much of an imposition. Even asking them to be aware of what can be seen in the background would be ok. There isn’t really a good excuse to have a pile of dirty laundry on screen.

            Making pets, kids and roommates disappear during working hours is where it crosses the line.

            1. C*

              The issue I can see with assuming that people already have the clothes is that it’s very common to gain some weight while cooped up. I wouldn’t be surprised if, while they have the clothes, they don’t necessarily fit.

              1. Quill*

                Or if, in the course of 7 months of not buying things, the professional clothes are showing wear.

                Signed, just split my favorite pants.

          2. Metadata minion*

            If people have a workable option, I’m sure they’re going to take it. Nobody *wants* to be trying to work while wrangling a three-year-old.

      2. Colette*

        Yeah, I think there are multiple issues here. The “professional workspace” could mean sit with your back to a relatively plain wall; most people have one of those somewhere in their home. Or it could mean to use an electronic background. Or it may be possible to angle the camera so that it doesn’t show any clutter/distractions. In itself, that’s not a terrible request.

        Depending on the business, “dress professionally” may not be terribly out of line, either. In my line of work, no one cares; but we also have a lot of flexibility with respect to dress in the office. If you usually wear suits to work, it’s not unreasonable to ask you to do that at home.

        But “ship your kids off to a hypothetical relative” isn’t reasonable – both because many people don’t have relatives with nothing to do but babysit, and because it is a pandemic and that kind of thing will make it worse, not better.

      3. SeluciaMD*

        I wonder though – would most C-suite executives have enough day-to-day interaction with the staff this policy appears to be targeting for this to be a reaction to those kinds of situations? I’d wager not. I imagine those experiences are being had by managers and team leads who, based on the OP’s presentation, were decidedly NOT the driving force behind this new policy. Which makes me circle back around to C-suite execs making edicts from a place of privilege and complete disconnect from the realities of WFH for the average person during a pandemic.

        I am so thankful my boss isn’t like this. We’re a human services organization that works mainly with kids and families and most of our employees have kids or live in multi-generational homes or have pets or roommates or some combination thereof. While we have stricter requirements when staff are having video calls/meetings with clients because of confidentiality requirements, for the in-house stuff? We’re all used to seeing eachothers’ family members and pets and stuff from time to time and it’s fine. It’s not “unprofessional” it’s just reality during pandemic times.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          would most C-suite executives have enough day-to-day interaction with the staff this policy appears to be targeting for this to be a reaction to those kinds of situations?

          probably not. Which is why I suspect it’s an individual c-suite exec who has a trigger finger and has encountered ‘enough’ (perhaps 2-3 in a short timespan) instances to prompt a blast email.

  7. singularity*

    What are the consequences for *not* complying with the new policy? I don’t understand how this can even be enforced. You’re going to reprimand employees who might have rambunctious toddlers or dogs? What if they care for an elderly relative who needs supervision or comes into the room for something? This is putting the job of controlling the impossible on the employees shoulders.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    You may want to remind your employers that not everyone has “a relative across town” who has nothing else to do but provide childcare to employees.

    My parents are in their 90s and in another time zone. I’m rolling my eyes.

    1. KimmyBear*

      This. My local family members are in their 80s and not able to help with PreK zoom calls. My preschooler teaches them how to use the computer.

    2. WantonSeedStitch*

      Even if they DO have someone in that position, it is not the employer’s prerogative to impose on that person, who does not work for them, in order to accommodate the employer’s wishes for a “distraction-free” environment.

    3. Code Monkey the SQL*

      Yeah, my “relatives across town” are healthcare workers in another city. Our daycare reopened, but if it closed again, we’d be right back up the creek from April.

      It’s the reason I turned down managing a project and decided to not apply for a promotion this year. There’s 0 guarantee I can keep my quiet workspace (dining room table) if cases rise in our area.

    4. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes, the number of people who have a relative who lives in the same city and is in good enough health to take care of young kids nearly full time but who is not working at their own job is relatively small, even in non-pandemic times. And then when you add in complications from pandemic risk and whatnot, and it’s just a laughably unrealistic solution for most people (and for the handful of people where it’s reasonable – most of them have already thought of it!).

      Plus, do you want the kids to go to Grandma’s non-childproof house or senior living apartment or whatever every day? Because if Grandma comes to the employee’s house, you’re still going to get occasional kid noise on a conference call.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        That’s our situation. We can’t send the kids to the senior housing during COVID. It’s not permitted, and we wouldn’t do it if it was. If grandma comes over to help out, the kids are still in the background. Because why? Because four of us live in two rooms.

        Thank goodness my company is being really decent about work-from-home. Some people just don’t think.

    5. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      This. My cousin asked my mother if she could take care of her newborn, and she declined. Her mother is younger than mine, she can asks her. (And my mother has her plate full taking care of her and my dad’s health)

    6. Third or Nothing!*

      All of our parents except one are still employed full time, and there’s no way in Hell I’d entrust my daughter to my angry father on a full time basis. Plus he’s 3 1/2 hours away so that’s a moot point anyway.

    7. Pink Dahlia*

      Hell, my aged parent is the one I’m caretaking. Sorry you don’t like hearing the screams of a woman with sundowner’s, Mr. Hotshot CEO. I’m also not terribly thrilled about it.

    8. NotAnotherManager!*

      All of our parents are in their mid-70s. Two live 8 hours away, and the two who live one hour away are disabled and still employed full-time. And 3/4 of them are in more high-risk categories than just age and live in a less densely populated and lower COVID-per-capita are than we do.

    9. juliebulie*

      This is the home where the children live. It’s gross overreaching to insist that they be stashed someplace else for the company’s convenience! It’s like the company is saying “your house isn’t big enough for both your employer and your children… so your kids have got to go!”

    10. Gamer Girl*

      Yep, closest relatives are a quick 8 hour drive away… And one is immunocompromised! The others live just a short hop, skip, and ocean away…

      But yes, just let me buy a plane ticket and ship my kids off to Grandma’s.

  9. kiwidg1*

    In my opinion, these stricter standards need to go away forever. I had hoped that COVID WFH situations would prove to management that it doesn’t matter whether you have kids and dogs around if you can do the work. I’m not against reasonable dress standards and best attempts at reducing distractions in camera view, especially on client-facing calls.
    Everything else should be a chill out moment with reflection on “how much does this matter”.

    Of course, that means adults need to act like adults, and managers need to treat them like adults.

    Like the OP, I’d rather see the dog staring out the window than watch them try to control a howling dog.

    1. Lance*

      The dog part is easily one of the most foolish parts of the whole, to me. Dogs are social creatures; do they really think a dog locked away from everyone else is going to create less noise and distraction than a dog allowed to be near their human(s) if they want to be?

      1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

        My cats too. They’re fine if I let them come and go. A little distracting when they jump on the desk or whatever, but if I close the door and shut them out it is as though I have told them I was never feeding them again. They HOWL and cry at the door and try to break it down. It is MUCH worse to boot them out than to just indulge them.

        1. FUISA*

          You’re comment is funny! My cat does exactly the same thing. If I give him free reign he’ll come sit on the desk and watch me then go find a place to sleep but if I lock him in the bedroom he howls like he’s being tortured and claws the door and knocks things over.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          Yep. I haven’t used the bathroom with a closed door in two years. A door between the dogs and their Nomsgiver is unacceptable according to them.

              1. knitcrazybooknut*

                Yes. My husband is pretty handy, construction-wise. He sawed off the bottom foot of the door, and attached a piece of nice wood to the bottom. It just looks like a weird stripe on an abbreviated door.

            1. CommanderBanana*

              I will shamefully admit I did once try to hide in the bathroom to eat chocolate ice cream because the dogs can’t have any. I was found out.

        3. DataGirl*

          My cats HATE closed doors. They can have no interest in going into a particular room but close the door and OMG THEY WILL DROP DEAD RIGHT NOW IF THEY CAN’T GET IN.

          1. Artemesia*

            Alas our last cat is gone now and we didn’t get another since we do extended travel — or did — sure wish we had a cat now but still hope to do extended travel so we wait. I remember all those years when if you were in the bathroom with door closed, their would be a small paw swiping under the door trying to get your attention.

            1. DataGirl*

              Mine will run in to the bathroom with me, then get upset if I close the door. Like, look dude, you wanted in here, you can wait two seconds for me to finish and open the door again.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                Excuse me, but I want to be with you when *I* want to be with you, and I need to be able to leave on a moment’s notice.
                – your cat

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              It’s been about five years since we lost our cat who was deeply offended by closed doors, but I can still see that paw swiping around under the door any time I had to pee. He’d sleep the entire afternoon unless you shut him out of a room, any room, in which case he’d yowl piteously until someone rectified the situation.

        4. Delta Delta*

          I have a cat by my foot right now who is currently sleeping peacefully, but if I were to shut him out of the room would howl like he is being tortured. I tried it once and he got his paw stuck under the door (this led to a couple bloody claws and torn carpet). So – the occasional cat walk-through happens. Although, in 8 months of zoom/teams/webex/google/gotomeeting life, he’s only participated in 2 things, so I’m calling that a success. (the other cat sits on my chair behind me and is too important to try to go on camera. At least that’s the message she conveys.)

        5. Keymaster of Gozer*

          If I try to shut my cat in a room for longer than a minute I’d come back to a wrecked room. He’s a very large and very stroppy animal. Let him wander round the house though and the worst you’ll get is a meow in the background. Far more preferable than the sound of amateur demolition going on upstairs.

          1. Quill*

            Our departed dog just wanted to talk, all the time, but locking him in a room? He would howl the house down.

            But left to his own devices he’d just sleep wherever.

      2. SassyAccountant*

        I know right? If I was home, and locked my dogs in a bedroom, the barking and SCREAMING that would occur from my two pups would be worse than if they just sat in my lap or were in the same room as I was, wandering around. This all spoken like people who have no pets, no children/live in help/stay at home spouse, and a dedicated room just for work.

        1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          Yes – you should hear our dogs howl when we leave the house. If you didn’t know they were extremely well-cared for and loved, you would think we were torturing and ripping their toenails out. All because their beloved humans DARED to leave the house. I can attest that they calm down within a few minutes, but when they hear the garage open back up when we arrive home, they pick back up again too.

      3. Ali G*

        Yeah I am working in a very large closet right now. The door has glass panes in it. The difference between the door being open and the dog deciding to lay in his bed just outside the door and the door being closed (even though he can still see me) is: dog quietly snoozing v clawing at the door and loudly whining. Which one is “more professional?”

      4. Lavender Menace*

        This! My dog lurks around in my home office all day. Mostly she just lays on the floor or the couch snoozing. The only time she gets feisty is when she wants to go outside, which is once around 2 pm.

        Now if I try to keep her outside the room, she scratches at the door and whines until I let her in.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Right?

      At this point, I’m totally used to hearing the occasional barking dog or crying child in the background. Prior to the pandemic, that noise would get a chuckle. Now, no one cares.

      I don’t get this?

      1. WhatWhat*

        And I wonder how the company would handle if a neighbor’s dog was barking? I literally just had this happen. It is a nice day and I have a window open and my neighbor’s dog was out for a walk and went crazy over something.
        I think it helps break up the monotony when I hear someone’s pet in the background. And like you said, at this point, it is no longer a thing.

      2. Lavender Menace*

        I love it when people’s kids show on camera. They’re usually adorable, and whatever issue they have is usually solved quickly. In fact, the parents are almost always far more bothered about it than I am.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      I do believe there are people who deliberately call attention to their pets, and that’s something they can easily stop. But yeah, locking up a dog? Is NOT going to make the dog less disruptive.

      1. Anonymous at a University*

        +1 The host had to ask a few people in a Zoom meeting I was in yesterday to stop chatting to everybody about their dogs as it was confusing people who were trying to use the chat to ask and answer questions. That was an example of, “Stop centering your pets in a work discussion.”

        But that’s a far cry from, “Lock your dog in the closet.”

      2. Not A Girl Boss*

        Yeah, like, I don’t let my dog in my lap unless its a truly social call vs a work meeting. That’s about as far as is reasonable to expect.

        My house is built poorly, so no quantity of doors between me and the dogs is going to keep everyone on the call from hearing that the mail man has arrived. I even tried buying those non-shock bark collars for them and moving every surface they could possibly climb on to see out a window and observe things to bark at. Useless. At this point, I have just accepted defeat.

      3. CommanderBanana*

        My small dog sleeps in my lap below camera range, but I do occasionally have to put her on my shoulder and pat her when she gets upset by a noise or bad dream.

    4. iglwif*

      Seriously.

      Since my kiddo went off to uni and my spouse went back to the office part-time, I have spent a large part of each workday with a 20lb dog in my lap. Is it convenient? Not really. Is it better than being yelled at because he feels alone and neglected, and having the also-working-at-home neighbours complain to the property manager that my dog is barking all day? YES.

      Fortunately my company is totally reasonable about this stuff and instead of complaining about babies and pets on zoom calls, happily says hello to them when they turn up.

  10. Richard Hershberger*

    “…a strict dress code for video calls…”

    They will never know whether I am wearing pants.

    1. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

      Are you sure? They may be one of those companies that makes you stand up to show you are professionally dressed.

        1. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

          I know it was with Skype interviews several years ago. One of my friends had to stand up and turn around so that the interviewers could see that he was “appropriately” dressed.

          1. SeluciaMD*

            I cannot even with that bulls#!t. I think that would be the moment I’d withdraw from consideration and end the call. Because SERIOUSLY? What is wrong with people???

            1. Quill*

              Similar to the recruiter who made me download their company’s preferred video chatting app (not at all a commmon one) without instructions until an hour and a half before the interview and then lectured me about needing to be “more familiar with the technology” and also did not have an actual job application on hand.

          2. Rebecca Stewart*

            When Boyfriend has been interviewing from home, he has been wearing the professional shirt and tie with the elastic-waist black khakis and dark thick wool socks. That’s pretty much what he’ll wear to WFH if he gets the job. So far no one has said anything about it. The elastic-waist khakis are far more comfortable to sit in than his dress slacks, and they all look the same on camera.

          1. Justme, the OG*

            My daughter’s friend doing Zoom school has to be in full uniform, including socks and shoes. My kid is in her pajamas and I’m in a work mullet (nice shirt with exercise pants and slippers). I’ve done meetings with my big boss (college dean) and he’s in a polo or sweatshirt, university branded. I just don’t get the fascination with looking the same when working from home as working from your office.

            1. Not A Girl Boss*

              I went through a period of insanity this summer where I only wore work-appropriate skirts in my non-air-conditioned house because “appropriate.” Now I have finally embraced the work mullet (sweaters + yogas) and am in heaven. Honestly, so much better for sitting all day.

            2. DarnTheMan*

              That was me all summer (or at least until my window AC unit got installed); dressy short sleeved blouse on the top half, cutoff shorts and bare feet on the bottom.

          2. Amphian*

            I have not worn shoes at home in decades. I would keep a pair of slip ons under my desk, put them on, stick my feet in the camera, and slip them off. Why the @#*$ do people care how you are dressed working from home?

            1. Not A Girl Boss*

              Every time I have to wear shoes these days its an affront to my senses. So uncomfortable and unnecessary.

              1. Zephy*

                The 10 weeks earlier this year that my office was 100% WFH were amazing. No shoes, no bras, no problem.

                1. Partly Cloudy*

                  “No shoes, no bra, no problem”

                  Now THIS would make a most excellent embroidered pillow.

            2. Nanani*

              Forcing people to wear shoes inside the house goes against a LOT of cultural norms.
              No, Bosses, you don’t get to override the NO SHOES IN THE HOUSE rule of my house.

              1. allathian*

                Yeah, definitely. In many countries, there’s a total cultural ban on shoes indoors. They’re left in a rack at the front door.

                Even when we used to invite friends over, everyone was in stockinged feet. We haven’t hosted any formal parties, those we’ve attended in other people’s homes, the standard is to bring a nice pair of clean dress shoes. Some people who often go to parties like this keep a pair of nice dress shoes purely for indoor use.

          3. Half-Caf Latte*

            We don’t even bring our shoes in the house. I literally do not have shoes I will wear in my home.

            1. Rebecca Stewart*

              I have feet that require shoes (collapsed arches plus plantar fasciitis plus a leg length difference) and so I have shoes that are for going out of the house and shoes that never go out of the house. The only time I can lounge around barefoot is if I’m not going to stand up.

          4. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

            I know so many households that don’t wear shoes in the house. For some its a cultural thing. (example Japanese households) Some its Brand New Carpet! Or mud season on a farm. Or a comfort thing. I can not think of 1 legitimate reason for a company or school to require shoes in virtual meetings. Not a 1.

          5. Chinook*

            Nope – I draw the line at shoes. I am Canadian and this goes against my cultural beliefs!! We DO NOT wear shoes in our houses. Full stop! It is the one thing we have in common with the Japanese.

            – signed, the bare footed Canuck.

            1. allathian*

              I hear you. I’m in Finland and wearing shoes indoors is almost taboo. Even on formal occasions when going in stockinged feet would not be OK, most people here keep a pair of clean dress shoes around for this purpose. Our roads are covered in snow for at least 3 months of the average year, and that’s closer to 8 in the far north, October to May), most of the rest it’s wet more often than not, so shoes indoors simply wouldn’t work.

          6. SeluciaMD*

            Why? WHY WHY WHY DOES IT MATTER WHAT I AM WEARING ON MY FEET? Does it make me type slower to have slippers on? Less likely to respond to emails? More likely to make a calculation error in data analysis? I THINK NOT.

            Companies like this need to learn how to stay in their lane. You can’t see my feet? You don’t need to know what is on them. Eff that noise.

          7. Director of Alpaca Exams*

            I choose to wear shoes in the house because going barefoot so much was bad for my back; if I were out and about all day, I’d be getting a lot more arch support. I have specifically designated indoor shoes now. But the thought of my employer getting to dictate whether I wear shoes for Zoom calls gives me hives.

            1. Quill*

              Not to mention that the shoes I require for my foot and leg issues are not, precisely, “professional” because I require very specific shoes.

          8. I Need Coffee*

            I take my shoes off under my desk when I’m actually at the office. These leaders need to focus on the issues that matter.

    2. But There is a Me in Team*

      I heart you and would like to see you be the Grand Poobah of the Universe, if only for a day.
      I would try no pants, and that would be the day the fire alarm goes off….

    3. irene adler*

      If my company did this, they sure as heck would find out whether I wear pants. Cuz I’d be mooning the management who came up with this directive.

    4. Anon4This*

      I’ve gone up like 6 sizes since working from home. I probably have pants on, but they are definitely not zipped up.

  11. Roscoe*

    This probably won’t be popular, but…

    I’m not sure I have a problem with it, at least in theory. Can all distractions be gone? No. But, I don’t see a problem with trying to minimize them. I have colleagues who, we will be trying to have a meeting, and have cats crawling in front of their camera, and all sorts of things. I’m also in sales, and some sales meetings I have, are, to be nice, less than professional.

    I get that you can’t necessarily get rid of ALL distractions. But is it that bad to ask for a sense of decorum? Like, is asking people to wear a collared shirt and not a t-shirt that big of a deal? Is asking people to try their best to minimize distractions in meetings a cardinal sin? Is a tidy background THAT hard to have? Is using a headset w/ a mic so I don’t hear every background noise really difficult to do?

    I think it kind of depends on what the penalties are for not doing it, but really, I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more professionalism these days. I don’t think a one time kid running into the room is a problem, but I also think it doesn’t need to be a total free for all

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But those seem like red herrings given that the company’s examples were a person who sent her kid to stay with a relative and someone who locked her dog in a room. The problem isn’t with collared shirts.

    2. Observer*

      Given that they literally suggested “seeking childcare from a relative across town.” it is clear that what they are looking for goes way beyond a “sense of decorum”.

      Getting properly dressed? Use a neat background (artificial one), sure. “Eliminate” pets and family members? On what planet is that reasonable? Doing so by magicing up childcare resources that you need to jump through hoops to access (“relatives across town”)? Come on, if you think that this is basic decorum you need to rethink how the vast majority of the world lives.

      1. Artemesia*

        If people have relatives across town who can step in they have probably already done it because most people don’t like working with kids under foot. Elderly relatives are also very vulnerable and it is not safe for them unless the family is very isolated.

    3. Researcher*

      I don’t think the request to minimize distractions is off-base so much as the examples they gave for how to achieve them.

      I stated this in response to an above comment, but providing a zoom background with the company logo and a basic set of earbuds with integrated microphone would go a long way toward achieving this goal without putting undue burden on your employees. And you’re right, it’s probably not that hard for the company to provide these things!

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Although you apparently can’t use a Zoom background with older tech. So they’ll need to be sure to provide the appropriate hardware as well.

        1. Researcher*

          Did not know this! +1 on the company providing the hardware regardless!
          Understandably, there are logistical challenges for the company to figure out on that front as well. But if the expectation is that employees have sorted out their work from home situation by now, I think it’s fair to expect the company to have sorted out how they’re going to provide the technology necessary to do so.

          It goes both ways.

      2. DataGirl*

        Actually- my company has been trying to buy headsets with mics for the whole group (apx 50 people) for months now- there are none available.

      3. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yeah, the examples given are too extreme, and they undermined the effectiveness of the general request. This would have worked some much better if the company acknowledged how difficult things are right now and then offered reasonable solutions.

    4. Code Monkey the SQL*

      At one point during all this, we had two kids under five, two cats underfoot, and two full-time adults under excruciating stress trying to make things work under one roof, with neither of us being given any extra money to adjust for it. So yes, getting a ‘tidy’, ‘distraction-free’, ‘professional’ setup at my dining room table was just not going to happen.

      Just because management at this company is ready to move towards a more “office-like” experience while Zooming doesn’t eliminate the fact that it simply isn’t possible for the proles to magically make it happen.

    5. Delta Delta*

      This was also sort of my reaction. I think if the company had issued something that looked more like guidelines that essentially said to look presentable from the waist up, minimize visual background distractions, and keep the noise to a dull roar, it would have gone over better. And if the guidelines are also meant to get at background audible noise, the additional follow-up would be for the company to help finance a headset or AirPods or whatever to help minimize noise.

    6. ElizabethJane*

      I’m also not sure I want to be beholden to my company’s definition of “tidy”. I live in a 900 square foot 2 bedroom ranch house with my husband and our toddler. She mostly hangs out in her bedroom/play room. My husband works in our bedroom and I work in the dining room.

      My dining room is small AF. There is only one actual wall that I can have my back to – otherwise the table is in a corner so I lose 2 sides there. My choices are point towards the kitchen (am I allowed to have dishes in the sink? What if something is cooking on the stove? What if someone in my house needs a drink of water?) or the dining room wall which is decorated with a gallery wall of vintage beer and wine ads (am I allowed to prominently display alcohol or is that not professional?

      The reality is I do still live in this house. It’s going to look like I live in it. I have 0 intention of redecorating to appease my employer’s sense of “professional”. I’m not suggesting I line dry my underwear on the wall behind me, but if someone can tell I’m working and sitting on the couch, or they don’t like beer posters, that’s not actually my problem.

    7. Nesprin*

      I feel like there’s tiers of acceptable that you’re conflating.

      Ok to ask for (i.e. cheap/already available/not intrusive):
      -wear a zoom shirt
      -use a mike and mercilessly mute yourself when not speaking
      – don’t have underwear in the background
      -turn off camera if you cannot manage the above

      Probably not ok to ask for:
      – herding the cats (there’s a reason this is a saying)
      -minimizing background noise (sometimes it’s possible to move to a quieter room , sometimes the road gets torn up and there are no quieter rooms)
      -have an extra room that can become a dedicated office
      -magically make daycare/eldercare reopen
      -make toddlers cease to need supervision/attention
      -have a tidy background for zoom since some of us do not have desks/extra offices/permanent workstations.

      1. Code Monkey the SQL*

        Is it just me, or does everyone seem to be having construction going around their houses right now?

        Of the five folks I talked to this week on Zoom, 4 of them had had some sort of construction happening around them this month.

    8. I Need Coffee*

      I do not understand the concept of a collared shirt making someone more capable in their job, particularly if you are talking about internal team meetings.

    9. Lavender Menace*

      -If collared shirt vs. t-shirt is not a big deal, then why care about it at all? I work in tech and we tend to be quite productive wearing a T-shirt or hoodie vs. a polo shirt or button-down. If I have clients or are in court or something, I suppose, but if my role is not external-facing…why do you care what I wear?

      -See above thread about pets. My dog is going to be way more distracting if I try to shut her in somewhere than if she’s just chilling out in the background.

      -You can certainly try to ask people to minimize distractions at home, but what are parents supposed to tell their toddlers? Or school-aged children who need momentary help or a question answered?

      -Yes, a tidy background can be THAT hard to have if you are working from a corner of your kitchen table with three kids running around at home. Why do you care about my tidy background? Are we not meeting to talk about something important? Why does the background matter?

      -Who’s putting up funds for this headset and mic? And where are we getting it from? Headsets and mics are kind of hard to find these days.

    10. Workerbee*

      This does seem to be coming from a position of privilege, including assuming people already haven’t been trying their best. There have been enough examples since this began that managing one’s entire life from home, including work, childcare, elder care, home care, disparity of schedules and expectations, disruption of schedules and expectations, while still trying to feel like a person, or a family, or anything other than working for a living, means that some arbitrary edict of “professionalism” is a final pile-on of fresh hell.

      (Especially when in my org, droning-on meetings with no agenda, purpose, or goals are a constant. I’d take a child or animal noise over that. At least they have purpose.)

      Oh, and a collared shirt is not where I keep my brains.

      Workplaces presumably had funds to become workplaces. Regular folks don’t have that luxury. I’d love to ask the people who issue these edicts, expecting home to be just like the office yet refusing to acknowledge that times have changed and work has changed, why they think this way. Truly.

  12. blackcatlady*

    Don’t do Zoom meetings in gym clothes (especially with clients) -YES. Try and minimize noise on conference call – YES. No background activities maybe. At least no pole dancing! But the demands are over the top and totally unrealistic. That’s some rarified air the C-levels are breathing. I guess either their kids are grown or they have a live in nanny. The chauffeur must walk the dogs after he washes and waxes the Bentley. Background area is tidied up by the housekeeper daily. The C-levels have no clue.

    1. 10Isee*

      Not just a live-in nanny but a massive home or soundproofed office! I’m a stay at home mom mainly because we save more having me home than I can make working in this area. I do my best to keep everything quiet while my husband works in the back bedroom, but kid sounds definitely break through, especially when I’m putting our child to sleep in the next room.

    2. Miss Muffet*

      totally agree — there are things that are reasonable to ask to try to minimize – especially with external clients, for instance, or on really large conference calls (if the leaders still haven’t figured out how to mute everyone). But day to day, small interruptions should be tolerated. This isn’t the typical work from home setup where you can reasonably expect kids to be at school/daycare.
      And curses to people who feel the need to have video on all the time. It’s really not neccessary for like, 90% of the calls.

  13. Wisteria*

    Funny story to share:
    My company makes these weird little videos about “doing the right thing.” Think, “Coworker has a side business. Is she violating policy and competing with our employer? How do I report her?” The latest video was made during the Home Times, and the scenes all played out over Zoom calls. Every person in the video 1) wore business casual 2) had at minimum a clean table to work at 3) had no roommates or family members visible or audible in the background 4) had nicely decorated houses with zero clutter. These videos are cheesy in general, but this one really made me go, “Who makes these videos and do they know any real people?”
    I feel that my employer and OP’s employer might have some things in common, lol

    1. Elenia25*

      So the view from my camera is pretty neat and clean. But if I rotated it, I do have a bit of a mess on my sewing table. Probably have socks on the floor in case I get cold (all hardwood). And I usually pop on a blouse but I wear my comfy pants. It’d be hilarious if I actually had to show it all!

    2. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      I like the ones on the local news that are so clearly staged for the camera.

      Things I have seen:
      * glass bowl of lemons
      * artfully arranged pineapples (!)
      * multiple copies of speaker’s book including one upright like in a bookshop

      The kitchen island fruit display art especially amuses me.

      1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        The pineapples on MSNBC crack me up! There’s a whole running joke about them, where the different commentators keep trying to arrange them in increasingly creative ways that are still subtle enough not to be too distracting.

        1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

          I had no idea this was a running gag! Thanks for letting me know. I just thought it was randomly odd.

  14. anon73*

    Your C level execs are living in fantasy land and are treating this as if working from home is a benefit instead of a necessity right now. Push back, and push back HARD. I can’t imagine you’re the only one who thinks this is tone deaf. If there are others in similar seniority positions, push back as a group. And honestly, having to dress up and make sure your “office” area is clean is ridiculous too. Why does it matter is I’m wearing a blouse or a t-shirt if I’m not meeting with clients? And you’ve said that most of your people do not have dedicated office space, so trying to keep an area neat if the space is being used for multiple things could be an additional hardship.

  15. Elenia25*

    If you want me to have a super professional space with no distractions YOU CAN PAY FOR IT. It is so outrageous, these companies – work from home but:
    – YOU pay for the internet
    – YOU pay for the phone
    – YOU pay for the laptop
    – Electricity
    – Power
    – YOU clean up and make your place look like an office (hell no)
    – And don’t even let your pets or kids in the room?

    I have a staff member who is working at home and she has a dad, a stepmom, a cousin and a nephew there. And two cats. She mostly manages to keep everyone off camera but who cares if she didn’t? I have husbands wandering through the background, cats jumping on people’s heads, daughters coming over. Everything can be managed around. If it happens repeatedly to the point of distraction I’d talk to that one person. But I don’t even know if I would then – that’s their real life, this is just a job.

    Grrr!

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      The other side of this, though, is that (in most cases) people no longer have the expense of the commute into work, other associated costs like lunch etc — I appreciate that WFH does increase the cost of electricity and heating etc obviously, but for me and pretty much everyone I’ve talked to about this, the savings on commute etc are much greater than the increased cost of WFH.

      Internet, phone plan (in most cases), laptop – those are already paid for and WFH doesn’t incur any extra cost. Maybe wear and tear on a laptop is arguable.

      Clean up – not unreasonable
      “Make your place look like an office” – I’m not really sure what this means, but I don’t think it can be conflated with ‘clean up’ necessarily.

      If you have a dedicated room in which you are working, it seems somewhat reasonable to close that off to kids or pets during calls? (though appreciate this depends on how call-intensive the job is. For example a customer service agent might be on calls 80% of the time so it wouldn’t be reasonable, but others might have 1-2 hours a day of calls..)

      Regarding “that’s their real life, this is just a job” — I understand the sentiment, but in practice the job is what’s funding their life right now, and as such does deserve consideration. It isn’t just some afterthought to their ‘actual’ life.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        Counterargument:

        Parents of young children. You will never, ever, ever convince me that it is OK to leave my toddler unsupervised for 1-2 hours a day.

        People who had to upgrade their internet service for WFH. If I’m someone who had very basic internet because I only used it to scroll through Facebook and AAM for a couple hours a night, but now need something more high speed to accommodate video calls 8 hours a day, that is definitely not a negatable cost. Some people save money (or just can’t afford) expensive data plans, and so they have basic phone service as well. Also possible that many people didn’t have computers at home. After all, phones nowadays are mini computers, and suffice for 95% of computer tasks done intermittently.

        Lunches – people still eat? And it’s possible more people are ordering food, if they feel they aren’t allowed to step away from their desks for longer than 2 minutes (and we’ve seen plenty of letters that suggest this).

        The idea of a dedicated room is laughable. Our “home office” is the wall next to the powder room. That wall is part of an open floor plan home, aka no doors or walls. It’s a very privileged thing to say.

        And yes, a job might deserve consideration (dressing appropriately, having a tidy work space, etc.) But it isn’t the ONLY thing to consider. It ranks below quite a few things.

        1. ElizabethJane*

          +1

          The closest my toddler comes to unsupervised is watching a movie or playing with her toys in the same room as me. I’m not interacting with her but she’s still very much there.

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Upgrading internet service and/or data plans — I admit some people may be on a “minimalist” type of plan and need to upgrade it, but still the additional cost wouldn’t be as much as the money saved in commuting etc, surely. Using myself as an example, I was spending perhaps $300 a month in commuting which I’m not any more. (minus let’s say $100 a month in additional costs for electricity etc) I don’t think it would cost $200/month for a suitable upgraded internet package?!

          Lunches – I appreciate that people still have to eat, of course, but it only takes 2 minutes to make a sandwich or to heat up something in the microwave that you pre-prepared. Or to “prepare” a pasta-in-a-cup sort of thing. Total cost: about $1 per day.

          a job might deserve consideration […] But it isn’t the ONLY thing to consider. It ranks below quite a few things

          This is where I disagree, because I think the job ought to rank fairly high (1st-3rd place) on the list of things that need to be considered.

          As a general observation — many people seem quite short sighted in seeing how an investment of their own time/money/emotional energy to overcome a hurdle will benefit the whole system in the imminent future!

          1. Kiki*

            I think the issue is that a lot of people do not have any time, money, or emotional energy right now. It’s a pandemic and economic crisis.

          2. Sam I Am*

            You seem to have a good handle on your own experience.
            It’s imagining others’ where you’re not grasping it.
            You’re making a lot of assumptions about everyone else.

            1. Just Another Zebra*

              +1000

              For me and most people I know, my job ranks below immediate family, extended family, physical health, mental health, etc. I work to live; I don’t live to work.

          3. F.M.*

            I was spending about $15 a month on commuting, and… I’m still spending that much, because it was for a public transit pass that I still need anyway to get to things like the grocery store. Meanwhile, I now have to pay for more supplies to make my “home office” (which is to say, sitting on my bed) workable, because I no longer have a stocked printer and a desk next to drawers full of office supplies. Can’t save on heating or cooling during the day if I’m home for it.

            I’m fascinated to know what sort of investment of my “time/money/emotional energy” (which of course I have SO MUCH OF during a pandemic that’s made my job twice as hard before accounting for any personal distractions) would improve this.

          4. Jaybeetee*

            If you were spending $300/month commuting, that’s very… specific. In the Before Times, I was probably spending $100/month or less on gas – short commute, street parking at work, fuel-efficient vehicle. I’m in that camp that’s probably spending more overall since all this started – or at least, I haven’t noticed any real savings.

            1. TiffIf*

              I’m saving probably $30/month on gas which was more than eaten up by the additional air conditioning costs this summer.

            2. Just Another Zebra*

              $300/month commuting seems very high, and very specific. I spend roughly $50/ month on gas (not factoring wear and tear on my car, but my commute is like 10 miles one way). My husband spent about the same, so our household commuting cost was roughly $100/month. I’m still driving to work everyday, so we’re saving $50… that hardly pays for the increase in gas, electricity, water, not to mention if we had to upgrade phone/ internet (we didn’t, thankfully).

              My husband now has to make breakfast and lunch for himself and our 2-year-old daily, which upped our grocery bill (her school provided meals as part of her tuition cost, of which we’re still paying a portion to “hold her spot”). We had to purchase different toys for our home, since we now can’t go to parks and playgrounds.

              Point is, there is no extra money to invest, there is less time than every, and my emotional bank is tapped. It’s not “short-sighted” – it’s not feasible.

          5. TCO*

            My employer has a transportation stipend to help with commute costs (bus pass or parking pass). We’e not using that stipend during WFH, but it hasn’t been replaced with a different allowance for WFH costs (internet, phone, desk, etc.).

            I personally am saving more money on my commute, lunches, work clothes, etc. than I have spent to make a suitable home workspace. (My husband had to purchase a chair and some tech, but my workplace let us take home our chairs, monitors, etc. so I haven’t incurred any expenses related to that.) But just because my current lifestyle is less expensive doesn’t mean that applies to everyone.

          6. Not playing your game anymore*

            Your numbers are very different from mine. Commute? I save very little. I car pool and pay for a tank of gas every month so? $30? I brought my lunch so costs are about the same. Had to up my data plan on my phone and found that to be not enough for zoomage, and my DSL is too slow, so added satellite internet, but had to keep my DSL plan because the sat plan is metered and will cover about 3 weeks of two of us working from home… So that’s a $300 or so a month bite. Had to get a monitor because my laptop screen is too small. Then needed a new table to set said monitor on. I do have a blank wall, but it’s melon colored? Is that OK? And so on, but none of that makes my home any quieter.

          7. Just Another Zebra*

            Also something to consider – the assumption that people are saving money is also based on the assumption that people have the same amount of income as they did Before. Dual-income households may be managing on just single salary now. People who worked in commission-based professions may not be seeing the number of clients they once were. There are so many variables to assume people are saving money and can just invest a few hundred dollars in a new home office.

        3. Susana*

          Umm… I walked to work, so no commuting costs. I still eat lunch. No free coffee at the office. And my ancient HVAC costs me a fortune to heat and cool my apartment. And no, I don’t have a “dedicated work space.” My place is too small to have a dedicated anything.

          I’ve been OK with this; my office has generally been great. But please – don’t project your own experience and home amenities on anyone else.

        4. Chinook*

          There are days where I wonder if the Victorian London piecework households started like this I agree about the added cost. I had to upgrade my internet and chose to replace my computer because it only connected with wifi (not LAN port). Luckily I am a contractor, so I can write these off, but these were not expenses I would have chosen since we rarely used internet and my 10 year old computer was doing what I wanted it to.

      2. firstcoffee*

        Not everyone had a dedicated room. I found that I work more hours working from home than I did in the office. For some reason, other employees had trouble accessing on of our resources remotely, so my boss funnels a lot of those requests for me.

        I aim my camera at the one uncluttered part of the room for video meetings and keep that clear. I would love to do a big cleaning of the whole room, but after working 10-12 hour days, sometimes 14 hours, I barely have energy to go for a walk and eat something that’s not take out food.

      3. Jackalope*

        I know that this varies, but I commute by bike and make my own lunch so my expenses have gone up (no change to commute costs, and heating the house is more expensive if you’re doing it all day).

        Sometimes you can kick pets out but as many people said earlier, that can make it worse. If I let my cats into the room I’m working in, they’ll wander around for a little bit and then sleep most of the day. I have to let them in and out a time or two but otherwise it’s fine. If I close them out then one of my cats will spend literal hours yowling and clawing desperately at my door. So much more distracting!

      4. Director of Alpaca Exams*

        I’m in NYC. A 30-day MetroCard is $127. Since I do still take the subway or bus now and again, I spend perhaps $30/month on pay-per-ride MetroCards instead. Same goes for the other two adults in the house. Commute savings: $300/month.

        The difference in our electric bill alone from having to run our bedroom air conditioners all day during the summer was more than $100 a month. I kept getting emails from Con Ed going “Your electricity use is higher than usual, especially between 2 and 5 p.m.” Yeah, no kidding! It’s because we live in a walk-up and don’t want to roast!

        My laptop literally wore out from being used for work as well as for personal things, so I replaced it. I had to purchase a standing desk and a sit-stand stool because working from my bed and couch injured my back. I received no subsidy from my employer for this.

        And of course the most staggering expense is childcare. My parents are elderly and our other relatives live far away, so no free family childcare for me. We pay close to $4000/month for 45 hours/week of babysitting at $20 an hour so we can do our jobs and our child can learn from home instead of being potentially exposed to Covid at school. Since we pay for babysitting on the books, we carry worker’s comp insurance and pay for a nanny payroll company and pay employer taxes and so on. Plus we have to outfit our kid’s “home office”; we just bought a new printer, not for the adults’ work (all digital) but for worksheets, and a wobble stool in hopes that it will help them to stay focused in the distracting home environment.

        Please do tell me how our commute savings and eating PB&Js for lunch is supposed to balance out all of that. I’d love to know. I’m literally writing balance transfer checks to myself to subsidize my increased costs at 6.99% APR and feeling extremely lucky to have that option.

      5. Lavender Menace*

        You still have to eat lunch at home. Not everyone buys lunch every day even if they are in the office. My lunch costs have not changed much since when I was commuting, and whatever small amount I’ve saved in gas is offset by the increased electricity costs in my house.

        Yes, my Internet is paid for, but my plan has GB limits which I normally don’t exceed in a month since I am out of the house 8-10 hours a day. Since I’ve been working from home, I’ve gone over that limit which incurs extra fees – so yes, WFH has incurred an extra cost for me. A lot of Internet providers have that setup, so yes, it is possible for Internet to cost more when you WF.

        See the above thread on pets. If I close my dog out of my office I promise you she’s going to be way more distracting than she would be sleeping behind me. Also, children do know how to open doors. The small ones, especially, are not so great at following directions when it impedes them in getting what they want.

      6. Teapotgohome*

        I appreciate you trying to show another side but honestly, this comment just shows that you have more privilege than you think. Most people I talk to do not buy lunch at work – we bring our own lunch which means the cost is the same there. We did not all have wifi plans that can accommodate lots of Zoom calls during the day. And I don’t know what your context is that leads to your commute budget being $300 a month (I have a feeling it has to do with parking in the city??) but most people I know do not spend that much on their commute. Your statement about savings being present “in most cases” is simply unfounded.

        So I have saved maybe $50 a month on petrol, no savings on lunch, heating and electricity costs have doubled and I have had to upgrade my Wifi plan. I’d say the wifi and petrol savings cancel each other out which means I’m out hundreds of dollars a month on higher bills.

  16. Margaret Mitchell*

    Maybe just request artificial backgrounds on meetings. Is the distraction to the person on the other end because they see the pet or child? I imagine the employee has learned as best they can to tune out the pet or child by this point when it’s possible, and of course it’s not always possible. A little empathy goes a long way.

    My oldest just started college and kids are having to figure out how to have multiple roommates do online classes in the same space at the same time just like working roommates.

    1. Observer*

      Absoltely, just use the artifical backgrounds. And, if you have to, invest in a decent headset with a noise cancelling mike. It reduces noise distraction significantly.

      Everything else, ignore.

      1. emmaline*

        My laptop is old enough that I can’t use these backgrounds. I do have my desk set up somewhere that the actual background looks just fine, so it’s not a problem for me, but virtual backgrounds aren’t a solution for everyone.

        1. Observer*

          That doesn’t need to be an issue- if someone has a computer that old, then the OP puts in a requisition for a new laptop / computer for the person.

          Either it will go through or the OP gets to say “you’re not going to get the professional look you want unless you’re willing to provide the tools.”

          1. Code Monkey the SQL*

            Yup!

            My office offered no stipend for any wfh upgrades – not even a wrist rest, and I’m not eligible for a work laptop yet. They did say in June that if I wanted my office chair, I could come in and haul it home. I declined.

            If anyone has a problem with me being in a dining room chair, they haven’t mentioned it.

        2. Filosofickle*

          My partner has a new Chromebook and it doesn’t support fake backgrounds. (BTW I would never recommend this particular laptop! It has all sorts of glitches.)

        3. Artemesia*

          the company should be providing laptops for WFH ; I realize ‘should’ doesn’t mean they are. But if they are going to want professional backgrounds then they have to provide the technical means.

        4. Arya Snark*

          Virtual backgrounds also only work if the actual background is relatively blank. I have an office in the tiniest room in the house but the only background I have available is a large closet where the vacuum, cleaning supplies and litterbox live. I can relocate the box and close the doors but they are louvered and the backgrounds don’t work.

    2. LizC*

      Yeah. not all of the technology supports this, but I do think work places and schools putting out a few approved “official” backgrounds, and then requiring those during online meetings would solve a lot of problems.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I’m surprised that zoom hasn’t made this easier. My kids’ school district has required video but banned virtual backgrounds during class, and gotten pushback on equity grounds (who has low bandwidth? And home environments they might not want their peers seeing?). Apparently zoom didn’t give them the option of locking in one option for a district-wide virtual background, which seems like the obvious solution.

        With adult employees just set the rule about what virtual backgrounds are allowed, though! Just because fourth graders will use them to be purposely distracting doesn’t mean it can’t work at a workplace.

        1. Artemesia*

          What possible reason could they have for banning virtual backgrounds? There are too many stories of snoopy districts disciplining kids for their homes as it is. They should encourage them if possible not ban them.

          1. AnonForThis.*

            I can envision some distasteful zoom backgrounds being created by students who are motivated by that kind of thing. I’m picturing memes or male genitalia.

            There’s an argument to be made for students not exhibiting the same kind of professionalism as an employee getting a paycheck. Not sure a full ban on backgrounds is the solution, but I am not an educator.

            1. Observer*

              I would go so far as to say that a full ban on backgrounds is absolutely NOT the solution. Totally not necessary. Even 6 year olds can be told what is and is not acceptable.

          2. Guacamole Bob*

            I think it’s possible that the school-provided Chromebooks don’t support it, but there’s also a worry that kids will choose inappropriate stuff as their backgrounds or change them constantly and create a distraction? I don’t really know.

            1. Anecdata*

              A classmate of mine sold ad spaces on his virtual background!

              I thought it was super clever (and the guy was from the adjacent business school so it makes sense) but it /was/ distracting & I can see how middleschoolers/high schoolers might come up with much more disruptive things

          3. Filosofickle*

            Zoom bombing was a real problem when classes first went online. Lots of obscene and pornographic stuff being put up in the backgrounds. And just last month, a friend’s 11 yo classroom was disrupted by porn in a virtual background, twice.

            1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

              It seems to me the bombing is the problem, not the backgrounds.

              In a class, particularly for children, there should be controls over who gets into the meeting. That’s basic.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                What makes you think it isn’t the 11 year olds putting that stuff up in their backgrounds?

                1. pleaset cheap rolls*

                  Because of the sentence “Zoom bombing was a real problem when classes first went online.’ – Zoom bombing is outsiders coming into a meeting and disrupting it.

                  ‘In these cases the “bombing” WAS the background. The kids are/were putting up obscene stuff in their virtual backgrounds.’

                  This is a misue of the term ‘bombing’ if the people in the meeting – the kids – were authorized to be there.

              2. Filosofickle*

                In these cases the “bombing” WAS the background. The kids are/were putting up obscene stuff in their virtual backgrounds.

          4. Lynn Whitehat*

            Yeah, we have this at my kids’ school. The teachers say it is utterly depressing and draining to teach to “black rectangles” all day, which is what you get when you ban virtual backgrounds and students don’t want to give all their classmates a window into their home. (Not just low-income kids either; everyone has cluttered counters or Uncle Ed shuffling by in his bathrobe or *something* that the kid doesn’t want to be A Thing for their classmates to remark on). They’re afraid virtual backgrounds would be endlessly distracting and possibly inappropriate. For some reason, sending out approved jpegs or a rule like “solid colors only” doesn’t occur to anyone.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            It seems like such an easy and obvious fix, since with school accounts they’re heavily centrally managed anyway!

  17. LMM*

    Ugh, my former employer (they laid me off in August) did this. At the outset of the pandemic, they gave us Fridays off and made working hours 10 a.m-4 p.m., stating that we were to use any time gained to take care of ourselves and our families. At the end of May, they stopped both of these things, stating that we should have our situations under control now and could get back to a more “normal” work atmosphere. Funny, the pandemic didn’t suddenly go away, nor did our lives become easier. When we pushed back, we were told that no one would penalize us for continuing to take care of our families, except, of course, until they laid us all off.

  18. Clever Alias*

    If you can’t change it, I agree with Alison’s advice about not strictly enforcing it with your team. My CEO has made some tone-deaf demands this pandemic, and my VP, a CEO-direct report, has done an incredible job of buffering the impact on the team. Quite frankly, if she hadn’t, I would have quit over it, but I lucky to have the privilege to be able to do so.

    (Side note: When I first received the egregious demands in my inbox, before boss buffered, I channeled the elegant candidate who came in to a memo on his desk about tardiness. “Oh no. That simply won’t do.” *gets up and leaves*)

    1. Ali G*

      Yeah this is where I land. I think the more professional dress is OK and like OP said, you don’t have to clean, just use a background (I work in a closet that houses all our spare blankets and sheets, so I use a pretty background and no one sees the clutter). All the other stuff: I would just ask everyone to limit distractions and other people/pets entering the frame during meetings. And remind people to keep themselves on mute when they are not speaking. Basically present like you are following the rules when you are on video calls, but not actually enforce them.

    2. Des*

      >the elegant candidate who came in to a memo on his desk about tardiness. “Oh no. That simply won’t do.” *gets up and leaves*

      Nice!

  19. Archaeopteryx*

    As my history teacher friend noted back in April, Americans are very good at pulling together in times of crisis and making sacrifices… for a short amount of time. But we have short attention spans and when that hero feeling wears off we get bored fast.

    The pandemic is old news to them so they want to pretend like it’s over. It’s not over.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, but it’s not just a problem in the US. I think a lot of people all over the world are sick of the pandemic and want to pretend it’s over.

  20. Observer*

    What software are you using for conferencing? Because most of them now allow you to create a background. Use that feature and don’t worry about what is actually there.

    As for the rest? I would get together with other managers at your level to push back with upper management, if at all possible. The thing to point out to management is that given the situation in your area, childcare is simply not likely to be available. And, ask them for good headphones that have a good noise cancelling mike. That won’t get rid of ALL of the background noise, but it will help. And it’s MUCH more practical than mandating that people get childcare that simply doesn’t exist.

    1. Public Sector Manager*

      The create a background screen is not a universal solution. Most of the videoconferencing apps require you to have a newer computer. My office refused to send me home with a laptop and I only have a hard wired network PC at the office, so I can’t bring that home. So I’m using my 2008 iMac and the camera in the iMac is not compatible with a background screen in Zoom and the other apps. I have an app to use my iPhone camera as my camera and that app also is not compatible with a background screen option. I’ve had to resort to using a clothes drying rack on wheels and throwing a quilt over it to mimic a “background.”

      1. Observer*

        If your company won’t provide you with the appropriate equipment, then that’s their problem. And I would definitely frame it that way to the management – If you want people’s backgrounds to be professional and non-distracting, you need to provide the equipment that makes it possible.

    2. UKDancer*

      Definitely. My company (which provides us with laptops) has asked us all to consider using one of the professional looking backgrounds on Teams or Zoom for meetings with stakeholders and I think that’s a reasonable request. They’ve offered to pay for headphones etc if people want them.

      They don’t expect people to suddenly vanish their children and pets so occasionally someone says something like “I have to step away, my cat just threw up on my son.” Last week I had to leave a meeting because Waitrose had showed up 30 minutes early. I think managers need to accept that people are doing the best they can in non-ideal circumstances.

  21. staceyizme*

    I don’t know what more stringent policies are expected to accomplish than goodwill, collaboration and an honest work ethic, which presumably most permanent employees have. I do agree that making efforts to minimize distractions whether people, pets or clutter is a somewhat reasonable principle, but enforcing it in practice is going to disadvantage people who have children and pets at home. Or who simply live in noisier environments where the ambient noise from neighbors and traffic impacts the virtual workspace. And- it’s incumbent on reasonable people to do what they can with what they have. But it’s NOT reasonable to basically write kids, pets and other factors found in the home entirely out of the professional script. That’s akin to teachers who refuse to allow their virtual students to have fidget devices or to snack during class. Things that are reasonable and customary during normal times aren’t realistic right now. These aren’t normal times. If I had to push back on something like this, that’s where I’d start. In order for any system to work, it has to account for all of the current conditions. LW’s C suite are engaged in a sort of wishful thinking that harkens back to a more rigid time period. (Like the 50’s!).

  22. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    Aaaaaggggggghhhhhhh!!!!!! what is it with employers getting weird on this stuff? My friend just texted me and her office is doing “pants and shoes checks” before Zoom meetings to make sure people are complying with the dress code 100% even if you only see 50% of the outfit. Another was just told that her staff need to have workspaces that have dedicated offices and if they don’t have them in their current residences they are supposed to find somewhere else to live (???). It is bonkers and makes me love my mellow employer all the more

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        YES!!! That blew me away. They decided that the office dress code applies to WFH and it includes appropriate footwear. My friend is in management, and thus is pushing back for the sake of her reports, but this is the straw that has pushed her to look for a new job. She has high demand skills and life is too short to work for people who think this is rational. So basically they are going to lose someone in a hard to fill role, but at least everyone is properly shod?

        1. AnotherAlison*

          But why?!?? I mean, what executive decided that was important? Just a control thing?

          My bosses wanted us to have nice shirts on. I typically kept my camera off anyway and wore a solid color t-shirt (no blow-drying or makeup). We didn’t have a pants or shoes rule. I am opinionated in a male-dominated company, so I also explained the female penalty and why that request imposed less on the men than the women.

        2. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

          Different companies have different priorities. Some want to see results or the ability to work in a crisis. Others just want to make sure your properly dressed.

        3. Chinook*

          I know I went over the top above as the shoeless canuck, but I can’t stress enough the cultural divide can cause. I grew up being told shoes do not belong on in the house. If you go to visit a friend’s house, you can bring slippers with you or a pair of indoor shoes. The rules are completely different for commercial buildings, culturally, and I can feel many otherwise polite Canadians suddenly either very uncomfortably going along (and wondering what our mothers would say if they saw us now) or loudly protesting for our cultural right to be unshod in our own homes.

      2. Observer*

        Sorry, “find another place to live” is worse! Which isn’t saying much because that has to be the most insane thing I’ve heard of in a while.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          It definitely set off a long text stream of she and I saying, “WTF?”, “Seriously?” using some salty language. This isn’t a reasonable ask anywhere, but we live in a city with an affordable housing crisis (i.e. the median annual wage is significantly below the median annual rent), so it is an impossibility without relocation assistance and a housing stipend

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Then your friend needs to be drafting up an email to upper management with the names and locations of some new rental properties, getting the pricing together, and telling them they can give her a raise to get her to the high-end of the rental market so she can get a new place with space for a dedicated office. She expects that raise to go into effect immediately and will be needing a stipend for the deposit and first/last month’s rent.

        2. Jaybeetee*

          Welp, I’d have to quit. Rent has gone insane in my city this past year. Moving from my current grandfathered-rent one-bedroom to the crappiest two-bedroom I could find would probably close to double my rent… and be well over 50% of my take-home pay.

        3. Insert Clever Name Here*

          My husband worked at a private school that 1) required faculty to send their school-aged children to the school, 2) did not disclose that requirement upfront as part of the terms of enrollment and 3) did not provide a standard faculty discount. We applied for financial aid when our oldest was preparing to enter kindergarten and I shit you not, my husband’s boss suggested we “move out of your big house into a smaller one. That’s what most faculty do.”

          He no longer works there.

          1. Des*

            Yikes. This is where I just offer to take over the boss’s house instead, that will give me plenty of space and he can rent another smaller one! (I would do this in my head. I would not actually work for long for anyone this unreasonable)

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        The response from the friend who’s boss said the staff had to move if they didn’t have an office was to ask, “Obviously this means we will be paying them housing stipend and for their relocation. After all, we are making a specific housing type a job requirement.” No answer yet, but I can’t wait to hear the response

        1. Elenna*

          Look, if my employer paid me a stipend that entirely covered the cost of my rent/mortgage, I would buy however large of a house they wanted! Otherwise they can just deal with the lack of an office room.

    1. nm*

      Incredible. If my boss wanted me to wear shoes in the house I’d ask her to come clean my carpets. The mud in this rainy region is inescapable to the point that most offices aren’t carpeted because it would be impossible to clean.

      1. KnitsOnZoomCalls*

        I had the same thought! What possible bearing does the wearing of shoes have on the outcome of a Zoom call?! And I’m not going to be responsible for the damage to my carpets, which are a lot softer and fuzzier than office carpets. Thus they would show wear much quicker.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          We are culturally a no shoes in the house household. Love to see their reaction if someone brought that up

          1. Evelyn*

            Yeah, I’d love to see someone push back on this with a racial/cultural discrimination angle given the number of cultures that say “no shoes in the house”. Maybe they would allow for “house shoes” or slippers but…

          2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            Same. I know plenty of people who wear shoes in the house, but for my family it is NOT DONE. Shoes come off at the door, slippers go on. I’m reasonably cosmopolitan, but this is one that it’s hard for me to get past, even with people I like. Ugh. You do what!?

          3. Third or Nothing!*

            We’re a no shoes inside household as well, because shoes track in allergens and I don’t want to spend my precious little free time constantly cleaning our tile floors so we can breathe freely. So that’s another angle that this stupid requirement doesn’t factor in.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              Yup – the shoes requirement could possibly run into ADA issues. And it definitely is a cultural issue (I too come from a culture where shoes in the house is just. not. done).

              1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

                “Yup – the shoes requirement could possibly run into ADA issues.”

                For people who previously worked in an office? How so?

                We do not normally wear shoes in m home for cleanliness reasons (my wife is from Asia also). But I’ll add that while requiring shoes on a Zoom call is beyond stupid, if you have to wear shoes in the house you get a pair that you don’t use outside ever. Or take an existing pair, wash the soles very carefully and then you have indoor shoes Clean indoor shoes. Don’t wear them outside. You’re set.

                1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

                  Like many cultural things, it is not entirely rational. Yes, you could get a brand-new pair of shoes to wear at your kitchen table while you are working from home. It’s better than wearing outside shoes in the house, sure, since they are not dirty – but they are still shoes, and it’s still offensive and weird.

                  Also, it’s MY HOUSE. Zoom coworkers are guests here. They do not get to dictate the rules for how I live in my own home, and they don’t get to demand that I tip backwards in my chair on my stiff old-lady hips and yank my feet up to the camera so some small-minded martinet can inspect them like I’m in prison…

                2. pleaset cheap rolls*

                  “Also, it’s MY HOUSE. Zoom coworkers are guests here. ”

                  I’m not arguing about it being right. I’m saying that keeping the floors clean is a flawed argument because we can keep the floors clean with clean shoes. And the shoes don’t have to brand new to achieve that.

                3. Keymaster of Gozer*

                  If any employer thinks I’m even able to raise my feet to viewing level they’ll just get a lovely view of my walking stick. Nor will I stand up for inspection. Physically unable to do that. So maybe that’s what they mean by ADA.

          4. DataGirl*

            Same here. Husband comes from a country where wearing shoes in the house is both disgusting and rude, and I’ve picked up the habit as well.

            1. Chinook*

              Yup. I think I have found an unlikely hill to die on – the right to go shoeless in my own house.

          5. The Original K.*

            I neeeeeeever wear shoes in the house, and growing up I was taught that it was Not Done.

    2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      I’d wear penny loafers or other slip-on shoes. As soon as the camera tips back up, the shoes come off. Are they going to do random checks through the meeting, like you’re in Alcatraz or something?

      1. Jackalope*

        Yeah, due to support issues I am now wearing a pair of shoes for part of the day but they are a pair that I’ve never worn outside.

    3. Slinky*

      I am very proud to say that I get dressed every day, albeit more casually than when I went into the office, but nothing could get me to wear shoes during WFH. On occasion, you might have to stand up to turn on a light or something, so I find having non-pajama pants on is a good idea. At no time, however, have my feet been visible, so who cares? I imagine the same goes for most people, unless they keep their computer on the floor.

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        Over the summer, I would change out of my pajama-shorts-and-tank-top into my wear-in-public-shorts-and-tank-top. Now that the weather is cooler, I change into leggings and a flannel shirt. And I’m proud of myself for putting on clothes that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to have the UPS driver see me in. :-D

        I am so grateful that my company’s culture isn’t one of video meetings and that, for the times we do need to be on camera, they don’t really care what you or your background look like. I mean, I think my summer tank tops would have been frowned upon (I threw a cardigan over them) but my managers — who are always upper-business-casual in the office — show up to cross-departmental Zoom meetings in t-shirts.

        Back to the point, though: these companies are run by loons who don’t understand what good management looks like.

        1. Ginar369*

          I was very happy that we didn’t require any zoom meetings during our WFH. I was in mens boxers and a tank top the entire time. LOL

          I hated having to wear pants to go back to the office in June!

      2. Flower necklace*

        Same. I dress nicely, but I’ve never worn shoes at home. For years, I never even wore shoes at work (I was teaching English overseas in Japan, so this was normal). If I was in a position where it was absolutely required, I guess I’d have to buy a new pair of nice shoes just to wear at home, because I would never be comfortable wearing outside shoes.

      3. pandop*

        I have been taking several dance classes over zoom, my teachers have enough trouble getting their feet visible on their set up. I can’t get my feet visible on screen on any tablet or PC set up I have tried.

      4. Stuff*

        I keep my computer on the floor, and nobody would know that because it’s a desktop tower, and that’s not where the monitor or webcam go. Which is good, because nobody needs to see my heavy, large, inappropriately decorated for work computer tower.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      I’d be tempted to be extremely extra and do a whole dance routine complete with twirls to show the back of my outfit and high kicks for maximum shoe presentation.

    5. Amethystmoon*

      I live in an apt. Shoes would get my carpet dirty. We have to pass cleaning checks every so often (although those have been paused for Covid).

    6. InfoSec SemiPro*

      Starting a meeting with pants and shoes check… Dear lord. I’m trying to do the mental math of salaries times meetings times the couple of minutes per meeting… This is actual, factual money they want to spend on this BS? Not to mention the morale hit of treating professional adults like misbehaving school children.

    7. Nanani*

      A lot of cultures are strongly against shoes inside the house.
      How long before enforcing shoe compliance rubs up against discrimination rules?

    8. EventPlannerGal*

      Your friend needs to ask for a raise. People pay good money for feet pics and her boss is demanding them for free?

    9. LilPinkSock*

      I have a dedicated office space in my apartment. It just so happens to also be in my bedroom. If my manager wants to require that I have an entire extra room, they’re welcome to pay the difference for a two-bedroom.

  23. Massmatt*

    Wow what a tone-deaf directive.

    I am fortunate to have a good amount of space but I’m in live meetings all day with MANY people that are struggling. I live near a big city so space is at a premium even for people making good livings. Many people are working from their bedrooms while kids are in “school” at the kitchen table and pets are running around. Expecting people to have multiple rooms for separate space for everyone is incredibly unrealistic. Not everyone has spare rooms or relatives that don’t work nearby to take care of their children for them.

    This is reminding me of a financial “advice” article a couple years ago that touted “being debt free and ready to retire by 40”. The writer had 1) had their college paid for by their parents, 2) been gifted a 2 bedroom condo at graduation, 3) rented out the condo while living in their parents’ carriage house (Yes, CARRIAGE HOUSE!). See? If everyone would just cut a few corners and not buy a yacht, they could be financially independent too!

    1. knitcrazybooknut*

      There was an article recently that was centered on paying off student loans. Remarkably similar: gifted a condo upon graduation, rented out the condo while living with parents, and hired by mom to work as a VP at a non-profit right out of college.

      “See? You can do it, too!”

    2. Jaybeetee*

      This reminds me of the movie Love Is Strange, where a married couple in NYC have to abruptly move, haven’t found an affordable place yet… and any friends/family close enough to take them in have zero spare bedrooms, so the couple have to temporarily split off and basically couch-surf in these NY apartments. Everyone involved was portrayed as comfortably middle-class too – just housing is freaking expensive in NYC!

  24. mayfly*

    We’re homeschooling, which means our two elementary age kids can learn around our work schedules. Not only is it a better educational experience, it’s vastly easier on our work days. Yet, I am still working at our dining table, or outside café table, or from my daughter’s bedroom. There’s still noise in the background and my home still doesn’t look like an office. I’m lucky if it’s semi-picked up most days.

  25. Elizabeth West*

    Ugh. They suck.

    This is just not workable with COVID. It’s not. They’re trying to enact conditions that might make sense for remote workers if kids weren’t home from school, partners didn’t also need working space, and childcare were accessible. But none of those things are true right now.

    Maybe push back in concert with other managers because this will not work.

  26. Kyrielle*

    Hahahaha SOB. I’m glad I don’t have too many calls, because my husband has a ton and is just across the table from me. And the kids are at either end of it doing their distance learning and asking us (me, when he’s on a call) questions.

    We’re looking at adjusting our setup to get him out of the room somehow. Having us hearing these calls isn’t unprofessional (think one end of a tech support conversation and you’re in the ballpark), but it is driving the rest of us a bit nuts, all the same.

    No distractions? And how am I supposed to achieve that? There’s not a lot of child care options right now, and they’re aimed at essential workers!

    At least my cat won’t howl on calls.

    1. Anon for this specific one*

      I commented below about the request from a local judge and if I read between the lines, I think his suggestion was basically let the kids be unsupervised in the house for an hour. That might work for an 8 year old that understands no questions for one hour no matter how important. A 4 year old is going to just scream and cry if they need your help.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        If it were “figure it out for these two one-hour client meetings this week” I could kind of understand it. It’s the idea that these expectations are for general working hours that’s totally insane to me.

        Most parents I know, including me, have used tons of TV to keep their kids quiet for specific important meetings. But that’s nowhere near reasonable as a general practice to ensure they never walked into the room while I was working – especially since they’re supposed to be in remote school for 4-5 hours a day, during which they sometimes need help!

      2. Kyrielle*

        Yeah, expecting it for small periods of time is feasible with (most) older kids and not with younger kids. And all day isn’t feasible until you get to a still-older bracket.

    2. Artemesia*

      Do you have a master bedroom? If so, I’d sure figure out how to put him in there since bedrooms tend not to get used during the day. We had a small condo at one point and my husband was doing a lot of writing — we bought a small computer desk and set him up in front of the window in the bedroom which gave him the privacy he needed to write. tough times these are.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Unfortunately, given schedules and kids and whatnot, the bedrooms are all a bit dicey for this. Still, we have one that could potentially work, and we’re looking at it.

        Mind you, he’s on about 50% video calls, so we’d want to be careful about background, but there are ways to manage that. (Yes, I know, video-call backgrounds. Except he disappears into them when he tips his head certain ways; having parts of your support person disappear might be distracting, although in a very 2020-familiar way.)

  27. BlueBelle*

    Instead of putting restrictions and guidelines on employees companies should be helping managers learn how to manage, coach, and offer feedback to remote teams. Attempting to micromanage people who are performing just fine makes employees disengage and feel like their managers and company are out of touch with reality. Yes, in the before times making it a policy that remote employees have childcare was smart, but that isn’t an option for people in a lot of places right now.
    If someone is under performing then address that one person, don’t make rules that other people don’t need.

  28. learnedthehardway*

    It may be worth bringing up objections to the “distractions” stipulation by questioning how the company plans to address employee concerns that they are being discriminated against based on their family status. Not to mention the tone-deaf note of requiring employees to have daycare for their children, during an epidemic, when you’re supposed to be limiting outside contact.

    It doesn’t look good for a company to fail to make accommodations for their employees, during a time when employees are shouldering a lot of added pressures due to the economy, the pandemic, and all the social dislocation that goes with it.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      ETA – I’ve worked from home for a decade now, and chose my house with my work needs in mind. Most people haven’t had that luxury, and are scrambling to make things work the best they can.

  29. Bookworm*

    Definite boo to leadership. COVID isn’t going away because people are unhappy or bored with it. All kinds of challenges remain, and now you’ve probably got cabin fever on top of that.

    I agree: flexibility wherever possible would be helpful. I’m glad you’re looking out for people that way.

  30. Pennalynn Lott*

    Part of the pushback should be that employees didn’t ASK to work from home right now. They were FORCED to.

    “Recreate the exact environment we had in the office, where we had no pets and no people who weren’t employees, at your house that is possibly full of other people who are also being FORCED to work from home, even though you aren’t working from there by choice” is just… wow.

    And the whole, “Send your kids elsewhere each day DURING A PANDEMIC just so we can pretend they don’t exist”???

    OP, your leadership team is made up of thoughtless, entitled jerks.

  31. learnedthehardway*

    Another thought – the C-level executives who are pushing for employees to be in home offices, with no distractions – remind them that demanding this really does not play well with employees who aren’t living in C-level homes. Sure, it’s easy for the president or the CFO to have a dedicated office at home, a spouse or nanny for the kids, and plenty of space and quiet.

    It’s only going to cause resentment and erode employee commitment to expect line level and management employees to have the same accommodations.

  32. Veryanon*

    What a tone deaf directive. I live in small townhouse with no dedicated office, so I’m working in my living room with two dogs and a kid who’s still doing virtual learning. I don’t have the option of eliminating distractions. My company has told us that we’ll all be working remotely indefinitely, but fortunately they have been super chill about what people may have going on in their home work environments. Not to mention that our dress code was always jeans casual (I can’t even imagine how a dress code for people working at home would be enforceable). When I read stories like this, I’m grateful all over again.

    1. Artemesia*

      My jaw dropped when I read about companies demanding people stand up and turn around to show they are ‘appropriately dressed’ on WFH. Next they will be kneeling to show their skirts are long enough. It is so jr. high.

  33. suddenly seymour*

    As a bonding exercise, we were unexpectedly told to share our 360 view of our workspace as a “tour” in a full staff meeting. It was completely meant with the best of intentions and in fun, but I was internally cringing so hard. I’m in my living room, which was thankfully clean – what if it wasn’t?! – but have entry level colleagues living in studios who awkwardly showed their beds and kitchens. Paired with the luxury condos, home offices, and antique furnishings of the upper levels, it was…uncomfortable.

    1. Pennalynn Lott*

      We started having staff (no managers allowed) team bonding meetings a couple of months ago. The most senior staff person kicked off the first one and was throwing out suggestions:

      Sr Staff Person: “We could play Jack Box [lots of head nods], do a show-your-pets-off [lots of head nods] thing, or — one thing I’ve seen that looked like a great way to get to know each other — we could turn our laptops around and have each of us show our home work spaces!”

      Staff Members: [silence]

      Me: “Or maybe we could do some other activity, one that doesn’t share our private, personal living spaces with co-workers? I don’t know about the rest of the team, but I’ve only curated one spot in my house — the area behind me that you can see — to be ‘work appropriate’. Everything else is off limits.”

      Staff Members: [sigh of relief]

    2. Elenna*

      I hope the upper levels at least saw this and realized it was a bad idea? OTOH if they’re like LW’s office they might just have thought “shame on those employees for using their bedroom/kitchen and not the pristine home office they definitely could have set up instead” :P

    3. TX Lizard*

      That’s so incredibly invasive. I do not want my coworkers seeing the inside of my home, no matter how tidy it is. At least for video meetings I can use a virtual background or aim my camera towards a blank wall. Also, for people living with others in small spaces, it’s invasive of family/housemate privacy as well. Absolutely not, would turn my camera off and refuse or claim technical difficulties.

  34. Anon for this specific one*

    My local bar association had an article put out by a judge regarding what he expects during our Zoom hearings – of both attorneys, their staff (if present on the Zoom) and clients. I shared it on another website saying it was crazy and everyone else there thought it was fine. I’m glad to see more people like myself here.

    The judge wanted a bare wall for a background. No window. No family pictures. No art. If you can’t do that, hang a sheet behind you.

    Eye contact with the camera at all times. Most of us work off two screens since we don’t have printers at our houses. I have to look at the other screen to see my notes or pleadings.

    No distractions / no excuses. No kid or pet noises. “Figure it out.” I get that for a client, court isn’t an everyday thing and they can probably rearrange their house for a day to make it work. For attorneys, it is a more frequent thing (all the more reason to have a dedicated office!) which makes it harder to meet all of these requirements, particularly the no distractions.

    There were many others but I can’t remember them all now. I’m lucky. I have a big house with a dedicated office and my dogs can go outside in my fenced in yard weather permitting or to daycare when they aren’t. I don’t have a way though (that makes any sense) to have my back to a blank wall. I’m not going to rearrange my office several times per week. I bought blackout curtains so there is no light from the window behind me.

    The judge’s rationale was the same as OP’s employer. We have been doing this awhile now. It is not short term. It is the new normal. Time to get a professional at-home set up. (I could even get behind that as a dictate.) The no anything on the walls part was pretty extreme to me.

    OH! There was also a request to be hard wired to internet and to not have other family members using internet at the same time as our hearings. Sorry, my husband and I have hearings at the same time frequently and will both be Zooming!

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Um, what? My kids are supposed to skip school whenever someone needs to be on a zoom call with the judge in order to protect the internet quality?

      The blank wall is bonkers, but something about the internet restriction feels even worse to me.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        [Anon:] I don’t have a way though (that makes any sense) to have my back to a blank wall.

        [GB:] The blank wall is bonkers,

        I’m not sure why they have this requirement, but it seems like one of the easier things to meet. Take down pictures/art etc if it is a solid wall.

        “Hang a sheet” or similar – pretty easy to do. You could rig up a suitable setup with about $20 worth of supplies (if that) and 10 minutes of your time.

        [What people seem to be forgetting in all of this is that the pandemic is a “diabolus ex machina” to all of us — employees and employers alike. There seems to be a subtext (it’s a general comment, not really about the comments above) that employers need to be more flexible in these times, and that is true, but the pandemic has ‘happened’ to employers just as much as it has to employees, out of the blue! And it’s not necessarily true that the employer is in a better position to be able to absorb the impact.]

        1. No Tribble At All*

          My desk is up against the wall with my back facing out. A blank wall would be the entire room! (Or I’d get a room divider??)

          1. DataGirl*

            My desk is against a wall too and after the first video meeting I bought a room divider to put behind my chair- because my family are slobs and I didn’t want anyone seeing the couch full of laundry behind me. It also helps to separate my work space a little from the rest of the family room which is nice.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              But the thing is, why should someone have to? It’s not that it’s totally impossible for most people, it’s that it’s so totally unnecessary for the judge to impose this pain in the neck requirement on everyone.

              1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

                Because sometimes you have to swallow a relatively small outlay as “the cost of doing business”.

        2. FUISA*

          But employers and courts are in a perfectly good position to absorb some of the impact by not requiring things that are trivial (no art on the wall) or impossible (no distractions). We’re allowing our homes to be used as places of business so business can go on its a compromise.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

            We’re allowing our homes to be used as places of business so business can go on

            I appreciate that, but at the same time the company has had to adapt suddenly (and maybe unwillingly) to all of this.

            “So business can go on” isn’t just a favour to your employer! If “business can go on” that’s to the benefit of employees as well, of course — “the business” isn’t just an abstract thing outside of the people that work for it… it’s just the accumulation of everyone who works for it, wrapped up into a legal structure.

            You have the option to not allow your home to be used as a place of business, as does everyone else who works there! But then I wonder how long the company would be able to function!

        3. Guacamole Bob*

          So I’m working from my guest room, and my desk (with two monitors and a printer and a standing desk, so it’s heavy and a tangle of cords) faces into the room. Going around the room there’s a bed with a slanted roof wall above waist height, then a window, closet door, bookshelf, another window, another bookshelf, door to the room, and a dresser, so very little open wall. There’s a 3-4′ open wall space alongside the bed if I take down some art, but I’d have to swap the position of the bed and the desk to get the camera in front of the blank wall and I’m not sure that’s physically possible and might require hiring movers or something. Unless you want me to switch to sitting on the bed with a laptop wobbling on my lap, which would be fine for normal meetings but seems less good than sitting upright in an office chair with a bookshelf behind me? It’s a 1400-square foot 4-bedroom house – all our rooms are small and have a lot of doors and windows and not a lot of blank space.

          I guess I have an off-white sheet I could hang up between the two bookshelves behind me, but that would mess with the lighting quite a bit, be really awkward to work around, and just seems generally unnecessary. I’ve been working from home for almost 7 months and never needed to do that to be considered professional, including presenting at multiple conferences, leading large meetings, etc.

          1. Chinook*

            Plus it looks like you hung a bedsheet over a bookcase. It is even more distracting than the bookcase. One of our MPs did this for his Zoom sitting of Parliament and, of all the MPs, his was the only room where I was wondering “what is he hiding? Is it another room? a bookcase? dirty laundry?” For all the others, their rooms read as ” someone works and lives there” where as his looked more like “serial killer in mom’s basement.”

        4. Observer*

          Not necessarily. For one thing, statistically speaking, most people don’t live on their own so any changes the to the set up affect the others in the household.

          Beyond that, it’s just not always possible to make sure you have nothing bur a blank wall behind you. Whether the wall itself has a mural or pattern, there is a plant that can’t be moved, various furniture, etc. these are not things that you can “just” take them down. And rigging a curtain to block these things is more often than not highly unrealistic when you’re in a fairly constrained space with multiple people.

        5. Observer*

          On a separate note, I get that the pandemic is also happening to the employer. And there are certain things that are totally understandable for an employer to do, even though it’s a paid. Like making people WFH even when they don’t really want to. Or expecting people to use a headset and noise cancelling mike, even though some people don’t like them. Even, dress code and SOME expectations about backgrounds, etc.

          What employers don’t reasonably get to do is to say “well this is tough for us, so we are going to impose these ridiculous demands on you and expect you to bear the often extremely high burden of making believe that all is normal when it most definitely isn’t.” And that’s what rules like this are doing.

        6. Diahann Carroll*

          I’m not sure why they have this requirement, but it seems like one of the easier things to meet. Take down pictures/art etc if it is a solid wall.

          Yeah, I would not be doing this every time I had a call with this person. My wall art and other decor has been professionally installed, so even if I wanted to, I couldn’t take the stuff down (or put it back up) without considerable effort. Now I could hang something from the ceiling down to cover the wall behind me, but honestly, it’s ridiculous to ask people to do this. Family photos or non-controversial knick knacks will not kill anyone.

        7. Chinook*

          As someone who once taught a grade 7 class for 2 months with no walls (after the school burned down – I was sharing an arena concession area with the other grade 7 class whose teacher taught math and needed the one available wall for his projector), I can honestly say that it isn’t always as obvious as you think. That means a wall with no windows or door, near an outlet to plug the hardware, enough light to see your work and no bookcase, furniture or appliances on it. Take a look around your living room and tell me if you could do that without arranging furniture? I have lived in 10 different places and only about 5 of them would have been able to accommodate this set up.

    2. FUISA*

      That judge is crazy. I appear frequently in virtual court and I’d say half the judges I appear in front of don’t even require the camera to be on, people appear from their cars. Court is a professional space, people’s homes aren’t.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I appeared from my car the other day. I also appeared virtually in one court from the lawn of a different court. Luckily the judge on my case was flexible and doesn’t care about stuff like that. Not all judges, tho.

    3. firstcoffee*

      I know this isn’t doable for everyone, but I was able to find a clip on webcam for under $50 for my other screen. I have the same issue with needing to read off of my second screen, which is larger and much easier to read. Part of my job involves training new employees. So when they choose to do a video meeting, I like to be able to make “eye contact” with them. I’ve been leaving it up to the new employees if they want to do video meetings or not.

  35. CommanderBanana*

    Whoever wrote those standards clearly never met a dog or a child. I haven’t been able to have a shut door between myself and the dogs since I adopted them. While they are reasonably well-behaved and sometimes even hang out elsewhere in the house, me shutting a door immediately makes them assume I’m eating snacks in secret without them and they’ll start trying to demolish the door.

    1. Observer*

      It sounds like they must be friends with the guys who suggested “training” your kids on IT by having them help with submitting tickets.

  36. Anonymous at a University*

    This is so ridiculous. Yes, they want the pandemic to go away, so does everybody, but it’s not going to just because some people would prefer that. I hope that you’re able to protect your team and not “enforce” the more ridiculous directives. I mean, what even would be the consequences for having a kid walk into sight of the screen or a dog bark? PIP? How would that be enforceable?

    And yeah, if someone really does have something in the background that makes them distracting on calls (I have a colleague whose dog is continually barking to the point that we can’t hear her when she tries to speak), then you address it with that person and come up with a way to work around it (the hosts of the meetings ask her to remain on mute and put her questions and contributions in chat, then pay close attention to the chat box).

  37. No Tribble At All*

    “eliminate distractions” (i.e., pets and kids/family members) ummm okay, but if they’re roommates, I won’t get anything from their life insurance…

    (I’m 100% joking, but this boss absolutely sounds like corny mafioso telling his goons to “clean up the loose ends”)

  38. No Tribble At All*

    Dear bosses, if you want to make your online calls “more professional” without being a loon, here’s some ideas!
    * stipend for higher-bandwidth internet
    * providing noise-canceling headsets with built-in mics (or a stipend for pick your own)
    * put out some branded virtual backgrounds! Everyone uses the same virtual background.
    * You can suggest a dress code for the on-screen part of the employee. I’d recommend one level below the office formality. Don’t police your employee’s pajama pants.
    * Instill a “mute self when not talking” culture
    * Don’t require video at all! You know what’s professional? My company headshot that appears for my picture when I don’t have my camera on.
    * One-time bonus for office furniture. You could even make this an application- anyone who needs a new desk setup or an office chair, let us know. Or let people, in shifts, go into the office and take their external monitors and chairs, etc.

  39. They don't expect the pandemic to "go away"*

    Rightly or wrongly, for many employers, “accommodating the pandemic” was defined as “flattening the curve,” so that hospitals were no longer overwhelmed and could handle cases as they came in. For them, “accommodating the pandemic” did and does not mean “keep doing things this way until there is a vaccine, which may not work, or at least, not to a degree that everyone agrees is acceptable, in which case keep doing it until who knows.”

    In their minds, they “accommodated the pandemic” as asked, and now that the curve has been flattened and hospitals are capable of controlling the rebound spikes as they occur, they have met their obligation. The end. They are okay with percentages as they stand and with the rebound spikes and repercussions.

    Simply saying “The pandemic isn’t gone yet!!!” doesn’t work, because employers will simply decide–have already decided–that it’s never going to be truly gone to everyone’s satisfaction, so they might as well stop expecting that and just do what they think the company needs.

    If people want employers to behave differently, the conversation has to change in some way. Repeating the same old “wishing doesn’t make the pandemic go away” is just producing fatalistic resignation, mistrust of shifting goalposts, acceptance of current mortality rates, and deaf ears.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      and now that the curve has been flattened

      The curve hasn’t flattened in many areas in the U.S. My city’s numbers have exploded again, and we’re not even fully open yet.

      They are okay with percentages as they stand and with the rebound spikes and repercussions.

      They’re okay with this until their workforce is out sick, dead, or laid up in the hospital.

      1. MJ*

        The flattened curve is a myth. Although where we are never had a shutdown as in the US, we are now on the 4th wave – and that’s with mandatory mask-wearing everywhere outside of their homes, quarantining at the borders, social distancing at restaurants, bars, etc. It’s a f—— rollercoaster.

    2. OP*

      Our region still has physical distance/building capacity restrictions that don’t allow us all to be in the office at once. Even if everyone wanted to, we would not be able to.

    3. Darcy*

      You’re absolutely right. The world as we have it today is not temporary. This is it the new normal.

      Employers are in the process of deciding how much they can bend to meet the new normal and how much they’ll have to say “Sorry employees……these are the rules. Our business needs X. I’m sorry if you’re immunocompromised/live in a small apartment/have kids/don’t want to wear pants. If you don’t like our rules, we’ll hire someone else. There’s lots of unemployed people out there that won’t give us any pushback on this”

      Not saying that this is a pleasant reality. In all likelihood, it’s going to mean that employer and employee part ways. Those of you saying “My employer can stuff it if they don’t like my dog!”, may soon find yourselves looking for a new job.

      Covid sucks.

      1. Observer*

        Employers with some sense and humanity won’t do that though. Because even in an economy this bad, good staff may have options. And if you treat your staff like easily replaced trash you will NOT get their best work. Also, it’s quite possible that some of these rules will also cause problems around (inadvertent – or not) discrimination.

        If what the employer were asking for was reasonable (their childcare suggestion is NOT), effective (apparently shutting up a dog can cause MORE disruption than leaving it in your room) and actually important to the operation of the company (most backgrounds really are not relevant to whether people can get their meetings done) people might not like it, but there would not be that much pushback. Given how ridiculous their demands are, this is not about a company trying to figure out how to continue to survive in a crazy time.

        1. Darcy*

          I hope I wasn’t sounding like I thought the OP’s employer was asking for reasonable things…..not my intention at all. However, most of this thread is filled with people “ranting against power”, as opposed to taking a hard look at what their employer is asking of them. Employees in some situations will face the choice of “comply” or “unemployment”.

          My employer has not yet laid anyone off, but I fear it’s coming in January. If our employer sent out a directive like the OP’s company did, I would be figuring out every way possible to comply and not be seen as a problem child. All other things being equal, it’s way easier to lay of Fergus, who refuses to put on a dress shirt , whose house is a pig sty, and whose dog howls in the background all day long, than to lay of Jane, who’s figured out how to give the employer the professional presentation that they’re seeking.

          I am NOT saying that this is fair. I’m not saying it’s ideal. I’m saying it’s REALITY.

    4. dr rocket*

      My home state (WI) is currently building a field hospital at the state fairgrounds. The hospital my mother works at has no ICU beds available. The curve is nowhere near flattened, and employers have a responsibility to acknowledge that business will not look like normal this year and they need to adjust their expectations accordingly. They can expect people to have acclimated to working from home by now, but they can’t expect people to function exactly like they would in the office — because they aren’t! And the employer needs to recognize this.

  40. Ellie May*

    OP, your employer is insensitive and out of touch with today’s reality – they are telling you something that needs to be filed away in your brain (they’re jerks). My employer went from very formal practices for work-from-home employees to the other extreme of tolerance for home-life getting in the way of “professional” Zoom calls. Heck, cameras are completely optional now because we shouldn’t need to be worried about what we’re wearing, what our hair looks like, if the cat walks by on the desk or if you’re trying to rock a fussy baby. All that matters to my employer is output/results – however you get there, they don’t care.

    Sorry that you’re dealing with this on top of trying to keep a productive team motivated and focused.

  41. Just Another Zebra*

    So, I’m considered essential and have been in the office this whole weird time, but my husband has been working from home. We have a 2-year-old. Our “home office” is the free wall next to the bathroom. The camera is pointed at the TV, which seems to be on a constant rotation of Puppy Dog Pals, Frozen, and Moana. Short of having my in-laws drive 2 hours one way each morning to watch her (impossible because of their health) or move in with us for the duration of the pandemic (please no), there is no one else to watch her. I would have so many problems with these directives that it would make my head spin. If OP’s bosses want to push this, I suspect they’re going to see a lot of staff giving notice, out of sheer inability to comply.

  42. The Real Persephone Mongoose*

    My company issued new work guidelines last week. It basically said that it was the new company norm to allow for it. Here are the guidelines for getting it approved. If you are moving out of the country, here is the process. If you are moving to another location in the same country (think moving from Washington state to NYC, here’s the decision guideline. Also, if you need equipment, here are the resources, here’s how THE COMPANY will pay for it and most importantly, we want to ensure you have a safe working space so make sure you have an emergency evacuation plan and good equipment. Sooooo….to WFH 100% of the time, I used my company provided funds to purchase an ergonomic desk and then picked up my monitors, monitor arm, keyboard, mouse, docking station, chair and some supplies from the office. I now have a sweet little setup at home that is work specific. There’s no requirements about my dogs barking, my (non existent) children making noise, the background I use on video calls (which aren’t required to be video by anyone except in certain cases and those are short moments) or anything. It’s like we have C-Suite executives who think their employees are…intelligent human beings who can make decisions and are doing the best they can in this situation. Perhaps they could give lessons to the rest of the world.

  43. Kara S*

    Reading this makes me grateful for my employer. They’ve had weird COVID policies but at least they don’t make cameras mandatory during meetings (I can turn mine on… but you will see my kitchen and me completely silhouetted against a window while my internet slowly dies from trying to manage too much at once).

    What they are asking for is reasonable if someone asks to work from home under normal circumstances. If you want to be WFH and things like daycare, school, etc are all actual options then I do understand this request. But none of those things are available to anyone and expecting those in small living spaces to just come up with the room for an office or a place for their young children to go is not reasonable.

  44. Imprudence*

    So they will eliminate all distractions when you are back in the office?
    The car alarms, the chatty co-workers, they will all be gone?

    1. The Real Persephone Mongoose*

      Or the people walking down the hallway outside your office who haven’t learned to use their inside voices when talking, doors slamming, equipment being moved, maintenance going on etc. It must be nice to be a C-Suite and have your entire day fully insulated from any noise or distractions.

    2. Just Me*

      ^^^^THIS!!!!
      Even with two big dogs, a pushy cat, and another adult human, my home has far fewer distractions and much less noise than any office I’ve ever worked in!!

    3. Open Office Nightmares*

      Yes, this!! Wish I could “like” this comment. Offices are *so* distracting. Ugh.

  45. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — One thing the person or persons who came up with this retrograde scheme may not have considered is the possibility of people quitting. After six months, no, they’re not “used to it” — they’ve just spent six months internalizing stress and trying to cope. One more small piece of administrative bullshit may be enough to push at least some of your employees into rage-quitting. And they will most likely be the people with hard-to-replace skill sets.

    Don’t ask me how I know this — I’m saving it for the Friday free-for-all. But let’s just say I decided I needed a glass of wine at lunch.

  46. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    The pandemic is still with us and the fact that it has already lasted over six months is completely irrelevant. I cannot stand executives who insist on acting like other people’s homes and lives are exactly like theirs. I once worked for a guy who asked me to come in on a Saturday and could not fathom why I would have to pay a babysitter for the time I spent commuting in addition to the time I spent working. And he had children. WTF.

  47. Made of Anxiety*

    Employers getting bored of catering to the pandemic infuriates me. My mom – a bookkeeper at a law firm – has been forced back into a full-capacity, full-time in-person office space for NO REASON and I am so angry and scared.

  48. all the time*

    Why are so many people using video? We have Teams meetings all day and very few people use video at all and are good about muting unless they are talking.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I suspect a lot of employers want to be sure their staff is actually working. Butts in seat and all that.

    2. FriendlyCanadian*

      I feel like it’s nice to see people, you loose your connections to your team if you don’t. Plus WFH can be lonely

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        I’m old enough to remember when talking to people only happened in two settings: Over the phone or in person. And we were able to establish and grow friendships purely by hearing someone’s voice. As a teenager, I was on the phone All. The. Time. and my mom eventually had the phone company install a separate line for me so I wouldn’t keep tying up the family phone line. I never felt lonely. Especially after it became easy to have multiple people on the same call.

        Fast-forward several decades and I’m totally fine with voice-only team meetings. Between those and instant messenger, I feel very connected.

    3. Rez123*

      So they can check that you follow the dress code?

      We thankfully don’t use cameras. I also don’t see the need for it but it seems to be a thing in most places.

  49. Betty*

    I mean, they probably just want to set SOME standards. I’m always shocked at how little sense some people have about these things. There are people who will jump on camera for meetings in rumpled soiled pajamas, sleep in their eyes, and a crusty mouth if you let them. Or do nothing at all to even attempt to mitigate their large barking dog in the same room as them. Or have a pile of nasty looking junk right in camera view during meetings with people outside of the company. Just do the bare minimum at least.

    What most of us know as common sense, many people don’t even consider. And it is embarrassing and unprofessional.

    1. Darcy*

      YES!

      Making an employee dress in a three piece suit complete with dress shoes is ridiculous, but so is showing up in a t-shirt with uncombed hair.

      Requiring that you ship your children offsite during the day to be educated online in someone else’s home is ridiculous, but so is an employee who attempts to be on a Skype call while simultaneously helping their six year old with their math homework.

      If people kept things professional 95% of the time, no one would care about the other 5%. It’s when the ratios are flipped that things get nasty.

  50. Darcy*

    Something I’m wondering about, as I don’t have young children.
    Are daycares still closed around the country for the newborn through 1st grade age group?
    I know that many did shut down or limit slots to children of essential workers when my state was on lockdown between March and June, but I don’t know about now.

    I’m wondering if there are employees out there with small children that have decided to not send their younger children back to daycare since they’re “home all day anyway” – and the employer is trying to make the point that it might be time to send them back. In pre-COVID times, my employer only allowed WFH when the employee made off-site childcare arrangements. A baby crying in the background while you’re working was a dead giveaway that the employee was flouting that agreement.

    Above question does not apply to school age and above kids, as I realize that many are home learning online part or all of the week.

    1. ElizabethJane*

      I’m in the Chicago suburbs. Most of the daycares in my particular suburb are open.

      They are also sending home “Covid exposure notices” at least every week or two. I don’t actually care if the daycare is open, my child is not going back. We’re in the process of hunting for a nanny but those are in high demand and are charging extreme rates (supply and demand I guess). We’re seeing $800-$900 a week for one child, plus I believe in doing this the right way so that doesn’t include any payroll taxes and fees I pay as an employer. That’s just not an option.

      Our compromise is to hire a part time nanny – she comes 3 days a week from 7:30 to 1. Then my daughter naps 1-3 so essentially I can work 7:30 to 3 uninterrupted. Then my husband and I both finish our days after she goes to bed.

      I guess my point is even though daycares are open it’s not really realistic to say that’s a valid option.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Exactly. Many parents are not comfortable sending their kids to daycare centers that are regular germ factories during normal times, let alone during a damn pandemic, and I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t either – my employer would have to deal.

      2. The Original K.*

        Yep. The day care where my best friend sends her younger child just shut down for two weeks due to COVID exposure – several of the teachers are positive. My friend’s kid has had at least three COVID tests that I’m aware of (all negative, thank God).

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Daycares around here are mostly open with limited capacity (up through pre-k/age 5. Kindergarten and up are on remote schooling with the public school district). So some people have chosen that option, and it seems to be working well for families I know. But for anyone with a high risk family member, kids with asthma, etc., the potential COVID risk may be too high. And, as others have said, they have to quarantine groups of kids semi-regularly so daycare can stop being an option for two weeks at basically any time (but you probably still have to pay full rates for those two weeks to hold your spot). And little kids get a lot of fevers and other random illnesses in the best of times, and those all require a COVID test and staying home until a negative test result now, even if it’s obviously an ear infection/positive strep test/one day bug/etc.

      So daycare is an option for some people, but it’s not a good, reliable option for everyone.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        And some districts around here have public pre-k as part of the school system, which means that the 3 and 4 year olds enrolled in those programs are “in school” on zoom.

    3. Observer*

      The short answer is that I don’t think any parent with a paying job is keeping their kid home from daycare because they are “home all day anyway.” If that’s what the employer thinks is happening then they are stupid and out of touch AT BEST.

      Day care slots are limited and many parents are legitimately worried about exposure.

  51. TootsNYC*

    are there technology solutions that can help with noise distractions? Microphones with only localized pickup?
    And Zoom backgrounds.

    1. J*

      I have headsets that cost less than $20 that help a lot. Zoom has “Noise Suppression” that you leave at auto or turn up high.

  52. Lauren*

    Why is it always high level management or C suite mandating these rules? My company is currently in the process of implementing permanent (partial-full) WFH policies that will stay in affect after the pandemic and… lets just say it’s quite clear that this move is coming from high up the food chain. It’s not nearly as bad as this, but it’s still bad.

    Everyone making the new rules makes well above 6 figures (probably $200,000+) and is well into their careers. The ones I know more details about own large townhouses or homes outside the city. WFH is easy when you have unlimited resources to have dedicated work spaces, can afford ergonomic chairs, and will invest in your set up. I live in a 3 bedroom apartment shared with two roommates that is barely 1200 square feet. We live in one of the most expensive cities in the country and that is already expensive. None of us have the space to have a proper work setup and none of us want to/are able to pay to furnish a brand new work setup. On top of not wanting to move, I really don’t want to (and can’t exactly afford to) shell out the extra $400-$1000 it might cost to have a dedicated office space.

    WFH is harder for people with fewer resources! It’s expensive! We don’t have the space or flexibility! Mandating a distraction free and quite environment would be laughable. Like sure you want me to work in my 100 square foot bedroom the barely fits my desk and you want nothing in the background? I guess I’ll get rid of my closet, my clothes, my coat hooks, I’ll never do laundry because you can see my drying rack behind me, and sorry about the noise that I cant change.

  53. Spicy Tuna*

    Neat and tidy background? It’s hard enough for me to make myself neat and tidy! My home is a disaster. It will always be a disaster because it doesn’t bother me. I would rather have root canal than clean or tidy my home.

  54. Spicy Tuna*

    Oh, and as far as the pets go? I love it. Someone (not a direct report to me, but pretty far down the food chain from me in the organization) sent me a report that was completely wrong. Like, did he even read my request level of wrong. I called him on the phone all ready to read him the riot act, and then I heard a dog bark in the background and thought, “Oh, he has a DOG! SQUEEE!!” and just patiently explained to him what I needed after asking him details about the dog, of course.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Right??!?! Seeing or hearing someone’s pet on a call is my favorite part of work calls!

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Haha, I worked with someone whose two cats liked to get on the keyboard and display their bumholes to the camera. I thought it was hilarious. Cats gonna cat.

        1. DarnTheMan*

          One of my co-workers frequently had what she called ‘technical difficulties of the fluffy jerkbutt kind’ – her screen would look like her camera was off but it was in fact her roommates’ very large, all-black persian cat who apparently wanted nothing to do with her until she had to hop on a meeting, then he’d position himself across her laptop – completely blocking the webcam – so he could demand attention.

  55. Karia*

    What? I don’t know where OP is based but where we are, if you’re locked down enough to work from home, you’re locked down enough that you are banned from mixing with other households. There is no ‘get a relative to provide childcare’ in those circumstances. It could get you fined £200+ . Also what if you don’t have any local relatives?

  56. Jennifer C*

    If that were my company, guess who would be naked under a suit jacket with a bedsheet taped to the ceiling behind their chair?

  57. OP*

    OP here. Thanks everyone for your comments! As some background, our office is generally very formal and old-school. We wear suits when we’re in the office, and WFH wasn’t a thing until it was mandated. We’ve all gotten more casual during the pandemic (think business casual, not outright sloppy), and my sense is that multiple members of the C-suite are itching to go back to our suit wearing office. A lot of people – myself included – haven’t really invested in our home offices because the company isn’t providing funds for it and we’ve been on notice to go back as soon as possible… since March. And once we are back, they are eliminating WFH again (I really hope they change their minds about this, I think it will cause us to lose a ton of good employees).

    Based on some comments above and how it had been worded to us in that meeting, I do wonder if it was one specific instance of something that happened on a call with the C-suite. I haven’t personally witnessed any unprofessional behavior or dress in any of the many, many meetings I am in (video is mandatory), but it would not be the first time a new policy was created to deal with one person’s issues.

    My team works SUPER hard and I don’t want them to worry that they’re doing something wrong. I know everyone is already really stressed. I will definitely talk to them once the new standards are released. I don’t personally care about most of what was covered (and also, I encourage animal show and tell, it’s great for morale).

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      And once we are back, they are eliminating WFH again (I really hope they change their minds about this, I think it will cause us to lose a ton of good employees).

      I’m hearing that a lot of the major employers are looking into permanent WFH options now, so… you’re right. If they ban it, people will go to wherever it’s not banned.

      1. OP*

        On the whole I like my job a lot, but I’m really enjoying working from home and if we are not allowed to keep doing so at least part of the time, I would probably be one of those people looking to go where I can.

  58. iglwif*

    I *so so so* appreciate the flexibility and compassion the leadership at my employer has shown. Not only are they very much not pushing for a return to the office, they’ve also de-emphasized timekeeping, put money and effort into the equity initiatives people have been asking for (and done a lot of donation matching!), and leaned into the whole wfh thing.

    I think most of my coworkers are mostly wearing pants (I am!) but nobody is checking up and we are all being treated like adults, and it’s great.

  59. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Sorry if this was already said, I’m too incensed to stay focused long enough to read all 450 comments; but do these people remember why we are all WFH in the first place?? What is this “send your kid to stay with a random relative on the other side of town” nonsense IN A PANDEMIC?!?!

  60. FriendlyCanadian*

    Professional dress and background is something I think employers can 1000% expect. Put on a blouse from pre WFH times and sit with your back to a plain wall or put up a zoom background.

    The childcare thing though is ridiculous, people are trying their best

    1. Observer*

      Professional dress is one thing. But “sit with your back to a plain wall or put up a zoom background.” requires a lot of assumptions. If people have the equipment that will allow them to put up a background, I’m totally with you. But not everyone has the right equipment and the OP’s employer has apparently not provided the equipment to insure that it’s universally possible. And LOTS of people don’t HAVE a “plain wall” to sit in front of.

      And that doesn’t even start with the rest of the nonsense.

  61. Beth*

    Scenarios where a company can reasonably demand this: When the company is paying for the employee’s housing, will cover all moving costs and make moving arrangements if the employee’s current housing doesn’t have a dedicated workspace, is offering a private live-in nanny/tutor to all employees with children, and is paying to soundproof and outfit the home office in the housing they’re providing.

    Scenarios where this is unreasonable and the employer needs to get off their high horse: literally any other situation. It’s not reasonable to expect people to have an entire extra space set aside for work in their home, on their own dime. It’s not reasonable to expect people’s kids to vanish for the day when school is remote and daycares and part-time babysitters mean dangerous exposure for any family with at-risk members, and not everyone has conveniently located relatives who are willing and able to provide childcare. It’s not reasonable to expect total quiet in your average home space. Those just aren’t possible things for most people!! I don’t think I know anyone who could guarantee all of them every day, and plenty of people can’t meet any of them. Any company that makes requirements like this is going to find themselves short on employees real fast.

  62. JewelTones*

    Ugh. If I have to bite my tongue through one more person telling me they’re bored or “over” COVID-19 and not being able to meet in person and having to still do virtual meetings, I’m gonna bite clear through it one day. It’s amazing how many think they can just will the pandemic away because they declare it so or, worse, who think it’s all overblown anyway. Meanwhile I have my health to protect and some very vulnerable people in my household I refuse to get sick through sheet carelessness. I figure my days on these freelance gigs are numbered because I have no intention of attending in person anytime soon.

  63. Lee*

    I manage a team of 9 data researchers that have been WFH since March. We are now scattered along the East Coast and loving it. I’ve said if we ever put the band back together in DC, we’re going to have to set up a roster on whose turn it is to bring a small child or dog to the meetings. I never even considered professional norms for hone office settings. I do, however, require formal business wear on Fridays. I call it Formal Friday and it’s mostly for funsies. I have a vast tie collection and none of them match the cargo shorts and t-shirts I wear most of the time. I really appreciate the relaxed standards of government work, you’d think they’d be more retentive about things wouldn’t you?

  64. Agnes*

    I have been on a couple of zoom meetings where I think either someone’s attire, background, or distractions were so “out there” that it affected the meeting.—- but only a couple. I wonder if this is just another iteration of upper management issuing a general directive rather than addressing a specific problem.

    I personally am amazed at how well so many of our remote workers are juggling so many things right now that can make remote work difficult. We’ve never had remote work options before. I Think we are all trying to show our organization that it can work in hopes it will remain an option for the future.

  65. AthenaC*

    I’m actually kind of on board with at least some of this – it’s worthwhile from time to time to take a look at your environment and see what you can control about your working environment. It does matter what type of position you have – if you’re in client service / professional services, I do think it makes sense to dress for a client zoom meeting similar to how you would dress for a client in-person meeting. We did just have some messaging recently about that, because we did have a couple folks who had gotten in the habit of showing up to client meetings having not shaved, clearly not showered, and wearing ratty clothes.

    Now, there’s no reason to be asinine about it – there’s always going to be distractions and things, but it’s worth reminding people to do the best they can.

    I guess I wasn’t clear from the letter – are these internal or external calls? Because that makes a difference.

  66. Mary Panfil*

    It did not say all day. It said avoid distractions during meetings. Assuming you don’t have meetings all day, everyday, this does not seem like an unreasonable request to me. Let’s try not to villainize employers who are allowing people to work from home, which a huge perk. They are also adjusting to this way of doing things. Communication has become more difficult and unless you have a way to measure everyone’s productivity, for all they know, you are sitting at home on your couch doing nothing. I appreciate the fact that employers have been flexible enough to allow people to keep their jobs and take care of their families.

    1. Lyudie*

      It’s not a perk when it’s required by law in many places still and the alternative is spreading or contracting a deadly virus.

        1. Lyudie*

          I am in the US and though there isn’t a stay at home order in effect anymore, there are still plenty of restrictions on gatherings/capacity in my state. Offices that have people on site are supposed to provide face masks to their workers, which I’m sure many companies would rather not deal with. OP does say just below this that their area does require WFH.

    2. OP*

      Our employer is not “allowing us” to work from home as “a perk” – it is required by law in my area. Productivity can be measured by work output and deliverables, obviously. And if you can deliver what we ask and make all your meetings and have time to sit on your couch, I really don’t care. And I personally do spend 6-7 hours a day in meetings, on camera.

  67. TeapotNinja*

    I would have to quit this company, if those policies were enacted.

    I have a large family with pets. There isn’t a tidy spot anywhere in the house given that I can’t afford to buy a mansion with an extra room for my “home office” that since I live in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. The kids use the entire house for their activities that are now all virtual.

    This is totally unrealistic.

  68. Sharon*

    Perhaps the mandate would be better accepted if the wording was softer – e.g. “We know that not everybody has the ideal set up to work from home, but we still need to do our best to present a professional image and give our clients and co-workers the input and attention they deserve during meetings.”
    I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to expect an employee to brush their hair, wear reasonably professional clothes, and point their camera at a wall instead of a pile of dirty dishes when on video calls. You don’t need to have a fancy dedicated office and wear a suit. The C-suite should also be flexible and not penalize someone for rescheduling a meeting for a time when they can work undistracted, or muting themselves/turning off the video as needed.

  69. JXB1000*

    I didn’t read every single response, but I think I may be the dessenter (somewhat) here. After 6+ months of this, I’m in favor of setting some professional standards WITHIN REASON for virtual meetings, especially when video is used. (Not saying I agree with the bit about child care. Situation is tough for a lot of us.)

    For a casual staff meeting or informal one-on-one, some of this is less of a concern. For a formal business meeting where we are trying to get things done, I’d like more focus.

    ** External Noise.
    —– Headphones are affordable and can block much of the external sound.
    —– Many tools have increased features for sound control. (Ex. Zoom Noise Suppression). Know what yours provides and use it.
    —– Mute when not talking if noise is an issue. (if appropriate; even your typing can be distracting)

    ** Minimize Distractions for Business Meetings
    —- Arrive on time
    —- Control the view. Use virtual background, face camera towards a wall, or place a folding screen behind your chair if your camera would otherwise depict a chaotic background or an unsightly view (ex: unmade bed).
    —- Adjust camera angle and lighting appropriately
    —- No live video backgrounds just for the fun of it. Those are horribly distracting. We don’t need crashing waves or a cartoon running behind you during a focused session.
    —- Restrict use of screen filters applied on the camera picture like stickers (bunny ears, mustache, eyepatch)
    —- Use a decent headshot for your business account profile.

    ** Consider Personal Appearance (for Video)
    No reason to go overboard. Wearing makeup is your choice. No need to put on a tie. But PLEASE:
    —- Don’t look like you just rolled out of bed. COMB YOUR HAIR.
    —- No pajamas
    —- Don’t chew gum
    —- Attire should be appropriate for your situation and organizational expectations
    —- Don’t eat on camera unless it’s a lunch meeting or common to the group
    —- Don’t look like you just came in from cleaning the garage or washing the dog
    —- Might be nice if you didn’t wear the exact same shirt every single day

    We were taking meetings from prospective vendors (purchase $10-$20K). Video meeting set days in advance. One shocked me. She presented her product wearing an old, thin tank top; ratty shorts, hair was a mess, and she looked like she’d just walked in from hours of yardwork.

    There’s time for fun and informality. I like playing with all the cool stuff, too! But I also think professionalism matters in many business situations.

    1. OP*

      See, from my perspective, if someone shows up at an important externally-facing video call looking sloppy, I’d have concerns about their mental health with everything that’s going on. “They’re having fun and being informal” would NOT be my first instinct here. And it would warrant a one-on-one conversation, not instituting a company-wide policy. I’m in a LOT of meetings and haven’t ever witnessed anything egregious.

    2. Librarian Liz*

      I get the no food rule for public/client facing stuff but to me it seems nit picky for internal meetings.

    3. DarnTheMan*

      I actually find some of my co-worker’s virtual backgrounds more distracting than if they didn’t use one; because for a lot of softwares if anyone moves around in the vicinity of the webcam, then they end up doing a ghostly flicker in and out of the background as it tries to adapt for them (pets too) which is a lot more distracting for me than if someone briefly walked by in the background.

    4. pleaset cheap rolls*

      Good stuff from JXB10000 but I don’t agree with this: “Might be nice if you didn’t wear the exact same shirt every single day” – I think if people choose to have a uniform that’s a good thing for them. It’s also worth noting that people tend to notice women dressing the same day after day more than men, so there is something gendered about this expectation (I’m sure that’s not your attention, but it’s worth being aware of).

    5. Stuff*

      About wearing the same clothes every day, if I’m wearing a suit to meetings, I’m only wearing it during meetings, then changing back to casual clothes. If a suit is only worn for 2 hours a day, indoors, every day for a week, assuming daily meetings, that’s 10 hours. That’s nkt really anything close to an unreasonable amount of time to wear a suit, especially indoors only, without washing.

  70. Anonymooose*

    Expecting a level of professionalism when working from home isn’t lack of support. We aren’t a bunch of infants having a meltdown.

    Don’t accuse a company of not supporting a pandemic or doing this because they are tired. They are treating employees like professionals and, you know, adults.

    Their misstep is in telling people how they should be action professionally and giving examples. That’s just insanity…doing that lights up the whiners from all corners.

    It is completely reasonable to tell employees that after months, we should be getting better at working virtually. Perfect, no. Better, hell yes!

    It is completely reasonable to ask employees to NOT have distractions during calls. You CAN manage your household so that if/when you have important calls, you can participate without interruptions. If you cannot have a discussion with your children about mom/dad hoping on an important call and needing them to be quiet and respectful, you suck at running your household.

    Will every call go perfectly well? No. There will be a time where Amazon rings the doorbell, the dogs start backing and wake the baby…. because stuff happens. But working towards no distraction during calls, that’s a reasonable request. And a wake up call to anyone who lets their dog or household walk all over them…it is NOT normal.

    It is completely reasonable to ask that pets not factor into a call. It is not smart to suggest putting a dog in a room during a call, not because it’s a stupid suggestion but because there will be someone who will lock in on that ONE exact suggestion and as EXACTLY why the entire request higher professional standards is unreasonable because their dog doesn’t like being alone in a room. Really. It’s been 6 months, unless you got a puppy last week, you can work with your dogs so they are in a quiet, calm state of mind while you are at home or when they are alone. It’s actually the right way to own a pet.

    They aren’t asking anything unreasonable. They are asking that you get better after 6 months of this. If you can’t/won’t improve after 6 months of practice…that’s telling.

    1. Philly Redhead*

      I’m dying to know how you tell a toddler that you’ll be on an important call and to leave Mommy/Daddy alone for an hour.

      1. Sharon*

        Well, not everyone has 2 adults in the house, but those that do can tag team. Adult A (or older kid A) can be in charge of the toddler for an hour while Adult B shuts the bedroom door and has their meeting. It would be unusual for both people to have Important Meetings that Cannot be Interrupted all day.

        Single parents working at home with a toddler and no child care have my sympathy and admiration.

  71. Fafa Flunkie*

    It’s obvious the C-suite has no clue on how the real world works, with them sitting in their mansions, probably in their own isolated wing, whilst the service staff take care of the “distractions.” Perhaps asking them to provide the same salary to all of those they require to have a “distraction-free” WFH environment will help mitigate that! Of course, my tongue is firmly implanted in one of my cheeks right now as I type this.

  72. Librarian1*

    Not all computers are compatible with the zoom backgrounds though! Mine isn’t and it’s new! I bought it last October or November, but for some reason, it doesn’t work w/out a green screen and I don’t have room for one.

  73. Firecat*

    Worst bosses of 2020:
    Enacting pre-covid strict WFH cause “this is the new normal”
    Forcing people who don’t have to come into the office to be in person despite the risks.
    Not enforcing mask mandates or cleaning procedures in the office.
    Cutting pay/benefits/people and then throwing a lavish party/sending everyone a useless gift/paltry bonus.
    Not giving people paid time off for Covid.

    Did I miss anything Covid related?

  74. EchoGirl*

    I’m a freelancer, so this doesn’t really apply to me, but IF it did…I’m lucky enough to have a house with a separate office (I knew I’d be freelancing, so that was a requirement for me in house-hunting), but it has a slatted door and it adjoins the main room of the basement which is where most of my cats’ things are, and one of them is (I technically don’t “know” this for a fact, but it’s pretty obvious) part Siamese. And I can’t lock them out of the basement because that’s where their food and litter boxes are. I can make it look tidy, but there would be cat noise in the background.

  75. Ailsa McNonagon*

    My employers are guests in my home for the foreseeable- if I’d wanted to permanently WFH I would have taken a job doing that. Obviously, no one could have predicted the pandemic, but I’m stunned that employers are dictating such ridiculous standards to people working in extremely stressful circumstances IN THEIR OWN HOMES.

    I’m lucky, both to have a job and to work for an organisation that doesn’t seem bothered about what I wear on camera so long as I’m doing my job. To the commenter whose friend’s organisation is insisting on shoe and trouser checks on video calls, I would be tempted to put on something of a fashion show! Multiple outfit and shoe changes per call, and present it as ‘I want to be absolutely certain I’m complying with the Zoom dress code’- if enough people waste enough time doing this I imagine it’ll quickly fall by the wayside…

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