people are freaked out about going back to their offices

Many workplaces that went fully remote last year are starting to set timelines for bringing people back to the office, and their employees are not happy.

As reopening initiatives gather steam, I’ve been flooded with letters from people viewing these plans with deep suspicion — largely, I suspect, because in the past year, we’ve had experienced a massive loss of trust in our institutions and in each one another. At Slate today, I wrote about how that’s affecting reopening plans. You can read it here.

{ 621 comments… read them below }

  1. Tess*

    Thanks so much for this, Alison. Sometimes I feel I’m om a different planet when I hear how casually my co-workers treat the stituation. Your latest writings about this, and many of the commenters responses, have made me feel a lot less lonely about taking steps to stay safe and healthy.

    It’s depressing that so many people find this to be a hoax, or overblown, masks don’t work, etc. I’ll still be wearing a mask even after I’m vaccinated, and, frankly, indefinitely. Perhaps I am overblowing things a bit, but until things turn around, I assume everyone aound me has the virus, and I hope for their sakes they assume the same about me.

    1. Ashley*

      I agree. It has been a long year of explaining how masks aren’t 100% effective but the need for them. Now is the fun of explaining how the vaccine is designed so that hopefully I won’t die or need to go to the hospital but it isn’t 100%. It also doesn’t mean I won’t get COVID with who knows what long term side effects. Or that we really don’t know enough if children and others who can’t get vaccinated that I am in contact can get COVID from me. Add to that the new strains, returning to 2019 status just seems way to soon and I question when it will ever be safe. And I really have lost trust in so many people and institutions over the past year.

      1. Tess*

        >Add to that the new strains, returning to 2019 status just seems way to soon

        Yes, Ashley, exactly. It’s part of what drives my current concern about returning too early. The sad irony is that I can successful manage every bit of my job from home.

        1. Spearmint*

          I mean, the virus will be with us forever, it’s very unlikely it will be completely eliminated worldwide. Much like the flu, it will mutate over time and we’ll have to be revaccinated periodically. We should be trying to look for an acceptable amount of risk to justify a return to normal, not eliminating risk.

          No one thinks we should go into lockdown for the seasonal flu, even though it kills tens of thousands every year.

          1. introverted af*

            No, but COVID is significantly more contagious than the flu. While lockdowns for the flu wouldn’t be a good option, maybe we should normalize masks more – not for everyone, but the vulnerable and the sick. If you have a cold, wear a mask. Get the flu shot. We could be more aggressive with our interventions instead of just accepting that tens of thousands die each year from relatively preventable causes.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              Normalize for everyone, so that there’s no stigma attached.

              In the US, ‘being sick’ has a strong correlation to being a bad person. Encouraging everyone to wear masks will sidestep that. I’m definitely going to continue wearing them to the store for a while, but I’ll have to think about work.

          2. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

            Right — which is why we’re talking about precautions like continuing to wear a mask in public for a few more months, even after you’re vaccinated, not a total lockdown.

          3. JM60*

            While COVID will be part of the circulating pathogens indefinitely, it’s currently much more deadly than the flu. Mitigation efforts during this pandemic have virtually eliminated colds and flus, but yet COVID has still killed so many. So I think that for now, it will still be some time before the risk level is worth making people come into an office to do something that can be done from home.

            BTW, I think that some of the mitigation efforts for COVID should be done for the flu too. Mask wearing (when you might be contagious) has kept contagious diseases down in some East Asian countries. Giving people more sick leave (separated from vacation), and encouraging them to use it when sick, reduced people bringing diseases to the workplace.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Giving people more sick leave (separated from vacation), and encouraging them to use it when sick

              Designed the damned work so that a person can miss a day without things going to Hell in a rocket-powered handbasket… All the sick time in the world means nothing if death is more agreeable than returning from sick time.

            2. Spearmint*

              I don’t disagree about this! But I thought some commenters were saying we should be in lockdown even once most people are vaccinated. I may have misread them, though.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                Oh lord no. Lockdowns are severe measures designed to stop the healthcare systems from overloading.

                What we’re saying is that masks et al are gonna be with us for a while yet, and social distancing is still gonna be a thing for a bit. Additionally a lot of us have lost too much trust in our fellow humans after a year of telling us we’re acceptable losses to the force of capitalism.

              2. Tess*

                >I thought some commenters were saying we should be in lockdown even once most people are vaccinated.

                From which comment did you get that impression? I don’t see anyone using the word – except you.

              3. JM60*

                Government mandated lockdowns certainly shouldn’t be in place forever. I think just about everyone agrees that they are blunt tools that can cause more harm than good if carries on too long.

                What I do think workplaces should entertain continuing is allowing remote work indefinitely after the pandemic for those who prefer it. It’s not always practical, but when it is, it can be great for many it. In my case, I never want to have to return to an office.

          4. Keymaster of Gozer*

            There will be no ‘return to normal’ simply put. A ‘return to a new normal’ is what is more likely.

          5. kt*

            Why call 2019 normal, though? Why does 2019 get to be the arbiter of “normal” when it could be that there could be other acceptable ways to do things?

            I understand the larger point you’re trying to make about the fact that this virus will not be eradicated, but “this virus won’t be eradicated -> you must spend 40 hours/week sitting in the chair you sat in in 2019” is not a true statement, even though many folks are behaving like it is. For the immunosuppressed among us, it’s to all our benefit to make sure alternative work arrangements can be made (look up research on how viruses mutate in some immunosuppressed folks for reasons why). For those of us who appreciate skipping the 80 minutes of driving per day, for those of our companies that are now able to source talent from more places, for the small towns that can suddenly maybe keep residents — why go back to 2019? And moreover, we know that the Spanish flu changed the way we built buildings, so that ventilation was easier for instance — that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. It will be no surprise if more superviruses arise and circulate (many climate change and population density and international travel reasons to think that this will certainly happen again soon) — why go back to a way of doing things that clearly wasn’t resilient when we could maintain habits and ways of working that would allow us to mitigate that risk more effectively with less trauma?

            1. Spearmint*

              Hm, I don’t necessarily disagree with this. I am all for the WFH revolution and hope it is sustained for all the reasons you say. I just thought some commenters were advocating staying in lockdown even well after most have been vaccinated, but maybe I attributed more extreme beliefs to them than they actually had.

              1. kt*

                I think that you are reading in something different than intended. I’m in the Midwest US, for instance, at a company that needs tech talent, but we don’t have a huge labor pool to draw from if we need to hire only people who will be willing to sit in a chair in the same building for 40 hrs a week. In fact, due to our location we can’t even hire people from the whole metropolitan area, as we’re on one side of it and the traffic to get there from the opposite side is unpleasant/undoable with kids in daycare — but of course some of the people we want to hire could live (gasp) 35 miles away because they previously worked for another big tech employer on that other side of town. Requiring people to be butt-in-chair for 40 hours was standard for some parts of our biz and really really hampering hiring for the tech side, because the people we want to hire have a lot of highly-paid choices and it’s a small pool. If we shift even to 2 days/week in the office, suddenly we have doubled our hiring pool for tech jobs. That’s a big deal! We’ve hired a bunch of people ‘remotely’ now and they’re really valuable additions to our team.

                It’s not about lockdown. It’s about taking this opportunity to assess what was an arbitrary rule “because we’ve always done it this way” and what is truly useful.

                1. AnonForThis*

                  The university associated with the hospital I work for has said much the same, why not use this opportunity to rethink what is required and expected of a workforce?

                2. alienor*

                  Yeah, for me the thing that’s really chafing about my employer’s return-to-the-office plans is that 2020 proved definitively that we don’t need to be there–we had a mega-productive, record-breaking year while everyone worked at home. That makes me think the insistence on bringing everyone back is based on something other than “we need to be in person to be effective,” and none of the possibilities for what that “something” might be are appealing. I don’t get point of throwing away a year of learning how to be more creative and flexible and adaptable so we can go back to doing exactly what we were doing before, only with plexiglass barriers and hand sanitizer.

              2. Tess*

                >I just thought some commenters were advocating staying in lockdown

                Yeah, you’re really misinterpreting things.

      2. HotSauce*

        Not to mention the multiple coworkers who have stated that they WILL NOT be getting the vaccine. I’ve been having nightmares about having to go back.

        1. Sue*

          My office scheduled vaccines for everyone (we’re essential but were just recently eligible) and only a couple of people signed up. All the rest are saying they won’t get it. Infuriating.

      3. KirbyCloud*

        Yeah. Just want to echo these comments. I’m not sure how I’ll feel about masks / physical distancing when this is all over – I normally get 4-5 colds/flu every winter and at least 1 or 2 over the rest of the year. This year? Nothing. I got tested twice after a half day of symptoms that were likely my allergies acting up, but haven’t been sick with a respiratory illness since Christmas break in 2019.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          The year of no sinus infections has been wonderful for me (I can’t use decongestants at all).

        2. AnonForThis*

          Pre-WFH, my desk had at least 4 coworkers in a tight radius who had explosive sneezes on a regular basis and blamed allergies. They did essentially nothing to stifle the sneeze and little to try to contain it.

        3. Lacey*

          I’m really surprised at how many people have said they didn’t get sick this year! I get sick every year. I worked from home this winter, had my groceries delivered, wore my mask when I absolutely had to go out and… I got sick the same amount as I always do. Sinus infection, upper respiratory infection, the whole 9.

          I’m glad for all the people who weren’t sick, I just didn’t notice a difference. Though I’m glad it kept me from getting covid.

          1. Quinalla*

            Interesting! I did not get sick at all this past year either, it was amazing really as I could tell for sure when my mild seasonal allergies were acting up, could tell how bad drinking more than a beer or glass of wine made me feel the next day, could tell how much sleep really does affect how I feel, etc. because I was not sick at all. It was an interesting experiment!

            My husband did get a sinus infection once, but that for him is caused by big temp/humidity shifts and his “defective” in his words sinuses :)

          2. Tryinghard*

            I understand in that I had a low grade sickness that just dragged on for months. I was tested for covid and the flu multiple times and they were negative. I’m a front line workers and my Dr chalked it up to chronic stress and exhaustion. When I did get covid I was almost hospitalized because I just couldn’t shake it. Thankfullly the steroids kicked in.

            Rest of my family is always healthier than me and definitely didn’t get as sick as much. Two other essential workers and one remote school child.

        4. Going to be WELL!!*

          At the office, I am in close proximity with 3 other colleagues in a corner of the building with terrible ventilation. All 4 of us have weak respiratory and immune systems, and the past 10 years has been a merry-go-round of colds, respiratory viruses, pneumonia, etc. One of would succumb, and within days/weeks, then next soldier would fall, then the next. Get everyone healthy, and the next cycle would start.

          In 2020, none of us had any kind of illness all year.

          Yep, personally gonna normalize masking/physical distancing forever. I do not miss being hospitalized with pneumonia twice a year.

          1. Hack hack cough cough*

            You know what employers need to do? SEND PEOPLE HOME when they are obviously ill, particularly when they have jobs that can be dome remotely. During theH1N1 flu, my then-employer advised all of us that anyone with flu symptoms was to stay home until they had been symptom-free for 48 hours without medication, period. And it was a law firm that practiced employment law, among other things, so I am pretty sure they did their homework first. COVID is so much worse – even previously healthy people who don’t get terribly sick with COVID are having lasting, possibly permanent, severe medical problems afterward. My current employer hasn’t announced what their policy will be yet, but until COVID is under control, I fully plan to leave the office and work remotely if there is anyone at my workplace who is showing COVID symptoms and refuses to leave. They can fire me if they want (although I doubt they will – I do actually believe they are trying to figure out how to do the right thing by everyone). My health, and potentially my life, are more important.

        5. Tin Cormorant*

          I’ve got a preschool-aged child, and I had a different cold every six weeks in 2019 as she brought them home from who knows where. She’s still going to school, but now they clean regularly and all the teachers and kids wear masks. I got sick only twice since the start of the pandemic (tested negative both times). I’m gonna keep wearing my mask around other people even after Covid. I like not getting sick.

          1. anon translator*

            I sure hope my kid’s school will keep up the hand-washing regimen they’ve had all year. He was in remote school in March-May last year, but after that his school has been open. He got a cold in August when school started and tested negative, but stayed home for the rest of that week. Nothing else. My nose runs constantly, if it’s not the cold weather, it’s pollen or simply dust from the streets, or reflux. Ours get very dusty, because they’re gritted in winter and it takes a while to clean up. Studded winter tires are also a thing here. I admit I haven’t been tested for these things, but I would if I got any other symptoms like a sore throat or a cough.

        6. Kelly*

          I work in an academic library and between student workers and permanent staff, we were averaging at least two people calling in sick weekly between September and April most years pre pandemic. One colleague routinely used up her the majority of her earned annual sick time annually pre March 2020 because she was the parent who had to stay home when the kids were sick, even though the kids’ father worked in the evenings.

          I really hope that some of the pandemic habits, especially cleaning, hand washing and mask wearing, in addition to no questions asked if people use their sick leave continue once more people return to work and interact with the public. I plan on actually using sick time to take off if I’m feeling under the weather, whether it’s physical or mental. I have ample sick time and it’s not good for either my physical or mental health to drag myself into work when I’m not feeling well.

      4. David*

        I’ve been struggling with this since day one; there are two very legitimate arguments on opposite sides of the fence here.

        In the world in which we actually live, in which a few more months of reasonable public health precautions and the vast majority of people being vaccinated will see the threat come to an end in the United States, there’s very little reason to jump the gun other than stupidity/ideology.

        But the “I question when it will ever be safe” line is what has me worried about many others who share the above reasoning with me. It is not going to be possible to stay in limbo for much longer. The fiscal resources don’t exist in most of the globe and are rapidly being exhausted even in places where they did exist, like the United States and European Union.

        If the vaccine candidates had all flopped, we would have had no choice but to adjust our perception of risk and put an end to some of the restrictive public health measures. There would have been no other option. Lockdowns extending off into perpetuity were not an option, and I am well aware that that would have meant millions of deaths over a few years.

        Even if they succeed in mostly putting Pandora back in the box, there are going to be systemic risks from COVID for the next decade or more. At some point, not too far off, even fairly strongly “pro-lockdown” folks like me are going to say “enough, these risks are acceptable, get on with it already.”

    2. TiffIf*

      This entire past year has brought home to me how very many people don’t understand risk mitigation AT ALL. “A mask can’t 100% protect me so there’s no point!” No, no that’s not how that works.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        That’s like saying, “If I’m in a car accident, and I get a bruise from my seatbelt, then I should conclude that seatbelts don’t work and I don’t need to use them.”

        1. Former Young Lady*

          Having spent time as a teen in the ’90s, I’m also reminded of a popular refrain in abstinence-based sex ed: “The best birth control still isn’t 100% effective. So why bother?!”

          1. Indy Dem*

            Even abstinence isn’t 100% effective! (the story of Mary is anecdotal, of course, but still, makes it less than 100%)

        2. calonkat*

          I have heard this exact argument. I’ve also heard “I’d rather be thrown clear than trapped in the car” which may be right up there with “Everyone should get COVID so we can get herd immunity” as a nonsensical statement. But once some people get an idea in their head and have friends or authority figures agreeing, it’s dang near impossible to change their minds.

          1. TiffIf*

            My cousin was thrown clear of a car accident in which she was not wearing a seat belt and has been paralyzed from the waist down ever since.

            *caveat: I do not know what the outcome might have been had she NOT been thrown clear–maybe she wouldn’t have been paralyzed or maybe she would have died.

          2. Lacey*

            Yup. And somehow they all knew someone who would have died in a car accident if they had been restrained.

            And who knows, maybe they did. I know a few people who did whatever they wanted all year and totally missed covid (they’re vaccinated now), but it seems risky to assume you’ll be an anomaly.

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’ve actually heard a few ‘well, I drive at 40mph over the speed limit and have never died so therefore speed limits are government control therefore so are masks’.

          I know desks have a certain amount of impact testing done before shipping but I don’t think my head was what they had in mind…

      2. LTL*

        Meanwhile, you have my parents who won’t leave the house at all because the mask doesn’t protect 100% and I’m starting to suspect they’ll continue the same after getting vaccinated because it’s not 0% risk.

        I know that’s a less common problem but just… People on the whole need more common sense. This is why a collectivist approach to government is a good thing (i.e. government regulations for the good of all over “but what about our freedom?”)

        1. Dave*

          The social distancing is really impacting people differently. I have family with severe social anxiety and the new rules about masks, social distancing, WFH, curb side pickup has been a dream come true for them. There are some introverts and socially anxious people that have been doing way better in the past year. I don’t see some of my family returning to the ‘old ways’ for a really long time thanks to things like curbside pickup and WFH.

        2. sofar*

          It’s really mindblowing how different everyone’s pandemic experience has been. I mean, I’m an introvert and I am dreading the return to house parties and bar outings, meals out with like 10 people, and “doing things in big groups” becoming the norm again. But at the same time, we’ve had people over individually, people crashing at our house, visited family, taken a vacation, eaten (outdoors) at restaurants, and gone to the grocery store during the entire pandemic.

          And the other day, I spoke with a long-distance friend who had not LEFT HER HOUSE except to walk in the park since March. She’s now fully vaccinated and was saying that she’s in a panic about doing things like grocery shopping, picking up to-go food, etc. And she was equally surprised that I HAD been going to the grocery store every week. She thought only COVID deniers did that.

        3. Lacey*

          Yes. Having this problem with one of my own family members. I’m all for being cautious, I just can’t live my life with 0% risk. It’s too much.

          And then the others want to take ALL the chances… so it’s not a great balance.

        4. DataSci*

          Oh, I don’t know if it’s less common, I think it depends on where you live. I don’t know any anti-maskers or anti-vaxxers personally, but I know multiple people – who are not at high risk – who refused to let their kids (early elementary age) leave the house or yard for a year, because any risk of COVID was totally unacceptable, regardless of what it did to the kids’ mental health. At least one of those kids started therapy last fall. I hope he’s doing better now.

    3. SnappinTerrapin*

      I had covid.

      I was vaccinated in the first round.

      I continue wearing my mask, even when not required, to be polite and to make others more comfortable about continuing to wear theirs.

      I worked through the pandemic, except for the time I was sick. My team was essential,and inherently at risk of exposure, but we lost more time from quarantine while waiting for negative results than from infection.

      My bout was pretty rough, to me, but I am thankful I didn’t have as bad a case as many did.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        >> I continue wearing my mask, even when not required, to be polite and to make others more comfortable about continuing to wear theirs.<<

        You’re the hero we needed. No sarcasm. Genuine thanks.

    4. sacados*

      There was a viral post on twitter/fbook/whatever a bit ago saying something to the effect of
      “The thing that Y2K proved is that when you have thousands of people working around the clock to figure out how to prevent a known problem, it will just make people think that it was never actually a problem to begin with”

      And … yeah basically that.

      1. SaraV*

        My father was in IT at a utility company in a major metropolitan area here in the US.

        I cannot begin to tell you just how many hours he and his coworkers put in to make sure nothing happened when the year turned to 2000.

        1. tangerineRose*

          Yep. I’m a programmer, and the company I worked for then also had us spending a lot of time making sure things went smoothly on Y2K.

      2. Not playing your game anymore*

        So so true. Library 1999. We checked thousands of things, fixed hundreds of things only to be told “see, I told you you were over-reacting. grrr

        Meanwhile in 2020 our city did an excellent job early in the pandemic. Shut down non essentials, dining in, theaters, etc., etc., then the anti maskers rose up to protest the over reaction, so restrictions were eased and people started getting sick… amazing.

      3. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        I like the saying “We’ll know if we don’t do enough, we’ll never know if we did too much”

      4. Not playing your game anymore*

        At this point I think I’d tell everyone who hasn’t agreed to a vaccine, that they can’t have one. I suspect the refuse-nicks would start sneaking in to speakeasy type vax clinics. My fellow Americans are perverse.

      5. nonegiven*

        After all the hours of updating that had been done, both my husband and son were required to be at work from 12/31/1999 11:30 pm – 1/1/2000 12:30am.

        Nobody really knew what might happen if something had been missed.

    5. Laura K*

      Tess, you didn’t even have to comment for me to do a double take. My father passed away from Covid on January 10, and he was called Tess by his grandchildren. So just your AAM name and your comment being the first connects me to my dad.

  2. Tiffany In Houston*

    What I have learned about myself after a year of being at home, is that I don’t ever have to go back to an office again and if I do, it has to be a hybrid model. Also, as a black woman I don’t miss having to navigate office politics and the sometimes related microaggressions that just come with working in an office. I informally surveyed my friends (mainly black/POCs) and they mostly (but not all) feel the same way. I’m an older GenXer (I’m 47) so I more than likely have topped out career wise and I have no aspirations of becoming the CEO so work is no longer my life like it once was and I have a lot of interests/friends outside of work. I just want to be paid well for a day’s work, and go home.

    1. Taycan*

      Interested to know how micro-aggressions are different or less impactful t home vs in person. As a POC myself, they seem the same to me.

      1. Tiffany In Houston*

        I live in Texas and even though my city is blue, my industry is not, so not having to go into the office to have to overhear discussions about George Floyd and the related protests or about the former occupant of the White House or about if you should be wearing a mask/is COVID a hoax has been WONDERFUL.

        1. Taycan*

          Ah ok, makes sense – some folks will never understand how draining it can be to be a POC sometimes. Most of my co-workers are allies and supportive both virtual and in person. I don’t miss non POC’s visibly looking and sounding shocked when I walk into a meeting room and start to present a topic. Always left me feeling like a spectacle.

        2. Curious*

          Hi, I’m legitimately curious about this, and I’d even guess we have similar political views.

          Are you saying that, when discussing a current event, hearing someone state a view that is different from yours is a “microaggression”?

          1. Hi there*

            I’m not the OP, but…yeah, of course “a different view” is just another way of putting “open bigotry.” A lot of current events that people debate are essentially “debates” about other people’s humanity, and if you have the alternate view, then you’re denying someone’s right to exist and live. I’m a member of the LGBT community, and a lot of my friends are nonbinary or trans. If someone says they support the Arkansas bill prohibiting doctors from providing gender-affirming surgery to kids, they aren’t articulating a “view that is different from” mine. They are denying the humanity of me and my community. If someone says they “don’t support BLM,” they are saying, what, that Black lives don’t matter? That’s not just “a different view.” That’s bigotry.

            1. Hi there*

              I meant to say “*often* just another way of putting” it. Obviously there are plenty of things (even political things) that people can have different views on that are pretty neutral or are otherwise open for disagreement.

              1. Hi there*

                Thank you so much, Alison. And thanks for providing a space for this conversation today. I am one of the unlucky few who has been forced back to the office for no good reason, and I really needed to see this article/comments section today.

          2. Raldeme*

            I mean, you’ve stripped the nuance from Tiffany’s comment. I’m sure she doesn’t view all disagreements as microaggressions. However, look, if I’m wearing a mask, trying to socially distance, and someone gets in my space without a mask to talk about how dumb masks are? Yeah that’s aggressive (not even sure if it’s a microaggression).
            Similar point about Mr Floyd’s murder. Praising the modern day equivalent of a lynching is absolutely hostile and aggressive, especially if you’re saying it to or within earshot of a Black person.

            1. Curious*

              I don’t support police’s use of force or “the former president.” But many, many people do support both those things. So I’m asking whether she views overhearing a different opinion on such issues as microaggressions.

              I’m gay, but I don’t perceive someone talking about how much they love Trump as a microaggression—I just think that’s a sadly misguided person. Obviously others have different reactions, hence my curiosity about Tiffany’s view.

              Microaggressions specifically refer to actions that communicate hostility toward marginalized groups, so “mask wearing” doesn’t seem to apply in this context.

              1. kt*

                Have you ever really heard a nuanced conversation about George Floyd’s murder in an office context?

                Every office conversation I’ve heard has been pretty simple/broad strokes. Basically either “It’s horrible” or “he was a druggie so what do you expect” served up with a side of “those looters”.

                I’m white. I’d consider most of those conversations microaggressions. Maybe a better comparison for you, since you’re gay, is hearing approving conversations about what they did to Matthew Shephard with a side of “what do those folks expect flaunting that lifestyle.”

                1. kt*

                  I’d agree that’s homophobia, and I’d say that many office conversations about Black Lives Matter these days involves straight-out racism, and I also have direct confirmation from some of the people having those conversations that they don’t feel they’re racist, they just “have a different point of view”. So there we are. You asked, and now that I give you an answer from what I’ve seen it’s a dose of “well that’s different”. Hm.

              2. Hi there*

                I explained all of this above. It really isn’t a stretch to understand why *supporting a president whose supporters march on the Capitol with Auschwitz sweatshirts and Confederate flags* = *microaggression/open aggression to Black and Jewish people*, or why *supporting a president who tries to ban transgender people from the military* = microaggression/open aggression to the LGBT community.

                As for mask-wearing, I am sure you are aware that those who believe COVID is a hoax and refuse to wear masks are usually the same people who don’t support BLM and do support the former president/believe that the Capitol riot was a plot by Antifa/Jewish cabals/ Soros/whatever.

                1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                  Admiration for you Hi There for just how brilliantly you’re putting the issue here. Seriously, A grade would bookmark for future use.

                2. Curious*

                  Removed. As has already been pointed out, racism and anti-semitism are not merely “differing viewpoints.” Leave this here, please. – Alison

              3. Raldeme*

                I have a blood disorder and wear a mask diligently because I don’t want to die of covid. People with my disability are much more likely to have serious symptoms / end up hospitalized / die if we get covid. So yeah I’d say that flaunting social distance rules and basic safety precautions is a microaggression toward a marginalized group (the physically disabled).

                1. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana*

                  another really good point here to remind us of disparity is that the disability community has been told for years that accommodations couldn’t be made and the last year has shown that they can be made when pushed. Thanks for flagging that here.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        In my experience, they’re even worse due to the sheer amount of antisemitism/racism/ableism etc that’s gained a foothold due to things like qanon, Covid deniers, conspiracy theories etc that have grown during this. It’s gone from ‘eww you’re worthless because you’re BIPOC’ to ‘your people are killing all us whites!’

        Least for me anyway.

        1. Sally Bowles*

          Thank you for including antisemitism in your list – antisemitic microaggressions are often overlooked in these conversations.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            A lot of conspiracy theories, especially qanon, are modern day blood libel and I’ve got zero time for antisemitism.

  3. Dustin*

    I don’t trust people at all. I’m on immunosuppressants daily due to an organ transplant and so far, it appears the vaccines don’t work on people taking certain drugs I’m on. My worry is that everyone else will be “back to normal” and I’ll be there totally unprotected until a remedy is figured out for cases like mine. I really don’t want to get deathly ill from something I caught at the damn office when I’m as productive or even more so at home like I have been since March 2020. HR has sent a couple of spaced out surveys asking our vaccine status, so I’m assuming something is coming soon.

    1. mf*

      There absolutely needs to be additional support and protections for at-risk groups. I work in transplantation, and I can tell you that it’s looking like the vaccine may not be as effective on transplant patients as it is in the general populations. (There’s a 2000-sample study on this happening at a major university hospital but it will be a while before we know the results.)

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Vaccines aren’t as effective in seniors and anyone taking anti-inflammatory medications, which many people with autoimmune conditions do. Immunosuppressant drugs work counter to vaccines, as vaccines seek to stimulate an immune response. This is why everyone who can should get vaccinated, to protect those in the community who genuinely cannot or will receive a lower level of protection if they do get vaccinated. Good luck to you, Dustin.

      2. Dustin*

        I’m planning on getting an antibody test the morning of my next lab work for my transplant team. I’m not expecting a positive result as I take Myfortic. Of course, who knows if the antibody tests mean anything anyway at this point. I don’t see my workplace making any allowances to me for my situation.

        1. Hack hack cough cough*

          I sure hope your workplace is prepared for a nastygram from an employment lawyer, then, because I cannot fathom how they think they can just simply fail to accommodate your serious medical condition.

    2. Girasol*

      A lot of people have immune issues or are in the family of someone who has. I’m healthy but my husband has cancer. Vaccine won’t help him. He just needs to be kept away from people who have covid. That means I absolutely must not bring it home. I’m glad I’m vaccinated now but I can’t let up yet on being very careful. So when people say, “Don’t be so fearful!” And “You don’t need a mask! We’re friends!” and “It’s hardly more than the flu!” it just chaps my hide. People talk to me as though I’m paranoid or obsessive. I want to tell them that I know that if I took risks I would probably end up being just fine. I just don’t want to be a healthy widow who knew she’d killed her husband. But I don’t think they’d get it.

      1. Fizzy water*

        I absolutely understand how you feel, Girasol. It makes my stomach hurt just thinking about how people still don’t understand that I’m not wearing my mask for my healthy self – I’m wearing it for the people I love and people I walk past on the street who aren’t as lucky as I am.

      2. anon translator*

        Maybe they wouldn’t get it, but at least you’d get your frustration out in the open. Fingers crossed for a swift and complete recovery for your husband.

    3. rosegrows*

      I’m in almost the same medical boat as you, and my employer decided everyone had to return, whether vaccinated or not, last Monday. Thankfully they said if we fall under the CDC’s high-risk categories and can prove it, we can request an extension, and I was able to do that. (It was frustrating, and was not approved until 4:50 last Friday after much back-and-forth.) I know other coworkers were denied. And all I got was a vague approval “for now,” so I don’t know what will happen next week, next month? The vaccine isn’t medically recommended for me for another few weeks, and then it takes 5 or 6 weeks to be fully protected. Yet I have zero assurance that I won’t have to go back well before then.

      The thing is, where I am it is literally impossible for most of my coworkers to have been fully vaccinated yet, and cases are going up. I am baffled by the thought process of letting us WFH for 13 months, only to throw it all away now instead of just waiting one or two more months. At least to the point where it is logistically possible for people to have been vaccinated, if still unlikely.

      That singular decision has eroded most of my trust in my boss.

      1. C.*

        This is really upsetting; even if you are given approval, your not being physically in the office “outs” you as someone with a medical condition that you may not have wanted others to know about.

  4. Teapot Unionist*

    There are only 2 of us in my office, but we are the field office for a larger organization which is currently on WFH status. I am fully vaccinated, but have an unvaccinated child with extreme, debilitating anxiety about going out into the world without a vaccine. So, I am still working from home while he schools remotely. My office manager is planning to transition back once she is fully vaccinated very soon. I plan to slowly transition back. I’ve done some days in the office, or projects in the office, as has the office manager. We share a hall bathroom with God and everyone, and the building maintenance people are iffy on wearing masks. I also plan to purchase HEPA filters for near our desks for added protection and peace of mind. I have spent a huge chunk of this year becoming an expert in mitigation and air quality and transmission as part of my work, and will feel much better about everything opening back up when children can be vaccinated.

      1. Teapot Unionist*

        Thanks! Once he can get vaccinated, I think he will feel a lot better. thankfully, our school is being super supportive and understanding. We really have hit the jackpot in that way, and our community is one that has taken COVID very seriously, so outdoor experiences and locations are manageable for him because almost everyone is masked up.

      1. Arvolin*

        The good news is that contaminated surfaces aren’t much of a danger, unlike we thought at first. I’d still rather not be in using a urinal next to a guy whose nose is out of his mask, though.

        1. KirbyCloud*

          I’m not worried about shared bathroom surfaces, I’m worried about people breathing in an enclosed space.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            The good news is that if there are stalls it’s not so much of a problem (okay, unless there are those ineffective warm air hand dryers and people sticking their faces under them) if masks and proper hand washing is followed. Viruses aren’t motile.

            If it’s open plan/prone to crowding/has poor hygiene then it’s more worrisome.

          2. AnonForThis*

            Or the flume caused by flushing. Last I had read, that was definitely a potential transmission route.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Covid isn’t spread via the oral/fecal route so unless you cough/sneeze into the bowl I’d say it’s a low risk.

  5. 2legit*

    Trust? Nope. My work is starting a new system.. if you get dropped off because you don’t drive, they want the name of the person dropping you off. I don’t work for a prison but seriously, what the heck?

    1. Taycan*

      So if you ride the bus or other public transportation, do you need the driver’s name along with everyone else’s? I think this pandemic has caused some unnatural over rotations.

      1. 2legit*

        Bus, no. But if a friend or spouse drops you off, they want the name…. or you will have to walk a longer distance to get to the door. To me, it seems a bit discriminatory because drivers are being treated differently than non drivers.

        1. Taycan*

          And it is not their business who dropped you off in the first place! What if you give them a fake name? I have so many questions to the ludicrous mandate.

          1. WellRed*

            I agree. I think we need more information. What do they plan to do with the name? Are they also asking things like relationship to driver and driver contact info. If the driver isn’t getting out of the car, why do you have to get dropped further away. This is utterly bizarre.

            1. nonegiven*

              You get dropped farther away in case someone sees you get out of the car and asks you for the driver’s name. IOW, cheating the tracing system.

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      I’m assuming this is for contact tracing? I’m not saying I agree with it, just trying to see the reason.

      1. Taycan*

        But they don’t require it if 2legit took public transportation. So contract tracing for private ride shares but not public?

        This seems like a silly policy.

        1. Ariaflame*

          Do people still pay cash for public transport there? Or do they use cards linked to their identity so that in theory it would be possible to contact trace people who travelled on a particular route?

          1. 2legit*

            To the best of my knowledge: yes,Cash is still accepted on our public transportation system.

    3. BethRA*

      It’s the COVID variant of “Security Theater” – an activity/rule that will have little or no impact on anyone’s safety or well-being, but it’s visible and intrusive so it LOOKS like they’re doing something.

      1. Anomalous*

        Absolutely. My workplace is talking about performing extra cleaning and having hand sanitizer available, but not a single word about the building’s ventilation system.

        Like most American office buildings, the ventilation system in mine leaves something to be desired. And of course not a single window opens. We’ve only known for, what, a year?, that the virus is transmitted through the air, and my workplace is still talking about hand sanitizer.

        (They are also talking about having masks available, but not about making them required. Nor any requirement for those returning to be vaccinated.)

        Case levels in my state have been rising for the past three weeks, higher than they were at the beginning of November.

        1. BethRA*

          >They are also talking about having masks available, but not about making them required.

          This is me weeping.

          1. JustaTech*

            At my office masks are required. Early in the pandemic a coworker and I sewed masks for everyone in the building, so everyone should have at least 2 reusable fabric masks. And now we have disposable masks as well.

            But then my 3X boss comes down to the open-office flow and declares that since there were only 3 people in the cubes that they don’t have to wear masks because they’re 20 feet apart. Indoors, where the windows don’t open (though it’s a newer building with excellent air handling, because of the labs). And also everyone needs to be back in the office. A which point people won’t be 20 feet apart, some of us will be 3 feet apart.

            Thankfully no one seems to be listening to him, though some people do take off their masks to eat and drink at their desks.

        2. Dave*

          Some the ventilation upgrades companies are undertaking are pretty sketchy in terms of effectiveness if you read the literature on how the upgrades ‘kill COVID”.

          1. Anomalous*

            Yup. I was thinking more about significantly increasing the airflow through the building, rather than putting a ‘kill COVID” psuedo-filter in the same old system.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Unless you work for an epidemiologist this is daft. It’s kinda along the same lines as wearing a mesh mask: sort of looks like you’re doing the right thing from a distance but up close, no.

  6. NewYork*

    The lack of trust in each other extends to parents v. non-parents in many places. this is documented. Many of us believe in equal pay for equal work, but some people believe that the parents are doing child care at home and slacking off at work, and return to the office is the only way to avoid this. Always a shame when a few people ruin it for others.

    1. lazuli*

      Of course people are doing child care at home. Children are being forced to stay at home, and people need to care for them. I say this as a childless person. The problem is not “slacking off”; the problem is capitalism and unrealistic expectations about what humans — let alone humans in a global pandemic — can and should accomplish.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, thank you. What is the alternative when schools are closed — that all parents should drop out of the workforce? (And in practice that would really mostly mean women, and I’m pretty sure more people are fine with that than should be.)

      2. Mimi Me*

        Agreed. My children are both teens and require very little from me in the way of guidance for the remote learning process, but my work day is constantly disrupted simply by the fact that they are home with me. I can’t imagine what it’s like working at home for parents of younger children or those with special needs who require more attention during the school day. I think instead of suggesting parents are slacking off (even the notion!) we should dig deeper within ourselves for understanding and compassion on how hard that’s had to be.

        1. DataSci*

          As the parent of a second-grader with ADHD – so, both younger AND needing more attention because of special needs – it really, really sucked. Last spring, when schools closed, my wife and I sat down every Sunday evening to negotiate who had which four hours of being on kid duty during the work day every day, depending on meeting schedules. We each worked another two hours a night after the kid was in bed – this schedule of six working hours a day only worked because my job meant it when they said “do what you can” and hers provided some “covid child-care disruption leave”, plus she drew down her regular PTO. Friends with kids of a similar age, but less compassionate workplaces, pulled twelve-hour days each between work and Zoom school supervision for months. If we hadn’t been able to place our son in a private school this year that has been in-person (with zero COVID cases due to strict safety protocols and having enough space to spread the kids out) I would have had to quit my job.

      3. StressedButOkay*

        Agreed. As a non-parent, I cannot imagine the stress those with kids are under right now. Of course parents are juggling child care while working! Schools and daycare centers were closed! People couldn’t reliably bring in childcare into their homes. What were they supposed to do?

        They either juggled child care and work or someone left the work force.

        We weren’t just trying to work from home – we were working from home during a global crisis.

    2. JM60*

      Returning to the office isn’t the only way to dispel the notion that a parent isn’t working. That can be verified by checking the output of their work, which managers have more experience doing now than they did when the pandemic started.

    3. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

      I’m more worried about the people who are doing child care at home during working hours…and then working until 1 am or clocking in at 4 am to keep up with a full professional workload. Always a shame when people are lacking in compassion.

      1. Night Shift Mom*

        Thank you for this. I have 3 kids, 2 in school and the youngest conceived three months before stay-at-home started. It’s 9pm and I’m finishing a 20 minute break between putting the baby to bed and starting my day. I’ll get in 5 hours before I have to get a little sleep, and then I take 8 hours on weekends to make up for the deficit. My job is odd; absolutely no one cares that this is my schedule so long as the work gets done. But it’s a substantial drain on my quality of life, and it’s made both being a parent and being an employee miserable.

    4. J.B.*

      People who get stuff done are doing their best to still get stuff done parents or not. Those who don’t get stuff done aren’t. I’ve worked with several moms over the years who have the best time management you could imagine. We’re all struggling, and I hate that women are tending to drop out of the work force as a result.

    5. Minerva*

      There is legitimately no way for me to get child care for my 8 year old, and my 3 year old has intermittently closed and shorter hours at his child care centre. Normally I have reliable child care for extended hours, and neighbours and friends who can pitch in for a crisis.

      Being at home has nothing to do with me looking after kids while working. With both me and the husband pitching in, we get most things covered, but we both miss meetings and get distracted. There is no way to fix this even if one of us quits or takes leave, because there is nowhere to bring the kids in our small home.

      So, I could quit, or my work can be satisfied with my best effort. Calling me back in would have exactly the same choice, I’d have to wfh or take days off and stick to reduced hours. Either way I won’t be immediately replaced because I’m not an easily replaced cog, so my coworkers will have more slack to pick up.

      My coworkers have been sweet to me and say they don’t know how the parents are managing as well as we are. They know we didn’t choose this. They know our kids hate it too. They seem a lot kinder than you, and understand we’re people trying our best.

  7. CatCat*

    Give people plenty of notice, so they have time to get used to the idea, line up child care, and make any other arrangements.

    My “other arrangements” would definitely include looking for another job. I’ve gone from someone who didn’t care for telework to someone who has fully embraced it. I’d even take a pay cut to have a job where I can 100% telework.

    1. Dustin*

      100% There’s no way I’m going back to an office five days a week long term. There just isn’t a need for it. I don’t need the face time.

    2. H*

      THIS! I joined my program/workplace in October 2020. Everyone had been working at home since March of 2020 I was in health care so I was basically onsite. I still work PRN some weekends so maybe that is why I don’t care to return too. Some of my colleagues at my new jobs seem to be clammoring for workplace socialization. I don’t see the need and I feel that if our program has hired and expanded and increased call volumes in our 2nd and 3rd quarters (40%+ each time) we have shown we can function without being in an office together. My boss is one of the people though who is like “I like being together and brainstorming together”. UGH.

    3. Liz*

      Aside from looking for a new job, and 100% telework, I feel the same way. Pre-pandemic, i HATED working from home, and only did it when absolutely necessary, while all my group worked from home at least one day a week. My boss has said I can work from home as long as I want to but I suspect I’d be happy maybe going in a couple of days a week, and WFH the other 3.

      I don’t fully trust some of my co-workers either, but being that i will be fully vaccinated, I have a little more peace of mind. But as my office hasn’t said ANYTHING about going back anytime soon, i’m not too concerned just yet.

      1. MsMaryMary*

        Liz, out of curiosity what changed to make you go from hating working from home to wanting to telework 100%?

    4. mf*

      Me too. 99.9% of my job can be done from home. If my employer requires me to return to the office full-time (I don’t think they will), that’s a massive waste of my time.

    5. JM60*

      I’d even take a pay cut to have a job where I can 100% telework.

      In my case, being fully remote would mean that I could move to areas of the country with a much lower cost-0f-living. So a pay cut in exchange for being fully remote would probably be better for my finances.

    6. Very Scared*

      Haha, my “other arrangements” is definitely to look for another job.

      They froze salary raises and bonuses this year (2nd year in a row. Last year they just skipped the entire review process.) They said on a phone call “This (aka all our jobs I guess???) is an in-office role, we expect you all to return to the office and we’re anticipating a complete 100% return to office by May 1st.” Haha, no. They’re on a rotating schedule right now, but I’m immunosuppressed – I told my boss I’m not going back until vaccinated, and I don’t plan to tell them when I am.

      80% of the major team I support is remote anyways – 1 overseas, others remote in different places, only 2 come into the HQ. Why the hecc do I need to be in the office? Plus, I’m severely underpaid for my role and most positions for my title are remote anyways.

      Not to mention the new office rules since we moved offices – No jackets on the back of your chair, everything goes in the “cloak room”, no more than 2 drinks on your desk, nothing left out that you’re not “actively working on”…. but hey, you only need to wear your mask when you’re walking around or talking to someone, you can take it off at your desk! -._-.

    7. MissDisplaced*

      My fear is that there will be this giant PUSH by all companies to force workers back into the empty offices.

      >Because companies can’t get out of those expensive leases
      >Fear of a commercial real estate implosion
      >Workers in cities support other parts of the economy (restaurants, taxes, transportation, etc.)
      >Oil companies make more money when people drive more
      >Automakers make more money when people drive more > they need newer cars (if you WFH you’re likely to keep an older, cheaper car.)
      >Fear. Executives want to “manage” productivity which = butts in seats and hours in the office

      Again, there is, in theory, no reason to force workers back if they’ve been WFH for over a year. But we’ll be fed some bullcrap like “but… teambuilding” and “but… culture.” It’s simply not true.

      1. Half Vaxxed Latte*

        Yeah, where I work we just had a “Heads up, the higher ups told us that we’re all going to be expected to return to the office by August/September” conversation from our boss at a staff meeting. It wasn’t so much the going back part that bothered me, but the tone of it. It felt like, “Okay children, you know we can’t let you get away with this forever! You’ve had your fun, now we need to show you who’s in charge again.” I feel fortunate to be in a union position though, and they are planning to push for flexible WFH arrangements in our next contract negotiations, now that we’ve seen it can be done!

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Ugh! It’s very condescending.
          Truth is, many workers found they love the flexibility of WFH and don’t ever want to go back to the way it was before. But I fear there will be a corporate mindset in the US to force/push the workers back to the office whether they want to go or not. If Corporate America does this, there unfortunately won’t BE any remote jobs, thus effectively strangling the market and worker bargaining power.

      2. shirleywurley*

        MissDisplaced, you have summed up my thoughts (and fears) exactly. This push to cram everyone back to offices has nothing to do with productivity, or “teamwork”, or “culture”, or “collaboration”. It is definitely not about politicians, vested interests, bosses and/or business owners caring about the safety, health, wellbeing and quality of life of workers. They clearly don’t care if we live or die. This is all about greed, “the economy” (which doesn’t exist without healthy, living people) and stupid people wanting to feel important.

        Sure, some jobs cannot be done from home in their entirety, and some jobs cannot really be done from home at all. But a large chunk of an awful lot of jobs can be done remotely.

        If people want to work from home, their jobs (or parts of it) can be done remotely, and they are getting all their work done on time, let them work from home. If they want to work in the office, or work on a hybrid model of some sort (including coming in when *genuinely* needed), let them do that. People who feel safe and content are far more productive.

  8. voyager1*

    I am not sure I buy into Alison’s thesis. I had no trust in the previous POTUS, but I have way more trust in the current one. Governors will of course pander, since it is a state office. But nobody is saying you can’t wear a mask if want to wear one.

    Additionally how individual workplaces handle COVID is way more important then the government. Where I live masks are no longer required. I really can’t see business’s staying where they are right now. I think it is time to start bringing people back to offices. I get people want to WFH, but this current setup was never meant to be permanent.

    June seems reasonable to start bringing people back. At least where I am.

    1. Tess*

      >Where I live masks are no longer required.

      And people wonder why the variants have found hosts.

      >this current setup was never meant to be permanent.

      Not sure how that matters. WFH has been great for the planet, work productivity, etc. We should strive to make it the new normal. Businesses will have to adjust. That’s how the market works.

      1. veronica*

        I hope flexibility is the new normal, not WFH. WFH is great for some people and terrible for others. For me it’s terrible. It’s bad for my productivity.
        I’m not sure it will be any better for the environment if people move out of the cities and buy cars and develop previously undeveloped areas with housing and strip malls leaving city transit systems underfunded. It will be interesting to see the pluses and minuses that come from more people changing their work locations.

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely. I like working from home some of the time and for some things (writing papers needing focus and concentration). I find it makes other things a lot harder (brainstorming and some parts of management).

          I think the trick needs to be providing flexibility and allowing for a mixture of working in offices and remotely.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I do about 70% at home and 30% in offices (because you can’t remotely repair a hardware fault) and I am high risk myself but am okay with the levels of protection the company puts in place for those who do have to come in. The software techies under my remit are 100% WFH and at most have asked that we continue that way. Frankly they’re overjoyed not to have to deal with the UK railway journey.

          2. Liz*

            that’s where I stand. I’ve managed to adapt to WFH for the last year as I had no choice. But ideally, I’d like to do a mix; and have the flexibility to do so. Which I think I will have; my company is pretty good.

        2. ....*

          Exactly. And sure it saves money on transport. But if my husband and I are both WFH permanently we need to rent a bigger apartment to the tune of 600+ a month. I don’t want to do that unless I get that as a raise! And just as much as some people want WFH to be permanent some people want to go back to office immediately snd think that’s the smarter choice. Neither is wrong or right bc it’s a matter of values and personal situation.

        3. JM60*

          The overwhelming majority of Americans already use cars for transportation, and the overwhelming majority of their miles are for work. I would think that would far outweigh the environmental impact of public transportation being underfunded (which it already is and it will likely remain anyways).

        4. EchoGirl*

          I was hoping someone would say this — and I say this as someone who likes working from home! I feel like there have also been so many letters on AAM recently about people who just don’t work well in a remote setting, or are being driven crazy by their WFH situation and aren’t in a position to change it (like the recent OP who was having to use a dresser as a desk because she had no room for an actual work setup). To the degree that it’s possible, I think the “new normal” should be that people choose whether they want to work in the office or remotely, not that WFH replaces working in the office as The One System that everyone has to be in whether they like it or not.

          1. EchoGirl*

            Just to be clear, I’m not saying this should be a reason to start reopening before it’s safe. Just that once we get to that point, we’d be best served to create a model that allows workers to choose between working from home or in the office based on what’s best for them.

        5. Bluesboy*

          This. My company is totally flexible, we can come in or not, as we wish, except for when the region was locked down.

          I really struggled under lockdown to work from home. I couldn’t concentrate during the work day, then I couldn’t switch off at the end of it. If the flexibility continues post-Covid I will probably choose to work from home one day a week to do routine tasks that don’t need a lot of concentration, but that’s it.

          Of course it helps that I can walk to work in 40 minutes, thus avoiding other people and infection and that there are normally only about 10 of us in an office designed for 50, so I can work from the office in a pretty low risk way.

      2. Purely Allegorical*

        Like most things, we need to find a balance. WFH is simply not possible in the long-term for many entry-level or junior-level employees, who have been working from their bedroom for the past year. I’m mid-to-senior level myself and have also been working from my bedroom — and I cannot take it anymore!

        I’m cautious about returning to an office because I simply don’t trust people to not be selfish or thoughtless, but I also cannot continue WFH.

        1. JM60*

          When it exists, WFH is usually an option rather than a mandate. Most people who do WFH can go to an office if they want to (and they live in the area). So I don’t think the employer needs to impose any “balance” anything in those cases (assuming there isn’t a productivity issue), since the employee can just go to the office if WFH is driving them crazy.

          1. EchoGirl*

            There have been a few posts here recently about places going full-remote after COVID. I can’t say if it’s a majority but it is an issue that exists.

      3. Des*

        I don’t think WFH has been great for work productivity, we’d have to do some studies to back up that claim. Personally, my productivity is better in the office.

        I don’t look forward to the commute however, not at all.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I think it strongly depends on your job & your life circumstances. I have no kids, & my job is a lot of writing/editing/managing documents. I’ve definitely been more productive with fewer interruptions.

        2. A*

          I suspect this varies greatly – across the board at my employer (large corporation with 50+ divisions, 300+ brands all with different headquarters) we’ve seen a sharp increase in productivity since we started WFH last March. I’m sure there are exceptions, but the overall output metrics are definitely favorable.

      4. DrSalty*

        WFH is not great for everyone. WFH is great if you have the resources and temperament for it. Just think of that letter last week from the person with scoliosis and the tiny apartment. My husband and I have been WFH for over a year together in a 1 bedroom apartment, and it sucks, to be frank. I can’t wait until it’s safe to go back to the office 2/3 days a week.

    2. Np*

      Do you think it would be time to bring people back into offices even if a significant number of employees isn’t vaccinated (due to personal convictions or whatever)?

      1. JRR*

        The evil part of me doesn’t see a problem with letting anti-vaxers reenter society and get sick.

        If we can’t achieve herd immunity through voluntary vaccination, the other option to push us over the line is to let the unvaccinated acquire immunity the old-fashion way

        1. Ismonie*

          The problem is they endanger the vaccinated, and the can’t yet get vaccinated, not just themselves.

          1. anon translator*

            That’s true, up to a point. But if the vaccines largely prevent serious illness requiring hospitalization and long Covid, at some point people are going to say that it’s a level of risk they’re willing to live with.

            I hope that once Covid vaccines get full approval and not just approval for use in an emergency that more employers are going to make getting vaccinated a condition of employment, except maybe in cases where they have a medical reason not to get the vaccine.

            I’m all for religious freedom as long as your beliefs don’t impinge on the way I live my life, but if their beliefs stop them from getting a vaccine, then I don’t care if that makes them unemployable.

    3. Anon for this*

      My coworkers are opposed to getting the vaccine because they don’t want to be forced to get the vaccine. I must say, as long as this mindset continues, I have no desire to be back in the office.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Kinda where I stand. I can’t be in a room with anti vaccination people anymore. Mentally I can just about deal with it if they are over a VPN.

      2. JM60*

        “I don’t want to wear a seatbelt because the government is requiring me to wear a seatbelt.”

        It’s dumb, but people did have this mindset for seatbelts in the past.

        1. Jamie Starr*

          But wearing a seatbelt is not injecting your body with a foreign substance, the long term side effects of which aren’t fully known. I get the point people are trying to make, but it’s not the same.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            There’s actually very little in the vaccines that doesn’t occur naturally in your body or is in the food you eat. There’s no mercury or similar anymore.

    4. KHB*

      I agree with you. My level of trust in institutions changed pretty drastically on January 20th. Politicians are still gonna politician, but from where I sit, the ones in charge now are at least trying to do right by the people.

      I guess people have different instinctive reactions to the trauma of the past year, but mine is to want to put that trauma behind me as soon and as completely as possible. Once I get vaccinated (first appointment tomorrow!) and once enough other people around me get vaccinated that cases drop to a reasonable level (which looks like to be May-Juneish where I am), I’m ready to party like it’s 2019.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      The thing about Alison’s post is that it doesn’t just ring true to those in the US. There are many of us in other countries suffering the same anxiety, the same lack of trust in our leaders (*waves from UK*) and the same kind of voices telling us that nobody needs to wear masks anymore unless you *want* to LONG before we’ve got anywhere near an effective herd immunity level.

      Are we ever going to return to how things were? Honestly? No. A new predator arrived on the field with a staggering ability to harm humanity and one way or another we’re going to have to change. Global vaccination will go a very long way toward this but we’re still going to be left with at risk populations, the grief for those we’ve lost, the incredible damage done to people’s physical and mental health…

      To say nothing of how many people I’ve found out I thought I knew who were all too happy to throw me and others under the bus so they could claim their ‘rights to not wear masks/distance/get vaccinated’. I barely trust anyone now.

      At the very least I’d expect a slow return to offices, honestly in my area people aren’t expecting to see their coworkers in the flesh again until autumn and even then there’ll be ‘wear a mask if you have any symptoms of illness’ office mandates.

      1. starsaphire*

        OH gods yes. Learning how many people on social media felt that their chronically ill friends (hello???) were… expendable?

        I may never quite get past that.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I may have major physical problems, psychological ones, be obese, be older etc. but I’m still not expendable or worth less.

          Which, sadly, a good 50% of my former F list on FB didn’t believe- hence why they are now former.

      2. Jascha*

        The other thing is that here in the UK (and in many other countries – but NOT the US), many of those who have or will be vaccinated have received the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Simply put, it is far less effective. Pfizer and Moderna have 94-95% efficacy against the original virus and the B.1.1.7 (Kent) variant, and somewhere between 45-60% efficacy against some of the newer variants (e.g., South Africa, Brazil). AstraZeneca has about 60-70% efficacy against the older viruses and 10-20% against the newer ones.

        Caveat: I am 200% pro-vaccination and fully believe that ANY vaccine is better than none. But that doesn’t mean we can simply gloss over the fact that not all protection is equal and not everyone is equally protected.

        And, of course, most of the people who are already vaccinated are in the high-risk groups (older ages, immunosuppressed, chronically ill, etc.). So the people who have received this less effective vaccine are the ones who are already at higher risk of either getting COVID-19 or suffering badly from it.

        Add to that the sense that masks are both optional and unnecessary, the press to open everything immediately, and the fact that our vaccine options are “take it or leave it” with no ability to make more nuanced decisions about our healthcare (e.g., which vaccine we’d like, which site we’d like to visit, etc.), and it’s no wonder people are mistrustful not just in the US, but everywhere.

    6. BethRA*

      >But nobody is saying you can’t wear a mask if want to wear one.

      Thank you for saying this, because it’s a perfect example of why many of us won’t be feeling safe from COVID, or trusting of our fellow citizens or our institutions, any time soon regardless of who’s in the White House.

      Because it frames mask-wearing and other measures as a matter of “freedom of choice/personal responsibility” rather than something that impacts the health and well-being of other people. Wearing a mask gives me some measure of protection from you, but what it really does is protect YOU from me (and it blows my mind to have to say that 14-15 months into the pandemic). Avoiding large gatherings isn’t just about protecting the people at them from infection, it’s about protecting the community at large from outbreaks.

      1. ShanShan*

        Exactly. My fears about COVID don’t have anything to do with Trump. They have to do with the way that short-sighted selfishness (sorry, did I mispronounce “rugged individualism”?) and intolerance of inconvenience for the greater good are far more deeply ingrained in American culture than I thought.

        1. Grits McGee*

          Is there a name for sound that both a burst of laughter and a cry of existential despair? Because that’s the sound I just made.

        2. All Monkeys are French*

          Yes. I wanted to believe we could be better, but we clearly can’t. I am now 100% convinced that climate change will do us in sooner rather than later.

      2. Jackalope*

        Yes, this. The last year has shown us nothing if not the fact that we can’t trust the people around us to have our backs if it means they have to deal with the discomfort of wearing a piece of fabric on their faces. Not underestimating the discomfort and issues with that piece of fabric – I personally hate the feeling of a mask on my face and can’t wait until they aren’t needed anymore – but I still can’t understand why everyone who is able to wear a mask isn’t just…. wearing a mask. Since obviously they aren’t, we need something more than the honor system.

      3. Jill of All Trades*

        +1. “You can wear a mask but I don’t have to,” is frankly quite rude at this point. It’s been well established in my experience as a statement that says, “We might be coworkers, but I prefer the tiny freedom of not having a face mask over consideration for your life.”

      4. Girasol*

        Hear hear. Around here (where masks are not required) people say, “Why should I have to wear a mask? I’m not sick!” as if they can be sure that they’re not spreading from an asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic case. They say, “I’m safe. Don’t you trust me?” when they’ve already mentioned all the fun crowded places they’ve been to lately. They say, “But we’re friends!” in a hurt tone, as though that had anything to do with disease protection. “I’m isolated! I don’t ever visit anyone but my kids and my grandkids! And my folks down in Florida!” And “Oh, you don’t have to wear a mask anymore! The mask mandate ended months ago!” There’s a reason 1 person in 9 in my county has had covid and we’re still a hot spot. It’s not just trust in institutions but in all the individuals that you thought you knew before covid.

        1. JustaTech*

          I was just listening to a podcast with some COVID doctors and they said that the current research shows that people with COVID are contagious 2 days before symptom onset.

          So yes, you might feel fine *now*, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t infected and spreading.

    7. have a gouda time*

      Genuinely asking –

      > I think it is time to start bringing people back to offices.


      > June seems reasonable to start bringing people back.

      Based on what?

        1. BethRA*

          The “POTUS” references suggest they’re in the US, so yeah, that’s still getting side-eye.

        2. have a gouda time*

          I didn’t miss that and am in the same location. Thank you for taking time to reply however.

        3. Librarian1*

          Where the heck are they located though? Also, I don’t think they’re any sort of expert so I’m not sure why I should trust their assessment.

      1. Infrequent_Commenter*

        >>June seems reasonable to start bringing people back.

        >Based on what?
        By end of June basically every adult who wants to be vaccinated in the US will be. It’s reasonable to bring vaccinated people back into offices.

        Unvaccinated people (refusers) are more complicated, but the vaccine efficacy is so high I don’t think it matters much; they mostly just put themselves at risk.

        1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          Well, except for anyone under 16 and anyone who cannot be vaccinated due to health reasons. (And yes, I am aware that at this point it seems that children are less likely to die from COVID, but there are myriad reasons for parents to still be cautious)

          1. twocents*

            Right! “Less likely” is still absurd when you’re asking someone to consider risking their own child’s life just to get into the office on some artificial timeline. Otherwise healthy children can, and have, gotten sick and died.

            1. Jascha*

              Children are less likely to get symptomatic COVID-19, but no less likely to transmit. Not only do healthy children get sick and die, but so do their parents, grandparents, babysitters, and so on.

              Of children who are hospitalized for COVID-19 (with full acknowledgment that this is a small percentage), one-third end up in the ICU. And the 2-11 age group is actually MORE at risk of converting to ICU than the 12-18 age group. This is very recent research (dated 9 April), but I can’t understand why it hasn’t made bigger headlines.

        2. Dave*

          But what about all the kids who can’t be vaccinated? And kids who need supervision in the summer while school is closed? And this doesn’t get into only around 20% of adults are fully vaccinated now, and depending on your shot you are looking at at least 6 weeks for full protection.

        3. ShanShan*

          The vaccines with high efficacy numbers (Moderna and Pfizer) were tested before the more infectious variants became common.

          The J&J vaccine, on the other hand, was tested after those variants became common, in places where they were common, and its efficacy is 66%-72%.

          The truth is that we don’t know what the efficacy of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will be against these variants. It’s almost certainly going to be lower. We just don’t know how much lower.

          Until we know that, it’s not safe to rely on their efficacy numbers.

          1. Magc17*

            It’s not just what’s ShanShan is saying, though that’s all incredibly relevant (and also why I opted for the J&J vaccine).

            It’s also that herd immunity is defined as what’s required to stop a NEW OUTBREAK, not an existing pandemic. Without enough people vaccinated to reach herd immunity PLUS continuing all the other measures (masks, ventilation, social distancing, &c), the virus will still be able to spread because it’s already everywhere, and that means new variants will continue to develop.

        4. Librarian1*

          “Unvaccinated people (refusers) are more complicated, but the vaccine efficacy is so high I don’t think it matters much; they mostly just put themselves at risk.”

          This isn’t what the experts are saying. We still need a certain percentage of adults to be vaccinated to get to herd immunity. We might reach that in some places (I’d be shocked if my metro area ends up below 80% of adults vaccinated), but definitely won’t in other areas.

        5. Yvi*

          > By end of June basically every adult who wants to be vaccinated in the US will be.

          No, by then each adult who wants it will have been offered at least one dose of a vaccine that often requires two doses. And requires several weeks between first and second dose.

          So, maybe 8 weeks after the end of June is when people will actually be protected to the point where they feel safe.

    8. CheeryO*

      I agree. I hope WFH or a hybrid model will be an option where it makes sense, but it doesn’t strike me as wildly irresponsible to start planning the transition back to in-person work. In my state, anyone who wants a vaccine will have had their first dose pretty soon – supply is already starting to outpace demand – so it makes sense to wait a bit longer for immunity to kick in and for the cases to (hopefully) drop, then bring people back.

    9. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      It’s not just whether you trust Trump or Biden, Gov. Baker or Whitmer, or Justin Trudeau or Doug Ford. It’s a year or more of being told “we won’t reopen until X happens” and then they announce they’re reopening without that. It’s having to ask “Can I trust the CDC?” and elected officials saying, in so many words, that they would kill their elderly and disabled constituents to help the economy. It’s variations on “my mother-in-law thinks it’s a hoax, worries that the vaccine will kill me, and throws a tantrum when a store asks her to wear a mask,” and friends and relatives who insisted on having unmasked indoor gatherings before anyone was vaccinated, and now wondering how many other casual acquaintances, distant relatives, and friends of friends are doing the same.

      1. Aiguillette*

        It’s not helpful when the WHO and CDC give conflicting information. 1 meter social distancing vs. 6 feet. It’s either mask or social distance. It’s both mask and social distance. 15 days to flatten the curve. Then it’s over a year later. Virologists disagreeing. Fauci saying don’t wear masks, then admitting he lied because he feared a PPE shortage. People in some countries being taken to “quarantine hotels” without being allowed to contact their families or tell them where they are at.

        People are stressed. Add in the social disconnection, families suddenly taking on schooling, elder care, etc.

        Then local, state, and federal government agencies are telling their employees, “Plan to return to work in June.” Don’t like it? Find a new job. Add in private industries and it’s no wonder that people are on edge.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Sticking up for my former profession: the reason the guidelines and information and stuff from virologists changed was (and still is) because this is a novel virus aka one never seen before. Literally nothing was known about it when it first appeared. A lot of virology is a process of ‘let’s test theory A, bugger that wasn’t true, this virus didn’t do that’. Then ‘people are dying, crap, what have we got that’s kinda similar to this? Put in advice for that as a holdover till we can isolate this one’.

          I do still think that governments didn’t handle this well however.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            You know the science is working when the information is changed or expanded regularly.

        2. Anon for this*

          15 days to flatten the curve was based on the assumption that people at large would act like they have some compassion for their fellow human beings. This hypothesis turned out to be flat wrong.

          1. Aiguillette*

            It’s also bad science. Flattening the curve to not overwhelm the medical system didn’t mean fewer people would get ill. They just get ill over a longer period of time. Then hospitals started laying off staff.

      2. roci*

        Absolutely this. There have been so many measures that we are supposed to meet before reopening and then those got tossed out the window, not because the science changed or things improved, but because people got tired of being indoors and decided that some constituents were expendable.

        How do you trust any institution when they’ve proven time and time again that when it comes down to putting up with inconvenience or letting humans suffer and die, they will shrug and let it happen?

  9. SLR*

    Yes! Thank you so much for this! All of it! I have such anxiety surrounding returning to the office. I was in a large open floor plan and we were packed in there together like sardines. Winters were always horrible because once one of us caught the flu or some sort of illness, it spread through the rest of the floor like wildfire. Thankfully my job can be done just as effectively if not more so, while working remotely from home. I have had a few conversations with my manager about the possibility of going permanently remote. Of course I would have no problem going into the office for an important meeting once a month , or other important face-to-face conversations like performance reviews, but I would much prefer to remain permanently remote. It would also allow me to relocate a little further away from the office, which would help me save money financially. Thankfully I work in a call center type role so we literally have all of the software and tools we need to do every aspect of our jobs from home. We’ve been meeting all of our goals & metrics since we started working from home last March. I truly hope my company allows us to choose to remain permanently remote as long as we remain productive and are able to meet our performance metrics. I find myself to be much more productive while working at home and I’m also eating healthier because I can prepare real meals as opposed to always eating on the go. And of course there’s the whole issue of the virus. I plan on being vaccinated, but I don’t believe that the virus is just going to completely disappear despite people being vaccinated. I’ve been getting a flu shot every year for the last 15 years, and there’s still been some years where I still became ill with the flu. I would much rather remain working in my home where I can control my environment around me and I’m not at the mercy of other people’s hygiene and habits. I truly hope companies will consider allowing remote workers to remain remote as long as it is feasible, and permanently when appropriate. Every aspect of my job can easily be done from home, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll get good news very soon and I can look at relocating to a lower cost of living area in my state!

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      The flu shot is a very good analogy. There’s a whole slew of variants of Influenza type A (types B and C are rarer and less severe) and each year we have to guess based on statistics which variants to include in the vaccine (there IS research into a universal flu vaccine for all strains but it’s very new technology). There’s aways a chance of contracting a strain not in the yearly vaccine rollout but in general the vaccine will make symptoms less severe regardless of strain.

      I rather suspect Covid will become another yearly vaccine we should all get.

      1. Nessun*

        Agreed – I think that’s the direction we’re headed (and should head!). It is disheartening for me to hear people talk about how they never get the flu shot and that they will get the vaccination for Covid, because it makes me think that they will get it *now* but they’ll balk year over year, even though it’s probably destined to become a recurring vaccine just like the flu. Add to that, their reasons for not getting the flu shot seems rather suspect when they *will* get a Covid shot this year – so sad that the logic for Covid vaccination doesn’t work it’s way over to flu shots each year, when the idea is the same: protect the most people possible with a vaccine so that those who literally cannot get the vaccine don’t get sick.

        1. UKDancer*

          It depends really. I never got the flu shot because I was not eligible for it on the NHS and in my 20s didn’t have the money to get it done privately. It’s not expensive but at times in my 20s I didn’t have the £15 it cost as I needed the money for food. I would probably have said something like “I don’t need it” if asked at the time to conceal the fact I was not able to afford it.

          Two years ago my company decided to offer it as a benefit to all staff so I started getting it. I can now probably afford to pay for it now as I’m better off than I was then so I’ll probably keep having it until I fit into a category to get it on the NHS.

          If we have to get annual Covid jabs I’ll have them without worrying about it and I am counting the days until the Government rolls out the phase of vaccinations which include me.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            The only good thing my epilepsy ever did for me was make me eligible for free flu shots.

          2. Librarian1*

            Interesting. I didn’t know that you had to be eligible for the flu shot in the UK. In the US they want anyone and everyone to get it, there are no eligibility requirements. (It’s not always free to everyone, that can depend on your health insurance.)

            1. UKDancer*

              Anyone can get the flu jab in the UK but not everyone gets it free of charge under the NHS. People over a certain age or with certain health conditions get it free of charge through the NHS. I think the principle is to ensure everyone at greatest risk is vaccinated. Anyone not eligible under the NHS can get the vaccine fairly easily through Boots or a similar chemists but they have to pay. It’s not very expensive (about £12-15) but there have been times when I’ve not had that money spare (especially when I was a new graduate working in London and barely being able to pay the bills) so for my 20s and much of my 30s I didn’t get it.

              The company I work for now will give anyone not eligible for the vaccine on the NHS a voucher to get it. I guess it’s in their interest to try and ensure people are healthy and not taking time off work with flu. I’d probably pay for it anyway now but getting it from the company saves me the money which I spend on a nice box of truffles from the Hotel Chocolat shop opposite the chemist as my reward for having an injection (I hate needles).

              1. Nessun*

                It’s of course dependent on location – I should have mentioned, I’m in Canada – the flu shot is free for everyone here, as long as you show a health card.

            2. nonegiven*

              I remember a time they were reserving supply for senior citizens and people with chronic conditions and there wasn’t enough flu vaccine to go around.

            3. anon translator*

              Yeah, I’m in Finland and there’s a similar system here. I get the flu vaccine every year thanks to my employer’s occupational healthcare contract. My parents get it for free on our NHS because of their age, my cousin gets it because of her diabetes.

      2. Anon for this*

        Two years ago, my dad got the flu even though he had his flu shot. However, thanks to the vaccine, his symptoms were more similar to a really bad cold for 3-4 days rather than a week-plus of being completely laid out, which would have probably been likely for a 60-something year old man.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Yup. Any vaccine makes me sick as hell for a few days (my immune system has an annoying habit of trying to kill ME) but the one and only time in my life I got flu convinced me to get the vaccine and I’ve never been that sick again.

          1. Mimi Me*

            I missed my flu shot back in 2016. I ended up getting the flu, missed 7 days of work, and had to cancel a vacation because my PTO was used for sick time. My boss thought I was a man when I answered the phone. I had lingering issues for weeks after the flu finally cleared my system. It was awful.

  10. Chc34*

    I think another part of it is that, even for those of us who are fully vaccinated and believe in and trust science, it’s not like there’s tangible proof in our bodies that we’re now protected from COVID. I’m still incredibly nervous in public and around people, even though, intellectually, I know my vaccines are fully effective. I don’t think that worry will start to decrease until we see the numbers start to drop as more and more people get vaccinated and we see the actual effect of it. But we’re not there yet: the numbers are still rising.

        1. Howard Bannister*

          In addition to this, if we discover resistance wanes at a certain point then we’ll just need… booster shots.

          Like most of us have been getting for the flu every year.

          Maybe they can start combining it with the flu shot, to get flu shot rates up as well.

          And that way boosters could also start increasing protection against variants as they pop up.

          As worst case scenarios go, that’s not too bad! I’d be fully on board with booster shots at whatever intervals the scientists say will keep me safe!

      1. Sam*

        This seems like the sort of thing that should be very strongly sourced, not just dropped into the thread.

        1. KirbyCloud*

          Also, I could be wrong, but I thought the reason we need a flu vaccine every year was because the viruses themselves evolve over time. So your immunity doesn’t necessarily wane in less than a year, it’s just that the flu virus(es) change enough over the course of the year that your immunity isn’t as effective. Which isn’t to say that is the case with COVID, it’s just to say that it’s possible that it will evolve more as time goes on and necessitate annual vaccinations (even if the immunity you gained from your first vaccine is still there – if it’s fighting off a strain of virus that isn’t in circulation anymore, it’s not going to be very useful.

          Hopefully we’ll be lucky, though. Or I’ll be wrong. I’d be okay with that :)

          1. KirbyCloud*

            Oops, this was meant to be a reply to Grace’s comment below. Also, I’m now questioning whether it’s that the viruses evolve or that there are different strains that dominate each year (or both – the latter is definitely true). But it’s worth considering either way.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Incorrect, sorta. There’s only so many flu variants that can be generated based on a combination of the surface proteins that latch onto cells and we know numerically what they are – but we’ve got no way of knowing which ones are gonna make the leap from their natural reservoir (birds) to humans each year so we have to guess.

            Some of those possible combinations we’ve never seen and if you want to mutate flu deliberately in a lab to see what you get…it’s bio safety level 4 (same as you use for Marburg or Ebola) at the very least and most likely you’d never get funding for it because of the concerns of developing a bioweapon. Also why you’ll not find a lab deliberately mutating COVID-19 to see what’ll happen.

      2. Grace*

        Sources are actually saying the vaccine is good for AT LEAST 6 months as that is how long it’s been since the people in the trials received it and we’re subsequently tested for antibodies. They will be tested at the 1 year mark as well when that comes and the 18 months mark and so on. The media is translating this information incorrectly, as usual, for click bait. No one is saying the vaccine wears off after 6 months.

        1. Ashley*

          The problem is we don’t know if it is good past 6 months, or how effective it is past 6 months because there isn’t enough data available. If I was in the early wave of being lucky enough to be vaccinated I would hope my company and country wouldn’t use me as a guinea pig forcing me to be out and about without knowing how long it is truly good for. And again the new strains can change our protections in an instant.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            The mRNA vaccines aren’t entirely new technology though, we’ve got a lot of data from previous ones to show how long the effectiveness should be. The clinical trials were thorough. While I know new variants are a serious concern right now there’s reason to believe that all three current vaccines offer a level of protection against serious illness to those too.

        2. JM60*

          One thing the pandemic has highlighted for me is that the press, as well as the general public, is bad at sorting through information. A source announces, “We’ve verified that it works at 6 months”, and by the time it makes it’s way through the press and into people’s minds, it gets translated to, “It *only* works for 6 months.”

          1. kt*

            Agree! The extent to which “we don’t have data” has been misinterpreted to mean “this does not exist” is truly frightening.

        3. nonegiven*

          This is why I don’t believe anything I see on the news. The few times they’ve reported on something I knew something about, they were so far off it made me mad.

      3. NotMyRealName*

        The vaccine is good for at least 6 months. There’s no data on whether it is good longer, because we only have 6 months of data right now. The prevailing opinion is that it will be effective longer.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          And data from previous coronavirus vaccines. Admittedly it would be lovely to hand over 3+ years of clinical data on Covid vaccines but medical ethics prohibit letting a pandemic burn on for that long before releasing a vaccine.

      4. Tess*

        Same here, and reports from a few co-workers who are on campus is that most people aren’t wearing masks.

        It’s like all the research that occurs on campuses about what to do and how to be in these situations flies right out the window. The irony couldn’t be any sadder.

    1. DriverB*

      I’m in this boat as well. My company has been really good about stating their plans and being supportive. There have been many days where I’ve wished for my nice, quiet, private office space. And yet when they sent out an email last week with actual dates when they expected to approve travel again and open up offices for people who want to come in, I felt so anxious! I’ve forgotten how to adult/social/society. This pandemic has been a collective trauma and it’s going to take time to readjust.

  11. pcake*

    So many people say they won’t get the vaccine – like 38% of the military – and a number of people I know personally, including a caregiver at a nursing home – that going back to work might be safer maybe – maybe – but not safe. In many cases, there’s no reason to go back to work, either. Often it’s just companies that feel strongly about butts in seats.

    And most workplaces brag about cleaning surfaces and supplies but plan to have people working close-ish together when droplets and aerosols from breathing are culprits, and few companies are addressing that by spending money on greatly improved ventilation. And the longer an infected person breathes in a room, the less safe it is to be in that room. Masks help with this a lot, but there are many people who won’t wear them, and as we can see in every day life or by reading AAM, many companies say people must wear masks but don’t enforce that in any way. Without enforcement, it isn’t going to happen. And literally no one I know who has had to go back to work has seen anywhere near 100% masking or any kind of distancing, regardless of company policy.

    1. Anon for this*

      This is my concern. It isn’t safe to go back to work when there are variants spreading that could render vaccines useless, and when large percentages of people do not want to be vaccinated.

      1. JM60*

        The good news is that real-word data is showing that the vaccines are so far still very effective against the variants, even though they are a little less effective against the SA variant.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Not…entirely true. The more people who remain unvaccinated means a bigger population for the virus to grow and mutate in (viruses mutate a lot, they’ve got little to no error checking) and if you have a large unvaccinated population who are also refusing to wear masks it’s a real concern that we could end up back at square one.

        (This is why herd immunity is a goal. A virus without a significant population to grow in simply won’t get a foothold)

      2. Cat Tree*

        That’s not quite how vaccines and infectious diseases work. It really isn’t a matter of personal choice about risk tolerance. It almost seems quaint that I used to be worried about the measles outbreaks in my area, but that disease is a good example of how a few risk-takers endanger others.

        No vaccines are 100%, and Covid is serious enough that we have half a million dead people in the US and the overall life expectancy had dropped by a full year. This isn’t the disease to be flippant about.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Measles is one of the very few viruses I stated I’d NEVER work with in the labs. It’s an absolute nightmare. (And for reference, I once applied to work with Ebola)

      3. ShanShan*

        That’s not correct.

        You don’t vaccinate a person. You vaccinate a population.

        That’s why it’s okay that the vaccines aren’t completely effective or that they work much better in some people than others.

        The goal isn’t — and has never been — to completely protect a single person. It’s to kind-of-sort-of protect a whole population, with the understanding that doing so will, as a secondary effect, make each person in that population safer.

        One vaccinated person in a sea of unvaccinated, infected people is not safe. That’s not how vaccines work, or how they were ever designed to work. We are not capable of making a vaccine that good.

        1. kt*

          Thanks, ShanShan, for your valuable & substantive comments here.

          “You don’t vaccinate a person. You vaccinate a population.” It’s the same reason you bet on a portfolio of stocks instead of putting all your money into exactly one stock.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      My shared office was already small and not exactly air-ish before this, and they already told us we shouldn’t be cramming 3 people into a 2 person room. I reasonably assume they will not solve this by the time we have to go back. Heck, the largest office space in there, the call center, they’ve been told they can’t bring more than one person into it because they can’t do six feet of space. So…

    3. Jackalope*

      I find the military holdouts to be interesting. From some of my military friends I understood that they require you to have certain vaccinations and you essentially have no say in it. I would have expected that COVID would make that list.

      1. MsMaryMary*

        I have heard some institutions like the military and schools who have vaccine requirements in other circumstances are holding off making the COVID vaccine mandatory because it is not technically FDA approved. There is an emergency use authorization for three (which is good enough for me personally) but not technical approval. It might also be that they’re waiting for more data on what medical conditions really make you exempt from taking vaccine. There are some obvious ones, but we need more data on others.

        1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          That is what my boss, a college president, has said. There is a legal opinion that we can’t require a vaccine until it’s gone through full FDA approval, not just EUA.

        2. Cedrus Libani*

          This, and the military has had a recent bad experience – they jumped on the anthrax vaccine as soon as it came out, but it’s got a nasty side effect profile, and the chance of exposure is so low that it’s just not worth the risk. There was grumbling, lawsuits, investigations, etc. So they are being cautious about this one.

        3. Aiguillette*

          The mandatory Swine Flu vaccine that was rushed and caused medical harm. It makes them wary of requiring a non-FDA approved vaccine.

    4. Allonge*

      One piece of good news about this: I know a lot of people who were all like ‘nah, I won’t, cause who knows’ about the vaccine.

      Right up to the point when it actually became available to them. And now they had at least one jab. It’s easier to be like that when there is no consequence one way or the other. Yes, I know, anecdata and all, but still.

      1. Double A*

        I think there’s something to this! When I wasn’t eligible, I was ambivalent about getting the shot because I’m pregnant and pregnant people were excluded from the studies. I also wasn’t sure of the timing I’d be eligible, and I didn’t want to have the first dose like right before I went into labor. Basically there were a whole bunch of unknowns.

        However…as soon as I become eligible I spent about half an hour reviewing the data that is emerging about the vaccine in pregnancy, and signed right up. I also sent an inquiry to my doctor (though I did it after I had secured my appointment because I didn’t want to lose my slot and also I was 99% sure I was going to do it).

    5. Girasol*

      I just keep thinking of how humid and stuffy and faintly stinky that women’s bathroom always is. I don’t see how it could be sanitary no matter what the cleaning protocols. It doesn’t have enough ventilation.

  12. Cat Tree*

    Great article, it really covers a lot of important points.

    One additional thing I would like to point out is the timing of the message. Right now, my state is in the middle of a huge surge of cases. As more people become vaccinated, the public is becoming less cautious. Partially vaccinated people are overestimating their protection, and completely unvaccinated people are seeing others relaxing and normalizing that. So it’s really bad timing to announce a return to on-site operations when we’re currently in the middle of yet another crisis.

    The way my company does it, they say that we won’t be returning full force before a certain date (currently July 1). But, they have done a good job of handling the pandemic and I can still trust them to continue reevaluating the situation. I know they will push the date out farther if warranted. But it’s still useful to have a target date to plan around (for example, some people won’t have to find childcare at least until then).

    But even for companies that don’t have a history of handling everything well, it might be better to not announce reopening plans until after the current surge is under control.

    1. JM60*

      Partially vaccinated people are overestimating their protection

      This is very important. Except for those who get the J+J vaccine, it’s a minimum of 5 week between your first shot and being fully vaccinated (3 weeks until second shot + 2 weeks after second shot). That’s quite a long lag.

      1. anon translator*

        Yeah, and in my case it’ll be something like 14 weeks, because they’ve extended the time between vaccinations to 12 weeks to ensure that as many people as possible have at least partial immunity as soon as possible. The 2 or 3-week delay is the one they used in studies, which is why it’s recommended. But our public health authority is saying that from antibody tests they’ve concluded, that the longer delay doesn’t seem to hurt final immunity, if anything it improves it. So we’ll see…

      2. Anonymoose*

        Yeah but the pfizer and moderna vaccines are about 80% effective 2 weeks after the first dose compared to ~90% 2 weeks after the second, so not a huge gulf. And compare that to the ~72% effectiveness 2 weeks after the J&J vaccine: you’re basically more protected after your first dose from Pfizer than you ever will be with J&J

  13. metronomic*

    Alison, thanks for the follow up to your other post about this. I’ve shared both with my manager. It was so helpful to frame the anxiety many of us feel as part of a massive loss of trust in our institutions. I hadn’t been thinking that way but it resonated with me and articulated what I’m feeling but couldn’t find the words to express. I’m uneasy with the outside world, afraid to trust others with my health and safety, and also freaked out about gong back to my old normal rushing through my life, with a long work commute and unproductive days in the office.

  14. JustMe, the OG*

    Also chiming in to thank you for this. We got an email a few weeks ago with our expected back-in-office date. The one issue that anyone with kids will have is there are no summer camps available. They all fill up in February in a normal year, and there are so many fewer this year than in the past. So those of us with kids are basically out of luck.

  15. Anon for this*

    I am… wary about going back to work on site. On one hand, I’m vaccinated and my family is vaccinated, so I don’t have to worry about getting a family member sick. On the other hand, variants are spreading rapidly, and we still don’t know how vaccine skepticism is going to affect herd immunity and the rise of variants that sicken and endanger people who were vaccinated. In fact, two of my coworkers still aren’t vaccinated and keep going on and on about their freedoms. I don’t want to be in a workplace with people who are contributing to the growth of variants, as much as I badly miss seeing people in person and enjoying the food that’s prepared on site for lunch.

  16. Please let me go back to sleep*

    Part of the pressure I feel returning to the office full time (in addition to safety concerns) is that my bosses expect everything to finally return to “normal.” There’s the expectation that we all need to get over last year’s fears/trauma/mental issues. I know that my nerves are still frayed and it will be a huge adjustment being in an enclosed office with my co-workers after social distancing for 8+ hours per day.

    1. HigherEdAdminista*

      This is also an excellent point. You can’t ever really know what is going on inside someone’s mind, but a good chunk of the people in my office are in some modified version of their normal or back to it as much as possible. They have been taking trips, traveling on public transportation, going to restaurants, etc. Personally, I plan out all my excursions very carefully and honestly, I don’t make many of them. The only indoors places I have visited for more than 2 minutes in the past year, have been doctors appointments. It has been stressful and shocking to the system to be indoors around people at those times.

      The expectation of returning to “normal” for me includes regular public transit commutes and being in an enclosed space with coworkers and potentially thousands of students who could just walk into the office. I dread the thought that it might be expected we do that 5 days a week, right off the bat, especially when our leadership has been vocal about how well WFH has gone. Having to be around people again will be an adjustment, complicated by the fact that I know at least one of my colleagues doesn’t seem to want the vaccine, but hasn’t curtailed their activities.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, I don’t look forward to the inevitable “but we need to let people come in for drop-ins!” We’ve managed perfectly fine for over a year without drop-ins.

        1. HigherEdAdminista*

          I hear that! I am going to fight it as long as possible. The drop-ins were rarely productive anyway, at least in my experience.

  17. Qwerty*

    I’ve been on my company’s covid committees and the guideline we are using is not to consider requiring anyone to be in the office until it is safe to be at work without a mask. Even then, it will most likely be a slow transition where people come in a couple days a week so we’re still operating at reduced capacity to be sure that this pandemic is really under control and allow workers to just get used to being around people again. When people do come back full time, we’ll have a generous WFH policy regarding any travel or sick time to because it’ll probably be flu and holiday season by then.

    1. Kyubey*

      I agree with this way of doing things; I’m lucky enough to work for a company that is doing the same. They’ve told us that if it’s not safe enough to go in without masks, it’s not safe enough to go in at all. And I believe this too. Masks work but aren’t perfect and I know too many people who think they’re perfectly safe interacting with as many people as they want, as long as they have a mask, even if their ‘mask’ is just a thin bandana or scarf.

    2. Hello*

      “until it is safe to be at work without a mask”

      Is that per state regulations or per CDC guidelines?

      1. Ashley*

        Just because a state says you don’t have to wear a mask doesn’t not make it safe not to wear a mask. Again trust in institutions. I don’t know that I will give up my mask until CDC, WHO, and medical professionals give up theirs.

        QWERTY this sounds like a company many of us would be lucky to work for where employee safety is being taken seriously.

        1. Qwerty*

          Thanks! I’ve made a major ruckus over the past year (I’m the only non-director involved in these decisions) and have escalated things to C-suite execs a lot at the start of the pandemic. It helps that I desperately want to be back in the office and am high risk, so everybody feels like I’m on their side. (execs know I want to get us back to normal, and the general workforce knows that I’m gonna make sure its safe before we do so). It’s starting to feel like the policy is “we’ll make a change when Qwerty says we can”

          When all else fails I trot out that I was trained for the Avian Flu pandemic. Luckily no one realizes that I was a teenager at the time, only got an hour or so of the official training, or that the avian flu never actually turned into a pandemic.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Personally I’d go for the advice of medical professionals, not politicians.

      3. Qwerty*

        Both! If any major institution is still pushing for masks, then we need masks.

        When we came up with that rule last year my state actually had stricter health orders than the CDC. While the CDC’s guidelines (at the time at least) had a lot of wiggle room, my state and local government were very clear with few exemptions to mask-wearing and was asking people to report workplaces that didn’t follow the rules.

    3. HigherEdAdminista*

      I like this idea as well. I am not against wearing a mask and I always wear one myself whenever I am in public, but I also seem to have developed sensitive skin, and I know that if I am wearing a mask for the whole work plus commuting on public transit time, I am going to start breaking out in rashes and painful acne bumps. I can manage this when wearing a mask for a short period of time, but all day long… issues will be unavoidable.

      1. PT*

        I sewed my own masks (triple layer, the form fitted “duck” masks) and I made the inside layer flannel because I have sensitive skin. It gets a little damp if it’s hot, but it is definitely WAY better on my skin than some of the other abrasive materials disposable or cheap reusable masks were made of.

      2. Now In the Job*

        Also if you’re getting like a deep acne come in along your mask line, some aloe gel twice a day after you wash your face should help to clear up faster!

        1. HigherEdAdminista*

          That’s good to know! A silicone scrubber has helped with my current level of mask wearing, but if 10+ hours a day of it are in my future, I am sure I will need more tools.

          What a weird aging side effect… more sensitive skin than as a child lol

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I had to dig out some of my old lab notes to find out how I dealt with wearing a mask all day in viral research last year. Goddess, my skin was horrible!

            Currently using glycolic acid based wipes (despite the name it doesn’t burn skin) and serums which seems to be helping. Or it’s a placebo effect. Haven’t done enough double blind tests to be sure.

      3. Bucky Barnes*

        I’ve been wearing a mask all day every day since November. I also have extremely sensitive skin. I Googled what to do when my skin started getting irritated and found a Johns Hopkins article stating that a diaper rash ointment can help. Consequently, I’ve been putting Desitin on my face each morning and it *does* help.

  18. anon for this*

    I just got back from getting my first vaccine dose, and taking the bus there and back was enough to nearly give me a panic attack. Which feels kind of terrible–thousands of people in my city have been doing that the entire pandemic because they didn’t have the option to stay home.

    But at the same time, the messaging of the last year has been all about making us afraid. With good reason; COVID isn’t something to take lightly. But for 13 months we’ve been told to stay home, to not interact with people outside our homes, to wear masks, to stay away from other people as much as we can. We’ve been told that other people are a threat, and we are a threat to others if we don’t wear a mask and stay home. That fear builds up, and it’s not something that can just be turned off.

    My office likely won’t be going back full-time, but we will be in the office some of the time. And I’m going to have to figure out how to deal with the public transit anxiety before I have to start commuting again.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Seconded. I straight up got agoraphobia and I’m not sure how it’s going to go once I hit my all clear. When literally “all other human beings are a threat to you, AND MIGHT STILL BE EVEN THOUGH YOU GOT VACCINATED,” what the heck am I supposed to think?!

  19. Kassie*

    This ignores those of us desperate to get back into the office. Working from home is terrible for my family and continues to cause so much stress. I have a co-worker who is having significant mental health issues due in part to the isolation of working from home. No one should be forced back until later this year, but let those if who want to and are full vaccinated back soon.

    1. M_Lynn*

      I feel this. I have the distrust of going back, but I’m desperate to be around people again. Living alone throughout this hasn’t been fun. Sure, I’m not dealing with homeschooling kids on top of my job, but I’ve had waaaaay too much time alone with my thoughts. It isn’t healthy. I deeply want to the connection of being in proximity to people.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I’m in this boat too. I used to like my job, but that all changed with work from home. It’s lonely and stressful. I don’t get the same sense of accomplishment or satisfaction. I miss people. I hate zoom meetings.

      I know a lot of people are saying they’ll look for another job if asked to come back to the office, but I feel like I’m going to have to look for another job we *don’t* go back to the office.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I hear this. I work full-time from home and have since 2019. I don’t have an office to go back to. But I get a lot of satisfaction and energy and all that good stuff from being around people, and I am looking forward to when I can make client calls. Sounds a bit weird, because I’m looking forward to going to other people’s offices (!), but yes, there are many, make people out there who want to go back for a variety of reasons.

      I sympathize with all “sides” of this issue, and I wish there was less scorn towards the people who want to be in-person again. There are so many reasons to want to be around colleagues again.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        After regular reading of AAM for many years, I don’t see how anybody can want to work in an office. So many problems! How much socialization happens when everybody is in their own cubicle or office all day?

        I’m on the other side of the issue, never care if I go into the office again, and love working from home and being in total control of my environment. But I have a separate office in a spare bedroom, and live alone. I found people on the commuter train and in the office gave me too much stimulation. But, everyone is different.

        True business need should drive the decision to require people to return to the office, regardless of personal preference.

        1. Bucky Barnes*

          People are different. I don’t mind working in an office, though it’s definitely been nerve-wracking some of the time this year. (I’ve been in almost every day since May.)

    4. sacados*

      Yeah, my company has just released some new guidance about return to work, and it seems like they’re going to be handling it fairly well (fingers crossed — I just started this job so don’t have past experience to draw on).
      They said that first off, as of this week the office will be officially open for anyone who *wants* to come in. And that starting in September (after Labor Day), they will “expect employees to attend in-person meetings.” But so far it seems there’s going to be a lot of leeway/room for interpretation within that, meaning that if there are meetings that your specific department/team/boss has decided need to happen in person, then you would be expected to attend those.

      1. SadAngryWaryHope*

        And that starting in September (after Labor Day), they will “expect employees to attend in-person meetings.”

        So the thing they’re going to require in-person attendance for is meetings…with lots of people…in the same room…talking/laughing/coughing/sneezing.

        This is (part of) why people don’t trust their employers. What on earth is the rationale for requiring in-person attendance for the one type of event most likely to spread a virus? I just…

    5. Tess*

      >No one should be forced back until later this year,

      No one should be forced at all. Also, why “until later this year”? The virus is setting the timeline, and that’s what we have to comply with.

    6. JRR*

      I understand that the risk is not 0%, but I don’t like working remotely and am willing to risk getting COVID if it’s what I need to do to enjoy my job

      1. Lurker*

        Me too! If my company said everyone was WFH forever I think I would have a break down. I hate working from home. I hate having to schedule a meeting or a phone call for what, in an office, could be a quick question. I hate having to type out emails for things that could be solved by a quick meeting. I hate the erosion of boundaries between work and home life.

        1. anon translator*

          You’re probably in a minority on this site. I hate people interrupting me for “quick questions”. Sure, it’s fine if I can answer off the cuff, but if it means I have to stop what I’m doing and consult my notes or files to get back to you, no thanks.

          I’ve been so much more productive with fewer interruptions at work. I also don’t miss the commute at all, even if mine was reasonable, 45 minutes door to door.

          1. Lurker*

            I mean, yeah, interruptions are annoying, but I see it as being part of a being part of team/work environment. I have no problem saying to someone, “I’m in the middle of something, I’ll call you when I finish.” I guess I just don’t see it as that big of an inconvenience, and more than that, I see it as part of my job — to be helpful to my co-workers! Honestly, the way some of the commenters talk about having to *gasp* talk on the phone to people, or *horrors* interact with co-workers make me think they are probably the annoying co-worker.

            As Sly said, “different strokes…”

  20. Princess Deviant*

    The person who said this:

    Knowing that the people I serve at work and the ones I run into in my life may or may not be willing to throw me overboard for their own personal benefit and comfort makes it hard to be around people.

    Is spot on.
    I lost two members of my extended family to Covid on the same day. And yet people are still in denial!
    I have a client who actually was in hospital with Covid and had it quite badly; yet she still believes that it is a hoax. I just don’t want to deal with those kind of people at all.

    1. Need to Remain Anon for this one*

      Yes, yes, yes. My office is located in the heart of a community that has been vocal about eschewing masks and not taking the vaccine, and has had some of the highest case numbers in the area. Many of the people who will come to use our services will be members of the community, and we certainly all will be on public transit together. It is harrowing.

    2. Girasol*

      I don’t get the hoax thing. If a person believes that it was a Chinese lab’s evil plot, or that Bill Gates and little yellow minions engineered it, or that Dr Fauci created the disease just to become famous, well, people are still dying of it. Or if they believe that there’s no such thing as covid and people are dying of something They aren’t telling us the truth about, why would anyone risk dying of it’s-not-really-covid-but-something-else? All the hoax stories I’ve heard sound like they ought to end with “So don’t let the Evil Ones win! Wear a mask and keep your distance!” But those who believe the hoax stuff don’t seem to see it that way.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I absolutely lost all temper at a person who told me that my best friend hadn’t died to Covid, but that they’d ‘just been in a car crash or something and the doctors are paid to label any deaths as Covid’.

        Glad I cut that person out of my life.

        1. Magc17*

          I’m sorry you lost your best friend. No one should have to deal with that, let alone that sort of cruel comment by a covidiot. Jedi hugs…

    3. cncx*

      this is where i am at. i have this one friend who keeps on harping at me about “listening to other points of view” and how calling them stupid is making them more likely to stay stupid but like…i have no bandwidth or courtesy for hoaxers at this point. None. The best i can do is ignore them, I’m not at a place where i can have a civil, professional workplace discussion with a hoaxer, and i don’t know when or if i will be.

  21. Hi there*

    My grandboss announced in mid-March that we’d all be returning to the office at the beginning of *April*. Her reasoning was that 2 people (out of about 70 of us) have a big deadline in June, so we…all…need to be here, despite the fact that those people are in an entirely different department than me, and 100% of my job can be done from home. This comes on the heels of our office being the last of any I’ve heard of (among both the AAM commentariat and my wide social group) to even acknowledge the pandemic, let alone allow us to work from home. Our boss has treated us like we’ve been taking advantage of her by being on a year-long vacation for the past year, even as our workloads have actually *increased* due to COVID-related demand for services.

    I work in a social justice field and am a mid-career professional (late 30s). I have been doing this work for a decade, and I am incredibly devoted to my clients. That said, I am now looking for another job. I just feel like I can’t work for an organization that treats me and my coworkers like this during a time of crisis. It is heartbreaking for me because I believe in the work that I do, but my boss has shown us how little she values all of us, and I don’t know why I would continue working 50-100-hour weeks for this organization.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I hate my job, but I do think that my organization has handled pandemic pretty much perfectly. There are a fair chunk of articles in the media about how well we do, even. I’m not happy that they are making noises about reneging on their previous “we’ll let almost everyone work from home forever” remarks now, but I can’t say I’m surprised to hear it either, because I assume everyone wants to get “back to normal” in the fall. I am glad I am working here and not somewhere that has no respect for anyone’s safety….at least until the fall, anyway.

      I’m in this job for the macro, not the micro, basically. The overall benefits and safety are great, just not the people aspects of my job.

      1. Hi there*

        Yes, this is totally the reverse side of the coin! I know a few people who are in the same position as you (a job they don’t love, but the company has handled the pandemic really well, and it makes them hesitant to leave even though they want to) and others in the same position as me. The pandemic has injected considerations we never would have thought of a year ago.

        I hope you can find your way to a company that handles global health crises well AND lets you do work you love. :)

  22. I know I sound terrible*

    this is gonna make me sound bitter and petty, but….. as someone who is a librarian and has worked in libraries pretty much since last june, it is really hard to hear people complaining about going back to work when some of us don’t even really get the option to work from home (if we have at any point in the last year, it’s because the library we work at decided we could, briefly, but that’s not the norm), or who have been dealing with people in-person this entire time (or a majority of it).

    I understand that people have fears, that are legit, and I know working from home has its own challenges (especially with kids and/or other responsibilities), but it’s still hard to hear people be worried when not everyone has had the option to work from home for the past year (and who have also been wearing masks for 8 hours a day for the past year).

    1. Hello*

      I think this is fair, and Alison mentions it’s privilege to have these worries of going back versus the people that never stayed home or lost their jobs.

      1. I know I sound terrible*

        I just got to that part of the article, and I’m glad people like myself and my coworkers, and millions of others, were acknowledged. :)

      2. Double A*

        Although it bothers me that it’s a parenthetical towards the end of the article….with the exception of stories about health are workers who seem to be at their breaking point, I’ve read almost nothing about how people who have had to keep doing in person work are feeling at this point.

        1. twocents*

          Idk, Alison doesn’t need to address all the scenarios in an article specifically about WFH concerns.

        2. virago*

          I’m jumping in to say a couple of things, as an editor who often works with freelance writers:

          1. The concerns of people who have had to deal with the public in person throughout the pandemic are significant, and are significantly different from the concerns of those of us who have had the privilege of working from home.

          2. It’s highly possible that an editor assigned this article to Alison and that this editor told Alison, “We want an article that focuses on how returning to the office is affecting people who have been working from home.” FYI, freelance writers who present editors with articles that stray from pre-agreed-upon parameters don’t. Get. Paid.

    2. Grace*

      This. Essential worker here who has been on site for over a year through this pandemic, in an office and lab full of people. We got masks, temperature checks, and reminders to social distance when possible (which is not always). No regular testing offered. No mass spread of COVID occured here, just a few cases here and there, half of them WFH employees. I get the fear, but people are acting like science has learned nothing about the virus in a year and decisions about reopening things are being made without considering vaccination rates, transmission rates, and all the other data.

      1. TiffIf*

        I get the fear, but people are acting like science has learned nothing about the virus in a year and decisions about reopening things are being made without considering vaccination rates, transmission rates, and all the other data.

        Because a lot of places in the US have spent the past year making those decisions without considering any data at all. Why should we trust those same decision makers now? We’re not skeptical on the science and what has been learned–we’re skeptical because our leaders have continually disregarded the recommendations of public health officials and scientists.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Elsewhere too. I got too many friends in the NHS who are beyond burnt out about how much of a cock up this has been.

      2. Aggretsuko*

        Decision making seems to be based on “We’re TIRED of this shit, LET’S JUST BE NORMAL ALREADY.”

        1. JustaTech*

          Yup. If the people in charge at my office actually applied the science correctly and thoughtfully then I’d be much more OK with their request that we be in the office more.

          But instead I’m getting a very strong “but I’m lonely!” vibe that doesn’t make me feel like this is being done safely. (There was a similar push back in early November where I got some pushback for staying home for 2 weeks after traveling; Big Boss wanted everyone back. Then the Thanksgiving surge happened and he stopped asking.)

      3. AnonForThis*

        I live in a state with spiking numbers. Not the worst ones but close to it. Our vaccination rate is not making up for the transmission currently. I work in the state’s largest city for a hospital, but I gave up patient care a while ago. My job can be done from home just fine.

        I know my workplace is somewhere north of 75% vaccinated (we all had access to vaccination through work) and am disappointed in the low number. Before March 2020 I worked in an office with no options for social distancing – we were overcrowded before the pandemic and with office reorganizations now we definitely have more employees than desks – and our ventilation system is antiquated crap that regularly spews out questionable smells due to the age of the building and its systems. Before the pandemic I was on public transit for over 2 hours a day. Now with service cuts it would take longer. And I know of, minimum, two antivax people in my tiny division of the department and really don’t want to deal with their nonsense in person.

        My department overwhelmingly voted on a survey that they did not feel comfortable returning any time soon, due to the office space.

      4. Nevermind*

        I am also working for an essential employer (food producer) and there are some similarities but there seems to be more management commitment where I am. In production, there are sectioned off work spaces and breaks/lunches have been divided into smaller group. In the front office, there are only two employees that work in cubicles and they are spaced accordingly. Everyone else has an enclosed office.

        We do have a rigorous Covid protocol program and people are paid for Covid related sick time, especially if they are honest and call in saying they are getting tested. Locally there are numerous testing sites.

        So working safely can be done. There has been NO Covid spread from employees in the office. None at all. Yes, some employees have gotten sick from spread outside of work. But they have not brought it into the building. (The trade off is that they will get paid for the quarantine if necessary.)

    3. Taycan*

      As someone who has worked from home since 2012, I have had to reset my thinking about that privilege. I’ve found that I am much more sympathetic to workers who do not have the option. Have to be careful about the tone around “but its not safe to work in person” while consuming services where others are required to be on site (medical, groceries, take-out, gas station, online shopping) etc.

      Many of us have been able to be comfortable at home because of those who sacrificed.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Last March there was a slogan here: “Stay at home, so they can go to work”, where “they” are people who can’t WFH. It was about reducing numbers on public transport, reducing private vehicles on the roads, and so on.

        Some people have been uncomfortably WFH to reduce the scale of the sacrifice of those who couldn’t. It was always meant to be a collective effort.

    4. Rayray*

      I get that. I started my job last July and due to the nature of what I do, it’s been in office his whole time while most of the company has been at home. I’m a little envious of those who can fully do their jobs remotely, but I am also so grateful I got this job when I did, after being laid off from a horrible job in March and being unemployed for a few months. This is by far the least toxic company I’ve ever been in.

      My company is wanting to bring people back to the office in June and I’ve heard some people have quit or are threatening to quit. It seems people are still being offered some flexibility through, like hybrid models or options to work from home for good performance.

    5. CClibrarian*

      As another librarian – most readers are also operating from a position of privilege in the ability to access the internet and thus work from home.

      We serve two counties: 21% of my students in one county do not have internet at home; 39% of students in our second county do not have internet access at home. We also serve a majority minority population – black, native american, latinx.

      I have been working in-person since June 2020 in the only library (a community college) open in my county serving students and community members. It has only reinforced for me the divide between rural and urban communities and the economic chasm running through our society.

      1. OyHiOh*

        Librarians are the unsung, unidentified heroes of this pandemic.

        My community’s library district spent summer and fall handing out internet hotspots to any student who asked for one, and writing grants to buy and distribute laptops for students. Our school district went remote this time last year, in any area where the poverty rate, pre-pandemic, was 20+%. Pitifully few students were prepared, the district prioritized tech for high schoolers before younger grades, and tried to claim that students “prefer” doing school work on a smart phone rather than a computer. The lack of preparedness was (somewhat) understandable. The tone deaf attitude towards students who didn’t have basic school needs at home was not. The American Rescue Plan has eye watering amounts of money in it for broadband infrastructure. Word from around my state is that planners, economic development, and local governments desperately want to throw this money at long term systems/mindset changes so the next time we have to crash the economy, the chasms won’t affect poor and underserved families so badly.

      2. virago*

        My highly rural and sparsely populated state is finally — finally! — coming around to the idea investing in broadband infrastructure so kids in rural areas don’t have to try to do their homework on their phones, for Pete’s sake, or have their parents drive them to the nearest library parking lot so they can connect to Wi-Fi.

        In the past, legislators who’ve tried to pass bond issues for broadband investment keep hitting dead ends. Most of the resistance in my state seems to have come from lawmakers — sad to say — rural districts who are behind the times enough to think that the internet is a frill. “Oh, they just want to have fancy phones and gossip on Facebook all day.” Well, that phone may be that person’s only communication tool, and the internet is how you apply for most jobs in the 21st century. I hope that the pandemic has opened some eyes.

    6. Guacamole Bob*

      I don’t think this is terrible at all – and I know how lucky I’ve been to be able to work from home.

      One thing I’ve seen among some friends and family is that the people who were the most locked down are really struggling with anxiety created by that lockdown. I’ve been doing the grocery shopping for my family and running other errands (picking up takeout, going to the hardware store, contactless library pickup, etc.), so while the idea of being in the office 5 days a week is a little uncomfortable, resuming some kinds of every day life won’t be a huge step.

      But I have family members who literally have not been inside a store since March 2020. The only times they’ve been inside a building with other humans at all have been medical appointments, and those caused a lot of anxiety and were planned for carefully. Some haven’t even been socializing with others outdoors. The level of anxiety that some people have after *a full year* of that level of lockdown is really paralyzing. Interactions that now feel routine to me (and I’ve been working from home for the past year!) loom as big threats to some people who’ve been trapped in their houses with their anxieties.

      It’s definitely a privilege to have been able to lock down that much to stay safe, but coming out of it is going to be tough. A lot of the new ways of interacting that many people got used to months ago are still brand-new and anxiety-producing for someone who’s been avoiding interaction so vigilantly. (Just ask my non-smartphone-owning mother about the “text when you arrive” processes that so many businesses are using now.)

      1. OyHiOh*

        Same. I’ve been doing most of the grocery shopping this year, shop for hobby supplies once a month or so, meet with my plein air sketch group once a week (most weeks, we got virtual prompts on weeks it was too cold for outdoor work), even eaten at certain restaurants (my community has initiated a pretty good “best practices” certification plus helped subsidize outdoor seating) and bought clothes at a physical store a few times. All of this after shelter in place order lifted, it goes without saying.

        But, I also live in an area with relatively high mask compliance, did not patronize places that gave compliance measures a wink and nod, have basically no health risk factors, and my children are not living with me right now (living with a family member to give them access to a much better school district). If my job, health, or arrangements for children had changed at any point in the past year, my calculus for what is safe would have changed accordingly.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          For people who’ve been interacting with the world the way you have (which sounds similar to me), it’s probably pretty possible to picture what it will look like to go back to the office – what safety precautions are feasible and reasonable, for example. For my parents, one of whom is severely immunocompromised, they don’t even know what precautions they would need to advocate for, I think.

          The parent reactions when schools reopened for in person here were across this spectrum, too. One person asked repeatedly about whether the toilet handles would be sanitized in between each student – which just shows a level of anxiety about surface transmission that’s not aligned with current science, and a lack of understanding about what a school staff is going to be able to reasonably accomplish. Yes, they’ve reduced class sizes and are trying to keep kids out of each others’ faces. The kids all wear masks and sit at desks in taped-out squares and wash their hands more often, and the teachers have mostly been vaccinated. They’ve increased cleaning overall. But they’re still just a regular school staff trying to educate hundreds of kids, and you can’t expect that they’ll station an attendant full-time in each bathroom.

          1. PT*

            Also, you are supposed to wash your hands after you use the toilet! I can see being concerned about the sinks, if the faucets have knobs, because you touch them before and after you wash your hands. But anything in the stall is a bit silly.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              And if the kid is wearing a mask, that reduces the chances of touching the face between using the toilet and washing hands!

              I sympathized with her – it was clear that after having her kids home for a year and being able to control their covid risk very tightly, she was very, very anxious about what it meant to send them off to school. With school you have to trust the staff and your child to manage covid precautions, and they’ll never do things 100% exactly the way you’d do them if you were in the room and in charge.

              Sending my kids back was a bit like the first day of daycare or kindergarten all over again, so I get the emotion behind it. It was just a totally unreasonable and irrational way for that anxiety to spill out.

              I think we’re seeing a lot of that with workplace rules and people’s feelings about going back themselves, too.

              1. Bluesboy*

                “And if the kid is wearing a mask, that reduces the chances of touching the face between using the toilet and washing hands!”

                Not disagreeing with your overall point at all, but I touch my face a lot more with a mask on than without. Mainly because with my glasses steamed up I constantly have to take them off or adjust them, to the point at which I wonder whether on a personal level wearing a mask is actually safer for me or not (obviously I would still wear one to protect other people.)

      2. Aggretsuko*

        I am absolutely one of those people. If you don’t HAVE to leave the house and deal with people regularly (and I live alone to boot, so I don’t deal with people at all), well, I went agoraphobic within the first week of quarantine. I’m going to have to work on getting over it once I’m all clear, but we’ll see how that goes.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I feel for you. It’s tough when your world shrinks, especially if there are logically defensible reasons for the shrinking. The idea of forcing someone to expand their world from (say) 1000sqft to an entire city in one go is cruel.

        2. Scarlet2*

          Same. It’s been both a blessing and a curse.
          And then you get this thread, where you’re told to either shut up because WFH is a privilege or shut up because you’re annoying normal people with your mental issues already, hasn’t really been helpful, tbh.

          1. I know I sound terrible*

            sorry, I wasn’t trying to make anyone feel bad in my comment. I know that there are fears that people have that are legit and that this last year has been rough on everyone.

            but I do think that wfh of any kind is a privilege that not everyone has had (because the nature of their jobs don’t allow it or whatever) and it’s good to acknowledge that.

          2. Librarian1*

            Both feelings are completely valid, but I do think there’s been a lot of focus on the people who have been able to WFH and mostly avoid human interaction last year and a lot less on the people who’ve had to go to work throughout all of this.

            1. KittyCardigans*

              Yes. Which makes sense—a lot of the reporters and freelancers who write the content we read are work from home right now, so that’s the perspective they’re writing from, and WFH-based stories are also a bigger shift from the norm than “workers at your local Target are now wearing masks,” which makes for more interesting content.

              It’s understandable. But as somebody who’s been working in-person all year, it’s still frustrating to see that the articles on all the websites I visit reference WFH as if that’s everybody’s experience but healthcare workers.

              1. virago*

                I hear your frustration, and I agree that the perspectives of people who aren’t health care workers and who have worked in person all year during the pandemic have been vastly underrepresented in the media.

                I am a journalist who vets, edits and publishes reader-submitted guest columns every working day. I would publish a submission on this topic in a heartbeat. (I’m off this week, which is why I’ve commented 9 times on this post, heh.)

                A website called The Op-Ed Project has a mission of helping underrepresented voices get on the opinion pages of US newspapers and their websites. Under the website’s RESOURCES link, you’ll find guidance on how to write, organize and structure guest columns, as well as submission guidelines for newspapers all over the country.

                They won’t submit it for you — you have to do that yourself — but they do offer advice on how to approach editors and how to deal with the inevitable rejections and silences from cranky editors.

                Another source of guidance: “Writing the Libertarian Op-Ed,” by Thomas L. Knapp. This is an endorsement of his writing philosophy, not necessarily his political philosophy. His six short rules of op-ed writing are good to keep in mind, no matter where you are on the political spectrum.

                Go to it!

          3. Neptune*

            I don’t think anyone has told anyone to shut up. The thread OP specifically said “I understand that people have fears, that are legit, and I know working from home has its own challenges (especially with kids and/or other responsibilities)”, and I think most other people have made similar acknowledgements while also giving their own perspectives.

            Maybe it is worth considering why a few people talking about this is coming across to you as being “told to shut up” when most of the other 450-odd comments on this post and the post itself share your perspective.

    7. Sara without an H*

      Jedi hugs from a fellow librarian. We’ve been back at work since last August. I was able to negotiate a rotational schedule for my staff, so at least we weren’t all here at once. But it’s been nerve-wracking at times.

    8. C.*

      This is totally fair! My husband never stopped going to work, has had to wear a mask and deal with the public the entire time, and feels at his wit’s end with the entire situation. He’s exhausted, but I count my lucky stars that he seems to have made it out of this (we were both vaccinated last week).

      I’m not looking for your sympathy, but I hope you can show the same understanding for those who weren’t/aren’t in the same circumstances you are. Office workers have been conditioned to believe that being around other people is scary, something to be afraid of, and a significant risk to yours and your loved ones’ health. We’ve been told that for more than a year now. So, when our bosses come back and act like everything is fine now because of a vaccine, pay no attention to the wizard behind the curtain, it’s extremely jarring. In many cases, they’re not communicating plans, committing to any kind of significant building/logistical improvements, considering their employee input, or anything of the sort.

      1. I know I sound terrible*

        ugh, i 100% get the the communication issues and everything related to that (and i do try and understand the other stuff). thank you for this comment!

    9. CheeryO*

      Yep. Also, anecdotally, I also know a LOT of people who were brought back to the office full-time the second it was allowed, regardless of the actual business need. I know very few people who are still 100 percent remote. People need to remember that there’s some serious selection bias at play in the comments on articles like this.

      1. virago*

        “… there’s some serious selection bias at play in the comments on articles like this.”

        I’m jumping in to say a couple of things, as an editor who often works with freelance writers:

        1. The concerns of people who have had to deal with the public in person throughout the pandemic are significant, and are significantly different from the concerns of those of us who have had the privilege of working from home.

        2. Re: “Articles like this.” Freelance writers don’t usually get to call up and say, “I want to write a story for you. This is what it’s going to be about, this is who I’m going to talk to, and this is how long it’s going to be. Thanks!” Odds are high that an editor *assigned* this article to Alison, and they probably said something like, “We want an article that focuses on how returning to the office is affecting people who have been working from home.” And freelance writers who turn in articles that stray from agreed-upon parameters don’t. Get. Paid. Or assigned any more articles.

    10. Moose*

      I’m a work from home tech person and I agree. So much.

      I fully accept how lucky I have been in the last year to be able to stay at home. It’s a luxury most haven’t had.

      I hate when coworkers are like, “omg! Don’t go out to get food! Use instacart! It’s safer!” So you’re saying my safety is more important than the instacart workers?

      1. Rayray*

        This is a good point. Many people in jobs like food and retail have been dealing with heavier workloads and more abuse than ever.

        My state listed the mask mandate over the weekend and that very day a man threatened to bring a gun back to store that refused service when he went in without a mask. There are countless public freak out videos on YouTube of people abusing food/store employees over mask wearing or keeping distance.

    11. You're not terrible*

      Same. If it helps, I’m starting to look at it from the perspective of being thankful that I’ve learned over the past year how to navigate the COVID-world. We have to be in person and rely on masks, distancing, and extra cleaning to get through our day. It’s been frustrating and scary, particularly at the highest peaks and when kids were still learning at home and I was at work, but now as I read about others’ anxieties and their legit fears that offices operating remotely might conceive of going back to the office as “going back to normal” (trust me, our way of operating in-office is a new normal, but it is not even close to the normal of February 2020), I am thankful that I don’t have that experience ahead of me. Making it through a year of being in an office made getting fully vaccinated that much sweeter. We did it. We made it through. I’m trying to be glad for that.

      Now whether I’ll ever stop begrudging our leadership for being so inflexible on some of this with those of us who have to be in? TBD.

    12. kittymommy*

      It is a weird disconnect. I work in local government (in a very red area) and we were never able to fully shut down. Some of our departments were able to do a modified work from home for *some* people, but by and large it definitely felt like I and my coworkers were experiencing a different world than everyone else. I’m not really upset by other people complaining or “freaking out” about going back to work, but there are times I just want to be like “y’all know they’re are a crap ton of us who never had the benefit of WFH or an option of shutting down. Suck it up and join the club”. Of course I don’t say that and I don’t even necessarily believe it and I know people have legitimate, real fear but yeah, there are times that I just listen and internally eye roll.

    13. Tess*

      >it is really hard to hear people complaining about going back to work when some of us don’t even really get the option to work from home…(and who have also been wearing masks for 8 hours a day for the past year).

      But those are terms you accept, and that are between you and your library.

      They have zero to do with anyone else and their concerns about returning to work.

      1. Allonge*

        One could argue that those who worked from home 100% and now could be invited to return have just as much responsibility for their own working terms. Never want to work in an office again? Excellent. Find a job that allows you to do that.

      2. Disgruntled grocery worker*

        Why don’t you grow up and show a little empathy? It’s not always about “choice.” If you’re working during a downturn, there’s little “choice” about what you can and can’t do, and not all employers are helpful.

      3. kt*

        Yeah, like all exploitative labor conditions in the US! “Just get another job!” the endless refrain to anyone who raises a workplace issue ever.

    14. anon teacher*

      Oh, extreme same – I’m a teacher, and I’ve been in the building every day since September, albeit with half of my classes at a time. On the one hand, I’m sympathetic to people who are feeling anxious at the prospect of being in the office – it’s legitimately stressful, for all of the reasons Alison reports and more – but there’s definitely a hint of bitterness at knowing that some of these folks were the same people who had zero concern for my safety or that of my colleagues when they were insisting we reopen schools full-time.

      *fistbump of ‘essential worker’ solidarity*

      1. I know I sound terrible*

        <3 *fistbump back*

        i can't imagine what it's been like for you teachers, huge kudos to you. (i'd do more if i could.)

        fwiw: i do try to understand where people are coming from in anxieties about returning to work, because i know it's stressful. i didn't mean for this thread to turn into a trashfire.

    15. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      This commentariat is overrepresented by white collar professionals with social anxiety. I recognize that I’m very lucky to be working from home but the isolation has caused significant mental distress and I’d honestly rather be on site (part time, at least) – but again, I’m privileged to have that choice and to trust my employer to take my safety seriously.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        I don’t have social anxiety, I just prefer no commute and the comforts of home while working. The pandemic has added to a sense of isolation for many because other options for seeing people have been reduced, even taking a break to go to the coffee shop. If few people return to the office, it really won’t affect the feeling of isolation.

      2. DrSalty*

        I’d replace “social anxiety” with “strong introverts” but otherwise that nails it pretty much. The overwhelming majority of commenters (or maybe it’s just the regular commenters who comment on everything) here LOVE working from home and don’t understand why anyone would ever feel differently.

    16. Tired of Covid-and People*

      It’s not personal, you chose an occupation that does not lend itself to remote work. Nobody selected their work based on the possibility that a pandemic might happen. So, please try to have empathy for those in a different situation than you. It’s tough for everybody. My DD has had to go into the office during the entire pandemic, but she does not resent me because I don’t. This whole thing sucks.

      1. I know I sound terrible*

        “This whole thing sucks.” so true. I am trying to have empathy for where people are coming from, and this post’s comment section has been helpful in that!

      2. Disgruntled grocery worker*

        Not OP, but: I’ve been through so many customer temper tantrums, and have had so little empathy shown to me, that I find appeals to “empathy” incredibly hollow. Why should I show empathy to WFH workers when WFH people treat “essential” workers like crap?

        1. Wintermute*

          +1, not to mention the fact that few people acknowledge they were asking other people to take more risks so they could take fewer, in terms of the surge in demand for delivery services and so on.

      3. Neptune*

        I think the thing is that on this site, and in many other online spaces, pretty much all the pandemic-related content is couched in a certain set of assumptions – that the imagined reader is a white-collar professional able to WFH in relative comfort, for whom the return to onsite work is a new and scary and unwanted thing. Sometime there’s a brief mention of healthcare workers, but that’s usually about it. Of course people in that situation are deserving of empathy because it IS new and scary and unwanted for them, but in spaces like this there is really no shortage of empathy because it’s presumed and really always has been that everybody is in that situation.

        I guess what I’m trying to say is that there have been many, many, many, many posts on here and similar online spaces exploring and sympathising with the (very real, very valid) struggles of white-collar professionals who don’t want to stop working from home. There really isn’t a comparable amount of content expressing empathy with people who are not in that situation, who are essential workers (not just in healthcare but in other, perhaps less acknowledged industries too) or have been made to work onsite for one reason or another or really want to return to the office because WFH is not a tenable situation for them. That’s to be expected! This site is generally focused on the issues of white-collar office workers and I wouldn’t expect it to suddenly change direction now! But when you say things like “please try to have empathy”, I think it’s worth considering the extent to which the conversation is already centred on people in your situation , and whether it’s really necessary to redirect it back to that yet again when someone brings up a different perspective.

        1. I know I sound terrible*

          “But when you say things like “please try to have empathy”, I think it’s worth considering the extent to which the conversation is already centred on people in your situation , and whether it’s really necessary to redirect it back to that yet again when someone brings up a different perspective.”

          thank you so much for this.

          i mean, i know this site, and its readers, are primarily focused on those who work a 9-5 office job (or something in a roughly similar environment). and that’s fine, and obviously i’m not expecting that to change. but not all readers are in that situation or work those kinds of jobs.

          and no, there has not been a lot of talk about the not-in-healthcare-but-still-essential workers and i really wish there were.

        2. virago*

          I sympathize immensely with people whose jobs have required in-person contact with the public in the last year. I go to the grocery store not more than once a week, I wear masks without complaining, and when I order takeout or delivery from one of my city’s many hard-hit restaurants, I’ve tipped heavily in appreciation. (And I use a locally based delivery service, not bandits like Uber Eats.)

          That said: This particular post was written for another website. The topic is not a referendum on whether Alison sympathizes with people who haven’t been able to WFH during the pandemic.

          Alison is a self-employed blogger and freelance writer. Freelance writers don’t usually get to call up publications and say, “I want to write for you. This is what I’m going to write about, this is who I’m going to talk to, and this is how long it’s going to be. Thanks!”

          Odds are high that an editor *assigned* this article to Alison, and they probably said something like, “We want an article that focuses on how returning to the office is affecting people who have been working from home.” And freelance writers who turn in articles that stray from agreed-upon parameters don’t. Get. Paid. Or assigned any more articles.

          1. Neptune*

            As I said, I appreciate that that is the target audience of the site/article and that there is no reason that that should change. My point is simply that I feel it’s quite churlish for the commenter I replied to to look at somebody expressing their perspective, one that rarely gets much airtime here or elsewhere, and think “but why aren’t they empathising with ME?” when most of the content on this topic does exactly that. That’s all.

            1. virago*

              You make a valid point! It must be really grating to be able to voice *your* perspective for a moment or two and then get immediate pushback. I apologize if I was part of that pushback. (And for sure, I don’t accept the idea that people who work in jobs that can’t be done remotely also “chose” to be yelled at and physically threatened for asking people to wear masks.)

              You’re right: The white-collar perspective is overrepresented on AAM. That’s probably a function of who has access to a computer during the US workday and who is trusted to manage their own time. Call center workers, for example, have access to a computer on the job but are heavily monitored by tracking software. AAM does seem to hear from a lot of US retail workers, probably because their days off are on weekdays, which is when Alison posts.

              I work for a local publication whose coverage has tried to represent the experiences of people whose jobs can’t be done remotely — postal carriers, grocery workers, people in the building trades, food servers, et al. — but there’s no substitute for firsthand perspective. And we, including me, should make room for that perspective.

              1. I know I sound terrible*

                “And we, including me, should make room for that perspective.”

                thank you for saying all of this, and for being willing to make room for us. I realize that this blog is mostly geared towards a specific readership, which is fine, but I do think it’s good to consider other perspectives, especially from those who don’t fit into the intended reader demographic.

              2. Neptune*

                Thank you for saying this! And also, thank you for such thoughtful answers in both your comments – I actually really hadn’t considered the extent to which articles like this one are assigned to writers, which is an important thing for me to bear in mind before getting too het up.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Hi! I appreciate this concern. Because this is an advice column, I’m pretty dependent on what letters I receive and I definitely hear from a ton of people who are working from home right now. But I’ve published lots of letters in the last year from people who have been on-site all along or who went back very early on. I think they’re maybe being drowned out, though, by how often we do end up talking about remote workers. I’ll pay attention to that going forward.

          (That said, even if the numbers were absolutely even, I have no doubt that the amount of angst from remote workers over returning would grate when you’ve been there all along.)

          1. I know I sound terrible*

            hi! :) thank you for this comment but also for the acknowledgement. I know you can only publish the questions you’re getting, but I hope more non-wfh people will send in their questions. I would agree about their letters getting drowned out, I know you’ve published them, but I see so many more letters from people who have been wfh for the last year. which makes sense, given who primarily reads this blog, but I appreciate that you’ll be paying more attention to this aspect going forward.

    17. Fancy Owl*

      Another thing to maybe keep in mind is, there’s an added mental pressure when you know you can WFH but are told to come in anyway. I felt it all summer last year when they brought us back to the office before sending us home again around Thanksgiving. There was a voice in my head saying, “If you get sick or die, it will have been for absolutely nothing. You could have been WFH this whole time. You will have gotten sick for nothing because management cared more about optics than your life.” And that’s a really awful feeling. At the time I thought, at least if my job couldn’t be done from home I’d feel better because I’d know management couldn’t just decide to send me home on a whim. But I agree that essential workers have been put in an awful situation as well, different varieties of awful.

      1. BaxtersMom*

        Do you think that people who have to go to work think “well, if I get sick and die, it will have been worth it to make sure people can get organic bananas and wine”?

        Please don’t minimize just how terrifying this has been for them by comparing their impossible situation to your own sense of inconvenience

    18. Chilipepper*

      Another librarian here at work full time since last May. I have to confess that it is so hard to have empathy or sympathy or any kind feelings toward ppl who have been working from home for a year. It is not a good look for me and I work on it, but the complaints feel like a slap in the face.

      In fact, we get daily complaints that we are not offering every pre-pandemic service!

      1. BaxtersMom*

        I recently wrote Allison a long email expressing these EXACT sentiments and she has not yet responded. I really love this column, but the past year has been so much about highlighting the struggles of those safe at home and barely a passing acknowledgment of the absolute trauma of being a frontline employee with a choice between the risk of getting sick and poverty. I hope there will come a day when she really lays out just how much privilege is involved in a demand to work from home, but I am not holding my breathe for that…

        1. BRG*

          She has said many times she cannot answer all the mail she receives (close to 100 emails a day if I remember correctly). I don’t disagree with the rest of your point but don’t think she deserves criticism for not answering every message someone sends her.

          1. BaxtersMom*

            I don’t expect her to answer every email at all. But the constant focus on people who don’t want to leave their convenient WFH situations is exhausting. There have been almost zero topics related to people forced to go to work. They are invisible both at work and in advice columns like this.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Hi! I talked about this a little above, but I’ve actually published a ton of letters from people who aren’t working from home. They’re all over the archives for the past year! It sounds like they’re getting drowned out though, and I’ll pay attention to that going forward.

    19. Tired of this*

      Retail worker here and, yeah, working from home was never an option for us. However, my feeling is that the less vectors there are for my customers to get sick, the less chance there is of them bringing that sickness to my work. So yay to offices that are WFH friendly.

      Plus, the more people are social-pressured into taking this seriously, the less I have to tell customers that their masks belong on their FACE and, OMG please put that nose away. And removing your mask will not help you hear better, I swear.

    20. SadAngryWaryHope*

      I hear you. You don’t sound terrible, but I take a different stance on people with WFH privilege complaining/being concerned about returning to in-person work. I don’t want others to have to struggle or worry the way I have this past year+ (not that you were saying you did!)

      I worked in a professional, corporate jobs & in the health care field for decades, but left everything years ago, pre-COVID, to be home with kids & run my own super-small business.

      Ten mos before COVID hit, me & my Masters degree got a part-time job at a small grocery store/deli (husband is a social worker & his pay got cut 40% over 3 years because if you want to see the industry less valued & respected than educators, check out the mental health/community health field…)

      So I, too, am an ‘essential’ employee. This grocery store/deli never shut down. We never stopped making food, and lots of it, because business increased during the pandemic (all the while, people complaining that they couldn’t sit down anymore in our barely-bigger-than-a-shack seating area, 4 feet from the register). We don’t get leave time, let alone COVID-related sick time. The pressure to never take off is…big. I wear a mask 9+ hours a day, and am on my feet making food & cleaning & working register, with 100-600 people in the store/deli a shift. I’m hustling so hard I keep my heart rate in aerobic range 80% of those 9 hrs. Which is, I’m guessing, more physically demanding & uh-oh-here-comes-another-exhaler intensive than working in a library, but I don’t want YOU to have to do what I’ve had to do for the past year. I don’t begrudge you your suffering/concerns/pains this past year because they weren’t the same as mine.

      Anyhoo…I get your sense of “hey, wait a second…” but I guess I see it this way–just because I have had to suffer doesn’t mean everyone else should bookmark their own struggles because they didn’t suffer mine.

      I wish you (and I) didn’t have to work in such dangerous conditions with almost no protections. I wish you (and I) could have received hazard pay. I wish we had the option to work from home. But I don’t want people who DID have that option to stop being concerned.

      I want them to be concerned, and to complain about the dangers of in-person work, & demand employers do something, if only because perhaps the complaints of those with options can help make it better for those without.

    21. Fellow librarian*

      +1. It’s a massive disconnect for those of us in customer service jobs. We cannot really work from home by the nature of the job, and we were barely closed, yet many of the comments here and on other work sites seem to be ignoring our reality or just acknowledging it as a footnote. I feel like my system has handled it about as well as we could have while still being open to the public (the decision was made at the county level for all government offices, including the library), but it still makes me roll my eyes a bit to see someone complain about how wearing a mask for more than a few hours.

      1. Fellow librarian*

        Sorry, comment cut off earlier. The last line should end: “how wearing a mask for more than a few hours is impossible while talking to the person wearing it for an eight-hour shift (or longer!).” The issue is that people have been living in very different worlds over the past year and a bit, and it is difficult for the solely WFH people to see what it is like for those who haven’t been living the same reality just as it is hard for us to truly understand how anxious just stepping out of their house can be when we have been forced to not only go out but interact with the public for long stretches at a time most days. That’s what isolation does. Sorry that you had to deal with some people in this thread demanding empathy without giving it in return. I know you were venting to find the people who are in the same situation. Personally, I’ll just be glad for the day we no longer have to enforce masks on others as part of our jobs! Until then, stay safe out there.

  23. Al*

    One thing I don’t hear about in a lot of these plans is considerations for childcare. If offices plan on reopening during the summer before the next school year starts, they need to take into account that there are limit childcare options for many. During a normal year, my child would attend camps all summer long while school is not in session. Even if those camps are open this summer, they have limited enrollment and are full. Many of us are left with no more options than we had last summer.

    1. Justme, The OG*

      Yes, I touched on this above. I had one option last summer, that was most of the day. That’s not an option this year. So I basically have no options.

    2. New Mom*

      We just for a big announcement that our office will expect everyone to return July 1, and I was thinking the same thing. July 1 just feels arbitrary, and our work can be done 100% remotely but the higher-ups just decided that will be the day because they want us in…because they said so. Sigh.

      I know we have quite a few employees with school-aged children so I don’t understand why the return date does not coincide with the Fall school start dates. Most people did not sign their children up for summer camps this summer so where are their children supposed to go if we are mandated to return in the middle of their summer break?

    3. sofar*

      Yep. I bet, as we work through the next couple years, schools/day cares will have to close when cases pop up (especially with the new variants, which seem to be affecting kids more). It’ll be like snow days, but more frequent. Every workplace should have a lot of flexibility around parents being able to WFH (not be forced to take sick/vacation time) when their kids’ school is closed. Will some people whine about how it’s “not fair”? Probably.

      On the other hand, you have people like my friends who have decided their kids will be homeschooled indefinitely until COVID is “a minimal threat,” whatever that means. Their school is in-person full time, they’re just not sending their kids. As such, they are taking shifts homeschooling and doing their jobs during the day/night. An in-home tutor/nanny is not an option, nor is partial-day daycare, as they are concerned about the kids getting exposed. The wife’s office is opening back up in July with a hybrid plan that allows everyone to WFH two days a week — but they’re required to be on-site the other three. She is super stressed about this because that means her husband will have to be on all-day child duty and then work all night those three days. And, honestly, I’m not sure how to feel, as I consider her employer’s plan pretty reasonable and schools are open.

    4. Bluesboy*

      Where I am, assuming we don’t go back into full lockdown (we were one of the worst hit places in the world in the early months of the pandemic) the childcare options are actually better than in a normal year.

      Schools close around the 8th of June, so you pretty much have to put your children into camps etc for the summer if parents are working. But this year, because of Covid, the government is reimbursing us for up to €1000 per child.

      I really don’t understand the logic. Given that many people are not yet back in the office, surely it’s easier (not easy!) to look after children in the school holidays than usual when you are out all day. So if we need the subsidy this year, didn’t we need it last year…? But definitely not complaining about it!

  24. Hello*

    I’m going back on a rotational schedule in May and the rumor is we will all be back full time before the end of summer. It seems unnecessary considering how many people work on my office floor, how many ladies share the bathrooms, how many people are in my corporate office building.

    Working from home has turned me almost feral, but going back to the office is going to be another change after a huge year of changes and stress. At least I get my second shot this week.

    1. Japinicat*

      I’m in the UK and official word is that nobody will have to come back until the office is fully vaccinated. For those in their twenties this may not be til July.

      1. allathian*

        And I’m in Finland, unlikely to qualify for a vaccine until June, and we have a 12-week delay between vaccines, so I won’t be fully protected until October at the earliest.

  25. Mister T*

    My boss announced a september 1 return to office and my gut clenched. I would like to return to the office – I plan on going back for the first time in over a year next month when I am vaccinated – but the idea of returning to the daily grind, including two hours commuting, just made me sad. I am hoping to do a hybrid model where I go in two days a week and wfh three days, or vice versa. The idea of having my kid and spouse out of the house and having an entire day to work by myself is too glorious to imagine.

    And shout out to all the minimum wage workers who have been on the front lines of this having to tell jerkfaces to wear masks. I live in a pretty compliant area, but I witnessed a guy blow up at a cashier at an ice cream parlor because he didn’t think he should have to wear a mask.

    1. H*

      Right? I don’t understand returning your workforce to long commutes knowing what that does to their productivity. I have heard many workplaces (including my own) doing surveys and townhalls about returning to work, etc but I feel many of them are so the companies can say “hey look we listened but we are still going back to normal with little to no flexibility”.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I got mad respect for anyone who has has had to deal face on with the public this past year. Mate of mine works at a large UK supermarket and has been physically threatened so many times for telling people to wear a mask. He should be paid danger money – they all should.

    3. New Mom*

      I’m really feeling this too. I had a baby at the start of the pandemic, and bedtime is 6:30pm which has been fine because I’m home. It is breaking my heart to think that I’ll have an hour drive home and then see my child for 15 minutes before they go to sleep. It just seems so pointless. Our higher-ups have not articulated why they want us back and have sort of refused to have an honest discussion about it.

      I would be fine going in two days a week, because I do like connecting with my coworkers but the almost two-hour commute is just not something that I want to do anymore. We can’t move because we live in one of the most expensive areas in the world, and traffic is a huge issue in the area. I really don’t want to leave my job, but my daily life has been so much better without having that commute everyday.

      1. kt*

        Please consider pushing back as a group with your coworkers. At my org, the managers got together and pushed back on the return-to-work assumptions and we’ve been able to set a baseline for much more flexibility. We framed it as a retention and recruitment issue; we can’t compete for the best talent or retain the excellent folks we’ve got if our policy is much more rigid than our competitors for talent in the area. From the sound of where you are, it seems like you could make a similar argument.

      2. Ismonie*

        Same. Originally I commuted with my kid (older than yours) she hated it so much and would cry and cry. I was really worried about what having her in a car seat for that long would do to her. I really want to mostly work from home. And I’m an ambivert, so it’s not because I don’t like people.

  26. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I think we’ve discovered just how many people are tolerating offices solely due to the need to eat/pay the mortgage/etc, and what cesspools many offices are. Once freed from the prison/asylum, how many inmates really want to go back?

    1. James*

      I disagree. The Clinician’s Fallacy comes into play. This is an advice column, so obviously people from good offices aren’t going to come in. And in our culture it’s far more acceptable to complain than it is to talk about how great you have it. This combined means that you’re only going to hear about the bad things, even if they make up a tiny fraction of the total.

      Second, office cultures aren’t something that happen to you. They’re something you help create. Granted, the average person working on code or accounts receivable only has so much power–but that amount isn’t zero. Office culture can change. The trouble is, we all want different things. Some want a very professional workplace with people quietly working at their stations, minimal chatter, and traditional office attire. Some want a laid-back workplace where they can wear what they want and casual conversations are the norm. There are some that want to bring their dogs in to work, and some that think even having photos of your kids is too much personal information. How do you reconcile these conflicting views of what constitutes a good office? In the USA at least most places opt for a white-bread approach, one that appeals to no one but which doesn’t actively offend anyone.

      Third, yes, most people only tolerate work because they need to eat. That’s sort of the nature of work–few of us have the opportunity to get paid to do what we’d do for free anyway, and believe me there are prices to be paid even if you do get to do so. That’s not an issue with the job, though. I have a sister that’s a forensic accountant; she spends her days auditing timecards and expense reports. I cannot think of anything more tedious or mind-numbingly boring, but she loves it. On the flip side, I once spent two weeks picking rodent teeth out of 20 gallons of sifted sediment. To me, this was an amazing opportunity–the kind of thing that makes you eager to go to work, and regret when the work day is over. My sister would consider this pure torture, something to be avoided at all costs. My point is, I don’t think the issue is typically that an office is bad (examples here are an extreme minority). The issue is that the office is a bad fit for the individual employee.

      1. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Forty-two years of full-time professional US office-based employment in the private and public sector here, with many different employers. Yes, offices are as objectively bad as AAM makes them out to be. Sure, bad fit is a thing, but to fit into some of these hellholes, you would have to be seriously maladjusted.

        1. James*

          If I spent 42 years in a variety of offices, and found that every one of them was horrible, I’d have to start wondering about the common factors.

          Don’t get me wrong, every office has its problems. You’ll never find somewhere that’s a perfect fit. But my experience is that AAM gets the extremes (seriously, how often do sexual injuries come up in the average workplace?). If you find that what’s here is the norm, there’s something seriously wrong with your selection of workplaces.

          1. J.B.*

            I used to work at a place with a bad culture and a really bad senior manager. Several of us said before big boss retired that we for that manager. The only ones of us who left were those in the fortunate position to have money or other offers.

          2. Juniper*

            Yeah, I’ve found that the reactions on this site can sometimes swing to extremes that aren’t representative of my own experience or what my friends recount. I’m now 15 years into my career, and have 4 different employers tucked under my belt — 2 different federal departments and 2 corporations. All of my workplaces have by and large been pleasant places to be, with agreeable coworkers and comfortable working environments. When I hear people talk about all offices as “hellholes” I now meet those comments with a big grain of salt.

        2. TWW*

          Maybe I’m unusually lucky with my workplaces, but I’ve never really minded having to spend the day in a building with my co-workers, and I’m a confirmed introvert.

          If anything, even in jobs that I didn’t like, a little human contact has always been an upside to my workday.

      2. F.M.*

        Yup. I’m simultaneously terrified about more spikes and deaths and long covid issues as things reopen–I’ve got students still being laid out by covid in the last few weeks, and friends my age suffering multi-month major neurological issues from it–and someone who desperately loves my office and misses it intensely and gets twice as much done when I’m there. People vary, offices vary.

      3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        If you want to channel Winston Churchill and claim that offices are the worst form of organizing a workplace except for everything else that has been tried, I’ll agree to disagree on that. But that’s as far as I’ll follow.

        1. James*

          Well, that means the issue is you. I won’t say “problem”, because it’s not–no more than being short, or speaking a different language, or having a food allergy is a problem. You’re not a good fit for office culture. And that’s fine. Not everyone is. I know people who aren’t–people I deeply respect, people that are far more successful than me. Knew a state environmental rep once, for example, that had an allergy to florescent light. If he was in the office for more than two days he found an excuse to get out. Fantastic guy, one of the few environmental reps I knew that understood the realities of environmental remediation and had a realistic perspective on what was possible and even desirable.

          Please don’t confuse your experience with universal experience. Many people genuinely enjoy working in offices, and they are not wrong. There are real advantages, and there are positives to the culture as well as negatives. It’s up to each individual–now more than ever–to decide if the positives outweigh the negatives for them. There is a reason office setups developed. They were hardly inevitable; they arose because they offer certain advantages, and the trade-offs were worth it at the time. Covid-19 has raised the issue of whether those trade-offs are still swinging in favor of continuing office work, but modern technology has added the confounding factor of providing more opportunities to tailor work to individual preferences and situations.

          1. C.*

            But many people don’t enjoy working in offices, as well. Sure, there are individuals out there who are just not at all suited for office/collaborative working environments. But while I know that I “fit” in an office culture and know its song and dance, it doesn’t mean that it’s an enjoyable thing. Throughout this whole year, the only thing I miss is my colleagues—there’s nothing specific about the office itself that leaves me wanting at all.

  27. Mitford*

    I’m not sure how well this applies to other cities, but here in DC there’s no way they anyone can start bringing people back to offices downtown until public transportation resumes something approaching a more full schedule. Service is limited right now. Even at that, I’m genuinely not sure I’d want to get on the subway. My employer can control people’s behavior while in the office, but the subway is a different matter altogether.

    1. Coenobita*

      I totally agree. My preferred commute method is via bus, and the bus line I take is… not sufficient at the moment.

      That said, Metro got a bunch of money in the latest covid aid package, so hopefully that will help! I saw a headline the other day about how they are trying to bring ridership back up, for example by putting a $2 cap on all fares.

    2. Lily C*

      Resumption of public transit to pre-Covid levels is definitely a factor for me. My commuter bus isn’t running at all right now, so if I start going back into the office regularly, I’ll either have to ask my spouse for pick-up and drop-off at the train station and work that around his own schedule, or face a 45 minute walk to/from the station, as opposed to the 10 minute walk to/from my old bus stop.

    3. Now In the Job*

      Yikes. I hadn’t even really fully realized this. Also I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, ubt of late there have been a LOT of train delays and other issues…it feels like it’s 2015 again out there.

    4. Librarian1*

      I’m guessing Metro will ramp up trains and buses when offices start making announcements about bringing people back. More specifically, they’ll probably do it when the federal government starts announcing that, although that’s super annoying for the rest of us who don’t work for the feds…

  28. Sam*

    Some jobs must be done in person and those that do them should be compensated for that, but any company that wants people back in the office when it’s not necessary may lose a lot of talent. I know that I for one will consider availability of frequent (if not permanent) telework in any job offer I consider going forward.

  29. Usually Lurking*

    The article is behind a paywall for me, so I hope this comment isn’t too off base. I’ve been working in person more or less since the start of the pandemic (I get furloughed for 3 months every winter, so I wasn’t around when the winter wave hit and a bunch of people in the little town I live in during the work season got sick and almost died). I also live in a very conservative part of the country, where people have not been taking the virus seriously. It’s led to a lot of exhausting conversations, usually I can live and let live when it comes to political issues, but not when this issue has the potential to directly effect me. So I am expecting nothing from my employer, and am surprised by everyone working from home who is expecting so much. I’m glad that my job qualified me for the vaccine early, and that work sent me an e-mail with resources to get a shot as soon as we all qualified. I’m getting my second shot this Thursday, and I’m very much looking forward to not having to repeatedly dance around the issue with my co-workers. I know a lot of them aren’t getting the vaccine, but there’s not much I can do about that. I’m young and healthy and the vaccine has a %100 effectiveness against serious disease, I can’t ask for more than that for getting back to “normal”.

  30. Smithy*

    When COVID started, I was working for a humanitarian organization that hired numerous health care professionals and experts – including those with experience responding to Ebola. And while overall the organization took COVID seriously, provided a number of considerations – at the beginning of the pandemic, their technical guidance around what to do was really terrible. They were supportive on the basics (extended sick leave if you are ill), but the entire office went WFH in the most haphazard and panicked announcement of everyone needing to leave the office immediately.

    I’m realizing that my anxiety is that I have no trust that even in my sector, with supposedly so much experience about disease outbreaks, to engage in a more deliberate and digestible plan around how return to the office will proceed. What will this mean for internal meetings? External meetings? Travel? Eating lunch in the office? Etc, etc etc.

    During COVID, I started a new job with a similar organization, but my anxiety around “will you actually tell us what to do and when, and how that will be applied across the office for both safety and productivity” remains.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I’m with you Smithy. In the big picture my org did well with their safety protocols, communication and technical support, and we haven’t really been severely impacted in a business sense by the pandemic. But on the detail level, it started off chaotic and has been haphazard since the beginning; we are mostly doing the best we can and giving each other a lot of grace, but that’s not going to last forever. And now they want US to plan to return by August, except that they aren’t giving us details as to how, when, who, etc. and leaving it up to each department to work out their own needs…which simply means that the return will be chaotic as well and depends too much on individual managers to come up with and implement a plan — which some will and some won’t. I’m tired of the burden being on the workers to make it work.

      1. Smithy*

        Exactly – all of this. And as someone who sits in an “HQ Office” – there are so many individual directors and teams that can take so many different ways.

        Right now the approach has been to discuss when the office is opening in regards to people who need or want to be in the office. But when things get more focused on productivity wants (i.e. if we could have our strategy planning session with everyone in the same room, that would be better – but it means ten people in a conference room and two people need to fly in from out of town), then what?

        So far my new workplace has been very good about slowly rolling out different guidelines around traveling for work….maybe there’s hope? But when it comes to lingering anxiety, that’s where mine is.

  31. LizM*

    The child care situation needs to be a major consideration. Most schools are not back full time. Even those that are don’t necessarily have before/after care. And with summer vacation coming up, a lot of camps aren’t offering full enrollment. Plus, for school age kids, a lot of camps are only 1-2 weeks, meaning that you may be signing your kid up for multiple camps in the summer. That means your kid is exposed to a new group of kids every week. With the new variant that’s circulating that appears to be more contagious for kids, this may be riskier than a lot of parents had initially planned when it looked like it didn’t spread as easily through younger kids. So I’d expect for parents’ summer schedules to still be somewhat in flux.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes, I appreciate that my organization will include things like this in the decision-making.

      Schools reopened in-person here recently after a year of remote, and we decided to send our kids, but we haven’t gone back to the before and after care program. The benefits to my kids of in-person school are real, but there’s some risk involved. Adding after care just mixes cohorts of kids together in new ways, so it didn’t feel worth multiplying our risk given case rates in our area, the fact that we are not yet fully vaccinated, etc. And they’re still fully remote on Wednesdays, for some reason (hygiene theater?) so that impacts our work schedules, as does the lack of options for random half days and professional development no-school days. Fortunately our employers are fine with the scheduling needed to make all that work, but it’s pretty far from “normal” at this point.

      We’ve been able to sign up for summer camps that are largely outdoors, and we’re counting on case rates falling in our area as more people are vaccinated, but it’s still pretty uncertain. And you still never know when a camp will close or a cohort will have to quarantine for a couple of weeks. Forcing people back in the office before schools and child care programs are operating normally is pretty fraught.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Our firm is currently looking at childcare scenarios for people at work, people who are carers for others, people who are disabled (about effing time), people who can’t (not won’t) get vaccinated. It’s a good step.

  32. David Catherine*

    ‪My wife has been cleared by her doctor to go back to the office in about 2 weeks (2nd dose later this week). They’ve been pushing for a return, telling her that everyone is masked and observing social distancing. The meeting she zoomed into today clearly revealed otherwise. One mask among 6 people in a small conference room seated around a small table.

    Thanks to some chaos at the executive level, she reports to the HR director at the moment who was in the meeting, not wearing a mask.

  33. Rara Avis*

    I’m a teacher in a school that has been (almost) fully remote for 13 months. (We have a small group of students who Zoom from on-campus, and have had after school sports programs and other outside activities in gradually increasing numbers since October.) I do trust my institution — we have monthly testing of everyone who comes on campus, hospital-grade filters, etc. We are starting to bring students back next week. So many mixed feelings — remote has been so hard for so many of them, but teaching remote and in-person at the same time has been soul- and health-destroying for so many of my colleagues at other schools. Teachers in my state have had the opportunity to get vaccinated, but parents have a history of sending sick kids to school — will Covid have cured them of masking a fever with Tylenol and sending the kid anyway? I’m hoping a lot of the companies in my area do stay remote (selfish reasons — my commute has been cut in half) but also — why not? If the work can be done remotely and people want to continue to WFH, let them!

    1. Profe*

      I’m the opposite… I’ve been in person with full classrooms (as well as a few online students that I’m supposed to teach simultaneously) since early last August. It’s been dreadful. It’s only gotten better recently because I happen to have smaller classes this semester and they’re better about wearing masks. I know rationally that people are miserable teaching online too but… it’s hard not to feel like the grass is greener and less covid-y on the other side!
      It’s almost like there’s no good way to live through a devastating pandemic! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    2. Dumpster Fire*

      I’ve been in school since September, with kids for a bit in the fall and again since the beginning of Feb. We’ll have full classrooms in about two weeks, and none of the students will be vaccinated (of course). I’m vaccinated (2nd dose last week) so I’ll be as protected as possible – but four different batches of 20 kids each and every day is a bit nerve-wracking. I’ve been teaching live and Zoom simultaneously since February and that’s going to continue until the end of the year. It is completely horrible and life-destroying (and I’m REALLY tech-savvy, so I can’t even imagine how bad it is for those who aren’t). I love my job and my students, but summer can’t come soon enough….

  34. No Tribble At All*

    I don’t trust management when it comes to things like “the new parking lot renovation will be done by May 1st.” I sure as heck don’t trust management when it comes to things like “we will enforce mask-wearing.” Now that I have my first vaccine shot, I’m okay with being called in to the office on a rotation (and my next shot is next week!) But before vaccinations were widely available, I wouldn’t trust management with my safety.

  35. Jelly_belly*

    I feel like I’m the only one who’s actually kind of looking forward to going back to the office. Granted, our office will be shifting to a permanent hybrid situation with everyone working from home 2-3 days a week, so that probably makes my outlook a little different than others who have to do a 180 into all office all the time. Maybe it also has to do with the fact that a lot of my friends have moved out of the area and I’m just feeling kind of lonely. Still though, I kind of miss face-to-face interaction with other humans and happy hours and work travel! Obviously not saying it’s time to go back yet, of course, since despite what some people seem to think the pandemic is very much ongoing.

    1. Stevie*

      What you’re saying totally makes sense, and all of this is kind of why I don’t want to go back to the office. I started a new job during the pandemic, and it feels like going into the office and meeting people would be like starting a new job all over again. At the same time, right now I have the excuse that I can’t socialize because it’s not safe… eventually I’ll just have to admit I don’t really know very many people.

      All of these are very privileged concerns, of course, but that’s where I’m at right now.

    2. Cat Tree*

      I mean, I vastly prefer working on site, but not so much that I’m willing to risk my life or the lives of others. I’ve been sucking it up and working from home for the benefit of the general public, and will continue to do so until it’s safe to return.

    3. James*

      I hate working from home. I can’t wait to get back to the office. I compartmentalize pretty hard, and having a transition between “work” and “home” lets me switch between them mentally. Plus, it’s nice to have a space that’s not constantly invaded by kids, dogs, and the like. I can go in, and my only concerns are the work I’m doing and making the coffee (I get in super-early, and I’m a big coffee drinker).

      It’s not just the purely social interactions. There are a lot of aspects of my job that are harder to do from home. I work sites, not projects, and am part of several fairly close-knit teams, so our conversations tend to be a bit rambling. It’s hard to explain to my wife that an hour-long phone call that included discussing vacation plans is work related, but it is–that guy had info I may need, so if he’s out of touch I need to know it before he leaves, and I’m taking over his roll so I need to prepare in advance, and I know I’ve been working him pretty hard so I’m gauging how he’s holding up, and he’s killing time until a rainstorm passes and he can collect a sample, and…… To someone in the office, this is business as usual. To someone who’s not in this line of work, it seems like a waste of time. That’s time I could be spending doing dishes or pulling weeds, or something productive!

      For my part, I’m not that worried about Covid-19. Not that it’s not a big deal; however, it’s just one more thing that’s trying to kill me. Once the list reaches three pages, you become a bit numb. In my line of work the precautions that everyone else freaked out about for the past year are standard–in fact, they are substandard–to the point where it became a running joke on one jobsite. (Yes, it’s dark humor; in my line of work that’s a defense mechanism.)

      Yeah, my position isn’t normal. But that’s sort of my point. The pandemic has demonstrated that one-size-fits-all solutions to staffing and office needs aren’t ideal. I work best in an office. Others work best remotely. We should at least discuss this when we discuss how work will look post-pandemic.

    4. Flower necklace*

      You’re not alone. I’m a teacher. I love being back in the classroom. Yes, hybrid is tough. Yes, there are so many changes to procedures that it’s hard to keep up. Yes, COVID is still a concern, even though my colleagues and I are vaccinated.

      If schools had remained shut, I would gladly have continued teaching from home. But I also really, really like being back around people every day. I like seeing my students in person. I like casually chatting with my coworkers in the department room. I never wanted to work from home, and I’m happy I don’t have to anymore.

  36. Message in a Bottle*

    I think that businesses are trying to make money. Especially trying to make up for being closed. The only change I see if is workers demand flexibility and where they can–everyone doesn’t have the same circumstances or ability to choose–refuse to work back onsite until it’s actually safe. Each situation is different. But if the majority of workers, especially those with less choice even pre-Covid, go back to the office when asked eventually things will be as they were.

    And there are many good reasons to go back–stability, mental and physical health care, money, and wanting to do the jobs. So with that leverage, will people negotiate and refuse to come back? Or refuse to come back until later? Because that’s what businesses will hear, that en masse their workforce isn’t coming back, especially when they assumed and hoped it would. Even the nicest and most accommodating business will eventually want people back at at time they deem it’s safe.

    For those of us with the choice, I am aware of the privilege of choice. I also am aware other less privileged folks may be hired in our places. Not the outcome of this I want because no one should work under unsafe conditions, but I realize the possibility.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Are they really making less money when people work from home, though?

        I can only wish these decisions were that rational. They’re not; they’re mostly emotional.

        1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

          Exactly. Most companies are making employees come back because they *feel* like they should, not because there’s any sort of business necessity for it.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          That one makes my head hurt. So you’re going to compel someone to put themselves at risk, consume a significant portion of their free time, and compromise their productivity to support a business that they neither work for nor have a stake in?

          1. C.*

            I completely agree with you. I don’t agree with that sentiment; I’m just reporting what I’ve heard from my area.

        2. A*

          Uh, ok – sure. But I don’t really see how that is relevant. With so many people WFH, I’m sure many companies have seen a boom in business – office furniture, laptop companies etc. that would potentially see a dip if everyone goes back to office. Seem like a very isolated fact to focus on / missing the forest for the trees.

          1. C.*

            Who said it was relevant? I agree that it’s an isolated, irrelevant fact to worker safety. I’m just reporting what I’ve heard/read from my area.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Yes, there are a lot of people on here saying they’ll quit over having to go back in the office, but if the jobs return to the office across the board, it’ll be go back or be unemployed. I think the employers are going to have the upper hand TBH. And I do care about the surrounding businesses that relied on office workers — those are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged — restaurants, dry cleaners, transportation workers (both public and gig like Uber and Lyft), cleaning services, security services… these jobs should not just evaporate permanently; and many of those jobs were predominantly minorities and women.

      1. allathian*

        Oh, I don’t know. I doubt offices will die out completely, but I also doubt that everything will go back to being exactly as it was in February 2020. I seriously doubt that business travel will ever get back to what it was. Some of it is absolutely necessary, if you’re servicing an elevator, you have to be on site to do it. But traveling for 2 days across the world for a 4-hour meeting? Fewer businesses will see that as a sensible way to spend money, provided there’s reasonably decent infrastructure for online meetings.

  37. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

    My employer made us return last summer, so I’m kind of surprised there are people who have still been working from home this whole time. Surprised and envious too!

  38. TotesMaGoats*

    I’m fairly confident on the COVID precautions but I don’t want to step foot into my office unless I’m breaking a cleaning seal like the taco bell sticker on your drive thru order. I haven’t been in my office in a year and we already had mice and roach issues. (Large older building in the middle of a city, they did the best they could) I want my office wiped down for mice poop. Not to mention mold from a years worth of rain leaking in. Also, we’ve learned that working remotely works, at least there is no real need to be on campus every single day.

  39. Clawfoot*

    Personally I don’t mind the idea of returning to the office per se, but our office is 1) on the 34th floor of a giant building, where even in the Before Times when you COULD stuff the elevators to capacity you’d still have to wait a while for an elevator during peak times, and 2) in the heart of downtown, where parking is upwards of $35/day so most people’s only option is public transit.

    If our office was on the main floor of a building with free parking, then I wouldn’t mind quite so much. But going to a GIANT building with crowded elevators after traveling on public transit?? Noooooooooooooooo thank you.

    Oh, and just before the pandemic hit, our office moved to a “hotelling” model, where nobody has assigned desks. I’d want an assigned desk now, thanks.

    1. Cough cough hack hack*

      Seconded on the giant office building/public transit issues. It sounds like we will not be required to be in the office for a while yet, and certainly not every day. But I definitely plan to bike, weather permitting.

  40. Tryinghard*

    I have seen a lot of resentment from staff that are required to come into the office due to essential tasks when wfh staff complain about how hard it is preparing to come back. Many people I work with struggles daily with child care, at home school and the need to go to work where they could get covid. And it seems like nobody gives a crap.

    I work in IT and we deployed laptops as fast as we could get them. And we had to deal with the reality that someone on our team could be asymptomatic, accidentally leave Covid on a piece of equipment and get a call in two weeks that we killed someone. That took about six weeks to process and even now I have anxiety going in to the office.

    So I understand anxiety but feel the need to remind everyone that many of us would love to wfh but lots of wfh staffers need us to be there to keep staff able to wfh.

    1. TSP*

      This reminds me of a similar problem brewing in our office. Leadership has largely left it up to people to come in when they want or work from home when they want, as long as their work is getting done.

      A handful of folks have to work from the office due to the nature of the material they work with. What has happened is that people who can do 95% of their job from home are asking those in the office to “help” with (ie assume the responsibility of doing) that other 5% “since you’re already in the office.”

      It seems super petty to demand someone come in to the office just to put together a mailing, or pick up a document that can be scanned and emailed, or supervise the IT person changing out the printer cartridges (we cant have unescorted people in our space), so the in-office people are doing these things. But after twelve months of being asked to do these extra tasks, rightly or wrongly, people are getting fed up. No doubt because I’m sure they wish they could work from home, too.

      1. Tryinghard*

        I understand the resentment. Asking staff to come to the office for equipment to get worked on is always a hassle. They don’t want to be there and complain the entire time we are trying to fix that laptop they need to wfh with but they don’t appreciate we are there all the time. We were told by wfh staff that they shouldn’t have to follow our schedules and we should accommodate them.

        I’ve had a few come in for work to be done with candy and coffee. It was greatly appreciated by our team and those staffers got front of the line service. All for less than ten bucks from them personally. And that’s what’s sad.

        But others, nope, if you are in the building it is almost expected you are at their beck and call. Even when you aren’t supposed to be.

        1. TSP*

          Our office isn’t quite that bad, thank goodness. For the most part, people who have asked for the help have been appropriately grateful to those who have provided it.

          I think the resentment is starting to arise because some of these people are now starting to make noises about wfh full time because in their mind they are getting all of their work done. In reality, they aren’t and it only seems that way because in-office workers have picked up the slack for them.

          I think in our office a hybrid model will be the most effective, especially if leadership insists everyone come in at least once a week.

          Hopefully morale increases in your office soon Tryinghard.

        2. cncx*

          My office has been good about coming in or not coming in but what they haven’t been good about is schedules. I work in IT too and i get that some people in WFH situations are more flexible with their time but I’m not going to help someone with their powerpoint at 8pm after i’ve been on since 7am because 8pm is when *they* can get to it. I feel like there has been an expectation of me being 16 hours on call for a year. I don’t have kids or a spouse so like, i think people also think i’m just here to do whatever whenever, and no. I can appreciate that they want to maybe work later in the evening when kids are in bed but like….that doesn’t mean I want to or get paid to do so.

    2. allathian*

      Surface transmission is pretty much non-existent for Covid, but other than that, I can understand why your staff is sick of hearing WFH employees complaining about returning. That said, if everyone who can WFH stays away from the office, that also protects those who have to be there.

  41. JM60*

    I don’t like the idea of returning to the office because I never want to have to return to the office. Not only do I prefer WFH generally, but also jobs in my field tend to be in areas with insanely high cost-of-living areas. Fully remote work solves that, taking my wages much further.

  42. Spearmint*

    I wholeheartedly agree with article, but at what point do we as a society need to start giving people who are terrified of returning to normal some tough love?

    We’re definitely not there yet, but at some point this year, most people will be vaccinated and cases and death rates will not be zero, but very very low. I have deep sympathy for those who have been traumatized by the pandemic, but at some point these fears and anxieties will no longer be reasonable, and we’ll need to treat them as the personal mental health problems they are.

    The thing is, the risk of covid will never be zero. We will probably get case counts very low, but I doubt they’ll ever be zero as there will be some people who refuse to be vaccinated. And a new variant could emerge at some point that is just as deadly and needs new vaccines, as happens with the flu. People will always be able to point to reasons why we shouldn’t return to normal, but at some point we will and we must. We should be compassionate with those who have anxiety or trauma from this, but at some point they will need to figure it out, just as we expect people with other sorts of anxieties and trauma.

    And just for context, I have taken the virus very seriously, have felt personal anxiety about it, and love WFH and want it to continue. But I also know we are social creatures and need to be physically around other people both at work (at least sometimes, even in jobs that are mostly WFH) and in our personal lives, and we can’t let ourselves be held hostage by the most anxious 10%-20% of people once the risks have been significantly reduced.

    1. OyHiOh*

      I think we, as a society, are going to have to prioritize mental health at a much higher percentage than we ever have. We know kids are struggling with trauma; some states and districts are taking steps to combat that trauma, but it’s patchwork and certainly not enough. Adults are struggling too. Most of us could probably use trauma and anxiety-specific therapy. I’ve been seeing my therapist virtually for the past year and it’s been a godsend. I’m in much better shape, mentally, than I expected to be.

    2. Cat Tree*

      Let’s save the “tough love” for when the medical experts (NOT local governments) say that the pandemic is under control, and when we’re not in the middle of another spike in cases.

      Your hand-wringing here is extremely premature. Although you have a token disclaimer that now is not the time, the reality is that right now is when plenty of employers are trying to push to go back to in-person. So let’s revisit this when we get the pandemic under control and if many people are still concerned then, shall we?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Speaking as one who spent part of last year in a flipping mental ward because of all this: yeah, ‘tough love’ approaches are the WORST way imaginable to handle trauma.

        1. Courageous cat*

          Yeah but not everyone is experiencing trauma here. There’s a wide spectrum between anxiety and trauma, IMO, and it doesn’t help to give it that blanket label. A lot of people can eventually move past this without it having been traumatic.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I feel people themselves are the best judge of when they can move past trauma or deal with anxiety , not others telling them they will have to ‘get over it’.

            1. Courageous cat*

              Totally! Which means people shouldn’t be implying everyone is suffering from trauma from last year because they’re anxious. This is very strictly a “speak for yourself” situation IMO.

      2. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Some folks have actually been more comfortable with the reduced expectation about going out and socializing, and have felt less like weirdos during the pandemic. Not everyone misses people in general.

        1. allathian*

          Indeed! Some people are thriving in this situation. Some are just happy to get some empathy and understanding from others, because they’ve been living in quarantine-like conditions for a while because a family member’s immunosuppressed, for example.

      3. Epiphyta*

        The governor of Washington state just announced that three counties have to move back to Phase 2; I fully expect that number to grow in the next two weeks.

        We’re nowhere near “normal” yet.

    3. Need to Remain Anon for this one*

      Tough love is not how you effectively deal with traumatized people. People who have experienced trauma need to feel compassion and support, and they need to feel they have some control over their lives. The thing with traumatic events is that they take your sense of control away from you. Now truly, there is a lot about our every day lives that we don’t control and we all learn to deal with that to some extent, but when something is traumatizing, it makes people feel like they have no agency. That is why people are freaked out about being forced to return to offices. They are worried about being asked to do things they think are unsafe. They are worried about being peer pressured into abandoning their safety protocols. They are worried about being asked to do too much too quickly.

      If you want to really help traumatized people, you need to give them agency. Don’t set a date and say May 15th, everyone is back in the office full-time, no exceptions. Set a long deadline out. Ask people what they need. Be transparent about procedures and changes. Do not ask people to do things because it feels “right” to you, versus it actually being needed. Basically, everything Alison is suggesting.

      Additionally, I kind of resent the idea that anyone living in the US has been held hostage at any point of this crisis. If you wanted to live your totally normal life during this, many people could do that with few exceptions. There were places where nothing was ever closed or was closed very briefly. The biggest disruption was to things like live concerts and movies, but no one stopped you from having house parties, many people worked at their jobs at least some or part of the time. It may not be your intention, but when I hear comments like we can’t be held hostage by 20% of the population who might be anxious, I hear that it isn’t enough for you to do what you want, others must also do what you want in order for it to be good for you. The fact is that the “normal” we had before wasn’t good for many people, especially people with disabilities. Giving people agency and letting them choose what is right for them as much as possible is the answer to a lot of these issues, and to me that is more important.

    4. Stumped*

      I so agree with this. I think if people go back a couple day to starts, they’ll realize the sky isn’t falling the comfort level and maybe even enjoyment of connecting with colleagues will start to soften fears.

    5. Jackalope*

      A couple of thoughts. First of all, I think the best options are those that involve a slow return to life as it used to be. I’ve heard a number of people commenting on ways their offices handle this, and a 0-60 response has been traumatic for a lot of people. Bringing people back gradually (1 day a week, then 2 days for awhile, etc.) is likely to be a better option. Secondly, having employers continue to take COVID seriously is important. Continuing to deal with office air flow issues, enforcing masking mandates, giving people space between their desks, etc. – things like that are all essential to making people feel like they can trust their employers to make wise choices.

      And finally, as many people are pointing out, do we have to return to normal exactly the way it was? I miss working in the office, but I’ve also found benefits to WFH, and so have many others. Disabled employees have commented bitterly that they spent years requesting accommodations that now are readily available for everyone as far as working from home goes. Many people have had a rough time with working from home, but others have found a significant qualify of life improvement in losing their commutes. One of the frustrations that people are feeling is related to the idea that many of us have worked from home for a year, nailing it as best we could – at times better than in-office, even with the trials of childcare issues, space issues, etc. – and then employers are all, “Well, that was nice, but let’s ignore all of that and tell you that you can only REALLY do your job when you’re here in person, despite a YEAR of experience to the contrary.”

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, your last sentence describes why it’s so frustrating for many. I have to say I’m glad that I’m not in that group. That said, as I told my manager today in our 1:1 that I won’t be comfortable coming to the office until the last recommendations to use masks have been lifted (never mind any mandates), and that I hope I won’t need to do so. I know that my manager won’t require me to come to the office until I’m comfortable doing so, and occasional WFH will be an option going forward even after the pandemic, so that’s a relief.

        There are some jobs that probably benefit from in-person collaboration, but my job isn’t one of them.

    6. Aggretsuko*

      I think the tough love will kick in when case counts are VERY low. Which we’re not even close to yet. And variants well, who the heck knows.

      Look, if hardly anyone is coming down with Covid and I’m still a screaming agoraphobic, I’d agree that clearly I need therapy and to suck it up, buttercup. But right now people are about ready to declare it over, and it’s not. We aren’t as close to being over as we wish yet.

    7. Scarlet2*

      Are you one of those people who think that it only takes “willpower” to stop being depressed or traumatized? If you want to be around other people who also want to be around you, be my guest. But please stop talking about “tough love” in relationship to mental health. There’s nothing “loving” about telling people to get over their trauma already because it’s annoying to other people.

    8. David*

      I guess I’m wondering, why is this being framed as “being held hostage by the most anxious 10-20% of people”?

      Will things return to some semblance of the past? Certainly. But given that these are the same arguments that have been and are continuing to be deployed for “We need to open up for Christmas, for Spring Break, by Memorial Day (2020), by Memorial Day (2021)”, etc. I’m a bit suspicious that *this* time it’s well-founded and purely following the data, when every previous time it’s turned out to be economically/normatively motivated and fed right into another wave.

      And that’s not even getting into “most people will be vaccinated this year” when in order for that to be true would have to define “most people” down to a very narrow level. Is that “Most people in the United States”? “Most people able to afford taking time off work (either affording unpaid time off or being well-off enough to be in a position with paid time off)”? etc.

      Ultimately, I don’t think it’s people urging caution that are holding people hostage, here. People seeking to throw caution to the wind are the ones to be concerned by.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        An analogy I’ve used to a few friends/family/staff is that of world wars. Even after peace treaties were signed there was no ‘return to normal’.

        We’ve been waging a world war, the enemy was too small to see under a light microscope but it killed and disrupted things just the same.

    9. Kyubey*

      I agree with most of this; back to normal has to happen at some point, and it’s hard to pinpoint when that will be. I suppose the best estimate is when the death rate is at levels comparable to the flu or lower, along with 70-80%+ vaccinated people. I think it won’t be until the fall at the earliest until we see this, and possibly longer depending on the variants.

      That said, working from home in a tiny apartment by myself has been awful on my mental health, if I could go back to the office now like its 2019 again, it would be a relief, not anxiety-inducing personally.

    10. Manager at arms*

      “at what point do we as a society need to start giving people who are terrified of returning to normal some tough love?”

      W.T.F? What is WRONG with you? Who asks that? How utterly insensitive and lacking in compassion, empathy and humanity do you have to be to think it’s acceptable to even write that sentence.

      The entire WORLD is going through a massive complex trauma. Huge numbers of people are dead. Many more are sick. The rest of us are dealing with loss, trauma, anxiety and a whole host of mental and physical health issues.

      You can shove your “tough love” where the sun don’t shine.

      1. Cough cough hack hack*


        Not to mention large numbers of us also have even more legitimate reasons to have sky-high anxiety levels about returning to the office because we have comorbidities that place us at increased risk of severe cases of COVID. And no vaccine is 100%. I am just super glad to be living somewhere where mask compliance is pretty good and people take this stuff seriously.

    11. Courageous cat*

      I dunno, I kind of agree with this. As I said in another comment, some people are experiencing trauma certainly, but not everyone is. You can be anxious, upset, nervous, etc without having been traumatized. They’re normal human emotions and at some point (not anytime soon!), they will likely need to be dealt with and hopefully moved past.

    12. MissDisplaced*

      “But I also know we are social creatures and need to be physically around other people”

      No. No we don’t. I would not care about physically being around coworkers. Like at all.
      I am not a “joiner” and hated most social things about being in the office. Most introverts will say the same.
      US office culture favors extroverts who like performing: talking, presenting, storytelling, creating drama and getting attention. Not all of us are social creatures, or want to be at work anyway.

      Not to mention, I’ve saved a lot of money by not having to go into the office. Car, gas, clothes, shoes, 2 hour commutes, lunches, snacks, makeup, haircuts, hair color, coffee, birthday cards, etc. I’ve realized how unnecessary and time consuming so much of this stuff really is over the last year. It’s really nice not to have to spend that money on maintaining the “performance” of an office worker.

      1. Juniper*

        You are making huge generalizations here, along with a few misguided assumptions. I am an introvert. I enjoy the office. Many introverts I know do, because it provides small doses of socialization. U.S. offices come in a wide array of cultures and constellations, and saying that they favor those who like “creating drama” and “getting attention” is just a weird conclusion to draw.
        And… yes, we are social creatures who by and large need to be around other people. This isn’t a matter of personal preference and opinion, but biological wiring and science born out through research. You may not care about being around coworkers, and may get your social needs fulfilled elsewhere. But this is certainly not true for everyone, or even most people.

        1. allathian*

          Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the office too. I like socializing with my coworkers during the workday to the point that I’m far more productive at home when I can’t socialize with my coworkers. I’m luckily pretty good at reading people, so I go away before they have the time to get annoyed with me.

          I don’t like interruptions, because it takes so long for me to get back to work once I start chatting with a coworker.

          I also like our coffee breaks, officially 15 minutes paid, but often they take longer than that. As long as I cut them short when I’m really busy, and I do, my boss is fine with these, because casual chat, a.k.a. ad hoc networking is important.

          I’m an introvert, though, and all that socializing means that I’m pretty exhausted after a normal workday at the office and far less so after a day WFH.

          But I’m also in a fairly casual office environment and don’t have to dress to impress, or dye my salt-and-pepper hair, or even wear makeup unless I want to.

      2. Just an autistic redhead*

        I mean, I’m on the WFH Forever wagon, and agree about not everyone needing the same amount or type of socialization, as well as the saved costs (though personally it’s the saved time that hits the spot most).

        I kind of would also add though, it’s not even as simple as inroverts/extroverts. I have a colleague on my team who wants to be back in the office because it’s harder for him to communicate non-visually. And I’m a person who loves sharing and all… I suppose, “performing” to a certain extent (though drama can go and stuff itself), but while I thought for years I was just an odd introvert because that’s usually the only explanation provided, now that I’m aware of my neurodivergence, I’ve concluded I’m just not nearly as introverted as I thought – just hypersensitive.

        All in all overgeneralization is something I think is happening a bit too much from all sides now, and it’s been happening inside companies far too much for a long, long time. I think it’s how they end up with policies that just… stay, ranging from curious to discriminatory…

    13. F.M.*

      “Most people who want to will be able to be vaccinated” does not equal “most people will be vaccinated,” any more than Target selling bags of washable masks means that everyone I pass indoors and outdoors is properly masked. Your argument seems to be that at a certain point we should just pretend the virus doesn’t exist because it’s upsetting to acknowledge it for too long.

      I’m in a place that still has a mask mandate and I’m seeing healthy college-age kids–you know, the least symptomatic set of adults–being knocked out by getting this. In the last few weeks. Again. AGAIN. Just like I was last semester, and the semester before. I’ve got friends here who qualify for the vaccine who can’t get it because they’d have to refresh a website constantly to try to get a chance for an appointment at a place they can only reach via multiple legs of public transport, some of which are full of unmasked people.

      People have good reason to be terrified. Especially as we see our friends have their lives destroyed by a virus that might just leave you permanently majorly disabled in a way that destroys your career even if it doesn’t kill you. And we’re surrounded by people not getting the vaccine.

      Send me back to normal work in the office that I actually love when only people who have had the full vaccine are allowed in the building, sure. Until then? I have good reason to be leery of going back, and even MORE reason to be people like you, who want everyone to take a bunch of ‘minor’ risks simultaneously, like those don’t add up, because working from home is lonely and inconvenient.

    14. anon here*

      I gotta say, this feels pretty gaslighty, in that I already know people who’ve been going into the office, drinking at bars, going on their Texas and Florida vacations, blah blah blah for months. What lockdown? Like seriously what part of the US are you in that actually had a real lockdown? A few places did; the rest made some mild gestures and sort of recommended some stuff that wasn’t enforced, maybe shut down restaurants for a while (and goodness do I feel bad for that industry).

      Mostly what I hear is “tough love get back into the office” from people who are already there, who’ve really never given a crap about COVID anyway. Maybe that’s not you. But that sure is my relatives who’ve been whining about restrictions right and left while getting COVID, narrowly missing giving it to grandma, having great aunt hospitalized with it for weeks, and then figuring since she’s not dead yet it’s probably fake. It’s like a lot of hot-button cultural issues — don’t like it? then don’t do it yourself. You want to go to the office? Go on in. What’s the point of forcing in your immunocompromised officemate though? Will it make you happy that I breathe daycare germs on my valued colleague with MS? Will it make you happy that that guy in chemo will have to come in? What’s the point of your “tough love make everyone get in it’s just your mental health problem that you are the primary caretaker to two elderly people who couldn’t get vaccinated because of anaphylaxis risk and another health condition”? Why is it so important to you that the most anxious 10% be forced in to the office to breathe with you? You’re not advocating a libertarian “let them decide for themselves” point of view, you’re labeling the rational fears of some and the irrational fears of others a “personal mental health problem”.

  43. SoVeryTired*

    Thanks Alison for the shout-out to those of us who have had to work on site throughout the pandemic! It has been extremely stressful for me this past year, and I’m also starting to get anxious about the rest of the company trickling back in. The more people that come back on site, even in a hybrid model, the less safe it is for those of us who are required to be on site with no other option!

    I’m curious to see how my company will handle masks as more people come back and as more people get vaccinated – so far they have refused to enforce any consequences for not complying with masks, even telling me that it’s illegal to fire employees for not complying (in a right-to-work state, which is a total lie!). Talk about loss of trust! I’ve lost major trust and, quite frankly, respect for my company and the people I work with over this, and things will never be the same.

    Also in looking for a new job, I’m nervous to trust a new employer as well because it seems that companies will say one thing “we’re doing the right thing!” but do the complete opposite, like take their mask off because “now I’m 6ft away” (this happened in a recent onsite interview, such a major red flag!)

    I’m just so tired, and I’ve been really taking a step back to evaluate my career goals to see if there’s any way I can move forward in a job/company/field that treats employees with more respect than mine. It’s also made me think about what’s really important in life and that I really want some sort of flexibility and better work/life balance from here on out. I’m not even sure that’s possible without a major career move but hopefully there’s something out there for me!

  44. ReluctantToReturn*

    I’d hoped this article would contain some magic language that would allow me to demand to WFH permanently, but alas. I’m being called back in about two weeks and the powers that be have made it very clear that there will be no exceptions — while at the same time complimenting us on keeping up the pace/quality while working remotely for 13+ months. The focus on butt-in-seat time is very demoralizing.

    I love everything about my job other than this inflexibility, and, though I’ve been looking, there’s not much out there that wouldn’t either be an increase in hours or a cut in pay. Right now my plan is to keep at it and squirrel away as much cash as possible in hopes of retiring early in another few years. It helps, at least, to know I’m not alone.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      This is what I fear. Pre-pandemic we were not allowed to WFH more than 1 day a week (and never Monday or Friday) if you lived within 50 miles of the headquarters (easily a 1-1.5 hour drive). Even then, managers groused if they couldn’t find you on your WFH day.
      There is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON we cannot WFH… but they fed us bullcrap about “teambuilding” and “trying to build a culture.” Absolute horsepucky.

      I have made up my mind that I will NOT go back to butt in the seat like that. If not, well, they can fire me.

  45. Dan R*

    I fully understand why people feel scared and apprehensive given the events of the past year. However, rationally, this is as wrong as the “vaccines will give you cancer” stuff you see. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 50-80% effective after the first shot, and 90-99% effective after the second. For cases severe enough to require hospitalization, the number is near 100%, even in the real world. That means that if you work in an office of 100 people, and someone was to close the windows and pump Covid particles into the building, only between 1-10 people would test positive, and none would get really sick.

    In the real world, cases will keep going down as more people get vaccinated. So as long as your office is mostly vaccinated, the odds of someone coming in to the office with Covid in the first place are extremely low. In five years people will probably show up at the office sick, but I’d expect for the next year or so people will be better about just staying home if they feel symptoms, reducing office transmission even more.

    The variants are scary, but even the South African and UK variants are still stopped by the vaccines. The protection may not be quite as strong, but it is still pretty strong. Israel has dealt with both the UK and South African variants, and their cases are down to almost nothing, and that country has largely reopened. (You have probably seen the headlines about how the SA variant can “evade” the Pfizer vaccine–those headlines are not actually true. It is “better” at evading it, but only a tiny number of vaccinated Israelis got sick at all, and the SA variant was disproportionately high percent of that small number).

    For some reason, a lot of people feel the need to downplay the effectiveness of the vaccines. They acknowledge that the vaccines have a 95% effectiveness rate, but then advise caution that does not seem warranted by how effective the vaccine is.

    1. Tuckerman*

      I mostly agree. The vaccines are highly effective, and I think that some of the public health campaigns have backfired and people feel like if they’re at low risk of complications and they can’t change their behavior in meaningful ways after vaccination, why get vaccinated? Most efforts to attain herd immunity focus on protection for both the individual and group. This campaign seems much more group focused, and people are not used to that, especially in the US.
      To your other points, I think people are concerned that most of their office won’t be vaccinated, and they won’t know who is and who is not, and that as employees they’ll have minimal control over their environment.

    2. Ismonie*

      No, that’s not true you could pump an office full of Covid and 95-99% of people would be fine. The efficacy rates for the vaccine were based on exposure at the time, and variants at the time, not on putting people in a Covid chamber. Your understanding of how this works is incorrect.

      1. Dan R*

        95% effective means that for every 100 people in the control group that got Covid, only five in the vaccinated group did. Obviously the sample size in the study was very large as not everyone was exposed to Covid, but yes, if they had decided to put people in a covid chamber they would have had the same results. They have actually done human challenge trials to test covid vaccines.

  46. Rebecca*

    I’m very pleased that my formerly “butts in seats” company has discovered they don’t need to spend thousands of dollars a month to rent an office space, provide utilities, etc. for us to drive to and remote into a computer system a thousand miles away – to do the exact same job we were doing during most of last year and this Spring so far from home. We’re not in person customer facing, and work with teams in the US, Canada, and several other countries in Southeast Asia, so we were all “remote” anyway. If we need to get together, once everyone is vaccinated, we will meet at a local restaurant’s group dining room or a local hotel’s conference room. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, or all job situations, but it does for our company and I am grateful for no more commuting, avoiding office politics, and the flexibility this offers.

    Some of us who worked together for a long time are making plans to get together for dinner. The weather is getting warmer, vaccines are available, and it will be nice to get out among people again!

  47. LizM*

    I will say that I manage an office of about 30 people, and while we’ve really done a good job of switching to telework, I started noticing last fall that things were starting to break down without having people in the office, and it’s become really noticeable in the last few weeks. If I talk to individual employees, many will tell me that everything is fine and they’re more productive at home, but when I look at the big picture, it’s not fine and we’re not meeting our targets. I’m okay defending that to my leadership because we are in a pandemic, after all, but at a certain point, we will need to return to the office, at least 3 or so days a week.

    I’m still struggling to balance the needs of our organization with the desire I’m hearing from some people to never return. Because I just don’t think that’s going to happen. I had one employee who has actually moved further from the office and now saying she doesn’t want to return because the commute is unreasonable.

    1. Stumped*

      I absolutely agree and I had an employee move and say the same thing. I think it’s important also for junior level people especially to realize they are losing very important learnings and experiences for career growth and they should really want to be back in the office at least part time. You simply can’t have the same relationships or get the same face time with your managers in this current remote environment.

      1. LizM*


        When we’re in person, I have hallway or breakroom conversations with employees who didn’t report directly to me all the time. It was a great way for me to get to know them and keep my finger on the pulse of the office. In this environment, I don’t really have a good reason to just give them a call to chat, and people panic when their grandboss calls them out of the blue. As a result, we have a couple people we’ve hired over the last year who just aren’t getting the same exposure to higher levels of the organization. As much as I try to engineer something, I don’t know how to replace those informal interactions. It’s really changed the culture in our team, and I don’t know that the change has been for the better.

        1. Allonge*

          Absolutely. We have at least 30 new people and huge issues with their general integration in the org. And yes, we tried, and yes, I know that there are fully remote companies that manage this – still, no joy. Smart, competent people hired last summer are still not ‘in the loop’ of what is happening, which also has an impact on our other staff as the work comes their way.

        2. UKDancer*

          Definitely. I’ve a couple of new people in my team who’ve joined remotely and never been into the office and it’s a lot harder in many ways because there’s so much that people pick up by osmosis. So conversations at the teapoint, sitting in on higher level chats and just getting on the spot feedback all helped me when I was new and green.

          I think everyone in my company has done a great job working remotely and there are definitely some benefits from doing it some of the time. But I don’t think my company would work well being permanently remote because it’s a lot harder to do some of the things we do over zoom.

          I think we’re likely to wind up eventually with most people being in 2-3 days per week as a rule. Personally that works for me quite well as an end state. I don’t want to go in until I’m vaccinated so it’s unlikely to be immediate but it feels about right to me for where we might want to end up.

        3. TWW*

          Agreed. I could not do my job effectively if I did not have frequent informal interactions with my coworkers–everyone from the company owner to the forklift operator.

          When I was working from home, I communicated with maybe 5 of my coworkers as needed to get tasks done, which was fine for a few months. But if that went on for a year, I would have lost touch with what was going on in our R&D department and manufacturing floor. As someone who’s supposed to be a technical expert on all aspects of my company’s products and operations, that would have been a real hinderance.

      2. Honoria, Dowager Duchess of Denver*

        I’m definitely in this spot. I know all the science, and I know that things can’t (and probably shouldn’t) go back to the way they were with people having to commute, or do hours they don’t want to, or risk their health! But I am the most junior and newest person on my team, and a selfish part of me keeps wondering – if we don’t go back in the office, how to I develop those relationships and pick up the stuff I need to know to progress? The rest of my team have been working here for years, they know everyone and everything they need to to work from home indefinitely. I don’t.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I could never get any actual work done in our noisy, too bright open office with hot desking. God, I HATED it. Getting all dressed up and triving 2 hours a day to have chitchat and meetings all day.

      So happy to have the peace of WFH. I get so much more done now.

      1. BlackBeltJones*

        A-frickin’-men. I think I’m doing at least 50% more work than when I was in the office, and I’d rather work twice as hard for the same money than set foot in that place again!

        Note that I don’t have the need to have “impromptu discussions” or “see people”, either. Just let me do the work and pay me the money. That’s why I work there.

        1. H*

          I am convinced part of this push and part of this “value in impromptu discussions” is because some middle management realizes this will make them obsolete.

  48. Now In the Job*

    Something else that really gets at me too is the fact that, quite often, our government is still telling us, you shouldn’t do non-essential travel, even if vaccinated. Don’t go to group gatherings. Everything is dangerous and fraught even if you’re vaccinated. Oh, except for work, you still need to come along and make money for your companies. As though that is safe, but going to see a friend, watch a movie, or other modicum of normal life is not.

    The only “life” we’re encouraged to live right now is the one at work. Otherwise we still are expected to shelter at home and not go places aside from the minimal needs. Yes I miss social contact, but I want to go hug a *friend*, not have my small “social contact budget” spent by my CEO having to go to work and do 100% remote work from my office chair instead of next to my poor anxious dog.

    1. Jackalope*

      This is frustrating to me too. I know that work is important; I spend a lot of time there, and I really like my job. It matters to me. But the whole idea that if we are upset about going to the office we are overreacting, but if we see a single friend or do a single activity then we are not being responsible, and what if that means we have to miss work?? So frustrating.

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, this. Offices can open up when it’s safe to do the social things that we actually enjoy doing!

  49. JillianNicola*

    Bringing another perspective to this: I just got my first office job in August of last year. Previously I worked big box grocery retail for 20 years, which means I was working every day on the frontlines during the beginning of the pandemic. My office job is currently hybrid, with some coming into the office every day or some days, and others WFH either partial or full time. I had to come into the office for my first few months as I learned this new industry, so I could be around other resources to ask questions etc.; I could work from home a few days a week now if I chose to, but I’ve elected not to because I don’t have an area at home I could comfortably work out of (it’s a crowded house). So I never even had the option of WFH until very very recently, and had to be around people day in and day out for months and months (A LOT of people, by the way – for all this talk of quarantine! Stay at home! Groceries delivered! WEEEEEE! Uh … y’all went out to Target almost on the daily. I know because you were around me all the time). So while I totally, totally understand the fear from those of you who DID get to stay home all day every day throughout this pandemic, at the same time it just makes me so tired. Maybe because I really, really didn’t see this big reduction in people shopping in person AT ALL – there was not a single day that was a ghost town, what with everyone panic shopping from day 1 – I just kind of don’t believe that everyone is actually all that afraid of going out among people. People were more than good with waiting in a long line for toilet paper they didn’t even need.
    For reference – I live in a state where for the most part the government and people took precautions, including lockdowns and masking, very seriously. So that wasn’t the issue.

  50. JustaTech*

    Oh hello, it’s me.
    I’m in the office today because my 3x boss fussed at me a lot about not being in the office when I don’t have lab work. Just before the pandemic we got an open office system, so many of us don’t even have a full cube, just two short half walls. But the 3x boss (and the 2x boss and my boss, and really all the bosses of the lab folks) have an individual office, so they can come in to work, close their door and take off their mask safely.

    For me, if I want a drink of water I’ve got to get up and go into one of the designated shared offices. Or I can go into the bathroom (inside a stall), or outside.

    I asked my 3x boss if I could hold off coming in for non-lab work (and when I have lab work it’s often several long days in a row). He told me no, there aren’t enough people in, we’re losing the group dynamic, and we don’t really need to wear masks at our desks because physics (that is so very not true at all). He then said well if I’m so upset and worried about it he could move my coworker who sits directly across from me, or put me in one of the empty offices.

    I don’t want that. I just want 7 more weeks until I’m fully vaccinated! I also really, really don’t appreciate him basically calling me a wuss and a whiner for wanting to apply best practices. (I have an MPH, but he has a PhD, not in any public health field.)

  51. Bookworm*

    Thank you for writing this. A lot of it resonated with me. I’m grateful and lucky to have an org that was willing to flip to WFH on a dime without dragging this out and making us continue to go into an office (to the point of cancelling leases for offices) but on the flip side it also highlighted the lack of understanding about WFH (requiring multiple meetings throughout the day, forgetting the toll the pandemic has had on our mental health, requiring we still produce similar outputs despite the attrition of staff, etc.).

    As others have said, I’m also very much looking for a hybrid/WFH system because I hate the commute, office politics/niceties, etc.

  52. Jen!*

    I have to say, I find the hand wringing of people in extremely privileged positions (to be able to work from home is an incredible privilege) about returning to an office where everyone is vaccinated (and often other precautions are in place) just to be…I don’t even know. My husband and I have been working in person since last summer and I am just incredibly thankful we’re getting to a place now where that’s so much safer.

    The science shows how amazingly effective the vaccines are. In the extremely unlikely scenario you get symptomatic Covid following the vaccine, it will likely be mild. Is it a 100% guarantee that you won’t get sick or have long term effects? Of course not but that’s not how vaccines (or life) works. We take reasonable risks every day and going to an office environment where everyone is vaccinated is a reasonable risk.

    I also feel like all of the talk around collective trauma diminishes the experiences of the people who have experienced the most oppression and loss over the past year. This year has been shit for most people but in no way have we all experienced the same degree of trauma and it’s upsetting to see it portrayed as though we have. White office workers who have been working from home should probably just put a lid on talking through their personal trauma in broad forums during this time. I can virtually guarantee that a statement like “Maybe I was naive, but I always assumed in a crisis, we’d come together as a society and have each other’s back” came from a white person. How many Black people have had the luxury of that experience and world view?

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I have less issues if everyone is vaccinated in the office, but right now we don’t know if that’s going to be the case. My organization hasn’t mandated that everyone HAS to get vaccinated, and I know of at least one person who is refusing and I suspect a few others will too. Also my office space is small and unventilated and while they only have maybe 3 people physically come in at a time now and just divide them into different spaces, that’s going to be more of a problem. Oh yeah, and we had walk-in customer services, so guess how that’s going to go.

      Which is to say I have less concern for myself, per se, but it probably won’t be 100% or 90% safe for all if they insist that all return.

      1. Stumped*

        I have some employees refusing to get it as well. So what do we do? Let them stay remote and everyone else has to come in? That’s not fair and not an incentive to get shots in arms. It’s like a no win situation.

        1. TWW*

          Are people refusing to get vaccinated (or refusing to report that they’ve been vaccinated) in an attempt to force their employer to allow them to continue WFH?

          If I were an employer, my response would be: By date X (say, end of September), you must submit proof of vaccination, or a valid doctor’s excuse. Otherwise you’re fired. There are many jobseekers out there who would happily take your place.

        2. Iced Mocha Latte*

          Someone in another department mentioned being scared to come back and worried about others’ activities outside of work, but also refuses to get the vaccine. Our company has said that vaccination isn’t required to come back in, but it also cannot be used as an excuse to continue to work from home 100% (we’re going hybrid). They haven’t yet worked out the logistics completely, but they will likely require those who refuse the vaccine, or those who can’t get it (with doctor’s note provided), to work separately, wear masks all the time, etc. Although the return-to-office announcement was made, they still have some things to work out with space planning and such.

    2. JillianNicola*

      Specifically re: WFH being a privilege – YUP. Every single person that had to work grocery retail without a single break during this whole pandemic is kind of rolling their eyes. Like I said in my comment, it’s not that I don’t empathize with the fear/anxiety, but when all y’all were perfectly okay with the idea of fighting over toilet paper in person, I’m inclined to tell you to suck it up buttercup. I’d feel a lot differently if we as a species had collectively handled the beginning of the pandemic better (nowhere did anyone even mention that grocery stores would close, why was anyone panic shopping to begin with???)

      1. Anonforthisone*

        Plenty of us were not at all okay with you being sacrificed so that people could keep browsing Target for fun. Thinking that everyone should “suck it up” because you had to is directing your anger at the wrong place. The system is broken and every precaution should have been taken to protect you, but that is not the fault of people who worked from home.

        The people who made the decision to send you to the front lines with no protection, no accommodations, and no increased pay though are very happy to see you blaming fellow workers instead of putting the blame on them!

        1. Scarlet2*

          This. It is true that WFH is a privilege, but I don’t think telling other workers (who had definitely no influence on how other workers were treated) to “suck it up, buttercup” is at all helpful.

          1. i will do it anon*

            I agree. Yes, WFH is a privilege. It’s also true that it is safer for people who cannot WFH if there are fewer people in the office in total.

        2. Jen!*

          I don’t know. There are a lot of people perfectly happy to be kept safe at home while Uber drives and Prime Now delivery folks take the risk in delivering their groceries.

          1. Lalaroo*

            Yeah, I keep seeing this, and I’ll tell you what irritates me about this argument. First of all, would you prefer that the people who lost their jobs at restaurants or wherever did not have the option to drive for Uber or Instacart? And what, just couldn’t get paid at all?

            Second, one person going to the grocery store and shopping, as an “independent contractor” for a company that has the power to fire them if they get complaints that the shopper isn’t masked and so who therefore has a high incentive to be masked, for multiple people results in lower exposure than all those people individually going to the grocery store. It makes sense on a population level to do delivery.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I spent part of last year in a mental ward because the trauma got far too much for me to handle and I went clinically insane. I still disagree that anyone needs to meet a metric of ‘trauma’ in order to be able to express their fears.

      1. Jen!*

        Then speak about individual trauma and drop the collective trauma as though we have all experienced the same thing. You’re actually making my point: you suffered in a way the past year that most have not.

    4. Jen!*

      I’m responding to my own post. :p

      But I want to say something more: I think the framing of how “everyone” has experienced this past year is really problematic. In an earlier post (linked above), Alison says “We saw unarmed civilians murdered by police kneeling on their necks until they died, and shot while they were sleeping in their own homes. We saw the chilling way some of our fellow citizens responded to those murders, in some cases even our own family members. Trauma.” This a white, privileged perspective and discredits the experience of people who have lived this every single moment of every single year. That the trauma described here is the WITNESSING of racial violence is honestly really offensive. Like, sorry 2020 made you realize how bipoc have been treated this whole time? Also noticeable is the zero mention of violence against Asian Americans in the context of the pandemic. It’s all about white feelings.

  53. Allonge*

    I know the anxiety is real for many, but those who are terrified to hear about an opening 2-3 months from now, could you please start working on this?

    Both in the sense of discussing with your manager what kind of flexibility will be possible afterwards and – and I am trying to put this gently – trying to get back into the mindset of the world being reasonably safe out there? Wear a mask, wash your hands, sure. But – especially once vaccinated (meaning it’s effective) – go and visit a grocery store now if you have not for the last year – it’s going to be ok.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I’m going to try to work on the agoraphobia in a few days when I’m clear, at least.

    2. Anonforthisone*

      I think the issue is that we have been told time and time again that things were “safe” and it was time to return to normal, when that wasn’t remotely true. I guess I don’t understand what the goal is here for someone taking your position. If there are people who don’t think the world is reasonably safe or decide the risk is too big… what impact is that having on you? I advocate for flexibility so that people who want to return to the old model can, but does the old model only work for you if everyone else does it too?

      In 2-3 months, there will still not be vaccines for most children. In 2-3 months, we actually don’t know what the world will look like. It is hopefully going to get better and keep improving, but we have been told so many times that this time was the time to finally forget it all and go back to “normal,” it is natural that people need time. You are welcome to do whatever you want to do, and many places will have many options for you to do whatever activities you want. Why don’t we leave others to work it out for themselves? Or do you only like going to the grocery store if the aisles are jam packed with maskless people?

      1. Jen!*

        I think the point is that some people are expressing great anxiety about going back several months from now in a fully vaccinated environment–that there seems to be an assumption that at some point there will be no risk and that people shouldn’t return to an office until then.

        1. virago*

          I’ve agreed with everything you’ve posted so far, especially on not assuming that white people understand the trauma that BIPOC and Asian people have experienced during the past year.

          But it would help if you could slow your roll regarding the pace at which other people are willing to return to the office in person.

          It’s possible to have valid qualms about returning to the office in person that stop short of requiring a no-risk environment. (And given the level of vaccine hesitancy, at least in the US, I would like to know the source of your confidence that we are going to achieve “a fully vaccinated environment” in most workplaces, even “several months from now.”)

          1. FedUpFranny*

            Not wanting to return to an office because you like working from home is not the same as not wanting to return because you have a legitimate fear that the environment of an office is overwhelmingly dangerous. Those are not interchangeable.

            I have been in an office every day this past year. I spend lots of time monitoring temperatures and battling below the nose mask wearers. When I read about people who have been safe at home for a year and are now screaming at the sky that the whole world is still a dangerous place, I wonder how they rectify asking others to sacrifice so that they can be comfortable. I’m tired of frontline workers being sacrificial lambs.

            1. Anon at the moment*

              This is such a crucial distinction. There seem to be people in these comments who have genuine anxiety about the continued COVID risk and some whose anxiety stems from not wanting to leave the comfortable (and extremely privileged) bubble they’ve built other the last year.

              It is easy to have empathy for one of these groups. I’m struggling to have empathy for the other. This is especially true when my request as frontline worker for empathy is meant with the sentiment “but me staying home reduces your risk!” True. But let’s not pretend we’re both making the same sacrifices here…

              1. FedUpFranny*


                Feels like gas lighting to be told that people are staying home to protect me when I am the one taking on all the risk and they are safe at home.

                It is so true that we are in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat. Frontline workers are often without a boat completely and it is exhausting to listen to people complain about the idea of even slightly returning to an office. I just cannot find the sympathy. Maybe that makes me a bad person to some people, but survival is rarely about making other people comfortable in their own opinions.

            2. virago*

              The points you have made are all valid ones, and I’m not going to second-guess the perspective of someone whose workdays entails temperature checking and dealing face to face with people who think that masks are good chin warmers. And I agree that there is a degree of “Chicken Little” (both here and in other settings) among those of us who have been lucky enough to WFH.

              I am privileged to have a job that I can do remotely. I am privileged that frontline workers like you have been doing their jobs. I am privileged to have an employer that takes COVID seriously. I am privileged to have an employer whose policy on reopening is shaped by a committee made up of workers from our multiple sites. I feel I can trust my employer to develop a reopening policy that takes my safety and my co-workers’ safety into account, and when I am allowed to return to the office, I will gather up my masks and return.

              All that said: I was specifically responding to a commenter who questions other workers’ “great anxiety about going back several months from now in a fully vaccinated environment.”

              My job allows me access to the unvarnished views of the general public on a range of topics. One of those topics is vaccination. I can tell you that a lot of people are reluctant to be inoculated with the COVID vaccine.

              It does not seem realistic to state that there’s no reason to be anxious about going back to work in a few months because, by that time, everyone who works in an office environment will have been vaccinated. And I would like to know the source of the commenter’s information.

              To make it clear: *I* don’t expect to work in “a fully vaccinated environment.” My employer has specifically stated that they can strongly recommend that we get the vaccine but that they can’t mandate it. And I believe that my employer can’t ask about our vaccination status without violating our privacy.

      2. Allonge*

        I would prefer that most people are in a reasonable mental health situation, generally, but, no, it’s not my problem unless it creates extra work for me.

        I find it a really weird thing to want to hold onto, is all.

    3. Ismonie*

      I’m worried about my kid. No vaccine for her for a good long while. That’s it. And I’m so tired from a year of childcare while working and feeling like I should not leave my house because it isn’t safe for me or others.

  54. KirbyCloud*

    So yeah. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have SO many reasons I’m not comfortable returning to work in-person, the least of which is a lack of trust for institutions. Here’s a few:

    -I’ve basically lost all my social skills over the past year. The few times I’ve interacted with other people, I’ve had a lot of trouble reading non-verbal cues or knowing when to move on in a conversation. I’m also terrible at recognizing people in masks, and often have difficulty hearing/understanding people wearing masks because their voice is muffled.

    -My kids go to different schools, so adding more risk right now feels unnecessarily fraught. I know everyone thinks that if you do one thing, that means you now have to be okay with doing that same thing and any comparable activities with anyone and more frequently. This is not the case. Yes, I went to a funeral, once (after missing a funeral a few weeks earlier which ended up being the last time I would have gotten to see that person alive and being wracked with guilt and grief). In-laws decided that if I went to a funeral, that opened the door to doing unlimited social activities and letting my kids get into a car with people from multiple households. I was lucky with that one event; just because you won Russian roulette once, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to play it a few more times.

    -As long as the virus continues to circulate globally, more variants will emerge. Even if a vaccine is resistant to every strain that exists today, it may not be resistant to new variants that emerge. It’s also most likely that the variants that survive will be the ones that are resistant to vaccines, and we just don’t know what that will look like yet. There’s still a huge risk in being exposed, and although I trust my employer, I suspect that many employers will want to avoid sending people home after their employees have returned to work, regardless of the risk, because they know that it likely means doing it for another year or longer (vs. a couple weeks… can you imagine if they told everyone things were closing for a year in March 2020? No one would have done it, they would have thought that was bonkers).

    -We’ve been down to one income for a year (spouse has a business which we anticipate will rebound at some point). So, when one of our cars died, we couldn’t afford to get it fixed. I don’t fit into any of my work clothes and can’t afford a new wardrobe. Both my kids will need after-school care, which is quite difficult to access where I live right now. My hair is also not the same length on both sides. All of these things require money I just don’t have right now.

    – Kids are nowhere near being vaccinated. I know the mortality rate for kids is quite low, but I’m not convinced there won’t be long-term effects on kids that get COVID-19 – we just have no way of knowing right now. Even if you overlook the risk, it doesn’t change the fact that kids frequently have to go in self-isolation if someone in their school cohort or on their bus tests positive, or if they develop symptoms of any kind. This means that in any given week, there’s probably a 50/50 chance that one of my kids will need to stay home.

    Yeah. And that’s all with an employer and government I generally trust. It doesn’t even get into my anxiety issues and that I find even an hour of interaction with others exhausting now. Nor that I would probably scream if someone claimed it was a hoax at work, especially if it were in the context of not being vaccinated. I barely trust the people I’m closest with anymore (see previous comments about in-laws) – there’s no way I’m going to trust everyone at work.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      A large part of what my psychiatrist works with me about now is trying to get my anxiety, paranoia, trauma, distrust etc. under control that I can at least start to be the person I once was. So I hear you: it’s gonna be a long process but it’ll get there.

    2. Moose*

      The social skills are just going to get worse the longer you wait though, surely? You have to pull the bandage off at some point.

      About the variants and horrible long term side effects for kids – life has terrible risks. I think we’ve forgotten that. Horrible things COULD happen at any moment. Heck, a novel influenza pandemic could break out next week. Asteroids. Earthquakes. But right now, evidence shows that vaccines are effective against variants and kids are at low risk. We can take comfort in that.

      About your hair and clothes – most people are in the same position. Nobody should be expecting perfection at this time.

      Hope this helps a bit.

      1. Lalaroo*

        Hey, this doesn’t help. You’re basically saying “Get over it, your worries are dumb and everybody’s in the same boat.” This is minimizing and dismissive.

  55. Amtelope*

    We’re discussing these issues right now at my company. Right now we’re still on “working from home while the pandemic continues, one person per work area can be in at a time (if you want to use work printers, etc.), masks are required in common areas but not at your desk when you’re the only person in your work area.” Our department wants to move to a hybrid schedule post-pandemic, with one or two weekly collaboration days in the office and remote work allowed the rest of the week. We’ll see if upper management goes for it. But “post-pandemic” isn’t yet.

  56. Kari from UpNorth*

    I work in healthcare and I don’t trust the outside world. I’ve been at work almost everyday the last year and found that as humans, as Americans, we cannot be trusted to the right thing if causes us any bit of inconvenience. I’m sad and frustrated.

    1. HigherEdAdminista*

      I hear you Kari. The only indoor spaces I have been in for more than a couple of minutes in the past year have been doctors appointments. I double mask and wear eye-protection. There are just too many who think their comfort and fun times are the most important thing!

    2. Hoped For Good Things*

      I completely agree. A coworker had a meltdown because I expected 6 ft distancing to be met, during a task when it was really easy to keep 6 ft between us, they just needed to remember to do it. They decided it caused her too much trouble and thought bitching about it would make me ease up. I didn’t. They blew up.
      Thank you for your hard work during this time. I am certainly very appreciative of all the healthcare workers who have been working tirelessly over the past year.

  57. Lyra Silvertongue*

    I know that the US are way further along with their vaccination program, but it’s honestly pretty wild to hear you Americans talk about the pandemic like it’s over, when cases and hospitalizations are still spiking in many other countries and the majority of travel is still restricted. There seems to now be this accepted wisdom (which is evident from the comment section here) that the fight is done, the science is decided, and people who are scared to go back to work are just suffering from a kind of PTSD (or less charitably, just big babies) rather than reacting to still very present threats.

    1. Lyra Silvertongue*

      Like are variants just not part of the discourse at all for you guys? Because it’s very much a topic of conversation over here in Canada, your closest neighbours, where our two largest cities are seeing enormous surges in cases. I don’t want to imply that vaccinations are not a great relief for us all, but this “we’re totally home free now!” attitude does not, to me, seem to be as scientifically sound as you are all making out.

      1. Now In the Job*

        While I 100% agree with you, is part of that connected to the vaccine rollout issues in Canada? I have a lot of immunocompromised friends and people who are just dying to get access to a vaccine. Appointments aren’t available/easily accessible, and I have heard reports of hundreds of appointments in certain locations going unfilled because nobody could get signed up due to technological issues. (Ontario and Montreal are the two areas where most people I know live.) Whereas down here, at least in several states, we are at the stage of “if you want one, you can get an appointment. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but on the calendar.”

        1. Lyra Silvertongue*

          It is, for sure, but I would say also that the public commentary from experts in the media is not painting a picture of smooth sailing by June, even if that is when we will ostensibly have vaccinated every adult. There is also a lot of very public discussion about how effective vaccines are and will be (which is not all helpful and has contributed to lower uptake of the AZ vaccine, but is also an important point of discussion given the growing issue of variants).

          Don’t get me wrong, it’s so great that the US has managed to roll out the vaccine so fast (and man, what a testament to what you guys could do if you always took a collaborative approach to healthcare!) and is totally something to celebrate. Understandably it would put you guys on a different timeline to us with regards to returning to work in person and whatnot. But this high level of confidence that the pandemic is basically over, all is safe, and anybody with concerns come June is just privileged/projecting seems pretty US-specific. Certainly I personally won’t be able to consider things ‘normal’ until I am able to fly to the UK and see my family again, which currently is not on the cards.

      2. HigherEdAdminista*

        It seems to me (in the US) to be another manifestation of denial. There is discussion about variants, usually by people who take the pandemic seriously, but in large part it seems that we think having the vaccines equals the pandemic is over. As long as vaccines are available, that seems to be all it takes. It seems to me that as there are more appointments available, the prevailing attitude is becoming if you haven’t had an appointment yet, that’s on you.

        There also seems to be very little discussion of the fact that a large a population of children can’t be vaccinated yet. People will give it a bit of lip service, by trying to say that kids don’t get as sick (unless they do) and that they don’t have lasting effects (unless they do), and that they somehow don’t transmit it (unless, you know, they do), so we can say that everything is normal now even though for many of us, the most precious people in our lives are still at risk.

      3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Because it’s very much a topic of conversation over here in Canada, your closest neighbours, where our two largest cities are seeing enormous surges in cases.

        I <3 Canada, but for most of the US, most of the time, Canada falls into one of these categories:
        1. Our source of good hockey players (Thank you!)
        2. Our source of good maple syrup (Thank you!)
        3. Our source of ice wine (Thank you, thank you, thank you!)
        4. The honorary 51st state (Pretend it's a compliment)
        5. Caretakers of the Santa & the North Pole toy manufacturing complex.

        We should be taking it–and Canada–more seriously. "Should" is my favorite expletive.

    2. ele4phant*

      So, I may be totally off the ranch here and naively optimistic, but variants are part of the discussion here, and they’re a concern, but no, I’m not apocalyptic about them.

      The way I see it, variants have been happening this whole time. They happen with most viruses. We have incredibly effective vaccines, so even if variants pop-up that are able to allude them, they are much better vaccines than we’ve had for other viruses, and it’s not a binary they protect vs suddenly they are totally useless. It seems like the vaccines do protect against severe illness and death pretty effectively. Yes, we may eventually get a variant that is so different it means vaccinated people are again at risk for severe illness, but…we also seem to now have vaccine technologies we can speed up quickly, and manufacturing is in full swing.

      Even the study just released that said the Pfizer vaccine is less effective at preventing infection with the South African variant, it came out of Israel and if you look at the on the ground reality of what’s going on in Israel right now, they aren’t overrun with that variant, hospitals stuffed and people dying in large numbers. Vaccination has substantially improved their situation. I have no doubt it won’t do the same in the US as we get more people vaccinated.

      And just looking back over human history, every pandemic has come to an end, even if the viruses never totally disappeared.

      So, yeah, I’m feeling optimistic about the US.

      1. James*

        Agreed. Another thing to note is that while some of the variants are more easily spread, they are also less lethal. There are a lot of reasons for that, evolutionarily speaking. For diseases there’s always a tension between how lethal it is and how fast it spreads–spread too quickly and you burn out, kill too efficiently and you run out of hosts. I’ve heard leprosy described as the perfect disease, as it is easily transmittable but generally doesn’t kill the host (other factors typically do). And there’s selection pressure acting on the virus to make it less potent–in areas where it’s more potent people react more strongly, reducing the amount of spread. So the ones that don’t hit as hard are the ones spreading more.

        Vaccines also play a role. If you do get Covid after you get the vaccine (which is what, a 3% chance?), it’s almost certain that you’ll get a milder form.

        Combined, I think what we’ll see is most people vaccinated against the disease, and the existing disease being more mild moving forward–except for pockets scattered around (the term is “refugia”) and occasional new variants that are more of a pain (like with the flu, where some seasons are worse than others). Like with mumps, polio, and other diseases, this means we’ll have to keep an eye on them, but generally not worry too much.

        [No, I’m not saying that Covid-19 is just like the flu above. I’m using it to demonstrate a specific type of evolutionary trend is possible, that’s all.]

        1. ele4phant*

          I definitely don’t think the global situation is looking great, and while I do think we’re closer to the end than we are the beginning even at the world scale although certainly there are dark days ahead. I wouldn’t feel so rosy if I lived in Canada or the EU, much less somewhere in Africa or Latin America.

          Buuuutttttt…it’s not like I plan to hop on a plane and travel abroad anytime soon. Once most people in my local area are vaccinated (looking like this summerish), yeah, I think my life can go into something that is more relaxed and “normal” (life will of course be different, but life always changes), a life where I can go out and be around others and not live in fear that I’m going to pick up and pass along a virus that will kill a bunch of people.

          And yeah, 30% of the nation may be vaccine resistant (in my liberal enclave, I trust it’s lower). But…seems like if you don’t vaccinated, you’re going to get the virus itself and either way, most of us are getting antibodies one way or the other. And sorry not sorry, but if you get them through the virus because you’ve refused the vaccine, that’s on you.

          1. James*

            Honestly, I’m more worried about other global developments over the next five years than about Covid. As you say, one way or another we’re all getting the antibodies–places with spikes in infection rates are just doing it the most painful way possible. The virus will burn itself out in a while. The conflicts brewing in Asia, to give one example, are another matter!

            And I agree, I have very little sympathy for those who opt out of the vaccine for non-medical reasons. My grandfathers taught me that you pray with your hands–what you do establishes your intentions. If you have the option for immunity (97% effectiveness) you are in fact stating that you want to get the virus. I do feel sorry for the kids, who have no other option and who are put at risk by those they trust, though.

            1. ele4phant*

              I mean, it is pretty hugely immoral that vaccines are not being equally distributed, and as a result, vulnerable people in countries that don’t yet have the vaccine are going to die, while young healthy people like me had long since been vaccinated, just by virtue of where we were both born.

              But, I didn’t design the vaccine rollout, what’s happening is happening. And if the question is, am I freaked out about being around more people locally in a few months, the answer is no. Not really.

          2. Des*

            This isn’t quite how it works. Any time someone gets infected the virus has a chance of mutating. Any one of those mutations could be the kind of mutation that reduces effectiveness of the vaccine. So any of those 30% that might get covid? They can create a new variant that will mean everyone is affected by the new disease. USA has had 31 mil cases so far, adding 40k per day. I don’t know where you’re getting ‘rosy’.

            1. ele4phant*

              I mean – I used the word “rosy” as in – things don’t look rosy in most places.

              And, I get, every infection is a chance for a new mutation.

              But…I also look at historical precedent.

              Every pandemic ever has come to an end. Even when we thought disease was spread by vapors and spirits.

              COVID is not this crazy virus we’ve never seen before, it actually spreads, mutates, and otherwise behaves in predictable ways, quite similarly to it’s coronavirus cousins, which we know a fair deal about.

              We have more medical knowledge than we have every had before, and a new vaccine technology that can more quickly be altered, and manufacturing is ramping up every day.

              So would I say – hey, it’s over! Totally done! I’m going to burn all my masks and lick a bunch of strangers! Of course not.

              But on the balance, I’m more optimistic than pessimistic.

            2. James*

              “Any time someone gets infected the virus has a chance of mutating.”

              Actually, any time more virus is made in a person it has a chance of mutating–the mutations happen inside the person (viruses having no internal reproductive mechanism). Still, the odds are pretty small. The whole point is to make copies. And most mutations are detrimental, not beneficial.

              “Any one of those mutations could be the kind of mutation that reduces effectiveness of the vaccine.”

              I’m not as certain about this. It all depends on how the vaccines work. Or, rather, how the body works. I’d need to know a lot more about immune response to comment, but while yes, vaccines do create selection pressure and therefore yes, we should expect to see a response, I don’t think, based on how the immune system responds, that this is terribly likely. The bigger concern is that viral mutations from unvaccinated populations will push the virus past the point where the immune system recognizes it as the thing vaccinated against. The vaccine covers a range of possibilities, and if the virus mutates outside of that range it won’t be as effective.

              You also have to consider herd immunity. 30% sounds like a high number, but it still may be sufficient to give herd immunity. Basically herd immunity boils down to the virus being unable to find hosts once it leaves an infected person, because most people around that person are immune. The USA is attempting to brute-force our way to herd immunity by vaccinating enough people that we overwhelm the system. But that’s not the only way. This is a network problem; if you attack the nodes you kill the network.

              Also, don’t confuse resistant with refusal. A lot of people have concerns about the vaccine. I believe they are overblown, and 99% of the arguments I’ve seen are of the “But we don’t KNOW!!!” variety (it’s amusing to see Libertarians argue “It hasn’t gone through proper approvals”, as if there was something magical about the FDA approval process all of a sudden). As we get more data more and more people will be convinced and will receive the vaccine. It’ll never be 100%, but I don’t think it’ll be as low as 70% either.

              1. Wintermute*

                “we” chose the target for the vaccine very intelligently and deliberately. It would be very, very unlikely (bordering on statistically impossible) for a mutation to be so radical it evades the vaccine and yet also produce a virus that’s still infectious to humans, because we “aimed at” a key part of the infection mechanism with the vaccine. That doesn’t mean that it may lose some effectiveness, though a lot of people misunderstand how that works too, losing 20% effectiveness doesn’t mean a 20% chance it does nothing or that you get 20% sicker, because it doesn’t map that way.

      2. Lyra Silvertongue*

        I know you’re just speaking about your experience as someone living in the US, and I get that, makes sense, I can see why you’d feel that way. My surprise is more that those of you in the US seem to be taking the position that things are broadly fine and dandy, but things are very much not fine and dandy elsewhere! I live one hour’s drive north of the US border and we are drowning in cases. Canada’s ICUs are almost at record-breaking levels. It’s very, very weird to me for that context not to even be a part of the conversation in the US. I think it’s interesting to say that every pandemic has come to an end – again I think this shows a level of US-centric thinking, as global deaths from AIDs still number in the hundreds of thousands every single year. ‘Come to an end’ should not simply mean ‘not still active in the US,’ you know?

        1. kt*

          You’re 100% on it, Lyra. I have family in Europe that is in an entirely different situation. But until we see ICUs overflow again in a red state, COVID’s over in the US (whether it is or not). We’re back to mass shootings.

  58. Iced Mocha Latte*

    My company recently announced we can start a hybrid model, but some people will need to be in the office all the time if that’s what the job requires or if there’s some other reason. I admit I was hoping they’d move to completely remote for selfish reasons, but whatever. I’ll get over it. But that was before I discovered I’m going to be one of only a few team members that’s vaccinated. Apparently the rest of them have decided they won’t get the vaccine. From what I understand, there will be different rules for them, although the company hasn’t nailed those down as of yet. Not feeling so good anymore about coming back in knowing 80% of the team refused the vaccine.

  59. Ele4phant*

    I dunno, I’m not ready to go back TODAY, and I’ll probably work a few days a week from home, but my house is small and I’m tired of looking at the same four walls.

    I’m vaccinated myself and generally young and heathy – so while I understand and support others being more cautious – for me personally wants it seems enough people (particularly high risk people) have been vaccinated that there’s not really a hospital capacity concern, I’m ready to get back out there.

  60. Nixologist*

    This thread makes me cry. I’ve been back at work, working two feet away from the unmasked general public since June. All day every day. My coworkers are mask resistant, and we’ve been crawling all over each other like rats.

    I feel like I’m living in a completely different reality. It’s hard to read all of this.

    1. Tryinghard*

      Please know there are others like you and we feel your pain. It is real and nonstop. I got sick for six weeks due to the stress of coming into the office and being near people. They thought I had covid but didn’t. No flu either so I had to go back to work and keep going.

      And then I ended up getting covid from my high school aged son. Yep kids get it. He did fine but I almost went to the hospital.

      So know you are heard. I’m struggling reading these comments too. It makes me angry when I worked in the office all the time on people’s laptops so they could work from home and they didn’t care about how we were doing. Just that they were coming in the office and being exposed.

      1. allathian*

        I’m glad you recovered and I hope you don’t have long Covid. But it could have been worse, even the people in your office who can WFH might have been forced by your employer to stay in the office, increasing your exposure. I’m sorry your coworkers had no empathy for your situation. I’m happy to stay at home for my own sake, but also so that those of my coworkers who have jobs that can’t be done remotely are less exposed.

  61. katherine*

    I always feel so alienated from these discussions. I live with roommates who dislike me tremendously, have told me in no uncertain terms that they want me to risk COVID just to get out, and being trapped 24/7 here has been a living nightmare. Even the worst possible office would be an improvement.

    (Very important: This is not advocating a return to the office when it is unsafe.)

    1. katherine*

      Also worth noting: The last time I moved, most apartment ads with roommates — and I can only afford apartments with roommates — explicitly said that you must have a 9 to 5 job outside the apartment to be considered. I imagine that might have changed with COVID, but I also imagine it might change back once more offices re-open.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Yiiiiiiikes. Boy, does that sound like a hostile roommate environment.

        I’m so sorry to hear yours are awful. I hope someday there’s a way for you to get out.

      2. Filosofickle*

        A friend of mine was looking for a room a couple of years ago and, yes, the requirement for working outside the home is a thing. She saw it in maybe half the listings, and it came down to whether or not existing owner/roommates worked from home. If they did, they didn’t want someone else there with them. If they weren’t home days, they didn’t care. She ended up in a house with two others who worked from home one day a week each, but they hadn’t thought to create a rule about it and were very unhappy to discover that she worked from home most of the time. They all tried to coordinate so they weren’t there on the same days but they all ended up a little unhappy. (What was far more hostile, IMO, were the house-shares that insisted on things like no living room usage or super limited kitchen access. Basically, you got a bedroom and no common space. They needed the income but did not want to actually have to live with anyone. Ridiculous.)

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I’m sorry. That’s not a pleasant situation to be in. It is difficult to WFH when you don’t really have a separate space.

  62. Hoped For Good Things*

    My boss thinks we were safe, but they don’t really understand that merely stating a policy doesn’t actually mean it’s being followed. And when they don’t follow it themselves and claim to not see others not following policies, the trust starts eroding. When they decided that a year was long enough to be closed (we provided services curbside since June), despite that that’s not how a pandemic works, any trust left completely evaporated.
    I found myself a new job (start tomorrow), doing the same thing (step up in title), but with a place that does seem to “get it”. This new place actually opened to the public briefly in the fall but closed again when cases rose. And they are still closed now (providing curbside though), after going back to WFH for a time during the post holiday surge. And no talk has been about “going back to normal” but about how to reopen while staying safe. That might seem like it’s the same, but it’s definitely not.
    The erosion in trust led me to listen in on meetings that have always been open to the public but now are remote as well. The things I heard solidified that this was not a place where I wanted to continue working. Companies should be wary of rushing to reopen, they might find themselves as the business that staff end up leaving.

    Someone else mentioned how little they’ve been ill with the common cold this past year. I think masks should stick around. As someone who works closely with the public, I realized I had normalized how many colds and small stomach bugs I dealt with. If all it takes is prioritizing mask wearing and staying home/being paid to stay home when sick, then that is a change I would welcome. I was often told, oh we had to pick the child up from school because they were sick, but we stopped here first so we could pick up stuff to do while at home. The service industry is not treated like humans who’s health is important to the public, so calling for masks during cold/flu season would be most welcome.

  63. MsMaryMary*

    My office has been partially open since August. First at 25% capacity. We were encouraged to come in once a week. Now we’re at 50% capacity and we’re being encouraged to come in 2-3 times a week. Some people haven’t been in at all. Some are in pretty much full time. There are restrictions to make sure we’re social distanced: only six people in a conference room, no one eats in the break room, we’re all in offices or the cubes in the corner, masks required anytime you leave your own workspace.

    It’s kind of nice to see people and to be able to catch personally the people who are bad at answering emails. Or calls. Or texts (eyeroll emoji). But we can’t really collaborate given the limited number of people allowed in one room at a time. Frankly, I think our timeline was driven by a) a handful of people who were underperforming at home, and b) a handful of people, including leadership who are extroverts and were climbing the walls being alone at home all day.

    The interesting thing is it was just announced we’re moving offices (this was expected) and will be going to a space 2/3 the size of current and moving to an agile work environment. Very few people will be in the office 5 days a week. Most of us will come in about 2-3 times a week. In normal times, we’re out at clients a lot, so that will factor into it too. I don’t think we’re going full open plan (please god no). We’re supposed to get software to book an office/desk and lockers to keep some personal things. It will be a big change from pre-2020 work life!

  64. Anonny*

    I don’t get this. As someone who has been working out of their house this entire time (and generally glad for it) I don’t get this.

    1. Ismonie*

      This isn’t to say us stay-at-home types have it worse, but let me put it to you this way. For more than nine months, I saw almost no one, went almost nowhere. No outdoor gatherings, certainly no indoor ones, had to stop hiking because people in my area were idiots, I went to a grocery store or drug store 3-4 times (my partner went to it the rest of the time, just 1x a week). When I saw a doctor after five weeks of lockdown, I joked with her and the nurse that this was the largest number of adults I’ve been indoors with since March. (They thought I was weird.) It was so isolating. And stressful.

      I am not saying that it was more stressful than being around the idiot public—it probably was not. But my world got very, very small. And I’m actually pretty comfortable sticking to the companionship of just my partner and child. I’ve spent lots of time in my own company, and enjoyed it. This was different.

  65. MissDisplaced*

    I’m freaked out because I LIKE remote WFH and can’t imaging having to do a 2 hour commute each day. The thought of that fills me with dread and anxiety. And sitting in that hated open office?
    NOPE! If my company force/pushes us to go back as we used to be, I will leave.

    I don’t mind going in once in awhile for meetings, video, and general all-hands stuff. But No Way to Every Day.
    Team #WFH

    1. A*

      Same here, but I think this is very different than not being comfortable returning to office due to safety/health concerns.

  66. TWW*

    As someone who’s worked onsite since last summer, I’m happy that remote workers are resisting going back to the office. Whether it’s from legitimate concern or not, it leaves those of use who are willing and able to leave home with better job security and a better job market. Also less traffic.

    1. Amtelope*

      You know, it’s not actually ideal if people who are more willing to go back to the office sooner have “better job security” than people who are more reluctant because they have high-risk medical conditions, or care for someone who does, or have experienced trauma this year and are still recovering, or have covid-related child care problems. We need to be supporting staff who are not yet ready to come back to the office, not showing favoritism to staff who are ready now.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this, so much this.

        For some, WFH is a matter of preference. That’s fine, and while I seriously doubt that a significant number of companies will be ditching their office leases and going fully remote, at least many of those who have sought-after skills will be negotiating for the ability to WFH at least occasionally, if that’s what they want to do.

        For many others, it’s a necessity like Amtelope said. TWW’s post sounds incredibly callous.

  67. Rose Red*

    I appreciate the point about May-June still seeming too soon. That’s what my office is doing, but important context here is that I’m Canadian and unlikely to get my first dose until June–then wait another four months for the second dose. Even people getting their first dose now won’t be fully vaccinated until August. As Canada’s seeing a third wave (albeit not where I am, but we know how quickly that could change!), I just don’t see the point of rushing it when we’ve all successfully worked from home for a year now. (And we do still go in there’s operational need, typically only 1 or 2 at a time, so everything’s running as well as it ever has).

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, I’m in Finland and unless vaccination availability improves drastically, I’m unlikely to get my first dose until June or possibly July, meaning that I won’t have full protection until September at the earliest, because there’s a 12-week period between doses.

  68. Amethystmoon*

    I must be weird in that I actually want to go back, at least on a partial basis. I live alone and have no one to talk to unless like today, I run into my neighbor in the laundry room. I miss not getting my steps in in the warehouse. I miss walking to work. I miss seeing faces besides my own in the mirror. And I am an introvert, INTJ on Myers Briggs. I don’t think anyone should be forced, but I’d be open to a little more flexibility.

    1. Filosofickle*

      You are not weird. Plenty of people want to go back at least some of the time, even here where the commentariat skews towards misanthropes. I’m perma WFH, it is awesome for me, but of the people I know IRL there are more who want to work onsite than do not. (Or would if they had school, childcare, and safety.)

    2. allathian*

      You’re not weird. When it’s safe to be in the office without wearing a mask, I’ll happily go in at least for in-person meetings. More probably, I’ll work at the office for 1 or 2 days and remotely the rest. I get more work done at home, and I’m happy most of the time socializing in person with just my husband and son. That doesn’t mean that I never want to see my coworkers in person again. It’s just that I hate wearing a mask and would rather stay at home than go to the office for as long as masks are necessary. If I really had to go somewhere and had to travel on public transport or had a medical appointment, I’d wear a mask without complaint. But I realize I’m very privileged because I have options a lot of people don’t have.

      I’m also introverted and get most of the socializing I need from spending time with my family. I suspect that I’d feel differently about things if I lived alone. I’m also very lucky in that I don’t know anyone in person who has even tested positive for Covid, never mind been seriously sick or died, and I count my lucky stars every day for that.

  69. OhBehave*

    I’ll be curious to learn the impact the pandemic has on traditional offices.
    Are open floor plans (horrible) a thing of the past?
    How many employers have changed their minds about wfh possibilities? Micromanaging bosses will definitely want a return to a full office.
    I know that our largest employer, a major insurance provider, has announced a permanent hybrid plan.

  70. J.B.*

    I appreciate the understanding that people are struggling, and all the different perspectives throughout. I don’t know what the right option is. It has been really difficult to train college students remotely, and my kids absolutely need to be in school for their mental health. Which of course amps the stress up on their teachers!

  71. Chilipepper*

    (I also want to acknowledge the millions of people who won’t be “returning” to work because they’ve been working on site all along or have lost jobs that might not be coming back. In some ways, this anxiety about returning is the province of the privileged.)

    Thank you for acknowledging that discomfort about returning to work is a privileged position! We have been back full time since last May. I have to tell patrons 3 or 4 time AN HOUR! To wear masks or to cover their noses. I have no trust AND I have to be there or lose my job. They let their best employee (and by best I mean she made every other employee better) over her childcare issues.

    I am working on being more gracious about this but I hope people realize how lucky they are that they worked from home for this long. And I love the advice to come back slowly and in stages. It does take time to adjust to the new normal. Best wishes to everyone navigating this right now. It’ll no ok. We had no cases of spread despite ppl getting exposed outside work and working b4 they realized they had covid.

    1. Chilipepper*

      Ugh, typos!
      They let their best employee go bc of childcare and did not work with her at all, other city departments did let ppl work from home and were flexible about child care. So no, I don’t trust my employer.

      And I meant, it’ll be ok. Even with our problem patrons and staff (why can so few ppl figure out how to shape the little metal thing around their noses!?) we had no spread at work.

  72. Tiger Snake*

    On the flip side, one thing that’s been really frustrating is people’s view of “Yay, everybody can work remote now forever rather than just by exception, it was just that business was being really annoying about not letting us do it before; clearly it is the institution is evil”.

    Because the truth is that its much more complicated than that. For most businesses, the scale of remote working arrangements we have now are built out of cardboard – they’re not suitable for their purpose, because they were never built to handle this sort of scale, but because we had no choice the IT departments performed miracles. But these were short term miracles. None of these were meant to be permanent fixes. Sure, we used cloud to supplement some of the demand, but we used cloud *very badly* because we had to. If we didn’t, no one else would have been able to work, and then the other employees would have suffered.

    For an enormous percentage of businesses, those changes and arrangements are insecure to a point that the business are actually breaking the law due to IT-Security related negligence. But we all did it because we had to, and we knew that for a very small period of time the law would generous and acknowledge this was an exceptional case, rather than charging the businesses’ unspeakable amounts of money in fines. That unspoken grace period is gone now.
    (This is of course to say nothing of the IT attackers of the world, who have been having a field day and for whom the IT Security community has made itself sick from overwork trying to combat while everyone else stays healthy)

    Its very frustrating to see everyone else complain or protest about having to go back to work, because it feels like trying to keep everyone else in a job has been killing us and no one realises just how hard doing that was. But it was a stopgap. It was exceptional. We didn’t make it to last; we couldn’t. We didn’t have the tools, resources or time to do that back then, and we still don’t now.

  73. Healthy for Once*

    Thank you. You cover all of my concerns over this. My company wanted everyone to come back as cases had risen (and were still rising) to high levels. They scraped the plan only when the health officials required a lock down. The whole thing was ridiculous and such terrible timing (we’d been working successfully from home for months, why was it suddenly time to reopen?). It made me lose a lot of trust in them and their leadership, and I started looking at job postings.

  74. Abogado Avocado*

    Dear WFH’ers: I’m one of your colleagues who’s been tasked with being in the office since the world shut down last March. Please don’t feel sorry for me. I’m paid well and I don’t have the risk factors or children at home that many of my WFH colleagues have.

    Yes, it has been scary at times to go to work. I work for government and have waded through gun-toting demonstrators (yes, I live in a strong 2nd Amendment state) angry about masking or shut-down measures. And wearing a mask for hours everyday is tough, no matter how much I want to avoid COVID.

    But here’s the thing: I know my WFH colleagues have had it tougher than I have. Some are very medically vulnerable and have been virtual shut-ins for over a year. Others have had to balance schooling and caring for their kids or vulnerable family members while also doing their jobs. And I know they’ve borne the brunt of phone calls from wrathful members of the public who think the best way to persuade public officials is to curse out those officials’ assistant. I do not think Our office could have performed as gracefully under fire without my colleagues’ patience and understanding.

    So, to my WFH colleagues: great buckets of thanks for all you are doing at home. This current arrangement, however creaky at times, is working and, most important of all, it inhibits transmission of Coronavirus. Therefore, I strongly support you returning to work when YOU feel safe. I’d rather have all my WFH colleagues (even the guy who always takes the last two tacos; you know who you are ;)) alive and well and working at home, than having them return to the office too early and risk COVID.

  75. SadAngryWaryHope*

    Thanks for writing such a great article, Alison!

    Way up in the thread, commentor Alienor said:

    the thing that’s really chafing about my employer’s return-to-the-office plans is that 2020 proved definitively that we don’t need to be there–we had a mega-productive, record-breaking year while everyone worked at home. That makes me think the insistence on bringing everyone back is based on something other than “we need to be in person to be effective,”

    Agree that there’s something else motivating the return to in-person work push.

    To me, it feels pretty puritanical & paternalistic. Partly the implicit assumption they can’t trust us if they’re not eyes-on (even when their own objective measures demonstrate the opposite). But there’s also a kind of…’suffering is good’ mentality to US workforce. You’re happier at home? Well then, we need to get you back in the office; that way you’ll REALLY be working. (And we’ll be getting our money’s worth.)

    In Alison’s post, she quoted someone saying,

    “Knowing that the people I serve at work and the ones I run into in my life may or may not be willing to throw me overboard for their own personal benefit and comfort makes it hard to be around people.”

    Yes, this. I was never a huge fan of humans, but now, I’m entirely done with the species. I’m done with tolerating cruelty & fragile selfishness & willful, hurtful, gleeful ignorance. It’s horrifying, if not surprising.

    I’m trying to end this on a work/business note, but am struggling. We’re broken. We can repair ourselves, but I don’t know if we will. As Alison has said over & over, this is bigger than getting back into the office. The shame of us and the pain of us is an immense burden; I don’t want people to have to carry it during an unnecessary 2 hour commute & while smiling through the pain at people who would gladly—if carelessly–have you die rather than be mildly inconvenienced 1-2 hours a week.

    Hey, that was work-ish! I’ll sign off now.

  76. 2legit*

    So now that there’s a recommendation from the government to stop doing the J&J vaccine, what goes through an employer’s mind when they say the availability of vaccines is part of the reason to start bringing people back to the office next month? What about all the people who were going to get that vaccine? Why is this not being considered?

  77. LITJess*

    I’m late to the show, but I just wanted to add if you’re excited to eventually return to work in your library/office/workplace, that’s okay too. It doesn’t mean you aren’t taking things seriously or are trying to rush a return to normal.

    As a public librarian, I absolutely hate remote work. We’re muddling along and I’m really grateful that we were able to work out a system that allowed us to keep all our staff employed throughout the pandemic, but I’m looking forward to getting back to in person work once that is safe.

    I’ve also been really lucky to work in a state and for a city that have been taking this seriously from the start. So I’m privileged to have not had my faith in all institutions and humanity eroded. Yes there are still people that can’t seem to get their mask over their nose, but most people I see during curbside or in the grocery store are masked and do maintain distance. I know I would feel differently if I lived in Florida, Georgia, or Texas.

  78. moneypenny*

    Our company is huge and multi-national, every office is different in terms of where they are with the virus. My city just entered phase 4 again (the worst one) so there’s no way we’ll go back anytime soon. Incidentally, I was just brought onto a client project that insists on two days in their wiiiide open office, which is also in my city, whenever people start going back. I’ve already talked to my manager and HR about a blessing to say no and push back (and got it). Out of the team of four, three are out of state so I’d be the only one traveling there which doesn’t bear much weight. I plan to push back when the time comes, if it comes, because it’s just not safe yet.

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