my old boss is now my peer, asking for a pay increase for working from home, and more

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

1. My old boss is now my peer — but keeps acting like my boss

In 2020, my workplace had a restructure and layoffs due to the pandemic. My then-boss was essentially demoted to my level and we now share the same title. When they were my boss, they were great and I was able to learn quickly how to best manage up so that we could have a productive working relationship.

The trouble is, now that they are my peer, they expect me to do the same kinds of things I did for them as special favors when they were my manager (teaching them how to use our software, helping them find files, preparing different documents) and giving me directives like they were still my manager (which projects to pursue, how to work with different groups, how to structure my work).

This person is very lovely, and sometimes the feedback they have really does help me. But the constant IM’ing and out of the blue calls (that I used to drop everything to take because they were my boss) are starting to annoy me — partly because we are now peers and they should be able to figure it out on their own, and partly because those things were never my job in the first place and I only did them because of the manager-employee dynamic. I know it takes time to adjust to a new role (especially what was essentially a demotion), but how can I reinforce that we are now peers without creating an uncomfortable team dynamic?

Be less responsive! When they IM or call you with requests for work you really shouldn’t be doing now, politely decline to help and nudge the responsibility back over to them. For example, say, “Oh, I can’t — I’m working on something for Jane that I can’t drop.” (In this example, Jane is your new boss, and you are using her name to emphasize that you report to her now.) Or,  “Sorry, tied up with X so can’t help but it’s pretty straightforward — there are instructions in the manual!” For a broader directive like what projects to pursue or how to structure them: “Oh thanks, but I’ve got it — I’ve already nailed it all down with Jane.”

If that doesn’t work or if you don’t think they’ll pick up on the message, you could say outright, “With the restructure, I don’t think I’m supposed to be doing this kind of thing anymore.” Or, the next time one of these directives comes in, “I’ve noticed you and I are still relating the way we did before the restructure, where you’re sending me work. I want to respect the new structure and respect my reporting relationship to Jane, so I’m going to be more disciplined about not doing things like X or Y. I hope you understand!”

You could also talk to your new boss about it, get her confirmation that indeed you’re no longer expected to do this stuff, and then borrow that authority in talking to your old boss — “I talked to Jane and I shouldn’t be doing things like X or Y anymore.” If you want to soften it, you could add, “I know it’s a weird shift, but I figure if we’re deliberate about it we’ll get used to it pretty quickly.” (In fact, if you haven’t already gotten that confirmation from your new boss, do that before anything else on this list to make sure you’re both aligned.)

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Asking for a temporary pay increase for working from home

I recently graduated with a degree to practice therapy. Therapy is one of the least Covid-safe things you could do in person (talking into someone’s face for hours on end) and one of the best to move to video chat, so most of the practices I’m talking to are all work from home right now. I realized that in order to maintain a HIPAA-compliant workspace, I couldn’t continue to live with a roommate, so I’m making plans to take over the full lease for my apartment.

Could I ask a potential employer for a temporary pay increase to work from home? It feels to me like this is a business expense a potential employer is offloading onto me, because normally they would have to pay the rent on my office space. However, I recognize that 1) they didn’t ask me to do this, 2) they may still be paying a lease somewhere regardless of whether I’m using it, and 3) it’s possible current staff don’t have the luxury of choosing whether to live alone and might feel resentful if this expense were covered for me. At the same time, I don’t think I could have ethically done therapy in a room where I would have been overheard (the acoustics mean my roommate would have had to stay in his room the whole time I was working, even with a white noise machine) and I’m taking on a business expense for my work. Once it’s safe to fully move my office into a clinic, I intend to get another roommate, and I would be happy to give up this “bonus” money at that point.

Does it sound totally out of line to even ask? I would take no for an answer but I don’t want to come off as out of touch.

Your argument for why it’s a business expense is logical! But lots of things in the world of work are logical in theory but still not really done, and this is one of those. (I’m sure there’s some company out there that’s an exception to this, but generally speaking this isn’t something you see.) It’s also likely to be an especially hard sell from a recent grad, who usually aren’t in terribly strong negotiating positions because you’re competing against people with more experience/more expertise/longer track records. When you do see a company agreeing to an out-of-the norm perk, it’s usually for someone fairly senior who they’re pulling out all the stops to woo.

If anything, with this sort of thing you’re better off just trying to negotiate a higher salary, one that would make the costs you’re incurring worth it to you, without explicitly framing it as a housing allowance.

3. Will offices keep up this level of sanitation?

My employer is bringing me back to the office, and right now they’re doing a lot of effort to visibly disinfect. I’m talking about wipes everywhere, sanitizer everywhere, masks-on policy. I’m grateful for this kind of support as a germophobe, finally.

Do you think this behavior will continue once the pandemic threat dies down and a majority of the population is vaccinated? I’m afraid management won’t really care about keeping the offices hygienic in the future.

I bet we’ll see lots of hand sanitizer stick around, but the devotion to sanitizing surfaces is pretty likely to fade, especially because scientists now think the risk of transmitting Covid via surfaces is very low.

It sounds like you welcome the stepped-up hygiene not just because of Covid but because it’s keeping things more sanitary in general. And offices are gross. If we looked at them under black lights, I shudder to imagine what we’d find. But unfortunately, I suspect you’re in for disappointment; as people stop associating their workplaces with potential serious illness/death, my prediction is that offices will return to something closer to their old baseline of disgusting behavior.

4. Knitting a departing manager a baby blanket

I’ve been at my job for two years, and with only 10-12 employees at a time, we’re all fairly close. My manager is primarily responsible for the camaraderie, and really makes everyone feel appreciated. She just announced that she will not be returning from maternity leave, and I would like to knit her a baby blanket as a baby/going away present, but I’m worried it would be too large of a gift. There’s very little actual money involved (less than $20 worth of yarn), but when you consider that the last baby blanket I made took about 18 hours, even at minimum wage the labor cost gets expensive. I would love to do this for her, but I don’t want to make her uncomfortable.

If you would love to do it, do it! She’s leaving, there’s a baby, you’re close to her, you appreciated her as a colleague, and you like to knit. You should be fine! Based on everything you’ve shared, I don’t think it will make her uncomfortable, and it might be quite meaningful to her.

(The “don’t gift up” rule is more about people not feeling pressured to give gifts to managers and not doing things that will create pressure on others to gift upwards. Situations like this are a bit different.)

5. Employees at my company have been blacklisted for taking counteroffers

I’ve just come off a call with a recruiter, and I’m very disturbed to have been told that employers have effectively blacklisted engineers from my company due to engineers here using job offers as a method to raise their salaries (using the offer to get a raise, and then staying here rather than taking the new job). We have seen this in practice, and a number of engineers have been left behind salary-wise because of this.

How do I avoid being blacklisted along with the rest of my colleagues? This is my first time applying for roles in six years (I had high hopes which have been dashed) and we live in a small country with an even smaller IT community. The only way out I can think of is to quit without another role to avoid being accused of this practice. I can’t attempt to move to the mainland due to Covid restrictions.

Quitting without another job just so no one expects you of trying to get a counteroffer would be an extreme measure, especially as a first step. Instead, I’d work on building relationships with recruiters so that they understand you’re genuinely looking to leave and that you don’t intend to leverage their offer to get more money from your current company. Talk about your reasons for wanting to move on, acknowledge that your coworkers have become known for taking counteroffers, and say you have no intention of doing that. If you’re a good candidate and you build a trusting relationship with a recruiter, they’re going to be well positioned to explain to their clients (the companies you want to work for) that you’re not just offer-shopping. But I do think you’ll need to address it openly and up-front.

{ 295 comments… read them below }

  1. BonzaSonza*

    OP #2 – I share an office with my husband now, and work in a field where privacy of customer information is heavily regulated. My husband also has meetings with external clients.

    Here’s how we manage it:
    ° Noise-cancelling headphones. Always. There’s no privacy breach if there’s nothing to overhear.
    ° Compare calendars and identify when there’s an external meeting. One of us will leave the room during those times.
    ° When speaking internally with colleagues, I do not say any customer identifying details aloud. That may mean talking about the “llama case” or the “client’s teapot handle issue”, or something suitably nondescript. If personal identifying details are needed I ask for the details in the chat.

    It’s not perfect, but it works well enough for us

    1. anone*

      Providing therapy is truly a different situation altogether (a therapist needs to be focused on supporting their client who might be in intense emotional pain, not second-guessing about whether they’ve said something identifying out loud–these are not task-oriented, technical conversations), and a roommate is a different relationship than a spouse (many roommates would not agree to adjust their behaviour to this degree and it may be the case of a living situation where one would have to leave the house to truly preserve privacy).

      1. PspspspspspsKitty*

        My therapist is married and uses noise canceling headphones. Even if she was living with her boyfriend or had had roommates, I wouldn’t know because she is in a room by herself and they can’t hear me. The LW’s company should give more guidance on this as working from home is a very common experience with therapists. It doesn’t hurt to ask for more money, but I don’t think having a roommate is as problematic as people are making it out to be.

        As far as roommates go, I had a roommate who worked in the early morning running customer service while handling credit card info. All 3 of us respected her time to work. If roommates don’t respect that kind of behavior, then find better people to live with.

        1. Julia*

          How does your therapist wearing earphones ensure that her spouse can’t hear what she says to you? Not trying to be snarky, just genuinely confused.
          My therapist works from home and I never hear her family, but I guess I personally (!) wouldn’t mind if anyone heard me as I don’t know them and don’t even live in the same country.

          1. Mayflower*

            Noise canceling is for the OTHER person (roommate, spouse, etc). For what it’s worth, I’ve been using Bose noise canceling headphones to be able to focus at work, and they are WONDERFUL at drowning out other people’s speech.

            1. Allura Vysoren*

              This depends very heavily on the headphones. I’ve gone through two pairs at my busy office and both times I’ve found that they do a great job at cancelling out background noise…to the point where it’s actually easier for me to hear voices that are in the same room.

        2. Beth Jacobs*

          I have a roommate and I’m a very respectful person. But I think we have to trust the OP when they say it was just not reasonably workable – they know their work, their apartment acoustics and their roommate.
          I’d never eavesdrop, but sounds like the roommate couldn’t even use the bathroom and kitchen during OP’s work hours. And yeah, that won’t work regardless of how respectful everyone is.

          1. doreen*

            I think we would have to trust the OP about what’s workable if they had a job but I don’t think they do yet. And what may not be workable for a full-time job with a non-profit agency that fills your schedule may be plenty workable for a different set-up, where you must build your own practice and only spend a couple of hours a day on video-chat .

            1. doreen*

              Editing error – should be “only spend a couple of hours a day on video-chat at first”

          2. Daisy*

            I’m not disbelieving OP – I can hear my roommate’s end of phone conversations working on the phone in the living room from the hallway or kitchen, even with the door closed – but I think she’s being overcautious. If she wears a headset then no one will hear anything of the patient’s end. If she has the door closed then she’s done all she can, particularly in these unusual circumstances. I’ve had in-person therapy before, and it wasn’t in some special lead-lined box underground – you can hear words when passing the door anywhere. I think if she asked a boss, they’d probably say the same.

            1. Elenna*

              Eh, I can see both sides. I understand OP’s discomfort – I’m kinda weirded out hearing my dad’s parent-teacher interviews and discussion of each student’s grades, and that’s a lot less private than the kind of stuff that’s discussed in therapy!
              And it’s true that for in-person therapy you can hear stuff when passing the door, but passers-by will only hear a couple seconds, max, while it sounds like OP’s roommate would hear long stretches of conversation whenever they went to the bathroom, made food, etc. It’s more like if someone was accidentally listening at the door to an in-person session for multiple minutes, which I think many people would be disturbed by.

              That being said, a lot of people are in situations right now where confidential information is being said out loud more than employers would have previously liked, and I think a lot of people are just doing their best to be quiet and trusting their roommates to pretend to ignore anything they hear. Of course ideally therapy should be 100% confidential, but we don’t live in an ideal world right now, and it may be that standards are currently slightly lower. Or maybe they aren’t lower at all! But I don’t know that OP is necessarily in a good place to judge that.

              OP, maybe you can talk to your new boss about it? Not necessarily in a “can you give me money to move” way, more like “I’m concerned that my roommate could overhear therapy conversations, what are our organization’s policies”. Then once you have an idea what others are doing, that could help you decide if you need to move.

              1. Observer*

                That being said, a lot of people are in situations right now where confidential information is being said out loud more than employers would have previously liked, and I think a lot of people are just doing their best to be quiet and trusting their roommates to pretend to ignore anything they hear. Of course ideally therapy should be 100% confidential, but we don’t live in an ideal world right now, and it may be that standards are currently slightly lower

                I’m pretty sure that HIPPA regulations have not been lifted. And a year in, if something happens a regulator is far more likely to expect that you have figured out the privacy issues.
                So the OP is right to be concerned and trying to be fully compliant.

          3. Excel Jedi*

            Absolutely! My spouse is working at home as a therapist right now, and he is doing telehealth 5-8 hours per day, every day, M-F. We have a workable configuration with both of us home, but it would not be tenable for me to only be able to leave my room in the 10 minutes he has between clients, or outside of his 9-5 workday.

            And HIPAA regulations are much different than other privacy needs. He would be uncomfortable even with me hearing that he was talking to his client about a parent or spouse, even if I couldn’t hear or see the client – never mind all the other details he has to go into as essential parts of his job. Some things are acceptable short term because of a snow day, but would be bad for the therapeutic relationship in the long term – for example, not being able to use even a first name week after week diminishes rapport.

          4. Observer*

            . But I think we have to trust the OP when they say it was just not reasonably workable – they know their work, their apartment acoustics and their roommate.

            True. But the problem is that they are jumping from “I can’t make it work with THIS combination” to “I need to be living by myself”. And that is just not necessarily the case.

        3. Rachel in NYC*

          I have a good friend who is a therapist who lives with her boyfriend and a roommate. Obviously the ideal would be that she has a private space but in reality, she uses headphones and closes herself off in a room.

          Admittedly, their roommate does work at a restaurant so he’s still been leaving the apartment. Which does change things.

        4. Anonym*

          Same for my therapist – she’s in a bedroom/office with a closed door and uses headphones. I suppose her spouse might hear her talking? But they can’t see or hear me. And when we were in person, I could definitely partially hear conversation through the other therapist’s closed door, even with heavy doors and white noise machine. In this case, at least it’s only a housemate who can overhear, rather than a variety of other patients! As a patient, and one who used to deal with HIPAA compliance issues in a past life, I think OP is taking the solutions too far. Headphones and a door!

        5. JSPA*

          What you as a specific patient are comfortable with, and what’s required by HIPAA for patient privacy, are two different things. If OP’s housing situation is such that there’s no reasonable way to create true privacy, even with a white noise machine, then there just isn’t.

          I do agree that some headphones capture all the noise, but I’m not at all sure that for someone in a crisis, the sight of their therapist in that sort of headphones will feel like, “they’re listening only to me, and protecting my privacy 100%,” when it looks like, “listening to music with fancy headphones.” We’re trained by life to understand that “person with headphones is someone not to be spoken to.” You can KNOW otherwise, but FEELING otherwise is different.

          1. alsoatherapistwitharoomie*

            This is such a hard situation! I also work as a therapist and have a roommate in an apartment. Last year, I actually had to move because I didn’t have a dedicated workspace and was living in a building where the walls were so thin, I could hear my roommate sneeze from three rooms away. I’m still in an apartment now (with much better acoustics) and use a combination of white noise machines and headphones. Even with those, my roommate can definitely hear when I’m in a session but not exactly what I’m saying.

    2. Blue*

      I think this level of detail and consideration for another’s schedule is a lot more likely to fly with a spouse than a roommate.

    3. Sharkie*

      I work in an HIPAA heavy job in a therapy related field , and the only requirement is that we have a space with a door that closes. Is that an option for you op?

      1. MK*

        I don’t understand why it’s the OP’s roommate that will have to stay in their room and not the OP. Surely from a financial point of view it’s better to make some changes to their bedroom so that it can accommodate video therapy, or move into a larger space that provides them with a closed-door workspace.

        1. Julia*

          I thought that conversation within OP’s bedroom could be heard from the living space and that’s why.

          1. womanaroundtown*

            My roommate is a therapist – she has a white noise machine outside her room that she turns on when in session. I can’t hear anything from inside her room when it’s on.

      2. Snow Globe*

        OP mentions the possibility that the employer could still be renting office space somewhere, for the day that in-person visits are possible. If that is the case, couldn’t the OP conduct their virtual sessions from the office? There would be privacy, and they could still have a roommate.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          That was my first thought – OP could ask if office space is being unused and, if so, if they can have access for sessions.

          1. Tara*

            Also, am I being an idiot and there’s a reason why headphones aren’t an option? A lot of my friends are junior lawyers in flat shares with lawyers from other firms. There have been times where information barriers have been required so they haven’t been able to risk overhearing each other’s calls, and they’ve just become attached to their airpods. Moving seems like an extreme final option, so I’m assuming this has been tried?

            1. I'm just here for the cats*

              I don’t think it has. Op doesn’t have a job yet, as they just graduated.
              My work provided all of us (therapists and support staff) nice headsets. I worked from home, and although I didn’t see patients I talked with them on the phone. My family members didn’t say they could hear me, even when the door was open.

            2. Anononon*

              I think the concern is that even with headphones, a roommate would still hear OP talking and likely private info.

            3. Cj*

              Headphones would prevent the roommate from hearing what the client is saying, but unless the roommate is wearing noise canceling headphones themselves, I don’t see how that would prevent them from hearing the OP’s end of the conversation.

              In your example, I’m assuming all of the lawyers are using headphones, while the roommate might not be.

              1. MassMatt*

                I was going to say this; the bigger concern is likely to be someone overhearing what the patient or client is saying, not the therapist. IME the therapist’s side of the conversation is often a lot of “I see. And how does that make you feel? Hmm hmmm…” anyway.

            4. AMT*

              Therapist here. I’m assuming that the LW is in a one-bedroom or similar setup, since if that isn’t the case, there’s no reason why the LW can’t just use their bedroom. But you just *cannot* have another person in the room while you’re conducting therapy, headphones or not.

              1. Observer*

                I’m assuming that the LW is in a one-bedroom or similar setup, since if that isn’t the case, there’s no reason why the LW can’t just use their bedroom.

                No, the OP says “At the same time, I don’t think I could have ethically done therapy in a room where I would have been overheard (the acoustics mean my roommate would have had to stay in his room the whole time I was working, even with a white noise machine)”

            5. Marion Ravenwood*

              Aside from the issues raised about the roommate overhearing OP’s end of the conversation, I wonder if there may also be an element of trying to ‘humanise’ the process – the therapist wearing headphones may come across as detached or further separating from the client somehow, which is already a challenge over a medium that seems to force disconnection yet in an interaction where that human connection is vital.

        2. Bree*

          This is what my therapist is doing most of the time. I’m at home, but she’s in her usual office space. (She has kids, so I assume she’s also doing this to avoid interruptions.)

        3. Insert Clever Name Here*

          I think asking if working from the office is acceptable is a good question for OP to ask, but they should also be prepared for the answer to be “no.” In my area, it’s still pretty common for offices to have a blanket “no one in the office” policy; obviously that will be different in different locations. As someone said downthread, before OP makes a decision about their living situation it’d be prudent to actually ask employers how they’re handling remote work and what their requirements are for employees.

          1. Annony*

            I think it is more likely for offices that have strict privacy rules to allow people to come in if they are unable to provide an area in their home that meets the requirements (or even insist on it). I work at a hospital and even during the height of covid, doctors who did not have a good space for telehealth visits would come into the office. The default was work in the hospital and if you didn’t want to you had to fill out a form attesting you had an adequate space to work from home.

        4. ThatGirl*

          Yeah, I said that below – my husband is doing this at the college level, and we also have a neighbor who lives alone but still goes to her private office most days because it gets her out of the house.

        5. Keener*

          This was my immediate thought too. I know it might depend upon specific COVID restrictions in the OP’s location and their commute to get there (private vehicle vs. public transit), but from what the OP has said it seems that the office would be basically empty so there should be minimal COVID risk within the office itself.

        6. Chocoholic*

          My therapist conducts virtual sessions from her office, as does the other therapist there. I go in person but have done some virtual sessions

      3. CCSF*

        I’m wondering what someone who lives with their partner or children does? Seems it would be unrealistic and unreasonable for all tele-therapists to live alone.

        1. Filosofickle*

          My partner isn’t yet a thera pist, but is in school to be one and they do lots of therapy simulations. He has a room he can be in alone plus a white noise thing at the door, and with that I can’t hear anything intelligible. Occasionally I can hear the sound of voices but no actual words.

          I don’t see how this is any different than the professional clinics where they have white noise machines outside individual rooms. I’ve seen that tons of times in older buildings.

        2. ThatGuy*

          I’m a psychologist doing teletherapy. I have a husband and kids who are sometimes home while I’m working. I work from the computer room in our house, close and lock the door, use headphones, and have a white noise machine going while other people are home. My husband and I did a sound test of my setup and he can’t hear me while I’m working.

          All my colleagues in the area have the option to go in person to their workplace if they don’t have an appropriate private space at home. We are healthcare workers, so stay at home orders allow for us to go into the office if needed.

          Therapist pay is generally determined by the amount of revenue they generate, either from insurance reimbursement or private payments from clients. There is very little room to negotiate pay, and it would be a complete nonstarter for a therapist to request a significant pay bump to enable them to pay for a larger apartment. The most likely outcome for LW2 is that her employer offers the option to work from the office.

    4. Rain coat*

      I honestly don’t see how this could work for a therapist. You can’t just ask your patient/client to send a chat with anything personal in it so your flatmate/husband doesn’t overhear.

      I would not be ok with my therapist conducting sessions with a random person around (to me, your husband is a random person untrained and unconstrained wrt my care). Noise canceling headphones do not prevent overhearing. Simply leaving the room so I can’t see them would not be enough for me. I would need them to know that my sessions were genuinely confidential and would see it as a massive breach of trust and duty of care if that wasn’t the case. Unless I was informed in advance that you cannot have a private consulting space I would be putting in a formal complaint if I found out that my therapist was conducting sessions by relying on noise canceling headphones to keep sessions confidential.

      How can a therapist avoid saying out loud any sensitive information? Here sensitive not just in the legal sense, but in the sense of what the patient/client is comfortable being shared.

      I’ve done a few Tele-health calls. I control my space and do not have anyone around that I’m not comfortable having overhear the conversation. I know my doctor is in a private consulting room. I would expect the same from a therapist.

      OP thank you for taking your confidentiality requirements and obligations so seriously. Especially at such significant financial cost to yourself. I hope you are able to negotiate a higher wage to help mitigate the cost of providing care during Covid.

      And yes I do know that I don’t trust people easily (or at all).

    5. Noncompliance Officer*

      My spouse is a therapist and has worked with lots of other therapists on WFH set ups. I also work in a HIPPA-compliance field. I will ditto what everyone else said here. Noise-cancelling headphones, white noise machine outside your door. Your roommate would at the most be able to hear one side of a conversation (and not very well). I think you are overestimating the amount of privacy you are expected to create.

      That being said, if you think your home set up is not workable with a roommate, I highly doubt your company would see it as a reasonable expense.

    6. FormerTVGirl*

      Yeah, just jumping in here to say I’m pretty sure HIPAA doesn’t require all therapists to live alone … I do know there is HIPAA-compliant software that must be used for sessions (as opposed to regular old Zoom). But I think some of the suggestions up-thread are strong, in the case an employer can’t or won’t increase LW’s pay.

    7. JJ*

      Orrrrr the therapist could just wear the headphones, so her roommate could only hear her? Surely that would eliminate nearly all the HIPAA concerns, since no one could hear the client (to identify them) or what they’re saying (potentially sensitive) except the OP?

  2. DoubleE*

    In response to letter number 3: the hand sanitizer will stick around alright, but maybe not in the way you expect. My office purchased a large (gallon size) bottle of hand sanitizer for each conference room during the bad 2008-2009 flu season. Most of those bottles were still more than half full when people started getting concerned about covid in early 2020.

    1. Still Here*

      #2: Is there a possible middle ground? Continue using video, but do it from the office normally used for in-person?

      1. allathian*

        That’s what we did before the pandemic for our team meetings, because out of 11 people, 2 were in other offices. When they joined our team, we originally had a hybrid setup with everyone in the main office in a meeting room and the other two calling in on video from their offices. This was considered to be unfair, because the personal interaction in the room tended to more or less unconsciously ignore those who were remote. Things became a lot more equitable when we switched to Skype meetings, although being in a Skype meeting with a coworker who’s in the same room/next cubicle was really odd, because there’s at least a half-second lag. I had to remove my headset when my coworker was speaking because it was so distracting to hear the “echo”.

        1. Janne*

          But LW#2 would use it for 1 on 1 therapy, then you don’t have people in meetings ignoring some other people in the meeting or a lot of lag?

      2. Karo*

        I didn’t even think about it until I saw this comment, but that’s what my therapist and psychiatrist (completely separate practices) are doing. And I only noticed them switch from being at home because I now recognize their backgrounds.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, we’ve had monster bottles of hand sanitizer for years, but I work in a library associated with several medical institutions so they tend to be big on that kind of thing.

    3. aett*

      Hand sanitizer is only good for 2-3 years. (It doesn’t go BAD after that, but it’s not effective anymore.) So those huge bottles stopped being useful nearly a decade before COVID hit.

      I feel like this will continue to be a thing in the future: many people will overcompensate and buy a ton of the stuff, it will mostly expire before being used, but people will keep it around for many years anyway.

      1. Jerusha*

        I think that depends on the type of hand sanitizer. If it’s an alcohol-based sanitizer (like Purell or Germ-X or their generic equivalents), I would expect it to still work just fine unless too much of the alcohol has evaporated away. [The manufacturer has to put an expiration date on it, because of FDA regulations. That date is based on the stability studies the manufacturer performed, and represents what they can promise. However, there’s a difference between “we promise it will be good for at least this long” and “it definitely is no good after this date”. The date on hand sanitizers is definitely the former, not the latter.]

    4. Seashells*

      I agree with DoubleE. We’ve had hand sanitizer for years and the office really stepped up cleaning when we had to return last June. But I have noticed that the sanitizing appears to be happening less often. With the vaccines becoming more available and summer approaching, some people seem to think that COVID is going to magically disappear.

      I don’t think it’s just offices, either. 4 weeks ago you could walk into a store or business and most people were wearing masks and social distancing but that seems to have stopped as well. I am continuing with the masks and distancing because my husband, sister and nephew all had COVID and it was scary.

      1. Elenna*

        FWIW that’s definitely regional, I live in Toronto and although malls recently reopened, everyone is still wearing masks. Granted, people definitely aren’t staying 2m apart inside grocery stores, except when lining up – but I don’t think people were ever doing that consistently. Grocery store layouts were just not at all designed for social distancing.

      2. DataSci*

        4 weeks ago you could walk into a store or business and most people were wearing masks and social distancing but that seems to have stopped as well.

        That’s super regional. Most people here aren’t walking into stores or businesses at all, and everyone is still masking and social distancing to the point that I get glares from the neighbors if I walk from my house to my driveway – never getting within 20 feet of another human – without a mask.

  3. CatCat*

    #2, I’d ask if they have office/clinic space you can work from. If so, you could do the video appointments from there assuming they have solid COVID procedures in place for those going in. (Definitely ask about those procedures.)

    I have a couple colleagues who can’t work from home for confidentiality reasons who are still going into the office. There are clear safety procedures in place and so few people who need to go in that it works well.

    1. Wendy*

      This is what I was going to suggest! If your space at home isn’t adequate, ask if you can work from the office but have your clients communicate via zoom. If they’re not willing to do that, then I think you have a much stronger case for why they should pay home office expenses :-)

    2. Software Engineer*

      I was thinking this as well. If you’re the only one in the room and the patient/client is in their own space remotely then you don’t have the same issues but can get the privacy you need. If others are also using the office then you’ll need to mask up when walking around outside your office but that’s minor. If the office isn’t being used they may have suspended cleaning services so you may have to do things like clean the bathroom and make sure trash is taken out Etc but it sounds solvable

    3. AndersonDarling*

      Yep, this may be new to the OP but the medical practice has been doing this for a year and if they are part of a healthcare system, then there are policies and procedures that will guide the therapist on how to handle each situation.
      It would be odd to ask for more money to make elaborate arrangements when the practice manager already has resources available to accommodate the OP.

    4. joriley*

      Agreed! My mother is a therapist who goes into the office to do virtual appointments most days. She has a private practice, so it’s a little different, but if OP2’s new office setup is such that they’d be comfortable going in, this could be a good solution.

    5. RecoveringSWO*

      Exactly! Also, google map the office address and see if it’s a high rise or smaller building. Ask about the number of entrances. You might find an employer with a smaller office and/or private or semi-private entrance.

      1. Lisa*

        This only applies if you are a sole proprietor/independent contractor. As she plans to work for others, she cannot deduct office expenses.

  4. Kathlynn (Canada)*

    LW 1
    I’d make a plan then talk to your manager about your co-worker’s behaviour and how you have dealt with it in the past and how you would like to precede. That way if your coworker complains to your manager they’re already in the loop on what is happening.
    they might also prefer you to handle things differently.

    1. MK*

      I would argue that the OP’s first action should be clarifying the hierarchy with their manage. I have e often seen similar situations (former boss now a coworker, though usually because of a promotion not a demotion), that still acknowledge a senior/junior dynamic and expect the junior person to defer to their former manager in some ways.

      1. morsee*

        Yep, getting info on what is expected now versus then should be first agenda. What if they were going to bring her back to managing again and this is only a temporary setup to cut costs? It’ll put OP in a weird stance if that was the case.

      2. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        Have a plan for both contingencies then. With the one where there’s still a distinction being more of a clarification of expectations then this is my plan.

      3. Lacey*

        Yes, I have a coworker who isn’t anyone’s boss, but she is someone’s supervisor. It’s a pretty frustrating situation for the supervised employee, but that’s the set up.

        1. OP #1*

          I appreciate your recommendations! My new boss is fully aware that old boss can be like this and has confirmed that new boss is in fact my new boss. Given some things new boss has said about old boss, I’d be shocked if they were moved back to their old position.

    2. Mockingjay*

      OP1 might want to split the list when they talk to their manager and discuss only bigger tasks that affect the peer role. For the “housekeeping” tasks, like “I can’t find the file, can you help?”, do as Alison advises and simply side-step helping. [If OP1 brings up the petty stuff with New Manager, some could get added to her plate (small chance, but if you bring something to someone’s attention…).]

      I get a lot of housekeeping requests in my role and I have to dance around all the time. Really takes away from the big picture items I work on and fosters the perception among team members that I am lower in rank than I am. AVOID AVOID AVOID.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I have one coworker who tried to refer to me as his “portable brain” so he didn’t need to takes notes in training sessions. And he wonders why I basically ignore him (I do all the office social pleasantries but at minimum levels). I make him getting any help from me inconvenient, because I am trying to get across the point that I am not going to do his work for him (nor am I going to think/problem solve for him – and basic problem solving is a part of our written job description). He has been told to stop – he just doesn’t.

        1. tangerineRose*

          That co-worker sounds awful. What’s wrong with him that he thinks he can use you this way?

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Manager shut him down (yup – he said that in a training in front of the manager). He is actively job searching on the clock (which has also spawned conversations). He’s competent, but could use LOTS of soft skills polishing.

  5. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    You do NOT want your employer having a financial stake in your housing decisions. Way too much room for problems. What if you could save all that extra money by moving to the suburbs? What if you are actually a mother of three, so you need the money for a 4th bedroom, but two of the kids could technically share except they would fight? What if you want to move downtown to an expensive apartment? What if you want to move out to the country and splash out for three acres so you can raise milk goats?

    These are all totally none of your employers business. It’s your own money and your own life and you can do what you want with them, based on what you value. But if your employer starts paying for your choices, they justifiably might feel they have a say. After all, they could save a lot of money if you weren’t quite so extravagant.

    Maybe the great employers could handle it gracefully, but we all know that not all employers are great. Or they could just pay you your salary and you can decide how you want to spend it.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      I don’t think Alison meant that OP should explicitly state why she wants extra money.

  6. Mos*

    #2 is a very tricky situation. How would that temporary increase be settled through a contract? There’ll be no definite date when you can presumably return to a clinic and it might end up as not as temporary as initially thought

    1. meteorological spring*

      Could you not just write it into the contract and discuss the end date as a set of circumstances to be met rather than a calendar date? The bigger issue is probably whether the employer wants to pay this expense.

  7. Ads*

    #2 – the only close-ish thing I can think of might be an allowance for a co-working space for remote workers, but obviously co-working is the same amount of risk as just going to the office. (Although could that be an option? Supposing no one else was there, and the client was on video chat, OP could sit in an otherwise-empty office?)

    1. Ads*

      I do recognize there might be shared bathrooms, lobbies, or other areas that make this impractical or uncomfortable – I probably wouldn’t do it myself, but just brainstorming for alternatives

    2. AcademiaNut*

      The coworking space also has the problem of other people overhearing the therapy sessions, only it’s a random assortment of people rather than a single roommate.

      I wonder if the OP has talked to her employer about the situation, and asked what their recommendations for best practices are. She can’t be the only therapist who is working remotely from a shared apartment, and they may well be okay with doing the best possible (for example, headphones during calls, being in a separate room from other people, and locked up confidential materials out of office hours).

        1. Willis*

          I think this is right. OP would probably do better to ask about how the practice is handling remote work when they interview than to take steps to alter their living arrangement prematurely. As others have said, maybe working from your room with a closed door would work or zooming from the office. But considering how many people are making weird situations work at the moment, I think it would look out of touch to ask work to cover the additional rent.

          1. Anonym*

            This! OP doesn’t have to pre-solve for this. Almost any practice will have already set standards for this a year in to remote work.

        2. AcademiaNut*

          Ah, I missed that.

          Given the current situation, any decent employer will have guidelines about HIPAA that don’t involve having to pay for a single apartment lease, particularly for entry level employees. So I think the OP is being premature in taking on the whole lease in anticipation of getting a job.

          If they are in a situation where they have to work in a common area, that’s might be a problem (naked roommate on Zoom call/annoying cat or child interruptions are a lot less acceptable when you’re providing therapy than in a general meeting), but if they’ve got headphones, a decent mic (so they don’t need to speak loudly and it doesn’t pick up background noice), and a room with a door, they should be fine.

          1. BubbleTea*

            I was delighted when my counsellor’s cat wandered into the video, but I have to admit it was a little distracting. She still rents her office space and sometimes she is there, sometimes she is at home, although we’ve met by video for a year now. Prior to that she came to my home and we were distracted by my dog!

        3. Regular Reader*

          It might be worth asking if the practice provides any equipment to assist with handling remote work. They might provide some of the items people have mentioned to keep OP’s costs down and improve the quality and confidentiality of the sessions?

          1. Reba*

            Yes, I was thinking that asking for reimbursement for equipment like white noise machine, webcam and headset, potentially including internet service, are all reasonable to ask for, in the situation where OP would be an employee of a clinic or organization. An open-ended housing increase doesn’t seem feasible to me. And also not needed, if you deploy those tools!

  8. Jaideux*

    #2- wear headphones with a microphone so you’re not needing to project, and so your patient’s words aren’t audible to others. Set up a white noise machine outside your door. Stuff something under your door to minimize air/sound travel. These interventions alone are what 99% of your colleagues in my professional network are doing. It’s not a violation of HIPAA if your roommate overhears contextless, unidentifying murmuring or even occasional clear utterances on your end. In thinking through my caseload and my usual conversations during therapy, I can’t think of a single patient that any (even crystal clear) audible questions/reflections/etc on my end would be considered identifying whatsoever.

    You can certainly ask your roommate to work in his/her room with the door closed and/or wear headphones, but truly the steps in the first paragraph are what most therapists are doing.

    Or, you can go work in your office at your employer’s location (and you may still want to use headphones, white noise, and an under-door air blocker because sound still travels!). If you’re wearing a mask in the common areas, washing your hands, disinfecting surfaces you touch, etc, the risk of catching or transmitting is low.

    1. Okay*

      The first part of this!! Headphones with a microphone mean that the person sitting next to you can barely hear you. You will need to set up your room appropriately, so your clients can’t see you sitting on your bed etc, and work from your room.
      You should also ask your potential employers for a copy of their guidelines for e-therapy – or whatever you call it. I work for a professional association in the health field and one of my first tasks when we started working from home was to write guidelines for our members and their employers.

    2. mskyle*

      Yeah, this is what my therapist does – she works from home and lives with a friend and the friend’s family, so she does sessions from what appears to be her bedroom and uses headphones and (I think) a white noise machine. When I used to meet with her in person, it was in a building full of tiny offices (sort of one step above coworking) and there were white noise machines outside the doors but sometimes I’d overhear loud conversations from, like, an immigration lawyer having a conference in the room next door. So in some ways I feel like it’s more private than it was before.

      So, rather than approaching this as “I will no longer be able to have a roommate so I will need more money,” I would definitely approach it from a “Given that I have been living with roommates, how can I make this work so that I can provide patients with privacy (and comply with HIPAA)?” If you haven’t already brought this up in interviews, I would recommend it!

    3. Geek*


      There may be concerns from the patient if you have your back to an open space where people are visibly walking, or if they can overhear other people in the background. I cannot imagine that would be conducive to a therapy session.

      Unless you’re sharing a studio apartment and your roommates cannot stay off camera, I believe HIPAA concerns would be minimal, especially if the people potentially overhearing bits of your end don’t know with whom you are speaking.

    4. Smithy*

      While not a therapist/HIPAA compliant – I accepted a job during quarantine that had become 100% remote. In my sector, financially supporting remote work before or during the pandemic certainly was not the norm – however while discussing my initial offer package, that was when I was able to request equipment I needed to do my job.

      At this point in time mentioning noise cancelling headphones, soundproofing blankets, or other items to keep your workspace HIPAA compliant, I think would be received as a far more traditional request than asking for money to cover additional rent.

    5. NervousHoolelya*

      Even pre-pandemic, my counseling colleagues who worked in closely-spaced private offices did many of these things to minimize the possibility of overhearing something from the hallway. They played quiet music IN their offices, put a white noise machine just OUTSIDE their offices, and an under-door airblocker. The combination of those three approaches meant that you could sometimes hear a low murmur or even an occasional clear word or phrase, but that was well within the parameters of what was considered acceptable practice.

    6. earl grey aficionado*

      +1 to white noise machines. Every therapist I’ve ever had has had occasional issues with overcrowded offices and thin walls, meaning you could be overheard or overhear others nearby. As soon as they flipped on the white noise machine everything felt safe and private again for me as a client. Not sure what the interference might be with a microphone and headphones but it should go a long way toward blocking out noise between you and the roommate. Maybe your employer has one on hand already that you could pick up and use. If not, it seems like something that would be much easier to expense than a whole apartment.

    7. comityoferrors*

      Yes! My therapist does this. I’m not sure which room she’s in, but she’s obviously in a private room wearing headphones, so I know no one in her house can hear my side of the conversation. Her side of the conversation never includes personally identifying details, and rarely includes any details that even hint at what we’re talking about.

      OP may want to check what the standard of reasonable confidentiality is for her area in the pandemic. As others have mentioned, there wasn’t “perfect” adherence to HIPAA even before COVID. I work in healthcare compliance and our HIPAA guide instructs us that any patient detail, including just the first name or a diagnosis totally separate from any name, constitutes PHI. But that obviously isn’t practical or enforceable to that degree: you might check yourself in with a sign-in sheet, you hear the other patients’ names being called, you often overhear snippets of conversations which might disclose a diagnosis (i.e. a scheduler on a call asking for details to enter information into the appointment; muffled conversations through walls). We do our best to limit any disclosures and there are very strict requirements around that, but not so strict that we have to upend our lives to comply.

  9. Tilly*

    #4 – if you want to knit it, do it! We received a knit baby blanket from my wife’s coworker, and it is one of the most cherished and special items we received. I’ve never thought about cost, bc I know she didn’t- it came from the heart, and we appreciated it so much.

    1. MK*

      I really don’t think people assign monetary value to handmade items. “This must have taken you hours to make, thank you so much!”, yes; “This must have taken you X hours to make, so going by minimum wage, this is actually a 300 euro gift”, no.

      1. Felis alwayshungryis*

        Yeah, this. Also, as someone who knits, I would greatly appreciate the effort but also assume they’d done it in front of the TV or enjoying a podcast, like I do. Sure, it’s their time they’ve used, but I’d imagine they enjoyed doing it. We got some wonderful baby things from my husband’s grandmother that I appreciated to bits.

        (Caveat here about making sure that recipients are in fact knit-worthy…)

        1. Heidi*

          I remember another advice column where a mother-in-law bought her daughter-in-law a yarn store gift card, and the daughter-in-law used it to buy yarn and knit the mother-in-law a blanket or something. The mother-in-law was fuming because she thought the daughter-in-law was essentially giving back her gift card and the blanket didn’t count as a real gift. That mother-in-law was not knit-worthy. The columnist told her (nicely) to stop being terrible.

          1. Metadata Janktress*

            I remember that! As a knitter, I was dumbstruck by the crappiness of that person.

          2. Ari*

            That was an epic letter on Slate! I knit and crochet as well and I remember my jaw hitting the floor when I read it. I called up all my knitter friends and read it to them so we could share in the horror.

          3. Bluesboy*

            Oh wow. The amount of time, care and love that must have gone into that only to have the mother-in-law complain that it’s regifting…I would be absolutely furious if I were the daughter-in-law. Does something only have a value if it costs money?

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Apparently to that person it only has the value of the amount it cost (and time, effort, and love have no monitary cost to her apparently).

      2. Willis*

        Yeah, this. I think the value of the gift is that someone used their talent and leisure time to do something thoughtful for you. Not hourly wage x time plus material costs.

        And yeah, for hobbies like baking or sewing, I’m not particularly concerned with time as I’m doing them. Nor am I set up to work as efficiently as a bakery or seamstress. If I tried to change an hourly rate, the cakes or blankets would be more than anyone would pay!

        1. SweetTooth*

          Right! And the expected quality level would be so different and add pressure! I don’t sell things I make because I would expect them to be perfect, and others would feel like they could complain about imperfections. When all the crafting or baking is for gifts, it’s on my schedule and at my leisure, and a bit of crumbs in the frosting or a seam that is a little wonky (at least to my eye) is totally acceptable!

      3. Sun Tzu*


        LW#4, I think it’s a lovely and fantastic idea. Go ahead and knit that baby blanket — she will surely appreciate it a lot.

      4. Venus*

        I think it is one of those quirks where if I were to make something for a friend (or any person I like) then my time is free as I’m watching TV anyway and I enjoy the thought of making something nice for a friend, but if someone I don’t like offered to pay… suddenly I’m thinking about charging $50/hour! (this has never happened thankfully)

        1. Ama*

          I had a boss at a former job want me to knit tea cozies for these oversized teapots we used for daily tea time (it was a newish grad school and they were trying to do regular social events to build community and encourage people to work in the building rather than their homes). I mostly just kept shrugging it off, but if she kept pressing I was planning to tell her “sure if I can sit at my desk knitting, I’m not knitting for work on my off hours.”

        2. SD*

          I’m a quilter with lots of fabric. I made dozens of masks for family and friends and even some for a local landscape materials business whose low-income employees didn’t have real masks. I wasn’t into making them for pay – way too much work – but otherwise it’s a labor of love.

      5. MCMonkeybean*

        Yeah, hand-made items that take many hours to make have high *value,* but if she’s choosing to spend her time doing that then I don’t think many people would describe it as having a high cost. It’s different than if someone asks you to make something, because in that situation you are only spending your time doing that at their request rather than by your own choice. I think that is the point where your time is more reasonably considered to have a cost.

    2. LALinda*

      I agree! Assuming your concern is about the value of the gift, anyone who doesn’t knit/crochet may have a vague idea of the time involved, but seldom would they connect that time with a monetary amount. If I baked a cake, I wouldn’t want the recipient to try to figure out how much it cost for ingredients and how many hours it took. Just take pleasure in the making and again in the gifting. It will be treasured.

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Agreed, BUT ask first, even just to establish if there’s a theme or preferred colours. Depending on the climate where you are, it may be useful for the family to have a hundred blankets, but maybe it’ll get more use if it’s autumn colours than marine colours.

      I think sometimes the value of the gift is different for the giver and the receiver. It’s $20 of yarn, sure, but then it’s however many hours of entertainment for me making it (plus a couple of hours gritting my teeth weaving ends in) rather than slogging at hard labour. Making things for other people is a way of indulging my hobby without having to find space for the finished article in my home. I don’t make them for just anyone, but the required friendship level is significantly lower than the level for making a full-size afghan.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Fair point. I have a few things that were made for my kids when there were young. Some matched the rooms (fish theme and Pooh theme), some didn’t. The ones that matched got a lot more use.

      2. Bluesboy*

        “Making things for other people is a way of indulging my hobby without having to find space for the finished article in my home.” – so true! I am desperately looking for people to knit things for…

        I heard recently that hospitals can appreciate clothes for premature babies, since they’re really difficult to buy for, so I’m going to look into that locally.

        @OP4, I think you should go for it. It isn’t gifting up, not really, since she won’t be your boss anymore. And making something by hand is a way of giving the value that the relationship with your boss means to you, but without spending an amount of money that makes her uncomfortable. It’s perfect!

        1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

          @Bluesboy, check out Warm Up America, Supporting a Community with Kindness (S.A.C.K.), or Project Linus. I live in TX and short of ridiculous storms like last month my F&F have enough blankets, scarves & hats for the weather here. So most of what I crochet & knit is for charity.

    4. 'Tis Me*

      When my manager left, I made him a Tom Baker Dr Who scarf (he’s a massive fan). He was an awesome manager and I wanted to do something to acknowledge how much I had appreciated his support over the years I was on his team.

      These things are about 10 feet long. I’d been knitting less than a year. It took most of my free time for a few weeks (even though I used reasonably bulky Aran wool). He knows knitters and understood the time investment involved and appreciated it both in its own right and as a gesture.

      1. Ms Frizzle*

        I’m working right now on a wrap for my principal, who is leaving at the end of the year. No regrets about making her something, but I wish I’d chosen a pattern that was a better fit for my novice knitting level! Mosaic knitting might be simple but this design is not.

    5. MissCoco*

      Yes, as long as you *want to* you should do it!
      As others have said, I consider time spent doing yarn stuff as the fun part, and the yarn is the upfront cost for x hours of entertainment for me. Baby blankets are especially fun as they are quick compared to adult-sized blankets

      I’ve made baby blankets for people who weren’t close to me, and they really appreciated the gesture

    6. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I knit a baby hat for my supervisor when she had her baby. She loves pandas so it was a panda hat. Hats are a lot quicker to put together than a blanket, which is why I did a hat, but a blanket would be a lovely gesture for your boss and is totally fine as far as gifting up is concerned. Do it! Boss will undoubtedly love it. (Unless, as others commented here, Boss is not knit-worthy, but I’m sure you know if that’s the case.)

    7. abcd*

      People who don’t knit, crochet, sew, etc. have no clue how much supplies cost or how long it takes to make something either. I sew and made a tote bag that I ended up taking to work. Someone asked if I could make one for them. When I told them the price of supplies alone, they were shocked! No one thinks about it unless they enjoy the hobby as well.

    8. SweetTooth*

      My husband’s coworker crocheted a blanket for our baby, and it is a favorite! It’s super soft yarn, and just a little bit bigger than other ones we have received and also in slightly brighter colors, so it will be in use through childhood. It’s her favorite for peekaboo! (Maybe because of the holes?)

      I love to sew little blankets of patterned cotton flannel on one side and fuzzy minky on the other for friends and coworkers when they are expecting. Growing up, we had different handmade blankets or wall decor where my parents would say “oh someone from dad’s work made that for you” and that’s what I want to be, some lady from work who made that blanket. It’s a fun, weird legacy and a reminder of the community that is formed even just by being in the same place working together so many hours a week. The blankets that I make take way less time than knitting, so it’s different there, but either way, a gift of time is not seen in the same way (especially by people who do not make things).

    9. In my shell*

      Yes! I agree – in my manager’s role I’ve had a standing no gifting rule, but one Christmas an employee gifted a pint sized homemade jam with a Christmas card and I found it really touching. Homemade gifts given from the heart should often get a pass I think.

  10. Healthy for Once*

    #3 I too hope this level of hygiene sticks around. I haven’t been sick in a year now. I don’t miss the office germs and seasonal colds. :( I’m not going to be happy when I’m dragging back into an office and inevitably end up sick again. The culture was definitely, “you must come in even when sick.” I worry it will continue post-covid.

    1. Allonge*

      I suspect that working from home (and so not meeting other people) has more to do with not getting sick than disinfecting wipes, to be honest.

      Hopefully most companies where WFH is possible learnt the lesson at least that people can work from home without everything falling apart and they at the very least will not exoect people to go to the office while sick.

      1. UKDancer*

        I think so. This is the first year I’ve not had a December cold. Usually I pick up some degree of cold around late November / early December and there’s usually at least one bug doing the rounds at the office and on the public transport. Having been working from home since the first lockdown I have not caught anything in ages.

      2. Harper the Other One*

        The mask wearing and distancing is helping a ton too. I regularly work from home but have been sick with colds etc. less this year.

        I am kind of hoping a slightly larger public distance becomes common. I don’t expect a full 6 feet after this but people no longer packing themselves right behind me in a line would be nice!

        1. Allonge*

          Oh, absolutely – to be honest I am hoping that we can get rid of the masks at some point, but they definitely help now, not just with corona. Hopefully the wearing of them to prevent spreading a cold became normalised also in the Western world, as it was in in the East before.

          That said, in our company (normally lots of travel, lots of people working far from family of origin) we used to have fully foreseeable waves of colds and similar: first week of September with people coming back from summer holidays, third week of September with everybods’s kids now back in school and bringing the viruses home and infecting parents etc. This part is absolutely negated by working from home (and the space it created for the very few who need to be in the office), whereas better handwashing practices would probably help, but definitely not to the same level. Once we go back to the office, I am fully expecting a similar wave of colds, by the way… :(

          1. MK*

            I can’t wait to get rid of masks, but it would be good if people still wore them when they had colds, etc.

            1. pancakes*

              Yes. I’ll definitely wear one if I have a cold and have to be out and about for some reason. It just seems more polite than breathing germs all over the place.

          2. TWW*

            I don’t like wearing a mask all day, but I intend to keep using mine in crowded, enclosed spaces.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          There’s been a lot of discussion in my friend group about going back to wearing a mask while going grocery shopping and such during cold/flu season after things go back to normal. I doubt it’ll be a whole lot of people who do it, but I’d be willing to bet it’ll be enough that it’s not odd when you see someone.

          1. Allonge*

            If nothing else, I will actually _have_ a mask at home for a few years still, with all the textile ones – before, it would have been an extra trip to get one at all.

        3. Bubble teacher*

          I’m crediting masks, hand hygiene and people staying home when they’re feeling sick. I’ve been teaching in person since September but didn’t get my change of season colds (October, December, March like clockwork). Although we’re in person I’m always masked around the kids and the kids are always masked around each other unless we take them outside. My country has also had virtually no flu this year and absolutely no community spread of what little we had. I can’t wait to ditch the masks, but their effectiveness at preventing upper respiratory illness of all kinds gives me pause (I really hate getting a cold).

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Also have been in person since end of June. Got my normal change of season allergy flares – but none of the colds that I normally would have gotten. All the masking and extra surface cleaning has at least helped my department (and definitely has been noticed by all).

      3. Orange You Glad*

        For me, I think not riding public transportation every day has made the biggest difference in my health. I’ve always been pretty healthy but once I started working and taking the bus every day, I had to start getting the flu shot every year and I get some sort of severe cold/cough 3-4 times per year. This year is the healthiest I’ve felt since college.

    2. English, not American*

      Lucky duck! I seem to get sick every time I leave the house, despite only doing so once every few weeks (lots of vet appointments). Apparently not with covid, I’ve never had a positive test, but colds aplenty.

    3. TiffIf*

      This past November was the first time in years that I didn’t have a terrible head cold at Thanksgiving.

      1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        Yeah, I usually get sick 2-3 times a year. Plus other times I just feel like I’m going to get sick. Or have sinuses plugged up. This year I didn’t get sick in the spring and barely had to use my inhaler or old meds. And I wouldn’t have gotten sick this fall if I hadn’t babysat my brother’s kids overnight. One of who had a runny nose. That was an exhausting chest cold/sinus cold. But I got over it quickly and was only really knocked out for a couple of days (symptoms not matching covid-19/flu symptoms. Just a common cold)

    4. Juniper*

      Wouldn’t that be more due to behavioral/cultural changes than hygiene? Not arguing that cleaning things more diligently keeps viruses at bay, but having a zero-tolerance policy for being sick at work (or daycare or school) means that those viruses are never introduced into the environment in the first place.

      1. disconnect*

        It would help if we could have a zero tolerance policy for companies that refuse to offer realistic sick leave. It’s not like I ever wanted to go to work at my restaurant jobs when I had a serious cold, but if I didn’t go to work when scheduled, I wouldn’t receive pay for that day, and back then I had zero margin.

        1. Juniper*

          Agreed! I am fortunate to live in a country with unlimited sick days, and it is a HUGE relief knowing that there is a cultural acceptance for staying home when sick, but also that I won’t be destitute if I get seriously ill. Not sure what will help change this attitude elsewhere.

      2. James*

        The problem is, in most cases you are infectious for a few days before you exhibit symptoms. You feel fine, don’t even realize you’re sick, but are spreading the disease. It makes sense from the disease’s perspective; as Sheldon Cooper pointed out, if this wasn’t the case we’d have figured out to brain the sneezing monkey back before we figured out fire.

        Plus, it’s not realistic. As disconnect points out, the workers are often in a place where they simply can’t afford to not work. This is where WFH is helpful–if there’s some aspect of the job you can do from home, you don’t need to come in. In some cases (servers and line cooks are a great example) it’s not possible, but for many of us posting here it’s a very realistic option. We all need an admin day, to catch up on annoying little bits of paperwork that slip through the cracks. Not fun when you’re sick, but often doable.

        1. Juniper*

          To be clear, I’m not faulting employees who need to work when they’re sick. I’m frankly just so used to living in a country where a company’s opinion on your sick leave use does not matter in the slightest, nor does it affect your paycheck. That means that for 99% of employees, deciding to work when sick (which does happen) is grounded in other factors rather than financial.

    5. StripesAndPolkaDots*

      I haven’t been sick this year either. I hope washing hands correctly, cleaning surfaces, doirknobs, etc, and masks stick around. I know I’ll continue to wear masks during flu season and when I’m ill but have to go to the store. Just think of those illustrations of how far spit goes when people talk and cough… I want everyone to wear a madk around me now!

    6. meyer lemon*

      I think it’s the distancing, mask wearing and hand washing that does most of the heavy lifting, not surface sanitizing. I’m all for encouraging people to do those other things whenever they’re sick, but in non-pandemic times, sanitizing surfaces (in non-medical settings) is usually unnecessary and just leads to antibacterial resistance. Soap and water is fine.

    7. Truth-ish*

      Holy crap! I just realized I haven’t really been sick since July when I got a new job and had to do several weeks on site for training before I could go remote…I got sick my last week of training (not COVID).

  11. AcademiaNut*

    I’ve been in the office the whole time, taking public transit to work, eating in restaurants and socializing normally (I live in a COVID free area), and I haven’t had so much as a head cold in the past year. Locally, flu and enteroviruses have been at record lows (as measured by doctor/hospital visits) and it’s mainly due to people wearing masks in public spaces, as there’s been no lockdown and limited social distancing (mostly cancelling large events). Masks are required on public transit (including taxis and trains) and in most public spaces when you’re not actually eating, and I hope it stays that way in the future.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Yes, I’m planning to continue with the mask for the forseeable future. In the After Times, I plan to mask up during flu season. I work with college students…

    2. Empress Matilda*

      Yeah, I think mask-wearing is going to stick around. Maybe not at work (or at least, not at my work!), but I can’t see myself ever taking public transit again without a mask.

  12. Kaiko*

    OP 2: I would be careful to divorce my business expenses from my living expenses. Unless you are planning to work from home as a private practitioner on a permanent basis, it is so much simpler to stay in your home and to rent office space somewhere – you can have private calls, store your files, and have an easily tracked “basket” for business expenses like rent, hydro, internet, etc. If you’re asking an employer to cover those costs, it will be so much simpler to be able to hand them that basket than to untangle them from your personal costs. Office space rentals can vary a lot – a couple hundred dollars for a part time access, to a thousand or more for a designated space. But all told, it’s likely cheaper than renting the equivalent amount of space in housing.

  13. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Re: #1…

    Give a simple reply (“I no longer report to you. I report to Jane.”) and copy Jane on it.

    1. Juniper*

      That strikes me as a rather nuclear option for a low-stakes problem where simply being less responsive is likely to have the intended effect.

      1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

        Yeah this reads as really hostile to me and is likely to have a chilling effect on the relationship. Something more like “since the restructure I haven’t had time to do all the things I used to do for you. Have you looked at this internal resource that has software training videos on it?”. Or maybe refer them to the new boss for help (after talking to the boss yourself of course).

        1. OP #1*

          Thanks for your suggestions! Given our relationship, I think the “you’re no longer my boss” email feels unnecessarily cold and abrupt. I do like Miss Pantalones’s suggestion of directing her to existing resources instead of diving into more work. I don’t want to paint myself as a “complainer” to new boss.

          1. Juniper*

            Sounds like a great solution! Being seen as a complainer is definitely a worry that I have, but you seem solution-oriented and willing to go the extra mile when needed, so doubt you’ll come across that way :) Good luck!

          2. irene adler*

            Pointing your co-worker (former boss) to a resource also arms him with an avenue to look up other questions that come up down the line. Like “teach a man to fish vs. just feeding him a fish that day” kind of thing. That makes you out to be a problem solver!

          3. RecoveringSWO*

            Yes, MP’s script is great! Another suggestion, if Old Boss continues asking for things covered in resources you have already sent him, start responding with “what guides/resources/etc have you already checked?” That + no instant gratification should help train him out of this habit.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              I do this with one coworker. He is the person in a training that sits as far away as possible and plays tic-tac-toe with himself for the whole time, then expects you (meaning the four female people on our team) to “show him” how to do that every time (which he manages to turn into do my work for me).

              “Sorry, can’t help right now – did you check the step by step process folder on the team drive, I found that helpful.”

          4. 'Tis Me*

            What about something like “my understanding is that following the restructure, you’ll be doing a lot more of this sort of task. I don’t know if [New Boss] might be thinking of running a larger meeting to make sure everybody whose roles have changed recently are confident about what we’re supposed to be doing, or to clarify how she wants us to prioritise and distribute things, so it’s worth running it past her first, but would it be useful to think about what you’re rusty on and we can schedule a meeting to do a quick refresher on where all the documentation is, go over anything you’re still unclear on, etc? I’ll send you an email with a link to the procedure for [the task she asks you about when you break into this script], and the ones I keep bookmarked because they seem to change every few months now, to get you started.”

          5. Here's a Thought*

            I wouldn’t overlook Alison’s first suggestion – “Oh, I can’t — I’m working on something for Jane that I can’t drop.” Depending on how perceptive your former boss is, she may understand the pushback in that statement. Personally, I would employ this statement a few times before Alison’s next suggestion: “I want to respect the new structure and respect my reporting relationship to Jane, so I’m going to be more disciplined about not doing things like X or Y. I hope you understand!”

          6. MCMonkeybean*

            I think also one thing to keep in mind is that if your old boss was brought down to do a new job that has things similar to things you’ve been doing for a while, then a couple of the things you mentioned do sound like totally reasonable coworker requests. Training on software and helping to locate files are things I do all the time for new coworkers on my team. It may be that these are things they should be able to find themselves, or that there are better people for them to ask and they are just asking you because that’s what they are used to doing. But make sure to consider whether you are dismissing all of their requests just because some of them were unreasonable, but others might actually be okay.

    2. twocents*

      I’d just treat the Old Boss like I would anyone else. I’ll get to your IM when it doesn’t disrupt my workflow. I’ll help you if I like you and have capacity. You don’t even really have to have a conversation about it; your peers don’t expect that you’ll drop everything and IM them back right away, so just act like Old Boss is a regular peer.

      I feel for OP though. My org recently went through a flattening exercise — mostly to get rid of the managers that managed 1-3 people. Some of them were let go. Some of them kept their job but as individual contributors, but it can feel blurry on both sides. “I used to ask Wakeen for help with this, but Wakeen is now my peer and Jane hasn’t the slightest idea what this is… Do I ask Jane knowing she won’t know?” I wasn’t directly impacted but I know it sucks for my friends.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        Email Jane CC:ing Wakeen:

        Hi Jane,

        Wakeen used to be the person who’d give me X, but I believe this now falls into your role? Can I check if this has been handed over, and who the best person to request X from is currently? I’m going to need it [e.g. on the February data for the March snapshots] by [date, at least 5 working days away if possible].



        That allows Wakeen to then email Jane and give her some information on it and for them to agree what’s needed shorter and long term, and give you what you need on time. It needs to be done, it’s not a secret that Wakeen has a lot of useful institutional knowledge Jane still needs to gain, be matter of fact about what it is you need, assume everybody is fine with the changes, but let them decide how much of the back and forth you need to be party to while making it as easy as possible for Jane to go “X?!! Help!” to the person best placed to do so :-)

  14. Juniper*

    Letter #3 – I’ll disagree a little with Alison and say fortunately this level of sanitation probably won’t continue. The rise of antimicrobial resistance is a real threat in the age of COVID, not to mention all the other side effects from overuse of hand sanitizer. I’m very pro-sanitizer when washing isn’t an option, but disinfecting every surface and our hands at such frequent intervals comes with documented downsides.

    1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

      I’m curious about whether I will get sicker from the usual colds and other normally mild viruses after not having been exposed to them for so long. Will my immune system be less primed to deal with them? I’m sure it’s a question someone is looking at right now.

      I do hope people continue to do things like actually washing their hands, but the high levels of sanitation are not going to be sustainable. Oddly I don’t feel any more germophobic than I did before all this started. Some people I know are basically bathing everything in hand sanitizer still. But as you say I think that will be more harmful in the long run.

      1. Juniper*

        Good question… I haven’t had a real cold in ages, and my daughter, who was sick non-stop last year in daycare, has had nary a runny nose since lockdown began. I hadn’t considered that I might be in for a whopper the next time around, but like you say, I’m sure there are plenty of scientists studying this.

        I’m also no more germophobic than before, it’s funny how people have reacted so differently. I have a friend who still leaves all her groceries out for a couple days before bringing anything into her house. I just hope people relax on the hand sanitizer bit. At a lot of stores there are security guards standing at the entrances making sure people take some before entering, which means that in a 5-minute time span I might smear my hands 3 times with the stuff. The misters are the worst, because my toddler is at exactly their height and has already gotten misted several times before I could intervene.

      2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        Our immune systems have basically spent a year lazing around on the couch eating potato chips. I’m rather expecting to get a double helping of colds next year.

    2. Mockingjay*

      I only hope that airlines continue to clean as well as they are for COVID, especially for mid-size aircraft that do several hops per day. I’ve only had to fly once during COVID for work, and it was a joy not only to see sanitizing, but general cleanliness overall – no trash in seat pockets, floor was vacuumed, no drips on the tray tables…

      Alas, as flights are added back and turnaround times are shortened, I think things will return to a less tidy state.

      1. Juniper*

        That’s a really great point about air travel! I shudder to think about what was on the tray tables, arm rests, and well every other surface on the plane. I wish we could separate between cleanliness and good hygiene, and sanitizing, which should be used more judiciously.

        1. Delta Delta*

          Good point. Twice I’ve gotten incredibly sick from airplanes: once after a flight from Honolulu to Detroit and I was stuck in a part of the plane with no air circulation. Once after a flight to Bermuda, where I picked up some horrible ick on the plane and spent my entire vacation in the bathroom. At least it was a nice bathroom.

      2. Cat Tree*

        I always get sick when flying, but I think the enclosed air circulation is as much to blame as the dirty surfaces. It’s one of many reasons that I hate flying and avoid it as much as possible.

      3. HugsAreNotTolerated*

        Once I started wiping down my armrests, seat buckles, tv screen, tray table, headrest, and anything else I could feasibly clean off, I stopped getting sick after long flights. Before COVID I’d definitely get some weird looks doing this, but I didn’t care. Post COVID, I’m willing to bet that instead of weird looks I’ll get asked if they can have a wipe for themselves!

    3. Arachnia*

      While my poor eczema-ridden hands prefer less hand sanitizer and intensive hand washing in general (although obviously they are more important than eczema at the moment), the good news is that sanitizing won’t lead to antimicrobial resistance. Sanitizers are too strong for that (which is why you can’t ingest/inject them). You get antimicrobial resistance with antibiotics more because the antibiotics have to be formulated to not hurt human cells too. Source: SciShow,

    4. Cat Tree*

      Do bacteria develop resistance without specific antibacterials? Triclosan hasn’t been commonly used for years. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is no different than regular handwashing with soap, to my understanding.

      Experts, please weigh in if I’m wrong here. But I don’t think this current hygiene contributes to resistance.

      1. Student Affairs Sally*

        I’m not a scientist, but from what I understand, washing with regular (non-antibacterial soap) does not kill germs, but the way the soap effects surface tension causes it to remove the germs from your hand and send them down the drain. Although it seems like killing the germs would be the better/safer/cleaner option, the “regular non-antibacterial soap” option is actually better because it still removes the germs (so they can’t make you sick), but doesn’t kill the germs. If you expose the germs to something that is supposed to kill them, there is a chance that one or two may have a mutation that allows them to survive, and then they reproduce creating more germs with that mutation, which makes the overall pool of that particular germ more resistant to things that kill them. This applies to alcohol based hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial soap, and antibiotics.

        Also anti-bacterial soap and antibiotics do nothing for viruses (for soap, it does still wash them away but doesn’t kill them). Alcohol hand sanitizer does kill viruses.

        1. Shirley Keeldar*

          Actually, I had to look this up for a project I was working on, so although I’m not a scientist (just a writer who occasionally does science projects) I’m pretty confident in my sources. Soap (anti-bacterial or not, doesn’t matter) DOES kill a lot of viruses and bacteria, including coronaviruses. Soap is made to latch on to fats (that’s why it’s good at getting grease off dishes). The walls of many viruses and bacteria include fat, so the soap actually rips them apart.

          I find it more satisfying to really suds up my hands, knowing this, as I imagine the little viruses getting dismembered.

      2. meyer lemon*

        I thought triclosan was still in use in antibacterial wipes and a weird variety of products, including toothpaste and body wash. Not sure about hand sanitizer.

        1. Cat Tree*

          Maybe it’s regional. I don’t remember ever having it in toothpaste or bady wash. But I think 10ish years ago it stopped being used for hand soap, either by law or industry agreement. I remember because my mom was having surgery and the doctor instructed her to wash the area with antibacterial soap for several days ahead of time, but she couldn’t get any. This is in the US if that matters.

      3. Juniper*

        If we were using all disinfectants at the right concentration and in the correct way, then I’d agree with you. But this current hygiene includes a lot of different types of disinfectants being used at different strengths or improper formulations (one of the reasons people shouldn’t make their own hand sanitizers). So definitely not an expert, but I’ve seen a fair amount of articles from scientists sounding the alarm about the consequences of overuse, both with regards to AMR but also on our microbiomes. Would love to hear a microbiologist chime in here though!

    5. JustaTech*

      It depends on the mechanism of action of the disinfectant. I work in an industry where we hose down every surface with 70% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) every day, and have for more than a decade without any increase in bacterial contamination.

      That’s because the alcohol is ripping up the membrane of the bacteria (and some viruses, not all), rather than killing it in a more precise way like an antibiotic. Just like insects can develop a resistance to insecticides, but not to fire.

      There are viruses and some bacteria you can’t kill with alcohol, but that’s because they’re built differently, rather than having developed resistance.

      So as long as the hand sanitizer is just alcohol and doesn’t have any antibiotics in it (which it shouldn’t) then resistance isn’t a real concern.

      (Excellent question and discussion, because overuse of antibiotics is a huge problem and one that’s going to bite everyone in the near future.)

      1. Walk on the left side*

        “Just like insects can develop a resistance to insecticides, but not to fire.”
        This is perfect!

        I think it’s important for folks to understand that bacteria can form a resistance to specific antibiotics through people not finishing their prescriptions, but aren’t going to sort of magically evolve a resistance to alcohol or bleach (even if someone diluted their bleach too much for it to be effective). The impact on our microbiomes and development of allergies from over-cleaning leading to reduced exposure to normal substances is much more of a concern…

      2. Juniper*

        Thank you for the reply and insider knowledge! My worry about AMR is founded on two theories: one that, in fact, some bacteria are able to develop resistance to disinfectants when they are improperly used. I had come across some studies that indicate that with low doses of disinfectants (so not 70% isopropyl, although one study did actually find a bacteria able to develop resistance to that as well), some bacteria are able to withstand the assault by developing the same mechanisms to pump out the biocides that are used to pump out antibacterials. How large a concern this is in relation to COVID though is a different questions (and above my paygrade!) The second is that this wholesale destruction of microbiomes upends ecological balances that are crucial to sustaining microbial diversity that keep superbugs from gaining a foothold. That one is probably the one that concerns me the most.

  15. Retail Not Retail*

    I love the social distancing aspects at work and I think they’ll easily continue at my job.

    I do not love our hygiene theater especially because it currently looks like I’m roped into it! Once a week all of the grounds are sprayed and this is done on foot wearing a backpack sprayer so it’s hot and heavy and you have to double back when you run out etc. We also do it when we’re open so everyone can see. Theater at its most pointless.

    But we moved our morning meetings outside instead of in our cramped trailer which is nice because it means the work release guys can be looped in (they’re not allowed in the trailer) and loading tools is quicker. I also like eating lunch outside – cramped trailer! The talkative people love eating in there! Run away!

    Also YES the mask has kept the colds and whatnot at bay (and no sunburnt nose). Keeping that once the true allergen kicking work starts.

    1. Miniature House*

      My workplace is big on hygiene theater without actually doing anything to prevent spread. My bosses are both terrified of getting COVID while denying it’s a problem that requires a public health solution. Every surface gets wiped down all the time, but no one wears a mask. Clients have complained about it and nothing has changed. Thankfully my role means that I only have to stop by briefly every couple of weeks, but it’s incredibly aggravating.

      1. Retail Not Retail*

        When we first reopened last spring, they wanted everything sprayed twice a day. That literally takes all day. You finish, eat lunch, spray again. In the heat. I actually went home sick.

        We also caved on guest mask usage so quickly because they would not stop whining. But being outdoors has been beneficial – the only coworker to coworker spreading has been in interior departments while us outdoor folk are getting it outside work and not spreading it at work.

      2. Alexis Rose*

        What drives me the most crazy is the offices where the policy is to take off your mask when at your desk…covid can’t be spread while sitting down according to these folks?! ::brain exploding::

        1. Retail Not Retail*

          “I’m six feet away in an enclosed space and let me put on my mask as I walk towards you!”

  16. agnes*

    Work from home is seen by many employees as a highly desirable benefit or condition of employment, not an expense. In fact, there are some discussions in HR circles in my field about how this benefit might be quantified and worked into a compensation package. So the idea of getting paid a premium to work from home is probably not realistic unless you are a high level executive (who always seem to get concessions regular employees don’t.)

    1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

      Working from home because of COVID isn’t seen as a perk by a lot of people. It sounds like LW3 desires to be in an office when it’s safe to do so. I agree with Alison that they should just try to negotiate a better salary, but this isn’t a case of it being a perk; it’s actually a hinderance done out of necessity. I HOPE employers know how to distinguish between the two…

      1. James*

        I can see both sides.

        Pre-Covid, WFH was either a perk granted to a limited number of highly-trusted employees, or was something done due to necessity (for example, military spouse being transferred somewhere that doesn’t have an office within a reasonable distance). It was something employees had to opt into, and often had to earn. The group of employees that did so were self-selected to be biased towards those who either enjoyed or needed those perks (I hate WFH, but had to do it pre-Covid due to my kids being sick and the like). Sure, the worker is paying for stuff that the company ordinarily would (electricity, water, office space), but to folks who wanted to work from home pre-Covid those were costs they were happy to pay in order to enjoy the perks. Everyone wins, which is the best kind of business deal.

        During Covid, WFH is something imposed upon us by outside conditions. The group isn’t self-selected, and includes people that simply weren’t prepared for it. There ARE costs associated with it, after all. And in many cases the worker needs resources that are no longer available. Even something as simple as “somewhere to talk without being overheard” can be a scarce resource in certain common living situations. These are added expenses on top of a stressful situation at best; at worst these mean that the worker is working without adequate tools.

        Unfortunately I think most employers are still in the mindset that WFH is a perk. They’ve had a lot of experience with that pre-Covid self-selected group that views it as such, and unless a lot of us raise a pretty big stink about it will continue to do so. It’s in their best interest, after all–the company has been able to shift a significant chunk of their overhead costs onto the employees. I know my employer isn’t paying for my internet, water, or electricity that I’m using during work hours, nor are they paying rent for the space they are occupying in my home. And you can imagine how much they’ve reduced prices (ie, not at all), so this is all just free money to them. So there’s a culture of viewing WFH as a perk, and financial incentive to keep people working from home; not an easy thing to push back against, and job satisfaction is a pretty weak weapon in this fight. Anything without a dollar sign is going to be mostly ineffective.

        I remember in college my university pushed certain classes on the student body. They did some research and found that students that took these classes got better grades, had higher graduation rates, and got better jobs after graduation than those that didn’t. What they failed to account for was that students who took those classes were not the average student; they were a self-selected group of high achievers. Predictably, when they made these classes requirements school-wide, they found that those benefits disappeared, and students hated those classes. I think the exact same thing is going on here.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          This all makes sense on paper, but I continue to see job listing that are either in-person mandatory or remote-work only until the company decides Covid is over-enough. I think those financial incentives are widely overblown, and Management fear of butt-hungry chairs going unsatiated continues to dominate.

          1. James*

            If it’s one or two employees, the costs are a rounding error. If it’s 1,000 employees, the savings are significant.

            Obviously it’s going to depend on a lot of factors unique to the company in question. If they have a low-rent office area, if the commute is minimal, if the company had tried WFH and gotten burned before, if the manager is inexperienced–all of this plays a role. Without knowing more about the specific situation I can only speak to generalities.

    2. TechWorker*

      Wow interesting, I definitely see it as both food and bad. For those of us with short commutes (I chose to live close to work, which is my choice and it’s a nice area, but it’s definitely not the cheapest!) it’s definitely more expensive to wfh. Not to mention we would have set up and furnished our home differently if we’d realised we’d both need to wfh full time. We work at the same place and I’m in mgmt so even working in next door rooms is difficult for overhearing purposes.

      1. Joielle*

        We’re literally buying a new house right now so we can have two offices with doors that are sufficiently far enough from each other in the floor plan. Spouse is in meetings all day and I need relative silence to write, and no combination of headphones/white noise/closed doors has solved the ultimate problem, which is that we have a really small house.

        It’s a massive privilege to be able to do it (and we would have moved within a couple of years anyways so not a huge change of plan) but yeah, suddenly working from home full time when you weren’t planning on it is a major disruption! And gas, electricity, and water bills have all gone up noticeably since we’re home all the time. For me, I enjoy working from home and it’s worth it, but it’s certainly not cheaper than the commute.

    3. meteorological spring*

      Curious – in what way are people talking about including this in compensation packages? A salary decrease?

      I would be VERY peeved to be offered a lower salary for working from home! I’m doing the same work just as efficiently, if not more. Frankly I would decline an offer from a company that did this if I had ANY other choices. It feels like trying to squeeze every last drop of value out of employees.

      Not financially feasible for all companies but I think if you’re working this into compensation packages you should flip it and offer extra compensation to people in office to offset their commuting costs and incentivize working in office (subsidized parking or transit, mileage reimbursement, etc).

    4. Ruth*

      I hope your conversations about work from home as a “compensation package” includes the cost to the employee of having to have a larger home so they have a dedicated office space, internet, and higher heating and electric costs!

    5. biobotb*

      Are you just assuming that it’s a benefit, and not taking employees’ individual circumstances into account? It could be very far from a benefit for a lot of people, even if other people like it.

      1. agnes*

        Let me clarify. I am seeing the idea of WFH as a benefit being discussed in various HR communities that I participate in. It is not under consideration at my workplace, but the reality is that some companies are seeing this as another way to cut costs in the future. Office space ain’t cheap.

        But I do have a question for those who are saying it’s not a perk–does that mean you would prefer to return to the office so you don’t have to incur these costs of WFH?? I am genuinely curious about that. I see a lot of people mentioning those costs–which I have felt myself–and wonder if that means that without additional compensation you’d rather have an office to work in and work there instead?

        1. Nancy*

          I live alone in a 2 room apartment. My ‘office’ is my living room couch. No space for a real desk unless I get rid of furniture. Meanwhile, my actual office sits empty an nice, easy commute away. For it to be a perk for me, they would have to increase my salary so I can afford a big enough place in my town to have a real office.

          Plus, mentally, I hate having work and home be the same place.

          Luckily, my job is taking individual needs into account so I won’t be expected to WFH full time forever.

  17. I'm just here for the cats*

    I work with therapist in a university setting. I think when your interviewing ask what they require for telehealth.
    As someone else mentioned you could also use headphones, then the roommate won’t be hearing anything personal from the client. And are you sure the white noise machine wont work? Those things can kick out a lot of noise. Between the machines and the headphones I think it would be fine.
    And maybe you could negotiate for a higher starting salary? Maybe not just because of the lease?

  18. Insomnia*

    Op2: apart from other suggestions, you can get foam acoustic baffles to line your room. Together with plugging the under-door spaces, that should make your room quite soundproof.

  19. twocents*

    Re #3: I don’t think the general cleanliness will stick around for long anyway. I still use my hand sanitizer after leaving places, and got a side eye and “you know COVID is unlikely to spread over surface contact.”

    Yes, I do know that, but there are other germs that spread over surfaces that can make you sick and my hand sanitizer smells nice.

    1. Seashells*

      Agreed. I was wiping cart handles, using hand sanitizer and social distancing before COVID and will continue to do so. If someone makes a comment about it, I usually just blank stare them or tell them to have a nice day.

      1. Cat Tree*

        I cringe every time I have to go to the closer grocery store to pick up a few things. I stop at the station right inside the door to wipe the cart handles and sanitize my hands. I have *never* seen another shopper do it.

        They are also frequently out of wipes. One of the reasons I never liked this store is that they refuse to hire enough people to keep up with the basics of running a store. But I guess that means at least some people used the wipes at some point?

          1. Seashells*

            Me, too, Dust Bunny! You never know if they will have them or not so I always bring some with me.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I bring hand sanitizer into stores with me and use that when it seems needed. Also try not to touch my face.

    2. Ace in the Hole*

      Your hand sanitizer doesn’t smell nice to me. The unscented ones are tolerable, but the scented ones smell absolutely nauseating to me no matter what the scent is supposed to be – and it’s a very strong odor. I will get a headache if someone walks into the room after having used scented hand sanitizer much less if they’re using it in the room.

      I’m not against sanitizing your hands, but please use unscented products whenever possible out of consideration for others!

      1. twocents*

        I’ll keep that in mind for the exactly zero people that are around me, given that I live alone and no one else should be in my car after I’ve done my grocery shopping.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          None of that was clear from your previous comment.

          Even if what I’m saying doesn’t apply to your situation it may be useful for others to know. I’ve been in a lot of places where public sanitizer dispensers were stocked with scented sanitizer, so it’s clear plenty of people have no idea that others may be very sensitive to the odor and find it unpleasant.

      2. mlem*

        I’ve been getting a bunch of medical tests lately at various hospitals I’ve never used before. In one, I had the fun of contemplating the older “We have a strict scent policy!” sign on an intake desk while gagging on the fumes from the Purell forced on every person who entered the building. (You used their sanitizer and changed to their mask or you didn’t enter.)

        I’m a fan of regular cleaning and sanitizing, but I will NOT miss the constant scent fog. (Kudos to the other commenter who, it sounds like, uses simple isopropyl alcohol, which clears quickly!)

  20. Dust Bunny*

    LW4 it sounds from your description that you and your boss are friendly enough that this would be fine. I made my supervisor a lap quilt for his retirement. It was a bit extravagant but he was a great supervisor, did a lot of good for our employer, and I gave it on behalf of the department (with the approval of my coworkers). And it was themed around something in which he has a particular interest and will probably be doing a lot now that he’s retired. I bought small pieces a few special fabric prints for it but the rest came from stash and the back of it actually used up a larger piece that I’d ordered, that turned out not to be the color as described online, and that I couldn’t use for anything else. There was time involved but it wasn’t a full-sized quilt and I have a lot of practice doing projects like this so it wasn’t a lot, relatively speaking.

  21. Sally*

    Has the first LW decided on her own that she is obligated not to have a roommate, or is this a rule that has been given by potential employers/professional organizations?

    HIPAA requires reasonable safeguards, but it is accepted that things will be overheard in some circumstances. If the LW closes her door, uses headphones (so the patient cannot be overheard), and generally tries to keep her voice down and be discrete, I would be extremely surprised if there is anything close to a HIPAA issue with having another person in the same apartment.

  22. Liz*

    For LW2: I work in mental healthcare and I’m working from home with a housemate. Generally speaking, for the confidential phone calls, I keep the door closed and shut myself away in an upstairs room (either my room, or we have a small box room that I’m using as an office). Housemate sometimes closes the living room door, too. My job doesn’t pay anywhere near enough to live on my own – we’re just initiating a battle to try and bump us up to market rates in an already notoriously underpaid industry – and the response from management in relation to any concerns over cohabitees has always been “just do your best”.

    If you were working in private practice, you would charge appropriate rates for any space required, but as an employee it’s different. The only thing I could think would be to ask for a stipend to cover workspace, and then hire an appropriate therapy room at a nearby premises. Even with that, I could see problems arising if you decided to take the money and use it to rent yourself an apartment, because, even working from home, they might not see that as a work expense.

    I do feel for you though, OP. Working from home in therapy is tricky. Im training as a therapist right now and my only options for getting my patient hours right now are to work from home via Skype. I really hate the idea of it – so much that I’ve been putting it off since last spring – but I’ve finished college now and soon I’ll be running out of time to get those hours in, so I’ll just have to deal with it, most likely. It’s really not ideal.

    If it makes you feel any better, though, my own therapist is also WFH right now. He’s shut in a room using small, subtle headphones. Only very occasionally I’ve been able to hear his kids through a wall, but I wouldn’t say it was a distraction. Everyone acknowledges that everyone is in a difficult situation right now, and we’re just doing what we can.

  23. T.*

    #2 is an interesting ask because in most jobs working from home costs you less money therefore most people accept a lesser pay when working from home. (I understand the HIPPA points but I’m focusing on the cost aspect). You should be putting the cost of your commute and possibly your wardrobe and such into your living expenses. My husband was pt work from home a few years before covid because it costs the company less (leasing spaces/shared desks on alternating days). We have a 3 bedroom home and 1 room is his dedicated office. If he’s on the phone, the door is shut so I don’t bother him. We save a lot on gas from his commute and not needing business attire that we’ve been able to put into making his office a comfortable space. You don’t need to live alone, you just need a space where you can have no interruptions and wear your headphones. Covid has taught us all lessons in kindness and adapting. It’s not worth working for someone who doesn’t understand that we all have to adapt to this new lifestyle.

    1. Masked Bandit*

      I’m sorry, but I think it’s privileged to say that this is a problem with the OP’s ability to adapt to circumstances. She is asking for advice on how to adapt to circumstances. The OP is a recent grad living with a roommate; that’s a very different proposition than having an extra bedroom in a home one shares with one’s spouse. If an extra bedroom was an option, OP probably would have mentioned it. I agree with all the suggestions that OP should frame it as “how have people been handling remote therapy if a home office isn’t an option?” and see what the employer’s response is. Many people have been wfh for a year now, they’ll have suggestions.

      1. New Mom*

        Agreed. My husband and I bought a house a few months before the pandemic and if we had been in our old apartment I honestly don’t know what we would have done. It was a tiny junior one bedroom with only two privacy doors – bedroom and bathroom. I think about that a lot and how it would not be possible to work without hearing the other and our baby. And since we live in a high COL area I know a lot of my coworkers are likely still in that situation.

        1. Masked Bandit*

          Exactly. The pandemic hit at a time where I was living with a roommate for the first time in a decade and my desk is in my bedroom because it’s the only place I can consistently expect complete privacy. I would love to have an office, but I simply can’t afford one right now. There’s also only so much your own work can impose on a roommate and it’s less on a spouse or other family. It seems like the OP is in a similar position and is trying to determine what her options are.

      1. Observer*

        Buy a bigger house. And pay the difference with the savings from clothes and the commute./sarc

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I will just agree that this is a legit tradeoff in costs/cost benefits analysis. We had a question a couple of weeks ago about how to reward employees that can’t work from home and therefore don’t have access to the convenience and cost savings.

      Not everyone’s housing situation, home office options is the same. But the cost of people’s commutes and wardrobe and eating options are quite different at home too.

      I think the most common way it is handled in the US is to say the the employee pay for many of needs of a home office as tradeoff for the WFH reward. Some employers have paid for chairs and office equipment, but many have not.

      Normal for me is that they provide the computer which connects to their VPN and nothing else. I can’t use a personal computer for security reasons. I have to provide decent internet, office space, desk and chair. I paid for an extra monitor to go with the laptop so I have two screens to work. That extra screen might be allowed if I requested it, but I have never fought that battle.

      For me there is no office space nearby me at to go to at all.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        … and that is why it is “not done” and tone deaf to ask about them augmenting pay so the new employee can not have a roommate. Because when it’s time to start going into the office will you ask for money for office appropriate clothes and commute related costs?

    3. James*

      “I understand the HIPPA points but I’m focusing on the cost aspect”

      But you can’t ignore HIPPA. In the medical fields there are legal requirements that must be followed. If the LW doesn’t comply with HIPPA they can lose their license, they can be fired, they can be fined, they can go to jail. That’s not a small consideration. And unless you deal with HIPPA regularly, you don’t really understand the LW’s points. I don’t mean that as an insult–HIPPA is a complex, arcane suite of regulations that require deep study to understand, and even medical staff required to comply with it are often baffled as to how to do so. Unless you’re a lawyer specializing in HIPPA or an admin enforcing its requirements, there’s simply no way for us lay people to really understand it.

      “We have a 3 bedroom home and 1 room is his dedicated office.”

      I’m in a similar arrangement–for various reasons an office was necessary when we were house-hunting. (I hate working from home, but I have some rare and expensive books, some equipment I really need to keep from the kids, and enough Medieval weapons to field a respectable body of men at arms.) And even here there are issues. The kids don’t respect boundaries (4 year olds simply don’t), and I can hear my wife recording lessons from her work space.

      But that’s not the issue. The issue is, does the LW have such resources? Unless THEY have such resources, working in compliance with HIPPA simply isn’t an option for them in their home, whatever our living situations. And remember: If someone can overhear the LW’s consultations with clients the LW is violating HIPPA. Even if it’s just the LW’s side of the conversation.

      “Covid has taught us all lessons in kindness and adapting.”

      Has it, though?

    4. Ruth*

      Have you weighed the cost of a third bedroom vs the cost of a commute? Where I live, a third bedroom would be about 1000 more a month, compared to a commute that costs about $100.

    5. twocents*

      Working from home has been more expensive for me. I prefer WFH and hope I can continue, but I absolutely would not accept a pay cut. I can absorb the costs because of my current pay.

      1. UKDancer*

        I think definitely it’s individual whether people are better or worse off for working from home.

        I’ve cashed in my season ticket l so I’m theoretically £300 per month better off and I’m saving a lot on not buying hazelnut lattes in Starbucks. On the other hand my electricity bills have gone up and I’m spending more money on food and resources.

        I’m slightly better off but not by much. Also how you weigh costs and benefits depends on your circumstances. I’ve a colleague in a house share who finds working from home really difficult because of the lack of space and privacy They may be better off financially but they don’t feel better for it.

    6. Student Affairs Sally*

      WFH might cost less money for the employee if a) they already have a large enough home to accommodate an office, b) they already have the equipment and high-speed internet to be able to do their job (or company provides/subsidizes these things), AND c) there is already someone in the household who remains at home most of the day (thus keeping utility bills roughly the same as when the employee is not WFH). However, many many people do not have those privileges, and working from home is a significant expense to make space, get appropriate technology/internet access, and pay increased utility bills. I keep my thermostat at 65 in the winter when I’m not home (would go lower if I didn’t have cats); I keep it at around 70-72 when I’m home all day because I run cold. I also use the lights more, and obviously my home computer eats a lot of power. My utility bills went up SIGNIFICANTLY when I started working from home. I did save money on the commute, but until very recently my commute was less than 3 miles, so it was very minimal savings. I already had a professional wardrobe, so I didn’t save money there (although I guess there was less wear and tear on those clothes so they won’t need to be replaced quite as soon). So for many (even most) people, WFH is significantly more expensive than going to an office.

      I still agree that there are tweaks that OP could make to make WFH with a roommate doable for their situation, but to say that WFH costs less money is incorrect for many people. It does cost less for employers though!

      1. twocents*

        I’d even argue that the clothes are probably a wash. I don’t wear my nice dress pants, but I’ve had to replace my jeans more frequently than before when they were weekend only clothes. And the price difference between my work pants and jeans is unnoticeable; I buy them at the same store.

        1. Bluesboy*

          I find this interesting. I would have thought that jeans would wear out much more slowly than work clothes.

          I would save a lot of money on clothes working from home. A suit in the office versus jeans and a shirt at home. Since there’s a shirt in any case, a pair of jeans cost a lot less than a suit, and of course you have zero wear and tear on shoes too.

    7. Anon Today*

      Egad. As someone who has been working in a 1000 sq foot apartment (freaking spacious by Manhattan standards) with a spouse also working remote and a teen doing remote school–yeah, COVID has taught us all lessons in kindness and adapting but having AN EXTRA ROOM in an entire freaking house is not “adapting.” We are incredibly privileged to have enough space that we can all work but still: there are times we need to arrange who can be talking in which room when, camera use, etc. People in smaller spaces, or who live with people whose schedules and work type doesn’t mesh well, have pretty steep obstacales to climb every single day just to do their jobs.

    8. Cat Tree*

      WFH certainly doesn’t cost less for many people. I’m paying so much more in heating and cooling all day, and even for things like toilet paper and hand soap (but at least I can use the good stuff). Luckily I already had a desk set up in my living room and my company paid for a better chair. But I have a fuel efficient car and a short commute so I used to spend about $15 a month for gas. I’m spending more than that on heat and electricity.

    9. Ace in the Hole*


      My three-person household lives in a very small, old, 2-bedroom apartment. There is no private space available unless I lock my wife out of her own bedroom all day (which is where all our belongings are stored as well as her only workspace) so anything requiring confidentiality is right out. Working from home means I have to semi-permanently give up the only space I have to work on my hobby projects so I can use that desk for work… the projects are not easily moved, so it’s not like I can just work on them after hours. It’s cramped, uncomfortable, and distracting (yes even with headphones).

      I save no money on commuting since I used to walk or bicycle to work, I save negligible money on clothing since I buy clothes at the thrift store, and I’m spending more money for internet and utilities. But even if I did reduce expenses from those things…. it wouldn’t be enough of a reduction to afford the extra $500+ per month it would take to move to a larger apartment, plus moving expenses, plus deposit.

      I imagine the situation is very different if you already had so much space you could dedicate a whole unoccupied room for an office. The cost to outfit an existing room comfortably is much less than the cost to permanently expand your living space. It’s also much easier to undo when/if you go back to working on-site, and is a one-time expense vs an ongoing monthly expense.

    10. biobotb*

      Paying for an apartment or house with an extra bedroom is probably a lot more expensive than paying for gas for a standard commute. Unless you and your husband bought/rented a new house with an extra room to accommodate his work from home days, I don’t see how your situation applies to the OP. It sounds like they would have to significantly upgrade their living expenses (going from half the rent to all the rent) to get a private room to do their work in.

    11. TWW*

      If I had to work from home long term, it would cost me probably $600/month to upgrade to a larger apartment with space for a desk and fast internet. I don’t spend anywhere near that amount on transportation and wardrobe.

    12. Observer*

      (I understand the HIPPA points but I’m focusing on the cost aspect)

      But the HIPPA points affect the cost involved. Failure to recognize that very fundamental issue negates most of what you are saying.

  24. Hemingway*

    OP#2, as long as you have a private room to do therapy and have a white noise machine, it’s not any different than being in an office type building with therapists in private rooms and noise machines. I assure you that plenty of therapists are married and don’t get a new place to live during the pandemic!
    This is an easy fix and I’m a little…..perplexed maybe at why you think you have to LIVE somewhere completely different.

  25. AmosBurton*

    Re: #2, even asking for them to pay for you to live alone will strike management as quite tone-deaf, and, especially coupled with the fact that you are a new graduate, will likely make them notice you, and not in a good way. It will mark you as out-of-synch with professional norms. It probably won’t be a big issue, but it would likely induce an eye-rolling dismissal, and will do more harm than good.

    Perhaps a better tack (as suggested by others here) is to approach management instead with “How are other folks managing to stay HIPAA compliant when they have roommates, and can you help me get there?’

  26. ThatGirl*

    For LW#2 – my husband is a mental health counselor at the college level. We’ve managed to keep his privacy at home, thankfully, but his college is also semi-kinda-sorta reopened, so he’s going in to his office 2-3 days a week. And here’s the thing: he’s still doing video therapy there. So it might be possible to have a private office space you can go to for video sessions, with all of the noise-cancelling and insulation that implies. Yes, it’s slightly riskier to go to an office than to stay at home, but if you can get there safely (driving) and keep your distance from any other possible coworkers, it seems like a solid option.

  27. Salt & Vinegar Chips*

    #2 I’m wondering if you have discussed with an employer or someone that works in the field the HIPPA regulations vs learned about them in a college setting. Unless your apartment is a small studio with no interior walls, you should be able to be HIPPA compliant at home. I’ve seen exceptions where people have a white noise machine and a divider for work and put their work things in a locked trunk when they are not working. Without 2 years of experience in therapy I think its going to be hard to negotiate a higher wage or any perks. Be creative and check out all of your options before you get yourself in a situation you cant afford.

  28. Ann O'Nemity*

    For #1, it may be helpful to differentiate between what you’d do for a peer versus for a manager. Some of the examples listed (questions about our software, helping them find files) are things peers might do to help each other. Right now the OP seems to be lumping it all together with the more egregious “directives.” Alison offered some good scripts for pushing back against the directives.

    1. OP #1*

      It’s more the constant asking where files are, help with software, etc. If a peer asked me for help this often, I would be annoyed. It feels like old boss is taking advantage of the relationship sometimes.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Wherein that case I would just start being slower in helping him. And if that doesn’t work – and Alison’s scripts get brushed off by him, then I think a quick “how much support” should I be giving old boss with his tech issues convo with the new manager is a good idea. My bet is he probably shouldn’t be asking you for all this help – but is counting on it all sliding under the new managers line of sight.

  29. I should really pick a name*

    LW #2
    Is this your interpretation of HIPAA requirements, or have you run it by someone in the industry? You could potentially be creating hardship for yourself when it isn’t needed.

    1. Cascadia*

      Yes, I would wait to make any changes to your living situation and take on additional expenses until you actually have a job in hand, and find out what the expectations are. I have a number of friends who are therapists and, depending on their work/employer, they’ve all been doing very different things. Some are working from home doing video calls, some are still going into the office, and one of my friends has had NOTHING change except everyone wears masks. She works in a residential facility and does a lot of group conversations, and now they just spread out the chairs and wear masks, but otherwise it’s the same thing. As health care providers, they still need to go to work every day. This is all to say, this may the case of counting your chickens before they hatch – get a job offer first and then find out what they are doing – or ask during the interview! They will definitely have a plan for this and I think it’ll make you look tone deaf, and possibly out of touch, to ask for a housing allowance due to covid, when everyone is dealing with this.

    2. SimplyTheBest*

      Agreed. Because while OP may be able to ditch a roommate and live by themself, other people have permanent roommates. A person wouldn’t be required to move out and leave their spouse behind. Or their child. Or their parent.

      As you’re interviewing, ask your potential employers what people are doing to be HIPAA compliant at home and what the employer is doing to help. Don’t just assume you have to make grand sacrifices when a closed door and a white machine could suffice.

  30. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #5 – in some environments – the ONLY way to get promoted or a fair increase is not to just THREATEN to leave – but actually say – with another offer in hand “I’ve been offered (this), and I’m prepared to go, but I want to give you a chance, before I formally accept that offer”….

    I once worked in a place where the only people who were promoted were people who used that tactic. It’s, as Michael Corlene and Sal Tessio both said, “It’s just business.”

    It’s not the way it should be, but it is the way it often is.

    1. Lisa*

      Which may explain the co-workers’ behavior, but doesn’t really help OP. OP wants to leave and can’t because they’ve been blacklisted from every other company in town through no fault of their own.

      It seems like a vicious cycle, you want to leave, but can’t, which means you’re stuck at this company, where the only way to get a raise is to have a counter, but you can’t get a counter because of previous bad actors. I wonder how long this blacklist has been in effect? If a few companies were burned 5 years ago, this seems even more unreasonable and maybe something OP could raise to a recruiter.

  31. Hiring Mgr*

    On #2, my spouse is a therapist and has been doing online sessions for a year. You may want to double check what having a roommate has to do with Hipaa compliance?

  32. AcadLibrarian*

    #4 – I crochet anyone and everyone a baby blanket when they announce they’re expecting! For one thing, I have a very large yarn stash that I’m always trying to work through. Honestly I’ve never considered how long it takes to complete a project. And yes, sometimes people are a little weirded out – a friend of a friend having a baby? You get a blanket! Coworker I talk to twice a year? You get a blanket!

    1. Jessica*

      You sound charming (and like a serious crocheting fiend). I still have and cherish the wonderful blanket some random neighbor lady whom we did not have a deep and lasting relationship with made for me as a tiny child 50 years ago. More blankets for a better world!

    2. James*

      I do the same thing with maille jewelry. I love making it, but seriously, how many bracelets and necklaces does a guy in his mid-30s need? So if someone likes a piece, I tend to give it to them. I gave away a few bracelets and cubes (something every mailler makes) at work, to folks ranking from VP to new hire. Why not? I’ll make more next week. The fun is in the making, not in the having!

      I think the key is to make sure everyone knows it’s not to gain anything. There’s no exchange involved. You like it, I like making it, so now you have it and if I want another I’ll make more.

      I also do crochet (gotta keep busy when you travel 45 weeks a year), and the yarn stockpile does tend to grow, doesn’t it? On the plus side, my kids have real scarfs and hats, something hard to find in the South!

      1. knitcrazybooknut*

        The stash doth grow. That’s a reason there’s a term for it: SABLE. Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yeah – I come home from the needlepoint store and spouse asks where do you plan on putting all your fabric this time? And a third floss box?

          STABLE is a really good description – I will be permanently borrowing it.

      2. Ray Gillette*

        I’ve never made a cube despite mailling on and off since high school. I should correct this if only so your statement holds true.

    3. Snark no more!*

      That’s a really good idea AcadLibrarian. Often I don’t crochet because I don’t know what to do with the finished product. There’s only so many tablecloths and bedspreads needed in one household. And the doilies! I have drawers full of them.

      I think it’s the same for many people who crochet or knit. We just like to do it. It’s our therapy!

      1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

        @Snark Consider crocheting for charity! I live in TX and my F&F don’t need more blankets, hats or scarves. Check out Warm Up America or Project Linus for national organizations, but also check with your local foster care agency, retirement homes, or homeless shelters if they could use blankets, shawls, etc.

        1. Walk on the left side*

          There are also many crochet patterns for skirts, lacy shawls, tank tops/sleeveless shirts, sun hats etc that can be made with cotton or other summer-weight yarns!

  33. CatPerson*

    LW1, I know a lot of things that my boss doesn’t and fortunately he trusts me to execute them without having to know every detail himself. If he were to be demoted and was now my peer, of course someone would have to train him in some things. Try clarifying with your current manager who’s responsible for training him, if not you. If your company expects you to do that, you have no reason to resent him for not knowing things. If they don’t expect you to, at least they’ll be alerted to the fact that he needs help in some things and be able to do something about that.

    The directing of your your work is a separate matter, of course.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      This is a fair point. Asking about the training is a good thing (especially if he’s been away from parts of the job for a while old boss may need a refresher), but eventually training does end. I would also include a question about how long the company expects training to take so all participants are on the same page.

      And if you do end up training him – insist that he takes notes that he can refer back to later. You are not his portable brain always at his beck and call (why, yes, I have a coworker who treats me this way – whatever gave that impression).

  34. Empress Matilda*

    OP1: how can I reinforce that we are now peers without creating an uncomfortable team dynamic?

    I just want to point out that you *already* have an uncomfortable team dynamic! So your choice is not “status quo or create discomfort.” It’s more like “put up with current discomfort, or try to resolve it.”

    Workplace power dynamics are weird, especially when they shift like this. But you shouldn’t be the one doing all the emotional labour of making it “comfortable” for both of you – especially when you’re not actually comfortable! Realistically, it’s up to your former boss to do most of this labour – she should be the one reassuring you, that she understands the new arrangements and she’s going to do her best not to make it weird. If she’s not doing that, then you certainly have the standing to raise it with her, and with your current boss.

    Good luck, and please let us know how it goes!

  35. Sanders*

    #4 – One caveat about baby blankets – we received two knit/crocheted blankets from friends when we had our baby, but we could not use them because right away she stuck her fingers in and started pulling out threads, ruining the blankets and creating a strangulation hazard. The knit has to be VERY tight in order for a baby to not destroy the blanket. Honestly, muslin or cotton blankets are so much more useful – they are indestructible and can be tossed in the wash without thought.

    1. D3*

      YES! Plus, they’re a pain to wash at a time when you’re already super overwhelmed. Not a fan of knitted/crocheted blankets for babies.

      1. Bear Shark*

        There are plenty of machine wash/dry yarns out there suitable for baby items. I think most people knitting or crocheting blankets for babies are either going to use something that takes no more effort than washing anything else or they’re going to give you a heads up regarding special care.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      My go-to baby blanket is a yard (36″ x 42″) each of two fabrics with the edges bound in a colorful bias binding. I started doing that when a coworker couldn’t find a blanket to match her nursery theme, so I got themed flannel for one side and . . . I think a matching solid color for the other. PREWASH several times first to make sure it doesn’t shrink and pucker in subsequent washings, but it’s a really fast project and very usable.

  36. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    To OP4, check about your office’s gifting policy just to be safe. However most policies have a “Major Life Event” exception to the rules. At my office nobody would blink an eye at a gift like this given both the baby and not returning from Maternity Leave.

    (But I will echo the above posters for making sure the knit is tight – little fingers get in the smallest holes and make choking hazards easily.)

  37. Nanani*

    #3 – I personally really hope sanitizing continues for shared things, like office phones.
    It’s been years since I had to share a phone but the receiver always stinks, probably from being close to the mouth.

    And if people in general wash their hands more often, that’s a good thing. Everyone should have been washing hands more in the first place, pandemic or no!

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      YES!! We place such an emphasis on hand-washing with kids when they’re young but somewhere it all falls out the window. Apparently 2 out of 3 adult men don’t wash their hands after using the toilet!!! GROSS.
      Hand washing is an easy thing to do to stay healthy!

  38. Public Sector Manager*

    For OP #1, I think Alison’s script is great because if I was ever demoted from my current manager position, doing the things your former boss is doing would be the number one thing on my personal radar to avoid doing. I’d be mortified if I caught myself doing things that your former boss is doing. Since your former boss doesn’t have that level of shame or self-assessment, pushing back seems to be the best solution.

    For OP #2, have you looked into an executive suite, where you have a communal receptionist for answering phones and collecting mail, and then you pay for everything else a la carte? In law we call that Fegen Suites, named after the lawyer who started doing that for other lawyers. Anyway, I’d price it out and see what’s more expensive–assuming the full lease on your rental or the executive suite. In Northern California, these suites start around $450-$500 per month. If the executive suite is cheaper, I’d recommend doing that. I did that for a year pre-COVID was I was between public sector jobs, and it was really nice to have the work/house separation without having to go to an office full of other people.

  39. MM*

    OP #2: Sorry if this has already been suggested, but perhaps you could still go to your office and meet with clients via video chat. That way you maintain privacy that is required, but you are at lower risk for COVID. This, of course, depends on your office set up, but it sounds like this is worth considering.

  40. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    OP3: At my prior workplace the Wellness Committee came up with the idea of having a monthly “Wellness Wipedown”. Basically once a month everybody got a calendar invite for a 15 minute block of time during the afternoon (slow time) during which the company put out cleaning supplies and asked everyone to dust & wipe down their areas. Each team was assigned a common space/task to take care of that rotated each month (coffee space/disinfect door handles & light switches/wipe down conference room tables, etc.) in addition to their own cube space. Some times we’d switch it up and instead of a wipedown it would be a decluttering session where everyone took stuff/swag they didn’t want and put it in boxes and donated. After about the first 6 months of this leadership noticed a decline in sick days taken, and after a winter with a record low of colds/flu/general ickiness in the office the monthly wipedown became a permanent thing. 15 minutes a month and we all felt better about being in the office. We still had professional cleaning staff who handled the bathrooms, breakrooms, vacuuming, trash, etc. but regular dusting and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces really helped cut down on the number of colds that got passed around. The Wipedowns were scheduled well in advance so people could plan calls & meetings around them or take a break outdoors if the smell bothered them.

    OP4: Make the blanket, but attempt to give it to her in private so that fewer people ask the inevitable “OMG, you MADE that??? Can you make me one for my (insert relation here)?” I love the compliments and general gushing over my work, I work hard on the pieces I make but it got to a point where the good gifting feelings didn’t outweigh the feelings of obligation. The whole “If I made Person Z a blanket, well do I have to make one for Person X?” When person X was a person I only tangentially knew, but someone had told her that “Hugs makes a baby blanket for ALL the babies” so she was expecting one even though I’d only spoken to her like 4 times.

  41. Beth*

    LW: only people who knit (or crochet) realize just how long it takes to do a project. And anyone who DOES knit or corchet will understand how it’s a labour of love.

    As noted by others, your biggest danger is being swamped with demands for more knitted goods by people who you don’t like enough to want to make the project.

  42. Observer*

    #2- Before jumping to a new apartment living by yourself, it’s worth doing some more exploring.

    Starting with your current situation, it sounds like you do have a separate room with a door you can close. If that’s the case, and your roommate is reasonably respectful and understanding, try putting sound deadening panels on the walls of the room. I’m talking about the kind of stuff that gets used for recording studios. You can get them at a not outrageous price – CERTAINLY less expensive than moving and taking on the full cost of an apartment.

    If you really cannot make THIS particular situation work, look at what others have said about making it possible to work when living the same house as another person. There are plenty of therapists who don’t really have the option of living by themselves because they are in a couple, have children or similar situations where moving out is just not an option.

    I’m putting a link to the kind of material I am talking about in my reply

  43. Maxie's Mommy*

    OP1: You can always refer back to Newboss when Oldboss asks for things—“Dave has me working on the Llama project, and I can’t stop.” “Did you ask Dave about splitting my time like this?” “You’re going to have to clear it with Dave if you want help. But you should try doing it yourself first, so you can tell him you got as far as XYZ…..” I’d keep referring Oldguy back to Newboss. It’s tactful and it keeps reminding Oldboss that things are different now.
    I had a similar problem, Newboss and I agreed he could fake-scold me for “rescuing” Oldguy—“he doesn’t need rescuing, do you, Mike?” Of course Mike had to answer no. “I’ve given you plenty to do so stop rescuing people!!” So I told him that we had a case just like the one he was working on—“go pull up the Johnson file”—but I wouldn’t do the work for him just because he’d never done that kind of pleading and I had. How else you gonna learn??

  44. Lauren*

    OP #2: You mentioned that they could likely still be paying rent on an office space for you. Be prepared for them to suggest you use that office space (for yourself, and your patients would still be in their homes and you’d meet with them via videoconference) in lieu of needing a raise to cover higher living expenses, especially considering that vaccination rates are increasing and infection rates are decreasing and we are heading in the direction of in-person being safe again in the foreseeable future.

  45. Mad mad me*

    As a lifelong neurotic, I’ve been in therapy in many situations, and quite a few have involved other people in close proximity (roommates, family members, various co-workers). Even taking HIPPA into consideration, they’ve always managed to make it work via white news machines, headphones, etc. I think the LW is expecting a bit too much out of the work world.

  46. Anon for This*

    OP #1: I work for a government agency that oversees/funds behavioral health services in the public sector (medicaid) and specifically have drafted our statewide telehealth policy during COVID. Things may be a little different in the private sector (although I have heard of no commercial insurance companies increasing their reimbursement rates for therapy during COVID), but in our side of the world, this request would come off as very out of touch. Funding for services is stretched razor thin in non-covid times and now is at a literal breaking point. While I wish with all my heart we paid mental health providers better, it’s not the world we are living in especially right now.

    One suggestion- if they provider you end up working for is maintaining office space, is there any particular reason you couldn’t provide telehealth services from that office (you alone in the office, your client at home on or whatever platform you are using). That would save you from incurring the expense of a new apartment without a roommate.

    Totally appreciate your concern for HIPAA compliance!

    1. Anon for This*

      Sorry, intended for Letter 2, although that is probably obvious from what I wrote.

  47. Khatoska Vadapov*

    Having been in a similar situation before where my former supervisor became my peer and then eventually ended up reporting through me (by me getting promoted rather than their role being reduced in scope). In my case, I was thankful that when we were peers, I had relocated to a different site so the change in reporting structure was very visible. However, there were still situations where they asked me to do something as if I were still reporting to them, and I generally resorted to “I need to check with Jane if I can add that to my workload”. With issues regarding software assistance however, it had been clarified that this was part of my new role. In your case, it may make sense to have Jane clarify whether you are to be the point of contact for certain types of queries or who that person should be.

  48. Avid knitter and crocheter*

    OP#4 – knit the blanket! You don’t have to say how long it took, how much the yarn cost, that you made it while watching horror movies, that you knit love into every stitch, or whatever. In my experience, new moms care about the washing instructions. With my favorite baby yarn it’s machine wash warm, tumble dry low. Heck, I’m currently crocheting a baby blanket for a co-worker I’m 75% sure is pregnant. I was going to ask someone else, but since the conversation would have started with “I know this is none of my businesses, but is coworker pregnant? I need to know so I can make a blanket.” Thank you Allison for making me realize that any sentence that starts with “I know this is none of my business, but…” needs to not be asked. If coworker isn’t pregnant, I’ll have an extra one on hand for when someone is expecting.

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