people who haven’t been working from home feel invisible

As employers start to set timelines for bringing workers back to the office, they’re setting off waves of anxiety in some of their employees … which in turn is setting off some frustration and impatience among people who have been working on-site all along.

Many of these workers resent that people upset about returning didn’t display the same concern for the safety of those who have been there all along. And they wonder why they’ve been left out of so much of the national narrative about what this year has been like for workers. They haven’t been stuck at home baking bread or cooped up with family members; they’re out risking their lives working with the public and/or in close quarters with colleagues every day, and they feel invisible in much of the conversation about pandemic life.

I’m to blame for contributing to that invisibility here! And I’m trying to counter that now, including with a column at Slate today highlighting some of their voices. You can read it here.

{ 426 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    This post is not the place to talk about how hard people working from home have had things too. Please do not do that here again (if it continues, I will moderate all comments on this post before they publish).

    1. Sam*

      I think that the time has come to do just this; there are some uniquely bad comments coming in at the end of the thread.

  2. Essential in Healthcare*

    Thank you so much for doing this Alison! I work in operations at a hospital and while we have been in-person many colleagues have not. I notice more and more a divide between those of us actually working on-site and those who are working from home. It’s not been an easy gap for either side to bridge!

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Why do you think that’s happened? Are people finding it difficult to empathise with those who are in a very different work situation?

      1. A Social Worker*

        I think those who have been working onsite have gone through a collective trauma that can only truly be understood by those who have also experienced it. It bonds you together to be part of a group that comes to work every day knowing that this might be the day you contract COVID. I know where I work, it’s felt almost like being in a warzone (no disrespect to combat vets) while others are contributing but from relative safety.

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          That makes so much sense. And I think the trauma is worse in a way because the “enemy” is invisible and not well understood. Uncertainty makes things so much worse.

        2. Exhausted*

          Thanks for putting this so well! I have been feeling really disconnected from most people in my life besides my former coworkers. It’s like I’ve been living on a different planet this past year. I think I’ve been wrestling with survivor’s guilt over abandoning the people still in the trenches after recently starting a remote job.

        3. LQ*

          Trauma is such an accurate word for it. And it’s an unacknowledged trauma too. But a lot of my friends are just like “It’s great to get to finally work from home” and I hate them right now.

          My family who are in essential fields (and I do absolutely think there’s a lot of class issues going on here too) get it. They understand. I can have a conversation about being exhausted where they don’t try to tell me how tired they are from watching a fancy new Netflix show all weekend or staying up to late reading. We may be exactly the same level of exhausted, but I don’t want to talk to those people about that. I want to talk to my sister the ER nurse about exhaustion. (And to be perfectly fair to her, she’s less likely to say it than the Netflix watching friends.)

          1. TL -*

            I still haven’t forgiven a friend’s SO (Jane) for scheduling Friend’s 2+ hour Zoom birthday party with an itinary that required participation from all attendees on a Wednesday night in June 2020. Jane was laid off (and making slightly more on unemployment), as was much of her social circle, but a lot of Friend’s social circle was either just back on site or prepping to go back on-site (or essential healthcare workers who’d never left) and I was working something like 80 hr weeks, combined WFH and on-site.

            Everyone from Friend’s social group was basically dead on their feet, and couldn’t really engage, and Jane wrapped up the party by telling Friend she was boring because she was so adult and responsible and that’s why her friends didn’t have any good stories about her.

            1. mdv*

              WOW. That is … just about the worst pandemic birthday non-party I’ve heard about.

  3. BubbleTea*

    I work for an organisation that is split over two offices, with slightly different projects at each. My office was already fully phone based so it was easy to pivot to WFH and no one has been asked to come back (though some have chosen to).

    But all through the last 14 months, my colleague whose entire job is admin has been in the office in person, alone, dealing with all the incoming and outgoing post. There are other people who do admin as part of their roles but has the only dedicated admin, so he has been dealing with every team’s paperwork. Plus all the other things he did anyway- we have got busier and hired new staff, so the workload has increased.

    I’ve tried to do as much as I possibly can by email and encouraged my colleagues to do the same, but even so our admin colleague must be struggling. In fact I know he is. The only advantage is he can be very flexible about his hours now, which he appreciates.

    I feel like we need to acknowledge him in some way (there was a shout out in the organisation newsletter but that isn’t much) but am not sure what would be appropriate.

    1. OyHiOh*

      In-office admin here – I always appreciate gift cards to local coffee shops or bakeries. I mean, Starbux is fine, but my community has some really good coffee shops and even better bakeries so if I have a choice –

    2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Maybe a friendly phone call to find out how he’s doing? The chance for him to unload a little and feel that he has someone to talk to. And maybe there are practical things that can be done to lighten his load. I think the most important thing is for him not to feel forgotten or taken for granted.

    3. Anonymous Hippo*

      I’d also consider everyone going to the boss collectively and requesting this employee receive some kind of bonus. Or at the very least writing something up and requesting it be put in their file/part of their annual review. It’s one thing to be appreciated by your colleagues personally, it’s another to have that directed into something tangible in your career.

      1. Pascall*

        Big agree for the bonus. There is little that can compete with money for a job well done in the face of such ridiculous trauma and hardship.

      2. Not Your Sweetheart*

        Please write a letter or email to the boss and HR. Even if they don’t give him a raise, they may at least give him a small bonus. And if he happens to read all those wonderful emails, even better. We sometimes forget the power of being recognized and appreciated. (Money is nice too!)

  4. Enough*

    It is perfectly normal for everyone to focus on their lives, their issues, their problems. Whether staying at home, working in an office. Single mothers, working mothers, stay at home mothers. Married people, single people, divorced people. Etc. It is how we cope. We can be empathetic but in the end to survive we have to focus on ourselves first before we can focus on others.
    Re: Alison contributing to the preserved invisibility. You have a blog where you answer work questions. This is not a generalized forum for Covid related issues.

    1. DownWithJPP*

      This is spot on. This whole topic brings to mind what I have had to remind people in other instances – just because some one has it “worse” than we do does not diminish the fact that something in our lives may be difficult for us. We each have our own baseline. I was sent home in mid-March last year but my brother continued to work in the hospital. For him, it was exhausting but his life stayed relatively the same. When I first went out to a store a few weeks later, after it being drilled into my head that it wasn’t safe to go out unnecessarily, it was such a strange experience since my routine changed overnight. We each have a different place we are coming from, but it is still important to acknowledge that there are people who had to be on the front lines. It goes to show that every job has a purpose and importance and should not be diminished in the scheme of making the world work.

    2. LTL*

      I very much dislike the phrasing that implies those who have been working from home should stop complaining, but I don’t think that we can deny the importance of acknowledging our privilege as non-essential workers.

      It’s important to understand that our own emotions are valid (and cope with them) and it’s also important to give a voice to those who’ve had it worse. Especially when they, by and large, aren’t being heard.

          1. virago*

            As a journalist, I can say that most writers don’t write their own headlines — editors do. Which is unfortunate, considering that writers/reporters get all the blowback for headlines that miss the mark.

            1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

              And they seem to be written more for “attention getting” than accuracy :-/

        1. LTL*

          Fair point. I also exited out of the tab when I saw that. I feel like there’s some nuance and balance to be had here and its currently lacking. But I still wanted to reply to Enough’s comment since they seem to be implying that privilege isn’t something to be acknowledged at all.

        2. Elliot*

          I completely agree…. the “your whining” headline was insensitive and unwarranted. I am always one to acknowledge my privilege. While WFH has been so hard (I literally live at work and it’s taken a huge toll on my mental health), I KNOW I have it so much better than those who have been deemed essential and been on the front lines. However, the harsh judgement and frustration at people concerned about their safety seems misplaced and completely unproductive.

      1. C.*

        I agree completely. For all the reasons you lay out, it’s not a zero-sum game. My husband was one who still had to go in every day, while I have been working from home since last March. He’s had plenty of challenges to deal with this year, and so have I while at home. I will readily admit that I’m glad I got to work from home during this, but I don’t feel like I’m all the better for it.

        To imply otherwise is the epitome of capitalism, and it again turns us against each other when we should be directing our ire up top. No one “wins” in a global pandemic.

    3. ThatGirl*

      It is normal for people to be focused on their own problems, but it’s also important to have a sense of perspective! This is a blog for workplace issues, yes, and people who have had to go in to work every day for the past 14 months have their own set of workplace issues. Which are worth highlighting. Alison’s not wrong to acknowledge that.

    4. Maltypass*

      This isn’t empathetic at all. This post isn’t a guilt trip, it’s just giving space to people who weren’t at home. Let them have that.

      1. MissGirl*

        I know. How dare people who haven’t been working from home have one post about them and their problems. I couldn’t believe how defensive and unsympathetic people reacted when this originally posted and yet here they are again.

        1. kittymommy*

          Seriously. Having not had the ability to do my job from home (government worker) it was very demoralizing having the one post that was dedicated to letting some of us vent being hijacked (initially). And now here it is again.

          1. Maltypass*

            The irony is I’m absolutely sympathetic to the anxieties people must feel returning to work, probably BECAUSE I’ve been dealing with it longer. But hey, I appreciate you

      2. 50/50 onsite/wfh*

        Personally I would have no problem with what you describe. A focus on the impacts on being on site the whole time. however both of these AAM posts for onsite have had a huge focus/tone of “and that’s why you whiny WFH should STFU” which is understandably getting pushback.

        1. Sam*

          There have been two posts! Two!

          The rest of the posts for the past year have centered the WFH experience. Maybe STFU-ing would be… good? Not a harm to you?

    5. Tomato Frog*

      “We can be empathetic” — okay, then let’s do that? Instead of whatever your reply is.

    6. elle*

      At least for me, the problem isn’t that WFH folks are whining. The problem is that the national discourse repeatedly, daily says things like “We’re all sick of Zoom” and “Everyone’s been working from home” when that’s just…not true. Literally forgetting that in-person workers exist, erasing them, making them feel completely invalidated.

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        I think it’s because so many of us have been stuck in an eternal zoom meeting; it’s been the majority experience and many of us can identify.

        Whereas my friend who is a specialist physician was risking his life to treat critically ill Covid patients, 80 hours a week, while wearing 10kg of PPE that took 20 minutes to take off if he wanted a sandwich. Most of us can’t relate to that.

        1. OyHiOh*

          I find this statement problematic because it suggests a general inability to identify with a minority experience, regardless of what that is. “It’s been the majority experience and many of us can identify” is a pretty damn good way to also dismiss the experiences of people of color in majority white spaces, the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals in majority straight spaces, the experiences of being religious in a way that isn’t Christian in majority Christian spaces, etc. You perceive endless Zoom as being the majority experience but for vast swaths of US and more importantly world pandemic experience, Zoom isn’t even close to being the majority experience. The point of threads like this is is for the “endless Zoom” people to listen, not to hand wave “but majority experience!” everywhere.

          1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

            Please get off your high horse.

            Endless zoom meetings are common to almost everyone *who has shifted to working from home*, because *they are mostly office workers*. I didn’t say it was the universal pandemic experience FFS.

            And I understand minority experiences, thanks for asking.

            1. I’m neuro-divergent
            2. I’m a non-Christian working in a majority Christian environment
            3. I’m a woman who worked in a male-dominated industry for 20 years
            4. I’m 50 in an industry where most people are 25
            5. I’m part of an ethnic minority
            6. And I’m not from the US. If you are, please don’t comment on “world experiences”

            1. OyHiOh*

              Soooooooo “everyone” in Mexico, Brazil. pretty much any country on the African continent, or India – just to pick a few random, populated, struggling places – has had the luxury of staying home on endless Zoom?

              Even if we’re just talking about north america, europe, and australia, healthcare, many teachers, emergency dispatchers, HVAC, plumbing, welders, carpeners, line workers in manufacturing plants, office admins whose work is not fully digitalized (including me) all of these professions and many more I know I’m forgetting have had no option but to work at a physical site.

              1. Calliope*

                They said it was about people switching to working from home. And plenty of people in Brazil, Mexico, and India do have zoom, come on.

              2. OyHiOh*

                Of course many do. And many millions of “others” starve if they do not leave home and work.

                1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

                  I’m really sorry that you have been forced to continue working on site. I know from my essential services friends & family how tough it can be.

                  But you’re completely distorting what I said, and i don’t want to get into an endless circular argument, so I’m not going to respond any more.

                  I hope you stay safe and healthy.

        2. Over It*

          But it’s…not necessarily the majority experience. Many writers, reporters and people of power/influence have been working remotely, and they control most of the narrative. But huge swaths of the population aren’t remote, and they’re being completely erased.

          1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

            Apologies if my choice of words was confusing. I meant that it’s an experience that a great many WFH people have, because it’s replaced in-person meetings for those who were office-based. In fact even my teacher and heathcare worker friends felt “zoomed out” when they were teaching and consulting remotely.

        3. D'Euly*

          But it’s the media choosing to curate content (including, let us not forget, Slate) for the clicks of that WFH population. If for some reason media’s future depended on getting in-person workers to read their stuff, you can bet the so-called national discourse would have looked very different.

          1. virago*

            “It’s the media choosing to curate content (including, let us not forget, Slate) for the clicks of that WFH population …”

            Please define your terms. I work for the media, and I work for a small local newspaper whose local COVID coverage has included:

            1. The municipal sewage treatment plant’s testing wastewater for detectable amounts of coronavirus.
            2. People who run animal rescue groups struggling to deal with an influx of abandoned pets.
            3. How large local employers of in-person workers are dealing with the decision of whether to impose vaccination mandates.
            4. A COVID survivor who’s trying to keep her public-facing business open.
            5. The impact of small colleges’ COVID closures on the economies in the towns where those towns are located.

            Just because you •choose* to pay more attention to national media outlets than to local ones doesn’t mean that local journalists aren’t trying to cover the experience of in-person workers as well as workers who are employed remotely.

            1. virago*

              “… on the economies in the towns where those colleges are located.”

              Every journalist needs an editor.

            2. OyHiOh*

              Our local medium size community paper is choosing to run with the classic “people would rather sit home for extra $300 in unemployment than work for me for pennies” wah wah wah story line. We’re sadly not all enlightened by our local papers.

              1. virago*

                Some newspapers (and their owners) don’t have a clue, and it sounds like yours is one of them. That is truly sad at a time when it’s more important than ever that readers have access to straightforward, no-punches-pulled reporting about their own hometowns.

        4. merp*

          I think the idea that this is the majority experience is part of the problem, though. Is that statistically true? Because there are also *so, so many* people who cannot related to zoom fatigue at all. Exactly what elle said – that idea erases anyone who isn’t a WFH worker, which excludes a massive range of people.

        5. Littorally*

          I highly doubt it’s the actual majority experience. The number of people who work in jobs that cannot be done from home — retail, shipping, manufacturing, healthcare — is enormous.

        6. Observer*

          I think it’s because so many of us have been stuck in an eternal zoom meeting; it’s been the majority experience

          I’m not so sure that this is the case, even factoring in WFH. Which illustrates the problem. It’s been the majority experience of a certain segment of the population, so that’s become the “majority experience” which then gets treated as the universal experience. It’s no wonder people feel unseen and unheard. Because IT IS TRUE. Comments like this really brush aside the reality of a huge swath of the population.

          it’s been the majority experience and many of us can identify.

          Whereas my friend who is a specialist physician was risking his life to treat critically ill Covid patients, 80 hours a week, while wearing 10kg of PPE that took 20 minutes to take off if he wanted a sandwich. Most of us can’t relate to that.

          Seriously? Adults cannot somehow manage to somewhat understand how stressful this would be? I mean, sure, I probably cannot entirely imagine this since it’s sooo far out of my experience. But “not relate” at all? To the point of just brushing it aside, ignoring the existence of this situation? And of acting as though coming back to an office where risk has been significantly reduced is the EPITOME of risk? *TO* the doctor you’ve described (or other essential workers who have been dealing with the much higher level of risk)?

          1. kt*

            I sort of understand what you’re getting at by the last paragraph, but sadly my answer would have to be a straight-out “yes” — plenty of people are willing to tell my doctor spouse that he’s making up the whole thing and it’s not that bad.

            Humans are simply remarkably self-centered if we don’t push ourselves not to be.

            1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

              Going “oh yeah, that must be tough” – which is as most of us can manage is not the same as empathy or actual experience.

            2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

              Exacrly, and going “oh yeah, that must be really tough” – which is as most of us can manage when faced with someone else’s difficult work situation secondhand – does not approximate empathy or actual experience.

            3. Observer*

              I believe you. And it stinks that this is happening.

              But I think you would agree that it stinks. This should NOT be said in a way that implies that this is a REASONABLE and APPROPRIATE response. It may be “normal” but that still doesn’t make it ok. We SHOULD push ourselves to be less self-centered.

        7. Jackalope*

          I would say that part of the reason that Zoom has been so discussed is that it’s a part of so many people’s lives now even when they are working in-person. Just about everyone I know, including those who never stopped working in-person as well as those who have been WFH the entire pandemic, have had many many Zoom meetings, even if it’s “only” for social purposes. So even the in-person-work friends are sick to death of Zoom.

        8. Anonnny*

          It IS NOT the majority experience, it’s your experience that you personally relate to. The majority of Americans don’t work office jobs. Half of Americans are working low wage positions. It is not just doctors and nurses on the front lines who’ve experienced real trauma from working in person through the virus.

          No, this country isn’t “mostly” office workers.

        9. we say Ope here*

          I disagree with the statement “it’s been the majority experience” — I suspect that the individuals who can work from home does not exceed the number who cannot. Jobs that require hands-on work just lack visibility and often lack time to post to blogs.

      2. pancakes*

        There has been far too much of that in nationwide media, and I agree it’s very telling, but I don’t agree that it happens because the editors of these publications and producers of these shows forget that in-person workers exist – it is far more likely that they were hired for those jobs precisely because of their outlook, and who and what it centers. It’s not an accident that people with huge platforms somehow keep making over and over again. People who are dissatisfied with the narrowness of the standard vantage point should seek out others, and should seek out media on media that analyzes these themes. FAIR dot org and the podcast Citations Needed are good.

      3. dealing with dragons*

        it makes me think of the story of the lady who went into a coffee shop without a mask and when asked to put one on by the cashier she said “why, no one is here?” :)

    7. Beth*

      This comes off as a pretty hostile response. This blog highlights all kinds of work issues! Why does this particular one warrant a “We all have problems” response, in your mind? Why are you so defensive about this particular article not applying to you?

      People who have been working in person have been dealing with extensive risks, to both mental and physical health, as part of their work life this year. Now that things in many parts of the US (not all, but many) are starting to shift out of peak crisis mode, they’re dealing with the backlog of all of that tension and strain. That’s a work issue and completely appropriate to discuss on this blog. Alison is also right that a lot of the narrative about working amid COVID has been about how to work productively and sustainably from home, with maybe a reference to “I’m very privileged to be able to do this,” but without a lot of engagement with the actual issues that have been relevant to essential workers. There’s a real need for space to engage with these issues.

      If it’s not your problem, that’s fine. You can do what we all do on all the other posts about problems that don’t apply to us: you can skip this one.

      1. Zeus*

        Precisely. There’s a lot of WFH “pick me’s” on here who apparently cannot tolerate the idea that one little post is not going to be all about them and their Zoom problems. And, sorry not sorry, Zoom problems and having to share the kitchen table as a workspace is not comparable. Scroll on.

      2. 50/50 onsite/wfh*

        Because the focus has been on diminishing one experience as a way to highlight the other!

        If a wfh article had statents like “Man i envy all those folks who get to go into the office and see people. They don’t know how lucky they are to have human interactions and talk to other humans in person!”

        You bet there would have been a ton of pushback! Because it misrepresents an experience you know nothing about while simultaneously diminishing their experience as whining.

        These two aam posts for onsite, and again I say that as someone who worked onsite more then not in 2020, have all had a negative bent about those who have wfh.

        1. Sam*

          You know, I think your statement is contradicted by all the WFH people who are showing sympathy to the in-office folks, as well as all the in-office folks who are acknowledging that WFH is also tough.

    8. Over It*

      Every time there is a post here about essential workers, someone complains that people working from home have had it hard too, and it’s really frustrating this keeps happening. It’s true everyone has had a shite year plus, but the point here is that essential workers (who are often lower paid and otherwise marginalized than those who can WFH) have been asked to do so much so that other people can safely isolate at home, and then feel invisible when everyone is complaining how hard WFH home is without acknowledging who makes it possible. Not everyone has had the luxury of prioritizing their physical health during the pandemic, and yes, it is a luxury even if it has come with enormous other costs. That’s not to say others’ struggles in staying home aren’t valid–they absolutely are–but all that’s being asked is to de-center yourself for a minute so essential workers can have a space to share what their experiences have been like, since that has been so often forgotten.

      1. A*

        Agreed. There’s a time and a place, and not all times/places need to be open to all viewpoints. I can only speak for myself, but as someone that has been WFH throughout the pandemic… I feel very, very heard. So much so that I actively avoid human interest pieces now because the last thing I want after spending 12-16 hours on video calls, is to read articles about video calls etc. On the flip side, the rest of my social distancing bubble all work outside of the home (several as front line health providers / first responders) and they’ve had very little representation in the media etc.

        Recognizing the different challenges and providing spaces for those that have worked on site to feel heard in no way diminishes the challenges of those that have been WFH. What are people afraid of that makes this so controversial? I can throw a stone in any direction and hit a platform that is representative of my experience, why shouldn’t that also be the case for those working on site?

      2. Observer*

        That’s not to say others’ struggles in staying home aren’t valid–they absolutely are–but all that’s being asked is to de-center yourself for a minute so essential workers can have a space to share what their experiences have been like, since that has been so often forgotten.

        I think this is a very good summary.

      3. Elmer W. Litzinger, spy*

        I’m a hotel night auditor. I worked through this entire pandemic and have wanted to punch co-workers who come back and are all “it was so haaaard being at home”. I was here – dealing with guests face to face. Have some empathy.

    9. lilsheba*

      One thing I’m tired of seeing is “being stuck at home”. I have NEVER felt stuck at home. I LOVE being home. I feel for those that didn’t get to work from home, my partners are part of that. But I love being home, there is no stuck about it.

      1. OyHiOh*

        It is not a moral failing to have felt stuck at home, if in fact we had opportunity or requirement to do so.

        I have a balanced personality somewhere half-ish way between introverted and extroverted. I spent the summer home, until getting a job in early fall. I HATED it. Hated, hated hated. There was no respite from clamoring children, no difference between one day and the next. For four months, the walls of our home, my parents, and my children were literally the only faces I saw. One adult went grocery shopping twice a month and it wasn’t me (long story, unnecessary here). I stopped being able to be creative, my already existent mental health issues got worse. It got to a point where I could not tolerate hugs from my children, it felt like bugs crawling over my skin. Getting an office admin job that allowed me to got into the office four days a week was a huge sign of relief. Some of us – probably more than who are willing to speak up in a forum that tends towards introversion – really truly felt stuck and many suffered from it, or their children did. My son didn’t play with a boy his age from March 2020 until December 2020. It was like watching a beautiful tropical flower fade as you watched it.

      2. Observer*

        I have NEVER felt stuck at home. I LOVE being home. I feel for those that didn’t get to work from home, my partners are part of that. But I love being home, there is no stuck about it.

        That’s good for you. But please don’t look down your nose at everyone else who doesn’t feel that way. The reality is that humans are social creatures and for most people contact, face to face contact, with other humans is NECESSARY. So, is the ability to get out of the space.

        The idea of this post is not that “everyone who was able to work from home was on Easy Street so they should shut up.” Because that’s not true. And framing it that way does not make you look good on the one hand, and does nothing to help on site workers or acknowledge the very real additional stresses that they had to deal with.

        1. Anon for this*

          I thought it was a good summary too. I have had the (non-unique) experience of having WFH then changed jobs to in-person. There are things that suck about both – understand, I’m not in a frontline medical/caring role, so it’s not as bad as that would be, but I am having an experience far removed from “normal”. Before I went in-person, I was looking forward to it as being “more normal”. It is not.

          We can accept that everyone needs to feel seen, and that acknowledging the sucky aspects of one situation does not invalidate the sucky aspects of a different one. I don’t think it’s that hard.

    10. Sans $$*

      I mean, this seems particularly sassy on a post that’s just trying to lift up the voices that have been mostly to the side or downplayed or hero-narratived for a year. This is a work column, and my work has been on site interacting with people since July of last year. So it doesn’t seem wild to feel validated by seeing that type of work experience acknowledged here among the sea of “I saw someone’s fly down on zoom!” posts

    11. Tenebrae*

      Interesting that you fall back on ‘well, this is a workplace blog’ as your reason for why (mostly service) people not working from home right now don’t matter and shouldn’t be heard. Maybe you should examine your biases a little. Does it not count as a real workplace if it isn’t white collar?

      1. OyHiOh*

        For many people, no, it’s not “real work” unless it’s a white collar job.

        How often are food service workers lobbying for better wages/job conditions told “if you don’t like it, get a different/better job” ?

      2. Safe and Sound*

        Right? That’s how I read it too – and how the greater discussion around WFH/Work onsite has felt for the last year. Apart from our “healthcare heroes” (vomit react – I am one and this drives me mad), nobody seems to think of warehouse workers, supermarket workers, cab drivers, bus drivers, sanitation workers, and so on as people doing “real jobs”.

        I am in Australia where a tough response curtailed the worst of the pandemic, but I am also in Melbourne where we had a dreadful 2nd wave. We went under curfew, had to carry a permit to attend in-person work, couldn’t travel more than 5km from our homes, could only leave the house once a day for essential reasons, were not allowed to socialise with anyone outside our homes, and basically everything was closed except the supermarket, bottle shop, post office and pharmacy. But I still had to go to work. I had to spend every day telling people the mask goes over their mouth AND nose, I had to work understaffed while people were off on COVID leave, and my workplace was busier than it had ever been before because we were one of the few places people could go, because we provide an essential service. I had to get up close and personal with dozens of strangers a day, and ride the train to and from work which was still busy carrying other essential workers to and from work. I also had to fly clear across the country right before Victoria’s second wave started, and stay there for 12 weeks away from my home and partner.

        My role changed in November from service delivery to project planning and I now work from home. It doesn’t even compare.

    12. hbc*

      It’s true that our problems are more immediate, but we should all be careful about where we dump our problems. You’re allowed to think that cleaning your toilet is the worst chore ever, but if you’re in a group where not everyone has indoor plumbing, maybe you should find a different topic.

      Some people have been genuinely champing at the bit to get back into the workplace, and they can talk about how they miss the camaraderie and whatnot without a lot of pushback. But I don’t complain about my minor cold to someone who has CF, I don’t complain about the upkeep on my car to someone who needs to take the bus, and in exchange I don’t want to have to nod politely when you describe how traumatizing it is to be expected to get your vaccinated self into the office when I’ve been here since last May.

    13. Observer*

      It is perfectly normal for everyone to focus on their lives, their issues, their problems.

      What is “normal” and what is smart, sensible, empathetic, humane, kind and / or useful are two different things.

      Also, the problem is not that people focused on their lives and problems primarily, but that all too often people who have had to be in these positions have been ignored. Not just by individuals who are too busy focusing on their own issues (legitimately or not), but by the people who are supposedly “telling the stories” (but somehow these stories don’t matter / don’t exist) and by policy makers.

    14. Twinkle Toes*

      I have a different take on the word “whining” in the title. I don’t mind it.

      Its not whining about the mental health and other problems related to WFH that is the issue, its the whining about having to go back to work that comes off as insensitive.

      That might seem like a nuance that does not matter and like it only opens the door to some suffering competition. But I don’t think its out of order to expect people who are fearful of going back to the workplace to say that AND to add, I feel for you being at work this whole time or it must have been so hard being at work this whole time.

      And can folks just let us have this one column?

    15. Dahlia*

      Retail and other physical work isn’t a workplace all of a sudden?

      Can you really not just scroll past ONE post so people who have been dealing with dangerous, traumatic work can talk about their lives? Can ONE thing not be about you?

      When Allison did a post about queer issues in the workplace, did you show up and go “but what about straight people”?

    16. Allonge*

      Yes, this is a blog about work questions. Right now, and in the previous 1 [one] post on the feelings of those who did not WFH, it is allowing you and every other reader to learn about the issues that might come up when we ‘go back’ to the office, and meet the building maintenance person, the IT person, the security person, the cleaning person and everyone else who was there all along.

      It allows all of us to prepare for those encounters, and maybe preempt embarrassing discussions, blow-ups with people who are not usernames on the web but actual humans we need to work with and so on. So, maybe, it’s worth it to listen a bit.

    17. MM*

      What’s interesting is that it’s natural for people to focus on their own problems, and this post is about focusing on one set of people’s problems that you happen not to share. Surely you could go enjoy one of the many posts about the problems you do share, as is only natural?

  5. Pete*

    Yes, to all of these. I’m a teacher and have been going in every day, trying to teach half a class in person while the other half is on Zoom. It’s . . . impossible and sometime abut 3-4 months ago, teachers went from heroes to an afterthought at best and selfish monsters at worst in the conversation. Not a good feeling.

    1. DownWithJPP*

      This has always seemed the worst. Not only are you in person, but you have to do both. That idea should have never surfaced.

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        My kids’ school is doing this (not very effectively, but who can blame them? It’s really hard!)

        But it’s for a few reasons:
        – most of the kids fare much better on campus (it’s better for them academically, socially and emotionally)
        – a few kids have high risk family members and it’s safer for them to be at home
        – kids are being kept home (or sent home) for the sniffles “just in case” which means a lot more time out of school – without online classes it would be really difficult to catch up

        Teachers are really performing miracles in such difficult circumstances. They deserve a great deal more consideration and respect (and money!).

    2. Gouda*

      I’m also a teacher and we’ve been in person/hybrid since September. It’s really frustrating to witness the disrespect folks have for their own children’s education and safety.

    3. Blaise*

      Same; I’ve been in person all year but parents have gotten to choose (teachers obviously did not get a choice). Nothing like doing double the work for even less respect than we normally get from society…

    4. Penny*

      In person/online hybrid is so awful. It’s absolutely impossible to teach everyone effectively and it’s SO MUCH work. I’m counting down the days to the end of the school year because I can’t wait for it to be over.

      1. Un Deux Trois Cat*

        I got into an argument with someone when I was vocal about how we had a SAFER option of being all virtual. No it wasn’t ideal, but it gave us educators the option of prioritizing our health.

        They tried to claim I was trying to get out of doing my job.

        I not so calmly explained that virtual was, in fact, more work for me and completely exhausting.

        Having been back to in-person since the beginning of the school year and still juggling those students whose parents’ have kept them home has driven the exhaustion to a complete other level.

        And I shave had to add the worry of bringing something home to my own high-risk family members. But the kids’ education is more important than all that, right? There’s an acceptable margin of how many educators can die to make sure that our kids don’t, “fall behind?” I’m sorry, but I don’t think of myself or my family as the expendable ones.

        (Which is a whole other high horse I can get on – falling behind WHAT? Everyone is falling behind, and these are arbitrary benchmarks we’ve set that aren’t even necessarily developmentally accurate… but that’s a whole other conversation).

    5. Beth*

      Part of my work is teaching (grad student, TAing) and while we’ve been remote so far, I’m vaguely terrified that my employer will ask us to go to a hybrid model in the fall. Even post-vaccination, just managing that dual mode sounds utterly impossible; I don’t think I could do it, on a very real level of “I don’t think my teaching skills are capable of handling that.” Layering that on top of health risks is such an inhuman thing to ask of you.

      1. anon teacher*

        Ooof, I feel that. I’m a damn good teacher with a lot of experience teaching both online and in-person, but I am very comfortable saying that my work this year has been aggressively mediocre – not because I want it to be, but because teaching in-person and online at the same time is basically impossible to do well. And yet when my colleagues and I expressed this concern to admin, we got a lot of “oh, don’t be so hard on yourself! we believe in you! you can do it!”-type rah-rah BS. It’s like, no, this isn’t a crisis of confidence: we are saying that, in our collective professional judgement, this is a task that not even the best teachers can do.

        But we got bagels last week, so, you know. I feel *super* appreciated.

        1. Beth*

          Oh, well, if there are bagels! So much appreciation! Who cares if there’s little things like ‘institutional support’ or ‘reasonable parameters for success’? Bagels are where it’s at. (The one downside of online comment boxes: I really need the eye rolling emoji here.)

      2. Flower necklace*

        For what it’s worth, I’m a high school teacher in a US public school and we have been told that we are absolutely not doing hybrid in the fall. All classes will either be fully in-person or fully virtual. And if there is a situation where a teacher has to conduct a hybrid class, they will be given extra pay. Because hybrid is truly awful.

        1. Jayn*

          That’s what they’re doing here next year. There’s been a couple different hybrid models depending on age, with the option to swap in and out of full remote. Next year it’s all or nothing, so there won’t be hybrid classes anymore.

        2. Beth*

          The main concern at my institution (which is a university) is that a pretty large percentage of our students are international students. There’s real concern that many might not be able to get in and out of the US smoothly yet in the fall, or that if they can, they may not have been able to access a vaccine by the start of the school year. (My institution is, thankfully, planning to mandate vaccination for anyone who’s going to be on campus starting in the fall.) There’s also concern that there may not be physical spaces that can accommodate the usual class sizes AND maintain some level of distancing. So we’re not necessarily out of the woods with regards to remote classes, even as we’re talking about opening up a lot more than we have been.

          If we are asked to do hybrid classes, they absolutely won’t pay us more for it. I wish grad student labor was that well respected!

    6. Alexis Rosay*

      Teachers are so unappreciated in good times. It’s even more frustrating now when every teacher I know is working twice as hard as usual.

    7. Anonymous for this*

      I’m a middle grades teacher, and we’ve been in person the whole time – with masks and students on Zoom also. I’ve been exposed 6 times at school and told not to quarantine unless I show symptoms. I apparently had COVID at some point because I had the antibodies when I donated blood.

      It’s amazing how many people think I haven’t done my job at all since March 2020.

    8. Ashley*

      Watching my extended family I feel like parents hit a breaking point being home with their kids or not having resources for childcare without in person school. What I couldn’t fully understand with the push to return was that vaccinations were close but not happening, but teachers needed to return now and not in another few weeks when the were vaccinated. I am really curious about the fall because at best high school and some middle school students will be eligible but that doesn’t mean they will get it, so where does that leave the teacher that for healthy reasons can be vaccinated?

    9. RagingADHD*

      My second kid has all the same teachers that my first kid had a couple of years ago, and it’s been painfully obvious how much the situation has taken a toll on them. Some of them are visibly struggling, some have put up very hardline boundaries where they were more flexible and responsive before, and some have, I’m sorry to say, just given up on even trying to enforce safety protocols or observing protocols themselves.

      I know it’s because of all that they are trying to deal with, and when my kid complains I try to always say, “that doesn’t sound normal for Ms. X, I know it’s been such a hard year.”

    10. 50/50 onsite/wfh*

      Ugh IKR? My neighboring state celebrated teacher appreciation week byby suing the school system for having their kids wear masks.

    11. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      My husband did a half-year of teaching online, a half-year of hybrid, and a half-year of in-person.

      He has been exhausted, and the furious parents who have pushed and pushed and pushed – for back-to-class, for less restriction, more flexibility, fewer safety precautions, and now, no masks because “plenty of people have been vaccinated by now!” have made me hurt so hard for him. People from our own church, parents at our daycare, one of my good friends, all of them just want his concerns to magically go away because they need their kids back in class d*mmt. The only real saving grace was that we actually got Covid, so we could worry less about getting it worse once he was back in a classroom.

      I’ve been wfh since last March. I haven’t touched a person unrelated to me in more than a year, and probably won’t for several more months. I don’t want anything to do with a single person I used to socialize with before all this, given how callous they’ve all been. But that’s a lot different from the insanity he’s been subjected to.

    12. Annie*

      Yes to all this. I work at a private school, and we’ve been back full-time since August. The worst is that the parents who insisted that we move from teaching half a class at a time with the other class remote to squishing the kids in together (moving from 6′ to 3′ apart) because “in person teaching is a priority because our kids are really suffering” are the same ones who insisted on taking their families on fancy vacations over winter and spring breaks knowing that their kids would have to learn remotely for two weeks following. Because, in fact, they don’t give a damn about in person learning; they just want what they want when they want it.

      They can take their stupid teacher appreciation lunches and shove them.

  6. Dust Bunny*

    I *was* able to work from home and even I’m over it. So many of my friends are “isolating” by ordering food and household supplies in . . . with zero apparent recognition that doing that stuff means that somebody has to be physically in a warehouse, restaurant, or store to do it for them. I’m really over people complaining that their veterinarian is only doing curbside drop-offs or that they have to put pants on again.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yeah – everyone who’s been able to work from home for the past year-ish — and otherwise stay isolated — has been able to do so because of the people who were never able to. Ordering groceries for delivery or pickup? Someone has to put that order together! Someone has to work in the factories to package the food, or the fields to pick the crops, or …whatever. Ordering carryout or delivery from a restaurant? Someone had to go in to that restaurant to make the food, and pick it up for delivery. Etc. etc.

      I’m not saying staying at home hasn’t had its share of difficulties, but it’s not the misery olympics – we can acknowledge all of the people making it possible.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I have felt so much guilt about online ordering. I want people to have jobs, but I also want them to be safe! And I still need to buy groceries. It’s a hard line to walk.

        I have family members who are essential workers. I can’t convey how relieved I was once they were vaccinated. Or how heartbroken I’ve been at the lack of concern some people have shown by their actions towards essential workers.

        1. Ashley*

          Yes! I have also thought though by doing the online ordering I am one less risk to the in-store staff, and one step more for lowering my risk so as to the burden the health care system. I just really wish companies would treat their employees better because online ordering is super convenient.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            I’ve managed to avoid ordering all but one item (for a present) from the 800 lb. gorilla of online retail.

            Most of my Christmas gifts were from small local businesses.

            1. UKDancer*

              Ditto. I’ve discovered so many amazing businesses on Etsy. I am loving the smaller, local online shops I’m finding now and getting gifts from.

          2. tangerineRose*

            “I have also thought though by doing the online ordering I am one less risk to the in-store staff, and one step more for lowering my risk so as to the burden the health care system.” This is what I was thinking, too.

        2. MCMonkeybean*

          Yeah, the pandemic has made me a big tipper. I think I tried to err on the side of generous before but now I tip a minimum of $10 no matter the price of what I ordered.

      2. lilsheba*

        These people who have to do those jobs kept this country running, and are being abused verbally and in other ways in record numbers. It’s not right. They are essential workers and need to be treated as such. Pay them well, don’t punish them for needing a day off, let them have some work/life balance.

    2. JM60*

      The risk of infection is much lower when having someone deliver goods to you than if you went inside the restaurant/store yourself. The biggest risk of infection for COVID (and most airborne diseases) is through stagnant air, not surfaces.

      1. K*

        Right, the risk to YOU. Someone still has to be present in a grocery store, restaurant, or factory to pick and pack your order, and you are passing that risk to them.

        1. goducks*

          Yes. This absolutely. Everything that someone has been able to do “safely from home” is because someone else is taking on the risk.

        2. JM60*

          Of course. But I was responding to the “isolating” (in quotes in the comment I was replying to). I took that as an implication that having good delivered doesn’t actually reduce spread for the person isolating (or society now broadly).

        3. Anononon*

          BUT, that person picking/packing the order in the grocery store is likely doing that for numerous orders throughout the day which represent customers which would have otherwise been present in the store. Delivery of goods is still a net benefit to EVERYONE compared to everyone purchasing their own goods in-person.

          1. Pickled Limes*

            Exactly this. We do curbside pickup where I work, and it’s noticeably decreased the overall number of people who come in and out of the building during the day. I’m happy to do the curbside deliveries, because it does decrease the overall potential for viral load inside the building, which in turn makes me safer.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              I’m glad to see this comment. I’ve been wondering how the store employees felt.

            2. tangerineRose*

              Good. I was hoping this was helping. I’ve been doing almost all my grocery shopping using curbside.

          2. Maggie*

            Sorry to be blunt, but I think this is mostly just something people tell themselves to feel better about the fact that low wage gig workers are running themselves ragged delivering groceries and amazon purchases. When you shop Instacart its a 1 for 1 replacement of people in stores. Grocery stores in my area haven’t been any less crowded. Every “regular shopper” is just now replacement with an amazon shopper or Instacart shopper.

            1. Anononon*

              Good thing I don’t shop Instacart then. The places I did my grocery shopping, all of the picking/packing was done by store employees. I mean, literally the comment above yours is someone with personal experience working in a store, saying that curbside pickup has helped.

            2. Malarkey01*

              We use Instacart with store curbside pickup and since April 2020 the “pickers” have all been in store employees. We have family that work in the store and actually like the system because there are drastically less people in the stores, they know where everything is and can quickly complete orders, and for their store it’s a reward to work “picker” over restocking.

              I greatly appreciate all the essential workers who kept goods moving and I’m not sure why using curbside/delivery to keep everyone safe was wrong.

            3. Time's Thief*

              Depends – even if every Instacart/curbside person is an outside worker coming into the store, you’re still going to have less overall vectors for contagion simply because you’re not getting families or couples coming to the store. Obviously there’s a lot of solo shoppers but even if only 20% of shoppers come with a +1 then you’re still reducing the number of people in store. Plus, professional shoppers are, on average, faster than direct shoppers so the time they spend in the store’s decreased. I don’t know why your local store isn’t seeing the decrease in traffic. Granted, I don’t see it at mine either but that’s because my area’s declared Covid over (it’s not) and I think we’re one of only a handful of people still using curbside pickup at our grocery store. Everyone else is back to shopping in person. Maskless, of course. Which is why we still do curbside.

              It’s not perfect and doesn’t address the wear and tear on the workers, which is a valid point but, honestly, as someone who’s been in retail for 20+ years, that’s nothing new nor exclusive to delivery.

          3. Commenting Today*

            Yes, exactly. It’s a privilege to be able to get groceries delivered and it is not fair that some of us get to be safer than others.
            But also, it reduces risk overall because it reduces the number of people in grocery stores as shoppers often do multiple orders at once, and it reduces the number of different people coming into contact with grocery workers.

            The people who say it’s unethical to get groceries delivered understand the first part but they don’t seem to fully get the second part.

          4. Gray Lady*

            But by the same token, more workers need to be in the store to do the picking and packing, and it requires those workers to spend much more time in the stores around one another, than each individual customer would spend doing it themselves. It reduces the in-store exposure, but not on a 1 to 1 basis, and causes some people (people hired specifically to do in-store picking and packing) to be far more exposed than they would have been had they not been doing that job.

        4. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          Surely the risk is much lower for essential workers in e.g. food industries when the rest of us stay the hell away?

          I’m not diminishing the risks and sacrifices made by essential workers (I have friends and family who are teachers and healthcare workers, and I worry about them all the time) so please don’t read it that way. But if I worked in a grocery store I’d much prefer that people ordered online than came in to do their own shopping.

          1. valprehension*

            Most of the options for ordering groceries inline are basically just hiring someone to go to the store and shop for you. It doesn’t decrease any risk of infection, and potentially increases it since the same low wage worker will be visiting many stores in a day.

            1. JM60*

              I believe Amazon Fresh has each driver deliver to many people. I guess it depends on the service.

              1. pancakes*

                Those drivers (and the pickers) aren’t necessarily their employees. The coverage of this stuff generally isn’t great in nationwide press but industry publications often have more detail. Check out a Sept. 18, 2020 article “Amazon puts out call for gig workers to pick orders at Whole Foods,” which also talks about Amazon Fresh and the company’s history with Instacart.

                1. JM60*

                  I know they are gig workers who are probably being F-ed, but I was talking about them delivering to many people (and therefore potentially reducing community spread).

            2. pancakes*

              This varies by location. The service I use and many millions of other NYers use, Fresh Direct, has never been open to the public. Delivery comes from their warehouses, in their trucks, with their workers, as it did for many years pre-pandemic.

            3. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

              Not in my country. The delivery services are mostly provided by the retailers.

            4. tangerineRose*

              Is this right for groceries? I got the impression that when I ordered groceries online at a local store, the employees who were already at the store picked them up and brought them out.

            5. Tara R.*

              Where I live, “ordering groceries online” means selecting your items on the grocery store’s website. Employees from the online shopping department put together your order and give it to a delivery driver, who spends all day dropping off orders. Everyone involved is an employee of the store. What you’re describing sounds like a sort of ubereats type thing for groceries?

        5. Zoey*

          The fact that this has needed to be explained many, many times in the comments here is utterly mind-boggling.

          1. JM60*

            To be clear, I wasn’t unaware that the risk is lower to me, while the person doing the delivery is taking a high risk. I was responding to (what I interpreted to be) an insinuation that getting food delivered doesn’t reduce spread. Having one person in the store deliver to many is likely to greatly reduce overall spread of COVID vs having many people sharing stagnant air inside a crowded store.

          2. Notnow*

            It’s been all year with complaining and defending in this comment section and frankly its ridiculous. The post about the teacher getting in trouble for getting eye brows waxed (i think in the fall) was incredibly disheartening. An essential worker getting a service that was opened up in her state, got totally blasted in the comments. I had to leave the site for a few weeks.

            I am essential worker and frick yes, I have gotten my hair and brows done.

            1. JM60*

              Much of that is come commenters’ dislike of others doing unnecessary tasks that may increase community spread. As someone who has spent more than 5 minutes in a business only once during this entire pandemic (for a haircut that I thought would be outside), I’m sympathetic to many of those commenters. However, I will give people a bit of grace.

              Pandemic aside, people seem to be overly judgmental towards teachers in general.

              1. Calliope*

                This is exactly the issue. No public health officials even in very cautious places have recommended not spending more than five minutes in a business for the totality of the last year. Making this the litmus test is why this site has gotten so shame-y.

                Removed the second part of this– I don’t want beefs with other commenters from other posts following people around to new posts. – Alison

            2. Anon for this*

              I was angry at that teacher in the comments, and I apologize because I wasn’t being rational. I was in a bad place: my early elementary kids were in remote school for a full year and only went back to partial in person after that post. At the time that post went up, the teachers unions in the districts around me were arguing that schools shouldn’t reopen until all *children* were vaccinated. I support caution around getting kids back in classrooms, but the teachers unions were staking out a position that seemed way beyond what the science was saying was necessary for safety. I was angry and took it out on the comments section of that post, and it wasn’t fair to OP.

              If I could go back and delete my comments I would.

        6. PT*

          It is safer for the grocery store to have 15 employees in it, picking orders and restocking shelves, than it is for the grocery store to have 15 employees in it at the register and restocking shelves while hundreds of customers pass through breathing germs on everything and throw temper tantrums over masks and out of stock products.

          The employees in scenario one are exposed to each other. The employees in scenario two are exposed to hundreds of people.

          1. Maggie*

            Thats not how it works in reality though. Have you been to a grocery store throughout Covid? They’re packed to the gills with Instacart workers. When you order Instacart, 1 person goes in, does your shop, and delivers it to you. Its quite literally a 1 for 1 replacement of people in the store.

            1. fposte*

              In my area shoppers usually are shopping several orders at a time; it’s definitely not a 1:1.

              1. Maggie*

                Interesting, it looks like based off other comments that its a mix! Two people have said its 1-1 and two have said its not. I’ve shopped in person the whole time and the stores were always crowded as ever. I guess it really varies what system each store and region has.

            2. Twinkle Toes*

              In my area it is the same, its a 1 to 1 replacement, not store staff, and the store is literally packed with ppl shopping for other ppl. Pre covid, the service existed but you only saw a few shopping for others. Now I feel like the odd person out; I’m one of just a few shopping for myself.

            3. Time's Thief*

              It’s interesting how different areas have handled this. In my area the grocery stores themselves just hired a few extra people and they do all the shopping and then you roll up at your appointed time and groceries magically appear in your trunk. So for us around here it absolutely did help reduce the risk to those working. Sorry it couldn’t have been better managed in your area.

              1. Annie Moose*

                The groceries did not magically appear in your trunk; stressed-out, overworked, underpaid workers put them there. If you think the entirety of grocery shopping for an entire town or whatever your “area” is was done by a handful of extra employees just casually working, you have a very rosy picture of what their jobs are like.

            4. Nancy*

              That’s how it was in my area too. Last spring, the instacart workers weren’t allowed to shop for multiple people at once even if they wanted to. They had to stand in line, shop for one person, drop the order off, then get back in line to do it all over again. And delivery/pickup spots were so in demand through all services that people took whatever they could get.

        7. Observer*

          Right, the risk to YOU

          It does lower the risk to many workers, though. When there are less people in the store, staff is less exposed. The guy doing deliveries is less exposed than the guy packing boxes at the cash register, etc.

          Don’t feel guilty for getting delivery or getting curbside pickup, especially for things like groceries.

          Just be a decent human being and ACKNOWLEDGE that SOMEONE had to take some real measure of risk to keep society functioning. A real, live human being!

      2. Mouse*

        The risk of infection to me, the person at home, is much much lower when someone delivers the goods to me, compared to me going out myself. And it helps flatten the curve because if I am one fewer person going out and getting infected and spreading it and needing a hospital bed.

        The risk of infection to the person who is at the store putting my order together is…possibly a little bit lower because fewer people in the store potentially means the store is less crowded, but it’s definitely not lower than it would be if they had the kind of job where they could work from home.

        So even if ordering in is the right thing to do in this context, and from an epidemiological standpoint I’m pretty sure that it is, it’s still asking another person to risk their life for you. And it’s important to acknowledge that and to leave a good tip for them and stuff

        1. JM60*

          Definitely. It was mostly the “isolating” (in quotes in the comment I was replying to) that prompted my response. I took that as an implication that having good delivered doesn’t actually reduce spread for the person isolating (or society now broadly). It’s important to acknowledge the risk they’re taking while simultaneously recognizing that it’s probably best for society to hire them to take that risk.

    3. Julianna*

      I went to the store in the early days of the pandemic and I estimate fully 2/3 of the people there were from some kind of delivery service. It just felt like this really visible class divide, with the lower class being sent out to keep the upper class safe.

      1. ANON FOR This*

        hella ya! the class divide is huge ! COVID just made it worse and, tbh, for a bit, I thought WOW maybe the ‘haves’ will see how valuable we are! joke is on me, they always knew and have always exploited us. $$$$
        for ANYONE who wants to make it up to us? Let us work from home the next 6 months, YOU go in and help us stay home and recover. I am not even asking for time off, just to be able to work from home and have everyone tell me what a great job I am doing, and then listen to me be bored..
        (no offense to anyone who feels they did good by essential workers, maybe you did, but the system and society have failed most of us)

      2. JM60*

        There is a strong class divide in this pandemic, which is partly why I have been tipping my delivery drivers well. They’re taking a risk to lower my risk particularly, but also reduce community spread. It’s overall better for society (from an epidemiological perspective) for fewer people to go into the grocery store to deliver to many people, but involves the delivery people taking a higher risk than others.

        Unfortunately, the solutions to these disparities are politically unpopular in the US.

      3. R2-beep-boo*

        That divide hit me the day they announced that next vaccine roll-out in my state was for food & agriculture workers and I saw people who I liked and who I had previously thought were decent human beings go NUTS in comments sections with “how dare they let those immigrants get this vaccine before Americans?!?”

    4. llamaswithouthats*

      I was also weirded out by all the messaging on TV, social media etc where people seemed to assume by default that everyone was working from home? Like talk show hosts and stuff would only address people working from home and not even mention in passing people working in retail or at restaurants. Bizarre. If I had to give a charitable explanation, it could have been to normalize staying at home since I remember the beginning of the pandemic was full of pleas for people to stay home if they didn’t need to be out. But obviously it didn’t stop.

      I personally was able to WFH but have friends who work in healthcare and food service, so may be it was more obvious to me. But still, pretty sure at least 50% of Americans, if not more, continued to work in person during the pandemic.

    5. RagingADHD*

      There are no absolutes in this, and the risk is not a zero-sum game where 100% of my personal risk is transferred to the people making and delivering things. Also, my risk is dictated by more than just whether I WFH or not. There are multiple people in my household, who work and go to school in person. When I stay away from other people, I’m also shielding them from any exposures I got secondhand from my family.

      I know the folks at my neighborhood pizza place would rather drop off my pizza on the porch than have me come inside and hang around in the 6×8 lobby waiting for my order. I know because they thank me profusely every time I ask them to do the contactless dropoff. And they would rather I bought their pizza than not, because they were about to close in early 2020 before the lockdown hit and media started pushing buy-local as a way for folks who were doing okay to help our neighbors stay afloat.

      And I would rather have their pizza because it’s really good, they are keeping people employed, and our state benefits suck.

      We’re all in this together, trying to make it better for each other the best we can.

  7. elle*

    Thank you Alison! I worked on-site until June of last year when I got promoted, and those months were very dark for EXACTLY that reason. Every time I heard someone say “we’re all working from home now” I wanted to cry or scream. I did cry a few times. And once the outbreaks at the meat processing facilities started my mental health hit a new low (I work in agriculture but not meat processing).

      1. elle*

        I’ve been working from home since my promotion in June of last year. It has been surreal to work a job for a whole year without having met a single co-worker, and working from home has it’s own stressors, but overall nothing nearly as bad a what working on-site felt like. I’m sorry you family was so dismissive.

  8. Just Some Guy in HR*

    Reading these brought up a lot of emotions. I feel like I’ve just been angry for over a year now. And not at anyone is particular. Everything is just so messed up.

    I get the fear of returning in-person. But that’s an internal communication issue for the company to mitigate. Companies really need to step it up in this area so people will be assured. And if they can’t, it’s a sign that there is no trust built and that needs to be remedied.

    I’ve been in my office every day, being the first responder in the office to cases and changing laws. I took some time for the birth of my son (who has never known life outside of a pandemic), but other than that I’ve been here doing what I can to keep people safe, hearing stories about our clients dying, hearing stories of employee family members getting sick and dying.

    But I’m not angry at other working folks. I’m angry at a system that’s set up to fail in times of crises. I’m angry at people who say “the government can’t make things work” who then vote for politicians who say the same thing, actively sabotage any good actions institutions can make, and then turn around and say “see, I told you so!”

    I just have so much silent, boiling rage and I don’t know what to do about it. I just keep trying to tell myself that someone else probably has it worse. Which isn’t a consolation and I wish I could help, but I just feel powerless.

    1. JM60*

      I agree with much of what you said, but have one important potential disagreement. The fear of returning to the workplace isn’t just a communication issue; it’s a health issue. Before trying to convince employees that it’s safe you need to actually be make sure it is indeed safe. Is it really necessary to return to the office, and is that necessity really enough to justifiably force employees to take the risk (and possibly increase covid spread in the general public)?

      1. Just Some Guy in HR*

        This comes down to the trust issue I briefly mentioned. And trust between a company and it’s workers is something that had to be built up long before the pandemic started and then cultivated during. If there’s no trust, a company can make a workspace as reasonably safe as possible and still not be able to get folks back in the door.

        I’m not saying that everyone should just trust their employers and I’m not saying people shouldn’t be concerned about their health or the health of their families. But we know what works and what most effectively mitigates the spread. Masks work, vaccines are effective. It’s not like it was before where nobody knew anything. And everyone’s situation is going to be different.

        TL;DR: It’s a trust issue. Employees will come back in if they trust their employer to take care of them.

        1. JM60*

          There are indeed proven ways to mitigate risk*, but I think it’s too easy for employers to think, “we’re mitigating risks, so therefore it’s okay for us to make our employees take this risk.” Just because the risk has been reduced doesn’t necessarily mean it’s okay to force employees to take that risk for themselves and the people they live with.

          As for previous trust, it may or may not help. I might trust my employer to operate in good faith, while simultaneously having a different COVID risk assessment than they do.

          * Vaccines are very effective at reducing risk, but with the lack of vaccine “passports”, and the lack of full FDA vaccine approval so far, employers are limited in their capacity to keep unvaccinated employees and customers outside the workplace.

          1. Just Some Guy in HR*

            It seems this would continue to be a trust issue – you may not trust your employer’s risk calculations.

            Look, I didn’t come here to argue with randos on the internet and I’m not saying people shouldn’t be concerned about their health. I’m also a big proponent of remote work, even in regular times. I used to work from home a few years ago. It was great.

            It just feels like you are attempting to misconstrue what I’m saying. I don’t know who you are or what your situation is, but I don’t think we’re having a productive discussion on the subject.

            I just came to express my frustration with the current state of affairs with my fellow essential workers.

            1. JM60*

              It seems this would continue to be a trust issue – you may not trust your employer’s risk calculations.

              I agree that an employee isn’t trusting their employer’s risk calculations when they think their employer is subjecting them to an unjustifiable level of risk. My point is that the question, “How do I get my employees to trust my opinion that the risk is justifiable” should be secondary to the much more important, “Is my risk calculation justifiable.” It’s a risk assessment/tolerance question first, and a communication/trust issue secondarily.

              1. JM60*

                To put it more succinctly:

                “Am I right?”

                … is a more important question than:

                “How do I get my employees to believe me?”

                … when it comes to whether a risk level is sufficiently low to justify making employees subject to it.

        2. Yorick*

          There is indeed a safety issue with bringing employees back to work. Sure, some people have been there all along, but they’ve been there without being exposed to everybody who’s working from home. This is not just a trust issue. There is an actual level of danger/safety for employees to consider. If the company is trying to bring people back too fast, it doesn’t matter if you think the company’s really trustworthy – the workplace still might become a super spreader.

          1. tangerineRose*

            Yeah, what Yorick said.

            Plus, this whole thing is still so new, even if we’re all sick of the pandemic. The vaccinations are new. We are probably going to learn a lot more about this that will help with risk assessment that we don’t know yet.

      2. ANON FOR This*

        Safe for who? Essential workers, ? Healthcare workers? I have gone to work nonstop, to keep people safe, so they can be home.
        I Want People Safe.
        but, can one of those People be me too?
        So, before anyone complains about safety, again, trade us places.

        1. JM60*

          Essential workers (and all those who have to work in-person) have really got the short end of the stick in this pandemic. More should’ve/should be done to reduce their risk. But, while employers are demanding their employees gather in offices for jobs that can be effectively done remotely, it makes sense to flag that that’s an unnecessary risk to those employees, their families, and to a lesser degree, the community at large.

          1. LQ*

            I think part of the blame on all this needs to go to consumers too though. I see so much blame on employers. But I know with absolute certainty that the commentariat here would be LIVID if my employer gave me grace in not doing a good job this last year? How do I know? Because I’ve seen lots of comments about how bad of a job I’m doing (people in very similar positions, I assume know one knows ME) on this site. You consumed things as a part of this last year. It’s all of us. “Employers” just lets us hand this off to someone else. But we were all consumers of the things that traumatized people. I had moments. If you say you didn’t you are either deeply and intensely privileged or you are lying.

            Were you angry about vaccines not getting out fast enough? Were you mad about not getting your unemployment or stimulus check fast enough? Your public school didn’t do the exact thing you wanted at the exact moment you wanted it? Did you have to wait on hold? You and me. We are the problem here. It’s the consumption and the lack of grace as consumers that absolutely must bear some weight here. Because I know with certainty in my job no one would have cared if no one had complained.

            1. Mahkara*

              Yeah, I’d agree.

              I’ve been amazed at how many people have been angry that various people who *couldn’t* WFH were getting vaccines and they weren’t. People who *had* to work with other people should have been top priority…and much of the time, they weren’t.

              Similarly, if the vast majority of people shopped only at places that paid, say, nothing less than $25/hr to their workers, prices would go up and those businesses would flourish.

            2. JM60*

              For vaccines in particular for me, I’m angry for the reverse reason. I was happy to get the shots earlier than expected, but angry that many people (including my parents) were/are refusing to get it. If everyone who should get it gets it when offered, it shouldn’t have been freely available for me yet!

              I was a bit impatient waiting for new computer hardware that was a luxury, not a need. But I understood why it was taking so long and didn’t take out my frustrations on anyone.

              Regardless, some of it is consumers either being unreasonable or for purchasing services/goods from employers who don’t do enough to protect their employees. Though the I think is more a problem due to lack of workplace safety regulation, since investigating all employers involved in a good/service is too impractical for the average consumer.

          2. LQ*

            (And sorry, this isn’t really directed at you, but I see a lot of blame the employers like the employers are something off in the corner with no inputs to that system when the truth is more complex, it was a weird spot to set this rant though!)

        2. Yorick*

          But many people who have been going to the office throughout the pandemic have been a bit safer because some of the others worked from home, reducing exposure. Bringing back the WFH employees not only affects their safety, but your safety too.

          1. kt*

            The poster asks you to trade place.

            Could you do that?

            “can one of those People [whose safety matters] be me too? … trade us places.”


            1. Yorick*

              I was doing that. It didn’t come across well in my answer.

              But I think if I had been going in to the office, which had seriously reduced capacity, I wouldn’t want everybody to come back before it was time.

    2. Default Crisis Fail*

      Thank you for taking the time to write out your rage and frustration and powerlessness here. Though my work situation is different, I relate to everything you’ve said. It’s all so effed up. I don’t know if this will be of any consolation to you, but what helps mitigate my own fury etc. at times is knowing that there are everyday citizens taking actions (albeit ones that may seem microscopic at best given the enormity of what needs to change so the system isn’t set to default crisis fail) intended to address and correct these issues. It never feels like enough but at least it gives me a small dose of hope.

      In the meantime, I’m sending around this article to folks in my circle to help make visible what’s gone invisible these past 14-15 months …

    3. Notnow*

      I am little upset at some people. People who have been covid shamers all along. Suddenly traveling and then complaining they have to go back to office. You can’t spend 2 weeks in Florida then complain you have to go back to the office. Sorry.

      1. Robin Ellacott*

        I have been struggling with this too. I chose to be one of the few to stay in the office throughout because I didn’t have any known risk factors, the office setup felt pretty safe, and I am a manager so would rather not ask someone else more junior, and maybe more vulnerable, to take the risk for me. Lots of our work requires some in-office component which can’t be taken home, so tasks were shuffled. I’m glad I pitched in.

        But I kept hearing about people traveling (for fun) to hard hit areas, seeing them unmasked in the pharmacy when I was in mask and gloves, talking about gatherings they were having against the health code, and so on. I don’t want to be judgy. But now that we are vaccinated and return to the office is on the far horizon, I am having a hard time being sympathetic when the same people who were going to the mall for an unasked wander say it’s scary and unsafe to come back.

        1. R2-beep-boo*

          Think so much of the email my spouse got of a screen grab of in plant security footage with a rant about distancing not being enforced.
          The email was sent from a vacation destination that was also a covid hotspot.

    4. anon here today*

      Amen, Guy in HR.

      “I’m angry at a system that’s set up to fail in times of crises. I’m angry at people who say “the government can’t make things work” who then vote for politicians who say the same thing, actively sabotage any good actions institutions can make, and then turn around and say “see, I told you so!”” Yes. I have family members who tell me that all government is evil and corrupt, then vote for a guy who says the same who is running for local office, then that guy embezzles a few $100k from relief funds, then they all just look at each other and say, “Yep, told you so!” and I just don’t understand why there is no effort to make anything better anywhere. Or to get closer to work, folks who say gov’t aid is evil, then bail out Yellow (a transportation company) with a truly ludicrous amount of money that raised many many eyebrows at the time, and then are all surprised that it was misused when anyone with a pencil and a ripped junk mail envelope to do some math on could’ve told you at the time that it was a disproportionate amount of “aid”.

      With you on the rage thing. I’m sorry. You’re not alone.

      1. pope suburban*

        Me three. I’m not mad at my neighbors who are just trying to survive. I’m not mad at other people who are making tough decisions because they need a roof or they have dependents. I’m mad at the way the people who sit at the levers of power have forced us all, needlessly, to make those tough choices. I’m mad that there very clearly are people who matter and people who don’t. I’m mad at the ugliness this has exposed in so many people, institutions, and systems. I’m struggling with certain colleagues who want to be kept safe in their own hermetic bubbles, while thinking nothing of putting me in needless danger; I had a colleague blithely insist to so many people that they should just stop by our closed-to-the-public building and I would wait on them in the months before the vaccine, even though this colleague refuses to come back into the office until July if she’s forced to. There’s so much to unpack and I’ve learned a whole unflattering lot about a lot of people and I don’t know how to process that because I have not had one goddamn day off in over a year. I’ve been showing up and I am grateful to still have a job at my normal hours but I also feel used, forgotten, unimportant, replaceable, and like I should just shut up because I could have it worse. I wasn’t learning to knit, I didn’t get any time off that might make my work-life balance better, and I just…wish I could say that and feel seen. I’m dismayed and honestly ticked off that even here, expressing any non-shiny-happy feelings is “fighting with our peers” and not just, you know, wanting to vent because we are stressed too! I mean, I’m not going to quit advocating for better systems for every working person over this, okay, I just want to have it acknowledged that I am a human being too and the year has not been smooth for everyone not cooped up doing WFH either. It’s just a whole lot of amorphous bad feelings and it’s so hard to figure out what to do with that.

  9. Maltypass*

    If I may use this as a place to put my newest frustration as someone who has been working and works with the public: if one more customer gets too close to me and then says ‘don’t worry I’m vaccinated’ it may well be my snapping point.
    (Also I’m sure no one here does but please don’t complain about how uncomfortable masks are/how you can’t wait to stop wearing them, even in a friendly chatty way, to service/retail workers who are wearing them 8 hours a day. Thank you!)

    1. A New CV*

      The number of customers who try to complain to me about how unacceptably busy it is in my shop when we are at restricted capacity, while they themselves are IN my shop… I dunno. I’d like more people to efficiently get in and get out without using me as their social outlet, to be honest. I very much do not want to hear their thoughtless opinions while I’m trapped there.

    2. JM60*

      Aside from the fact that vaccines aren’t 100% effective, I could imagine some entitled people lying about being vaccinated when doing that. I don’t work in a customer facing job, and the behavior of many customers in the pandemic really get to me.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        There’s already been a case of someone trying to forge vaccine cards. I have no words.

    3. Alice in Blunderland*

      Ugh, YES to all of this. The entitlement of people has just really been astonishing this year. As someone who’s worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade I’d thought I’d seen it all, but 2020 really leveled up. The mask complaining especially blew my mind– you’re bitching at someone who has been wearing a mask all day, in the summer heat when you have to wear your mask for maybe 10 minutes while you go to the bathroom? Give me a friggin’ break and also– grow up.

      1. Maltypass*

        ‘As someone who’s worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade I’d thought I’d seen it all, but 2020 really leveled up.’ This, truly, this

      2. Time's Thief*

        This. Don’t whine to me about how haaaaaard it is to wear a mask as you’re browsing my very much not essential store. I’m here double-masked because people can’t keep their noses covered and for most of 2020 I was doing it on reduced lung capacity due to a previous (non-covid) cold. My well of sympathy is completely and utterly dry.

    4. Ev*

      Last week, my coworker had to remind a library patron to wear her mask correctly and the lady did correct her mask but also groused for the next two minutes about how the mask steams up her glasses.

      A) Lady, my coworkers and I all wear glasses and have all been working in the branch since last May to provide curbside library service, wearing masks 8 hours a day. You can wear yours correctly for 15 minutes.
      B) The patron was not, at that time, wearing any glasses.

  10. Hills to Die on*

    I got a job as a grocery store worker to compensate for my loss of income as a server (2nd job).
    Once the store was empty, I can assure you those masks are off because you can’t breathe with them on while you are carrying 25-40 lb totes full of cans and bottles, people aren’t using hand sanitizer or their hands would shrivel up and flake off, and people were climbing all over and around each other like bees in a hive, definitely not socially distancing while breathing heavily. Everyone got sick and most all of of it went unreported. I was one of the few who refused to come because I had a low-grade temperature and a cough. And yeah, it’s one of the biggest grocery store chains you can name in the US. Same at the other stores of the same chain nearby. Sorry, that’s how it was.
    So I had a high tolerance for lack of safety protocols. Contrast with people fearing for their lives if they lived like me for 5 minutes and it was…surreal to say the least. People straight-up didn’t believe me, or thought I should report to newspapers, local news. As if it wasn’t happening everywhere. Like I needed my 3rd job to get shut down.

    I had 3 jobs – now I have one and it’s a lot better. But it IS hard not to roll your eyes. Why is it ok for me to risk my life and be ok with this because I HAD to be, but I can’t SAY I am ok with it ? You have to normalize things to survive but don’t dare say them out loud or you’re part of the problem.

    1. elle*

      I definitely felt this pressure as well when I was working on site. I felt like I couldn’t take real safety seriously because my brain would explode. Our management worked hard to enforce protocols but not all employees were on board and I just couldn’t be that stressed all day every day. I had to basically become somewhat non-concerned just to survive. I risked my job and pushed hard — and won — reduced staffing levels during the first few weeks of shut down to reduce all our risk, but after a month the company had to go back to “normal” and I felt like I’d put myself in real danger for no real benefit.

    2. Maggie*

      Thank you for saying this. I feel like all the people who have been staunch stay at home and extra careful just dont get what its like to have to roll your sleeves up and go work in person. Like do they honestly REALLY think that the workers they’ve essentially thrown to the wolves are following all those protocols? They obviously aren’t because if they did it would take a darn week to pack a grocery order and they’d be complaining about the terrible customer service from their Instacart app. Lol. And it does feel like people are saying ‘well I need to be safe’ and in person workers are thinking ‘well I havent been safe for a year but thats been no problem for you!’ so they are frustrated. I just think a lot of people who have been staying home all this time need to go take a peek into the real world.

    3. justabot*

      This is exactly how it was at my workplace too (hospitality.) And a state where everything re-opened, no capacity restrictions on indoor settings, event permits given for any business that asked, huge weddings allowed at our venues, and being exposed to hundreds of people and tourists. Meanwhile I would have friends working at home for months freaking out, “my husband passed someone without a mask at the grocery store, should I make him quarantine in the basement for two weeks?” I literally stopped telling people how it was for me going to work because I couldn’t take the condescending “Wows” and comments. And being there was beyond a lot of my personal comfort level, but that was my job and I have bills to pay.

      1. Time's Thief*

        I’m also in a wide-open state and I have opinions. The narrative about why we should throw open doors and throw off masks was that everyone could make choices on based on their own risk comfort. What they meant is that anyone rich enough to choose their own environment could continue to do so. For those of us working retail it meant that we’ve been exposed to the biggest risk takers and covid-deniers for almost a year now, with no extra pay and no protections beyond what our individual businesses are willing to implement. I’ve had maskless people get in my face, try to push past me, cough in my direction, and otherwise increase my risks and I certainly didn’t get a choice in the matter beyond whether I wanted to get paid or not. Going elsewhere wasn’t much of an option as all stores were in the same situation. So where was my choice? Where did I get to say that I’m at moderate risk and thus should be able to avoid all these plague rats flooding the mall?

        1. justabot*

          That really bothered me too, the narrative of “Well if you aren’t comfortable with it, then stay home” when the job was in person, with total exposure to the public, particularly the public who is out and about taking the LEAST amount of safety precautions, and you don’t have the option to do what feels safe for you. I’m really sorry. It’s very real and very little has focused on people who didn’t have a choice and who didn’t sign up for this, but still needed to work and get a paycheck and pay bills.

  11. Essentially Fed Up*

    Thank you for this. I’m currently unemployed while looking for a decent job in my field, but I’ve worked part-time food service jobs during the pandemic (the first I quit because I moved out of state, the second I quit after not receiving notice after a possible exposure from a co-worker). I am lucky that I have been able to rely on my spouse’s salary to pay the bills while I’m out of work. I have an option that many do not. I have lots of anger and resentment from my experiences working “essential” jobs during this pandemic while dealing with the attitudes of customers who were safely working from home. The divide between those who have had to risk contracting COVID to be able to do their jobs and those for whom COVID has been nothing but an inconvenience feels like an ever-widening gulf.

    1. R2-beep-boo*

      I think the part I’ve struggled with is the overwhelming acknowledgement that this is difficult for people in the WFH situation – both when the pandemic hit, and now talking about transitioning back – while there’s so little being said about those who have been working in person all along.
      Honestly, it’s a little hard not to draw conclusions about the types of work that couldn’t be remote, and the fact that a lot of that work is largely “unseen.”

      1. justabot*

        And that was also before vaccines were available. Now people returning to in person work are going back into a world where they are vaccinated and around others who are also vaccinated. None of that was the case last April or May when I got called back into work – and gave up the PUA + unemployment pay which was more than my take home pay to do so….

    1. A Genuine Scientician*

      It’s also just an issue of knowing your audience.

      I might quibble with a few of the sentiments expressed, since they are not solely applicable to those who have been working in person but are phrased as if they are. But you know what? This isn’t the time or place for that.

      A lot of workers have been in person the whole time and largely ignored in the popular media narrative after the first month or so. It’s entirely appropriate for things to focus on them, and for those who have concerns about having to return to working in person — no matter how legitimate those concerns are — to take a moment to think about who else is in the audience while they’re expressing those concerns.

  12. Sled Dog Mama*

    Alison, thank you for taking the time to point out how the experience of the pandemic has differed for people based on their jobs.

  13. R2-beep-boo*

    Yes, thank you. I work for a food processor, and while it’s definitely not the same situation that health care workers are in, the crazy grocery store stockpiling is something we are still recovering from. We’ve been working 10 hour days, lots of 6-day weeks, and seasonally, 7-day weeks.
    My employer has done a very good job doing all they can, but demand from customers has pushed us to the limits of our production capacity…and at the same time we’re all trying to juggle kids doing distance learning, or quarantining, or all the other issues.
    I’m sympathetic to people who had to adjust to WFH on the fly, with companies who were unprepared, in situations that were far from ideal. I think those of us who have been “on location” all this time just want to feel seen and acknowledged.

  14. Meep, An Essential Food Worker*

    Thank you for even this short post. Almost everyone I’ve come across IRL thinks that I’ve been working from home, but I’ve been at work the whole time.

    I do feel like it’s been to my benefit – I would have suffered being alone in my apartment. Would have probably developed a lot of fears and trepidations about being in public! Now I just deal with it.

    1. Meep, An Essential Food Worker*

      For those focusing on food ordering and groceries pick ups …. well let me share my experience. I have been ordering from restaurants occasionally, but I do pick it up myself – and just wear a mask. For groceries, I still shop in person – but I go around 7-8 a.m. when the crowd is very much less. I still get out and about; I am not trapped at home by any means.

      I have also just finished my Covid vaccination series, including the final two week incubation period – so I’m fully vaxxed! It has opened up my world and freed my mind of a lot of anxieties. Some people call them their freedom shots. Yes I still wear a mask and socially distance. I don’t go to crowded restaurants but I will go to one with a small crowd, enough for social distancing. Yes, I had mild reactions but nothing that would prevent me from doing it again. If you’re on the fence about getting vaccinated ….. please don’t let fears stop you. For now … there is a life to live, even if it is still weird out there.

  15. probably overthinking it*

    If you think this could be productive, I’d love an open thread or discussion with the workers who were forced to stay in person (e.g., grocery store workers, restaurant workers, warehouse workers, etc.) where they can give us tips for how to help their lives be better. Obviously, listening and following COVID protocols is the first step, as well as advocating for stronger protections, wages, etc. But the other things, like – ordering groceries is helpful because it lessens the non-employees in-store, lowering employee risk (or maybe the opposite is true, because there’s so much work and employees have to be on the floor to pick up groceries, I don’t know), or “use less-urgent delivery methods where possible, because it lets us work fewer hours/follow protocols better” – are so confusing for me (and probably others). I’m trying to live in the least burdensome way, but … how can we try to navigate that? I’m sure there’s going to be a LOT of things that are regional/org specific, but those differences could be discussed too (e.g., Randall’s pickup is dangerous for XYZ reasons, but Trader Joe’s pickup is safer for workers because ABC reasons).

    1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      There was an open thread for in-person workers a few weeks ago, that might be what you’re looking for.

    2. Ellen Ripley*

      I can’t speak to the food-industry side of things, but as someone who works in other retail, it’s pretty simple:
      * Wear your mask (properly, get one that fits you well and that you don’t have to fiddle with) and don’t complain about it. Put it on before you enter the store (preferably before you get out of your car) and don’t make me come up to remind you, and worry that you’re going to go nuclear on me. Don’t pull it down to talk, or pull it off when you think you’re alone – there may be someone stocking or cleaning right around the corner.
      * Don’t handle stuff unnecessarily. Covid may not be passed via surfaces very often but it’s not impossible and in general it’s just bad practice to touch things right after/before someone else who may not be vaccinated or as good about hand hygiene as you. (Speaking of which, small kids have a really hard time not touching stuff. Don’t bring them in unless there’s no choice, and keep them under watch. A trip to the store is not playtime for kids, probably ever, but definitely not right now.)
      * Be patient and flexible. If it’s really busy, maybe come back another time.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        +1. Other things that occur to me off the top of my head:

        -If you can not hear me through my mask, say that while leaving your mask on. Taking your mask off will NOT improve your hearing. Assume that I can hear and understand you just fine unless I say otherwise.

        -Do not try and stand in the cracks of protective screens so you can be heard. Again, if I am having trouble hearing you, I will ask you to move. Until then, just shout if you feel you need to.

        -Get in and Get out. See your neighbor for the first time in a year? Doesn’t mean you need to stop and socialize in a public space. Go outside and talk in the parking lot, away from the entrance and exits.

      2. EmmaPoet*

        -Do not tell us how burdensome masks are. We have to wear them for 8 hours a day, and if we commute via public transportation(which a lot of us do), longer than that. We are following the law and the CDC, vaccinated or not, and we don’t need to hear the umpteenth person that day complain to us that they don’t like wearing a mask. Neither do I, but I don’t want to get sick or get someone else sick.
        -When you sign up for a library appointment, pick the option you need. Do not sign up for browsing when you need to use a computer. We have less than half the amount of computers and they have to be reserved in advance, you cannot just walk up and use them. We know it’s annoying, but this is the system we have for the forseeable future and it’s been decided at the county level, not by the circulation staff member in front of you.

      3. Sandangel*

        I work in toys, and yes! Please don’t bring your kids and then let them touch everything! I know they’re bored at home, but my department is not a play area, please don’t play with stuff then leave it lying around! My department is super understaffed right now, I’m often the only person there to deal with it.

    3. A New CV*

      It probably seems obvious but considering how much foot traffic we still get:
      Check if a store has an online portal. Get things shipped, or do curbside pickup. This way, the store still generates income, staff have work to do and get hours, but there is less exposure for everyone. Now is not the time for window shopping.
      Don’t bring the whole family. Kids don’t need to be in shops at all. I’m talking about multi-grown up families, obviously, where there is childcare available. We have a very low capacity right now and families of 5+ wandering around for 45 minutes to entertain their kids and buy $30 of stock while making other customers line up outside is actually hurting our business.
      We all want the Economy to thrive and people want to work but there has to be a way to do it with more consideration for everyone.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Thanks for this advice. I have done some grocery pickup due to pregnancy complications that made me too tired to even do routine grocery shopping. Sometimes I feel bad about transferring the risk to someone else, but you have a good point that fewer different people walking around lowers the risk for everyone.

    4. Pickled Limes*

      I work for a local government, and the best thing people can do for people like me is write to your elected representatives and ask them to prioritize the needs of their employees. It’s so common for government employees to hear “No, you can’t have this thing that would make your work day more bearable, because if the taxpayers found out we spent their tax dollars on that, they’d freak out.” Tell your representatives that you WANT the employees you pay through your taxes to be cared for in the work place. You want them to have access to desk chairs that won’t screw up their bodies. You want them to have access to good quality drinking water. You want the equipment in their office kitchen to be up to date so they can eat lunch during their shift. The only way to convince the elected officials who make these decisions to actually look out for the well being of their employees is for voters and tax payers to insist on it.

    5. TPS reporter*

      Thank you for this! I work in healthcare but on the admin side so have been mostly at home. Are there any tips for supporting my healthcare colleagues??

      I love all of the advice about retailing, I was wondering why in the world people insist on bringing their whole family to the store.

  16. middle name danger*

    “Many of these workers resent that people upset about returning didn’t display the same concern for the safety of those who have been there all along”

    I’m also upset that those who are deciding it’s safe for them to come back, have no regard NOW for the safety of those of us who are still here. I’ve been part of a small team still on site, and suddenly front office is coming in sporadically as they feel like coming in, with no warning to those of us who have been here daily. They want to catch up, get way too close without masks for too long, and just generally don’t acknowledge that I’ve got tasks to do and can’t stand around to chat.

  17. Exhausted*

    I commented on the original post, but pretty far down so here I am again. I was an essential worker for the first year of the pandemic until I took a new job that is currently remote about a month ago. Spending too much time alone in my tiny studio has been incredibly disorienting and I’m itching to go back to work in person as soon as it’s safe…but that said, working in person during a pandemic was objectively way more stressful, isolating, exhausting, awful, and every other negative emotion. I too hate endless remote meetings, but if I have to hear one more person complain to me about Zoom fatigue, I will yeet myself into the sun. I’ve had such a different pandemic experience than most of the people in my life outside of former coworkers, and now that we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with vaccinations (hopefully!) and I’m no longer risking my health every day at work, trying to begin processing everything I experienced over the last year has been extremely hard.

  18. Juniantara*

    As vaccinations have started to become more common and we are starting to discuss loosening restrictions, there’s been something …weird…. About the conversations everywhere I go online. Everyone seems to be proactively defensive and edgy, so even minor statements (“It’s great we don’t have to wear masks outdoors”, or “The situation in India is really bad”) get huge, outsized reactions (“you can pry my mask out of my hands on judgment day how dare you”, “you think I’m just wandering around spitting on strangers without a mask how dare you”). This might just be the natural stress response, but it’s making a lot of places seem really hostile all around right now.

    I do get how the “in this together” rhetoric can ignore how people can have had very different experiences over the past year, and I do think it’s important to consider those other experiences.

  19. kaycee*

    Hi Alison, I’m one of the original commenters you included in your Slate post. I have to be honest, that post does nothing. You didn’t make any suggestions for how WFH people can be better or advocate for improvements. You just took other people’s writing and got paid for it. I’m disappointed but not surprised. (And seeing how you’ve curated comments before, I won’t be surprised if/when this gets deleted either.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I actually had a conversation with my editor about that for this column. We both thought the quotes were powerful enough that we wanted to use as many of them as possible and let them be heard (as opposed to the 3-5 I’d be able to use if it were a more traditional column) since the whole point is that they haven’t been heard enough. That was the point of it.

      1. Sylvan*

        Yeah, the quotes are powerful enough that you didn’t have to write your own content.

      2. Temporary Throwaway*

        General question – is the understanding that any comments on AAM might be used for articles without prior warning? People don’t always feel great about being quoted in an article without explicit consent, and in general there is beginning to be a lot of pushback on the whole taking-things-from-Twitter-and-using-them-in-journalistic-articles thing. At the magazine I work for, we would never use somebody’s words without giving them a heads up, if not actively asking for permission. I’m looking at the general privacy policy for the site and the original post that asked for this feedback and seeing no such disclaimers.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s in the privacy policy as of today, after this was pointed out below. I’ll figure out a way to put it somewhere more prominent as well.

        2. A Genuine Scientician*

          Speaking solely for myself, I see a world of difference between comments on someone’s blog ending up in a column the blog’s author writes, vs. having someone’s Twitter thread posted on a monetized third party site without the author’s express permission.

    2. Allypopx*

      She used her platform to amplify the voices of people who said they wanted to be heard. Not everything needs a solution. We’ve all gotten plenty of space to complain – on major networks, on social media, and as – Alison acknowelges – on this blog. The goal isn’t to dictate your behavior it’s to garner a little empathy.

    3. sick hospital worker*

      I have to agree with kaycee. I don’t remember you saying anything about using these comments for another column (and I thought you always did that if you were going to reprint comments). I have to admit I had a sick feeling in my stomach while reading to see if you had used my comment – I’m glad to say it wasn’t picked.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hmmm, I don’t normally announce that ahead of time — my column for Slate is always about themes I’m seeing on this site, so I don’t typically warn people about that since I don’t know which columns here might end up being fodder for something I write there. I’ll give more thought to how to handle that. (For now, though, please assume any letter or comment you submit here could end up being used in something I write elsewhere; if you don’t want that, you can indicate it when writing.)

        1. Annie Moose*

          I remember you used to have a note to this effect on “share your story” posts (for example, some of the old holiday story posts), either in the body of the post or as a pinned comment where you’d say that you may use it in a future column and that if commenters asked, you wouldn’t include their comments. Seems like it might be a good idea to bring this back!

          In general I have to admit that I don’t love the idea that our comments could be turned into columns without a clear indicator. People often post quite personal or vulnerable stories here and I can see how it could really blindside someone if they thought they were only posting in a (relatively small) comments section and their comment ended up as part of one of your columns elsewhere. I understand it’s quite difficult in this context to individually contact people for attribution/permission but that’s why a disclaimer would be helpful. Or, if you thought you were going to use comments from ordinary posts too, perhaps a small disclaimer at the end of each posts (like the Amazon affiliate disclaimer at the end of the weekend posts)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I think it’ll need a site-wide disclaimer since with the Slate column I no longer know “ah, this is a post that I might quote from.” I’ll figure out how to do it.

      2. Lucky*

        I don’t understand why this would make you sick to your stomach. Does it cause you any sort of harm to have some words that you wrote on one website copy/pasted on another website without any identifying information that could tie it to you?

        I mean, this website is completely public and anyone could come along and copy/paste your comment anywhere else on the internet without your knowledge. If that really bothers you, maybe you shouldn’t be commenting at all.

        1. turquoisecow*

          Agreed. It’s not like AAM is totally private and Slate isn’t. It’s an anonymous post either way. If you don’t want it out in the public, don’t put it on AAM which has a pretty active comment section (plus an untold number of lurkers who don’t comment).

    4. Default Crisis Fail*

      All ears and eyes for ways to advocate for improvements for essential workers — do you have any suggestions for WFH people to help you out (aside from the usual and important wearing masks, distancing, not crowding, being patient, etc.)? (In case it wasn’t clear, this is a serious question; I’d really appreciate learning to what to do improve the situation so I can do that and pass along the info to my circle as well.)

      1. Chris too*

        I wasn’t working from home and it’s pretty darned stressful waking up every workday and wondering, is this the day I catch a potentially deadly disease?
        One thing I did – when I absolutely had to buy things, like better quality cat food than you’d find in a grocery store – I’d go into a smaller store and say, hey, nice store, are you the owner? The ones behind the til who said yes, I’d say to them, good, you’re out here taking the risk yourself instead of shoving it All on employees. This means from now on I will buy all my cat food – or whatever – from you now. I now have several new places to shop where I can believe the owners acted ethically.

        1. Default Crisis Fail*

          Wow, this is such a good tip/reminder. I tend to shop at the smaller stores, and throughout the pandemic, I’ve seen owners in the trenches with their staff. Thanks, Chris!

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        My only two cents would be maybe keep that tone of “Thank you, Healthcare Workers” in your voice when dealing with everyone from MDs/RNs to MAs/ Patient Service Reps. No one was expecting the flowers and pizzas to keep up indefinitely, but it was quite sudden when the general lift in the politeness and patience of people last spring evaporated once summer hit and the pandemic was still on. It was like whiplash.

        I’m assuming most of the AAM readers are baseline more polite to those in service professions than the general public, but just remember that we’ve been exposed, dealt with sometimes faulty or subpar masks 40+ hours a week for over a year, and added so much logistically to everything we do. (And remember that we know more about our own safety precautions than you do! We’ve had people complain that we don’t allow gloves, that we make them switch to a surgical mask, etc etc… just do what we tell you to, please!)

        The same goes double for grocery/retail workers. I think a lot of us got thanked more last spring than ever before, and then all of that recognition VOOP! was gone and some people were back to treating us like cogs.

  20. pandq*

    I have always worked from home most of my career. But I got to use instacart for grocery delivery before I was vaccinated (I’m 69 years old), and other delivery services for many other items. Feel privileged that I was able to do that. I could not have done that without the front line grocery workers and delivery people. I try very hard to show my appreciate by tipping extra. Thank you!

  21. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

    “I’m not even afraid anymore. I ran out of fear six months ago.” I dont know why, but this hit me so hard.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      It’s so relatable. And if you aren’t afraid, people are offended. Like I should try to be more miserable and stressed every day (already was working 3 jobs thanks) so that I can relate to your at-home self better when I am just trying to survive too?

    2. A Woman Exhusted*

      This. Yes! I’ve been in person the whole time, first activated by the National Guard then back to my essential job. I still commuted to work, completed 8-10 hr days, then came home to all the chores undone. My partner and I ended up fighting more about chores during the pandemic than ever before – I ask that she use her breaks or off-camera Zoom time to get little things done (instead of playing games on the phone), she thought it wasn’t fair to ask her to do chores just because she was WFH. I think we were both right, but above all I know we were both lucky to be employed, in a sunny apt with lots of trees and birds nearby, and to have each other. I’m still exhausted and frankly don’t even want my coworkers to all come back.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I’ve struggled with a similar situation, but with a roommate. I’ve always worked outside the home (even in the pandemic) and she’s always WFH while we’ve lived together. It always irked me that it seemed like she wasn’t keeping up with her 50% of shared household duties. So then in my mind I’m screaming “She works from home! Why can’t she unload the dishwasher from time to time! Statistically, she uses way more dishes than me!” So for me, it wasn’t necessarily how she was using her time during the day, it’s that she wasn’t keeping up her end of the bargain and I would sometimes come home to a house that wasn’t very clean.

        Don’t even get me started on how she was “so tired of having to wear a mask to go to the grocery store” while I was working at my essential job and having to be out in it all the time. I did NOT renew my lease with her!

    3. Mental Lentil*

      That entire paragraph describes where I’m at right now: “I’m not even afraid anymore. I ran out of fear six months ago. Now I’m just exhausted and angry and betrayed.”

      We closed for six weeks. Then we were back and have been back every since. I’ve managed to keep myself, my parents, my coworkers, and a houseplant alive through all of this. I didn’t learn Swahili. I didn’t learn three new programming languages. I see people out without masks who just don’t care. I’ve had to learn to navigate an entirely new world. I’m tired and I don’t trust anyone any more. Every week it’s just “oh, if I can just get through this week” and then the same thing next week.

      1. TheHotNerd*

        I never trusted people, and lived by the “no expectations means I won’t be disappointed.” This pandemic has shown me that I apparently still had expectations — for people to show basic humanity towards others, for example, that weren’t even met by those in my neighborhood, let alone what I saw elsewhere in the US and the world.
        I am lowering the bar even further.

        As an aside, I did notice that my severe dog allergies haven’t really come up since I started wearing a mask outside and in the grocery store (and people weren’t bring their dogs into the store — what a health hazard it was anyways). So I will probably continue to wear a mask in stores. I thought the pandemic worry would look more legit to others than a dog allergy, but thanks to lowered expectations, it won’t matter what people think. I’m learning to just not care.

    4. Meep, An Essential Food Worker*

      I am completely right there with whoever said that. I have to be out in public whether I like/enjoy it or not, I have to live.

    5. Pickled Limes*

      Me too. I’m just so exhausted. There’s not enough energy left in me for that level of anxiety.

  22. Megs*

    I’m a 911 dispatcher and so have, of course, been in person the whole time. The nation wide staffing shortage 911 already faced was now exacerbated by dispatchers who got sick, or were exposed and had to quarantine, or needed extra leave to take care of their kids since school was virtual. Mandatory OT and on call days were the solutions.

    Our CPR/DOA calls obviously exploded. But so did our suicide threats and attempts and our calls from people having a mental health crisis.

    Federally, we aren’t classified as emergency personnel. We are classified as clerical workers. We didn’t get any money from the HEROES Act. And my local government instituted a 2 year pay freeze. I basically took a pay cut to work this pandemic.

    And every article I read….doesn’t mention me. Doesn’t mention my experience. It’s incredibly alienating and isolating to be ignored by society while you kill yourself to try and serve them.

    Thanks for trying to rectify that Alison.

    1. Generic Name*

      Hugs. Thank you for your hard work. I work in a construction-adjacent industry, and was therefore deemed “essential” but honestly, if I couldn’t do my job, widening a road or replacing a bridge would have been delayed for maybe a year. Not an immediate life-or-death situation like you were dealing with.

        1. Default Crisis Fail*

          More hugs. I’m grateful this post and thread have at least brought a little visibility as well as some comfort to heroes like you.

    2. kittymommy*

      Yeah, I understand where you are coming from. It’s weird being classified as “essential” by my job but not really be essential (ie not a first responder, medical worker or grocery store worker). It’s kind of surreal. (FTR, I’m also classified as admin/clerical in a local government, but due to the nature of my job it can’t really be done from home. They’re are just certain meetings that can’t be done 100% virtually).

      I have a friend in a similar situation. They are an office manager for a horse farm. Between payroll, vet records, feed and just simply taking care of the animals (and the workers that take care of them), there wasn’t any WFH options either.

    3. Observer*

      Federally, we aren’t classified as emergency personnel.

      That’s just… I’m not even sure what words to use. But how could the people who triage emergency calls not be “emergency workers”?!?!?!

      What a terrible icing of a cake of terribleness.

      1. D'Euly*

        Unreal. You are literally the person we call *in case of an emergency*. I do not understand the world.

        Thank you.

    4. Anonnny*

      Thank you for your comment. I hope it gets pinned to the top because more people need to read it.

  23. Nora*

    My husband and I are both state employees. He’s in a (non-health) public service roll and has essentially never stopped going to the office and dealing with the public. My entire agency converted to full-time telework immediately and easily. Yet somehow my agency was deemed essential and got on the early vaccine list and his didn’t. We are both now fully vaccinated but I don’t think either of us will stop being furious about how little regard his own leadership team has for him and his coworkers.

    1. crchtqn2*

      This is so common its infuriating. My husband works directly with prisoners in the county jail yet he had to wait longer for the vaccine than other industries that were working from home, even when his jail system was getting weekly Covid outbreaks. I was only a week difference in getting the vaccine than him even though I was in an industry that is only considered essential because a technicality.

      1. Alice*

        That is rough. But, I want to say thank you to your husband for getting vaccinated and thus helping to protect people in the jail. People in congregate housing are at such high risk and you read about some states refusing to prioritize prisoners for vaccinations, or some staff declining to accept it when offered. Kudos to your husband for protecting others.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      I totally agree. My BF is in Finance for a medical company and has been 100% WFH. He was deemed an essential worker and was vaccine eligible. He tried to skip the vaccine for someone else in genuine need but they told him if he didn’t use it, then it would go to waste. Makes no sense.

  24. Des*

    I don’t understand why this is being positioned as an us vs them problem. It’s not as if the grocery store worker only works for the benefit of those who stay at home. The grocery store worker themself needs to shop for groceries. Thus grocery stores have to stay open. There’s a narrative that “we” sent the grocery store workers into the hell of navigating in-person interactions during COVID. That is not the case. The average stay-at-home mom has no input on government decisions about mask mandates or store reopening phases and protocols. The person WFH is going to have anxiety about their own issues because those issues materially affect their life, right now. I don’t expect someone currently tending to a COVID-19 patient to worry about a school bombing in Afghanistan just because those (dead) children definitely have it worse than the nurse in ICU. So you cannot expect someone working remotely to experience higher levels of anxiety about other people’s lives than their own. That’s not how humans work. We have to take care of ourselves, and put our own masks on before helping the other person. Treating these concerns as “whining” simply perpetuates the us vs them mentality.

    That said, as a society, it’s been shameful how segments of our population has been treated. And will continue to be treated if we don’t demand change.

    1. Retail Not Retail*

      I know we all have to grocery shop, but after those first few weeks, everyone “essential” became invisible again. Oh we still thank medical professionals, but really when it comes to covid thinkpieces about work and lifestyles it’s all from the idea that reader is working from home. A cashier doesn’t read advice columns! The only “workers” are office workers who are working from home.

      Even silly stuff assumes the reader is stuck at home – I always wrestled with the ethics of going to the store after work. After all, I’ve already been exposed. But then again, I’m exposing others. (I went in more often than not and kept my distance and stayed masked.)

      Frankly I feel guilty reading these because I have a job that BSed its way to “essential” during the shutdown (agriculture) but truly is not. Oh that hasn’t stopped customers from flocking to us (it is safer than indoors) but I’m hardly a teacher or nurse or cashier.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        I saw a tweet that said “I got a letter that said I’m essential and a paycheck that said I’m not” and that sums it up about perfectly for me.

        1. Retail Not Retail*

          I definitely make less than the average person working from home so it’s like grin and bear it.

        2. a drive-by commenter*

          I got a letter that said I was essential until it came time to hand out the vaccines, then suddenly I wasn’t anymore.

    2. Elli in Cali*

      “I don’t understand why this is being positioned as an us vs them problem… The average stay-at-home mom has no input on government decisions about mask mandates or store reopening phases and protocols.”

      Consider re-reading the title of this post: “people who haven’t been working from home feel invisible”. The focus is on a group of people who feel their experiences haven’t been seen or shared by others. I’d suggest reading the full column at Slate and asking what you can do to make these people feel heard. Change starts at home.

    3. Mental Lentil*

      The average stay-at-home mom has no input on government decisions about mask mandates or store reopening phases and protocols.

      Yes, you do. This is what a representative democracy is about. You can vote. You can also call, write, or email your elected representatives. As Alison so often has to remind us, use your words.

      1. Time's Thief*

        This! This this this!
        My store reopened because people demanded we ‘return to normal’ so they could get back to wandering the mall. The average stay-at-home mom and others absolutely had input on what protections the state put in place (none) and because the ones who hate masks and hate restrictions yelled the loudest, that’s what we got.

  25. Concerned Parent*

    Thanks for this.

    I think it really hit home for me when parents started forming “pods” and they wanted families to commit to strict social distancing. My family couldn’t because of my job. I am lucky that I’m able to work from home most of the time, and my coworkers have been good about social distancing and masking when we do need to work in the office, but I’m considered an essential government employee.

    I’m sorry that responding to natural disasters and coordinating with first responders and keeping government services running means that it’s not safe for my kid to hang out in your backyard with his friends.

  26. InPersonTeach*

    I’m a teacher who’s been in person, five days a week, since September. The same people crowing now about having to go back to work are the ones who were screaming at teachers for wanting more robust safety measures put into place before schools could open back up.

    I have no sympathy.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I have all of the sympathy in the world for teachers – my kids’ teachers have nothing but my support. Whatever they need – I am on board, full stop.

      1. Delia*

        Thank you for supporting us! We have been back full time, face to face AND with online kids, since August, and it’s super-hard. It’s even more invigorating when our principal sends us weekly “you don’t have to work here/I’m sure lots of folks would love to have your job” missives.
        My question (unrelated to this thread, so sorry) is: where are all these magical jobs that teachers can switch to? This year has been utterly demoralizing and a lot of my coworkers want out too.

        1. PhysicsTeacher*

          This year has been the worst. We have tons of open positions from people quitting without another job lined up.

    2. Opinions, I've Had a Few*

      Teachers (I’m in higher ed) were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. What a horrible position to be in and to still be in, quite frankly.

    3. ANON FOR This*

      I agree with you. We have asked people to work as we have deemed what they do as so valuable that they need to risk their and their families health for it.
      We did. Then we kept going. Teachers (and other essential workers) should be treated MUCH BETTER.
      What does that look like?
      It is not rocket science, how about say, getting the vaccine sooner? no?
      How about more $$?
      How about being treated with dignity and concern while making such risks? no? too hard to make the public treat us well..
      hmm. oh I know!
      more of the same work.

      Thank you so much for all you have risked, for all you will continue to do.

  27. Kathlynn (Canada)*

    My last job was retail. And most of my family members are in jobs that you can’t work from home at. So when I’ve had coworkers make comments about restrictions in place in various areas, acting like every single person works from home it’s frustrated me. And I generally use it as a time to point out that not everyone works from home, and thus needs access to things like clothing. (or just have growing kids)

  28. La Triviata*

    I’m not an essential worker, but I have been coming in to work nearly every day. At first, I was in an apartment where I couldn’t get internet access and then, when I moved, I thought it was useful for me to be in the office. And it has been useful – I’ve kept the office open, gotten work done, taken care of on-site issues (making sure people’s office phones were forwarding to their home/cell phones, restarting computers that had frozen, answering phones, accepting deliveries, etc., as well as taking in the mail and making sure all checks received were deposited and invoices were paid). I’ve also cleaned out the refrigerator and made sure our dishwasher and ice maker didn’t mildew. I’m mildly resentful that my boss and others seem to see this as indulging my preferences, rather than making sure no one else had to come in to take care of these issues. I haven’t heard a lot of concern/complaints about those who’ve been working from home about eventually coming back in. I do get angry at the people I come across who refuse to wear a mask or distance themselves. I think it’s been hard on us all, in different ways, and I don’t think we’ll ever get back to what used to be normal.

    1. Delphine*

      It does sound like you made a voluntary decision to continuing going into the office after moving, so I’m not surprised that your coworkers/boss see it that way. I don’t think it’s the same as people who have been forced to go into work or lose their livelihoods.

  29. Emily*

    Thank you so much for this, Alison. I work in an office, and my job cannot be done from home, and while there were many people in much more stressful/dangerous situations than me (front line workers like grocery store workers and healthcare workers) this past year has been exhausting and tough. Because my job cannot be done from home, at the beginning of the pandemic I took on additional responsiblities/duties so others in the office could work from home. Of course at the time I thought it would last a month or two at most, but it ended up being more than a year. I’m lucky that my office has been very good in regards to COVID (requiring masks, social distancing, etc), but it was exhausting to take on additional work to help others and have them take me for granted. Appreciation has never been expressed by them and a couple of them were the types of people to try and push work off on others even before the pandemic. I’ve really had to advocate for myself over the past year, with varying degrees of success. I also feel like because I’m single and childless at times I’m viewed as not mattering as much as people with spouses and/or children. People are being brought back to the office, but it’s clear they’re resentful and would have rather just kept dumping work off on me so they could continue to work from home. I used tons of advice from your website when it came to addressing these issues with my boss and co-workers, and I really appreciate the advice and guidance you provide.

  30. JillianNicola*

    Look at it this way. People who are essential workers or due to whatever circumstances were not able to WFH, have been in the TRENCHES without a single break since March 2020. Exhausted, burnt out, definitely dirty/not sleeping well/not eating right/drinking too much/what have you. A lot of us have made it to now – not quite the other side, but almost. A lot (a lot) of us haven’t, and we carry their memory with us. As we near the end of the pandemic, as vaccinations continue and restrictions get relaxed and mandates get lifted, companies are considering how to get back to whatever our new normal will be, and it’s like a sliver of sun on the battlefield. Your essential job will hopefully get a little less essential (less panic shopping and angry customers, less people needing urgent/emergency care, etc etc), and if you’re the lone office worker coming in, your support is on it’s way back. It’s like, oh my god, okay, we almost made it, we’re almost there, thank you for doing your part WFH folks, now just give me your hand and let’s get over this last little stretch. And the WFH folks are like, but what if my ankles get dirty?? What horrors then?? And you’re just staring at them, covered head to toe in over a year’s worth of sweat and dirt and grief, like … are you serious right now.

    I don’t want to discount the anxiety of WFH folks. It’s real, the risks are real, and I empathize. But those risks that are present right now, compared to the outrageous risks essential/non-WFH folks had to live day to day with (a lot of the time without proper protection), are just miles and miles and miles and miles apart.

    1. fposte*

      I think trenches really resonates, because we’re talking people who were the pandemic equivalent of cannon fodder.

      1. JillianNicola*

        Yup. I worked for big box retail until August of last year. We didn’t get masks provided to us until almost May (I started wearing my own before that), we were notified when someone got sick but not their name (understandable) and NOT which department they were in – so we had no idea if we had been near/exposed (super not understandable at all), and if we felt uncomfortable about working, or had compromised family members at home, we could take an UNPAID leave of absence. Unpaid. Like, you could put your health ahead of your job if you needed to but you wouldn’t be able to pay your rent/groceries/etc.

        Cannon fodder indeed.

      2. Wrench Turner*

        As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s become clear that “essential” is just “expendable” misspelled.

  31. Beka Cooper*

    The thing that makes me the most angry is that it was allowed to go on this long. This is squarely on those in leadership positions refusing to do what was necessary to end the pandemic (pay people to stay home, it could have been over in 6 weeks). Instead, we are perpetually “locking down” with not-really-lockdowns and “opening back up” and being pitted against each other for decisions that shouldn’t have been ours to make. Even with a new president and administration, the attitude seems to be that there’s nothing we can do but get vaccinated and wait, because of the economy. But the economy depends on and is important because it affects human lives, and so many of those lives were lost! And now people have the audacity to criticize people for not wanting to come back to low-paying restaurant and retail jobs, after calling them essential but not paying them or treating them as such.

  32. Generic Name*

    Yes! My husband is a carpenter and has been (thankfully!) going to work this whole time. To be honest, there is a class component to this that I think makes it feel even ickier. Take a look at the types of jobs that can be done from home versus jobs that are “hands-on”/presence required. I totally get why people who have been going to work this whole time feel burnt out by everything.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      Absolutely. I’m in construction and we had a real heart-wrenching discussion about how to return to work safely very early on in the pandemic because we needed to be there for our subs. If we can’t work, they can’t work. But most of them couldn’t afford not to be working, so we made it happen for them.

    2. Wrench Turner*

      It’s been surreal in some ways to be working as normal the whole time and watching the world kind of fall apart around us. There is definitely a class component to it, too.

  33. Pam Adams*

    My feeling- particularly for the lower-paid fields- is that if you are essential, you should be paid more. This pandemic showed us who really does keep the wheels turning on our economy, and it’s not the CEO’s; it’s the millions of underpaid, overworked ordinary people.

    I am privileged to be in a position now where I could work from home during the pandemic, and I highly appreciate all of those who made it possible – grocery store workers, restaurant employees, Amazon, etc. warehouse pickers and delivery drivers, staff at doctor’s offices and hospitals, and everyone else who keeps the world going.

    1. llamaswithouthats*

      Kind of tangential but there is a book called “Bullshit Jobs” that I believe came out before the pandemic that made a similar point. A lot of the jobs that are given prestige in society are actually not that functionally important (aka “bullshit”). The pandemic seemed to prove his point. Basically, a good litmus test is, if people of certain jobs went on strike tomorrow, would you notice?

  34. anonymous for this comment*

    Thank you for acknowledging this!
    I am a Federal Law Enforcement Officer, so have been working in the office, in the field, traveling etc. Also, add the climate regarding law enforcement to that and the stress/fear/etc has been through the roof.
    I understand the anguish about people returning to the office, but would like others to acknowledge that lots of people had no choice but to go in.

  35. Strict Extension*

    I was working in-person at a retail location that was closed to the public, but fully operational for curbside pick-up and shipping, through August of 2020. We didn’t even stop coming in during the few weeks of mandatory shut-down enforced by city government because there was an exception for vital on-site operations. What really hit me was the feeling that I was watching a “universal” cultural experience pass me by irrevocably. I thought and still think that decades from now, people will still be bonding over what it was like to be literally mandated to stay in their houses and all the coping mechanisms and little hobbies and habits they picked up, while I will only be able to say that my schedule remained largely the same, but I added panic attacks to me arsenal of regular experiences. I thought I would bake more; I still have several unopened bags of flour in my kitchen. I thought I would have time to get critical infrastructure work taken care of for the small non-profit I operate on the side since our programming was on hold; that to-do list is almost identical to what it was a year ago. I figured I’d at least get some reading done; I’ve finished a single book. Instead of all that great enrichment with all my access time, I collapsed every night because while normal work can be tiring, it is nothing compared to that same work with a background program running continuously in your brain to tell you where dangers exist and how to avoid them.

    Now as things poise to go back to normal operations, I’m in a new job which has allowed me to work largely from home. But I still feel like I haven’t recovered from the hit to my mental and physical health that those six months of on-site work took. I see people talk about gearing up to relaunch in-person things full speed with the attitude that this last year has represented a break, and I despair that I never got mine. I’m just expected to go from the slog of forcing things forward through unnavigated waters into an immediate dead sprint now that people want “normalcy,” and I’m honestly not sure how to do that. It really feels like the whole country should be given a month off just to breathe before we pretend we can get back to “normal.”

    1. Amber Rose*

      I discovered the strange experience of not even having the energy to poke around on the internet or watch videos. I’d just lay on the couch, pet my cat and stare blankly and then realize hours had passed. Or I’d read, but I’d just read the same things over and over because I didn’t have the space for absorbing new information.

      The energy drain during this has been beyond anything I imagined possible.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        There was a NYT article about the emotional state of languishing a few days ago, which was a valuable read for me. To know that there is a word for the state I’m in right now, and a way to discuss it with others, was huge.

        I’ll post a link in a follow up comment if I can find it.

    2. Sandangel*

      I keep seeing people talk about going out and interacting with people again, and I’m like “I’ve been working children’s semi-essential retail for two years; I want to hide in a bubble and not talk to anyone.”

      1. Ev*

        Yes! I work in a library – we’ve been providing curbside and over-the-phone service since last May and just reopened 3 weeks ago for limited in-building services. The very first day we opened, we had patrons asking us when in-person storytimes would restart, and when we’d have bookgroup meetings that weren’t on Zoom or other adult programming available. All any of the employees want is to go live in an isolated cave for three months and not have to think about the logistics of the stuff we been able to provide already, let along new things.

  36. ThatAnonGirl*

    Removed because this devolved into personal sniping and isn’t in the spirit of the rule at the top.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Meh. Every person I hear say “this could be handled in such a way that it bridges that gap” “we need more unity on this”, etc. is missing the damned point. You all complain about being characterized as whining, but how often do you actually listen to what those of us who have been in the office, dealing with the public, have actually said? When we tell you how we’ve done things and stayed as safe as we could for the pandemic, do you take notes, or just continue saying “You can’t endanger ME though!”

      We have terrible companies and labor laws and protections because most people are perfectly comfortable with the little evils of life – with not paying attention to the people around them, with being impatient when they have to wait in line for a few minutes, with caring first and foremost about themselves. If you got to work from home because other people in your office had to go in, then TALK to your management about how to reward those people. And if you hear “they should be happy to have a job,” you should publicize that your management is made up of skid marks on the underpants of society. When you hear someone talk about raising the minimum wage, remember that those people working grocery stores and other jobs that “were never supposed to support a family” are literally the people who kept you safe and alive for the last year – so shut that conversation down hard and fast, by calling anyone who says it’s not worth a living wage out on their bullshit.

      If you want unity, stop telling us to be united with you, and start acting like you are united with us.

  37. Delphine*

    It does sound like you made a voluntary decision to continuing going into the office after moving, so I’m not surprised that your coworkers/boss see it that way.

  38. c_g2*

    I work in a retirement home and it has sucked. We weren’t hit super hard thankfully. But I want to sob when people say I’m lucky I get to leave the house. Our death rate is up. Not just from covid but from the isolation — it hurts health. I find it so hard to be happy about restrictions lifting. It’s like me and my coworkers are supposed to forget. It’s at a point where we don’t talk about people dying. You just see the death notice and feel a piece of yourself die with them.

  39. Happy It Isn't Always Monday*

    Alison, thank you so much for doing this post!

    I have gone into the office almost every day due to critical hands-on work that was needed to meet company deliveries. This despite others in my organization being directed to work from home if at all possible. I have done WFH for less than 10 days total over the pandemic stretch. My management has fortunately been very accommodating and generous in their appreciation.

    Meanwhile, as more people return to the office there have been complaints about some of my accommodations like “it must be nice” that I am still working from an enclosed meeting room. These are the same people who would message me to move their material from one place to the other, power up remote access equipment, and do other hands-on favors. Some people coming back to the office have poor social distancing and mask habits (like removing the mask to talk or sneeze! What?).

    Yes, we all have struggles and that doesn’t mean it’s a competition. We can appreciate and support each other regardless.

  40. goducks*

    I work in a small manufacturing company. Prior to covid, there was no such thing as WFH. During covid about half our company had no choice but to come in and work, if the company were to survive, while the other half WFH. Now, as most everyone is vaccinated, or well on their way to vaccinated, we’re getting some people who are vocally complaining about the possibility of returning to the office, and they’re doing so in a completely tone-deaf way on emails or zoom calls that include people who were in the building the whole time. It’s cringy awful. I’ve sent today’s article to certain members of our team. We all have our struggles, but there’s a time and place expressing them.

  41. Sue3PO*

    Thanks so much for this post, Alison. The headline was regrettable and, I think, misses the point, but I appreciate you giving a voice to those of us who have been working in person the whole time.

    I had a moment last week when I helped with a volunteer gig I do annually, which was held over Zoom this year. I found that I am woefully inept at Zoom compared to my peers at this point – sure, I can join a meeting, but the ease with which everyone else could rename themselves, change their background, see the chat, gave me pause.

  42. Asking for help*

    Question to in the office people who have been there from the beginning…
    What have you changed/adapted/stopped doing/started doing that you want the people returning to know and do?
    1) no more than 2 people per elevator. Yes, I’m serious.
    2) no more than 3 people in the copy room. Yes, I’m serious
    3) wear a mask when you are not at your desk.

    1. Amber Rose*

      When people stop by my desk, I put my mask on. I wish other people would do that too, when I or others stop by their desks.

    2. OyHiOh*

      I don’t use the elevator. It’s here, for ADA access, but because I’m physically capable of a flight of stairs and because of where the elevator is in relation to parking, I don’t bother.

      Don’t use the floor kitchen.

      Keep my door closed. Wear a mask when I walk out of my office for any reason. Put a mask on when my boss comes over from his office across the hall.

      Got my shots almost as soon as I was able. I’ve had my 2nd so now counting down the two weeks to “fully vaccinated” status

    3. CTT*

      SERIOUSLY the elevator one. The stairs to my building are locked from the outside on the ground floor for safety reasons so it can’t be avoided, and while I get that a long line for the elevator is frustrating, it is so easy to ask if the other person is okay with you joining them

    4. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      -One person per elevator. End of story. Someone else is on it? You can wait for it to come back down.
      -Don’t host meetings for something that can be discussed by email. Face time isn’t that important.
      -Wear a mask if you’re not behind closed doors.
      -Knock before you enter anywhere, to give people time to put a mask on.
      -Don’t stop by someone’s desk if you could call them instead.
      -Don’t trap anyone in a corner/sitting at their desk/etc. Let the other party of a conversation have a means to ensure enough distance to make themselves comfortable.

      I’m sure I could come up with a few more as well, but those are the ones that are really upsetting me.

    5. Sled dog mama*

      What have I changed in the last year? I wear a mask 8 hours a day. I really can’t think of anything else that is different.

      We’ve all gone to eating in our offices or at our desks if we can because the break room is too crowded otherwise.

    6. Asking for help*

      Thank you, everyone. I appreciate your time and your comments.
      Everything is very clear, as well, but I have an additional question about stairwells.
      I’m on the second floor of a two story building. Do you have any suggestions for stairwell etiquette?

      Do you walk down in pairs or stay two or three steps behind?
      any rule of thumb?

    7. Pickled Limes*

      When possible, use the staff kitchen to heat up your food and go eat somewhere else (patio tables, your office if you have one, a meeting room with a door that closes) so the next person coming in to use the microwave doesn’t have to do it in a room with someone who’s not wearing a mask because they’re eating.

    8. Bucky Barnes*

      In addition to wearing a mask 8 hours per day, I also slather my face with Desitin so it doesn’t get irritated.

      I also now eat lunch in my car every day.

  43. Amber Rose*

    Or the weird experience of being both: someone who gets to WFH occasionally, or a day or two a week, on a random schedule. The constant shifting of where I’m supposed to be is way harder to deal with than I thought. It’s like shift work only worse because the days I’m at home, I still have to work somehow.

    I thought I would study or work on side projects I can’t focus on most days or something. At first I did, a little. But the strain of not knowing, of the constantly shifting schedule, of the fact that slower WFH days just mean busier days when I get back to my desk… it’s been brutal. People tell me to take time off, but… how about no! At this stage in the game, days off just mean a deeper ocean to drown in when you get back.

    1. anonymouse*

      This is what I’m wondering about going hybrid. I forgot my laptop at home when we were in the office everyday. I do not look forward to being on and off….

  44. Dinoweeds*

    I am in complete burnout mode and am so tired of getting abuse from customers. Since I manage a cannabis dispensary, we never even went through a phase of being called “heroes” – we’ve just been dealing as best we can and modifying our business model to be as safe as possible. In the beginning I couldn’t believe that we were considered essential in the first place, but liquor stores are essential too – so here we are. You’re welcome I guess.

  45. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Managers NEED to be aware of the strains and manage UP to make sure senior leaders provide adequate pay, humane schedules, rewards, and recognition to those who have worked to keep things going. I hope this piece helps make that point and helps managers of front-line workers make their case.

  46. IWishIHadAFancyUserName*

    I feel as if the media have hyped us into “us” vs. “them” re those who WFH and those who continued to work in-person. “Who had it worse” stories sell, and the media profit from that.

    I did both, and found each situation quite challenging for different reasons. My lived experience as a WFH employee was completely different from my pandemic in-person experience. And now that we’re shifting back to some level of “normal”, it’s not the same normal, it’s a new yet-to-be-fully-realized-and-negotiated normal, and that’s a new kind of challenging. Personally, what’s stressing me out now is all the finger-pointing, blaming, anger, and unkindness from both sides each toward the other.

    I agree with ThatAnonGirl — we have missed an opportunity to acknowledge and rectify issues with terrible companies, labor laws, protections, and governments, and have instead allowed them to turn us against one another instead of working together toward solutions that could work for everyone. It’s not too late, but it will never happen as long as there’s this infighting.

    1. LDN Layabout*

      I find it interesting that the conversations I’ve had with friends in terms of wfh/in person have been very different than the ones on this site, which I think comes from being in a city where the vast majority of workers use public transport.

      There’s a shared feeling that no one wants offices to re-open yet because of the commuting aspect.

    2. ThatAnonGirl*

      Hey thanks for this, I’m beyond frustrated that the tone of the discussion has gone that way. Glad some more people agree.

    3. D'Euly*

      Absolutely. This feels as though a conversation about climate change has become people screaming at each other about using reusable straws. This is a policy issue and a politics issue. If every returning WFH-er was made into a paragon of tact going forward by this article, it would be very nice, but it would not mitigate the horrific experience of the in-person workers.

      1. Pickled Limes*

        Okay. Yes. You’re right that it’s a policy issue and not an individual issue. But very real people are having very real feelings, and telling us we shouldn’t have those feelings because “it’s a policy issue” is only contributing to the erasure of in-person pandemic workers. I’m not mad at individual people about this, and I don’t feel an us vs. them tug of war between myself and people who worked remotely when I couldn’t. But I do feel exhausted and invisible and like all anybody wants to do is steer the conversation away from in-person workers’ very justified emotions about this.

    4. Simply the best*

      You can’t know what issues essential workers are facing and need fixing unless you listen to them. Nobody’s been listening to them. That’s the point of this post. This site, and so much of the conversation around work in the pandemic, has been solely focused on people working from home and their experiences.

      There was no “us versus them” feeling until it was pointed out a whole subsection of workers were feeling completely dismissed and erased. Then suddenly those who had dominated the conversation this whole past year, instead of making room, just got defensive. And continue trying to make the conversation about them, tone policing those who can’t work from home or coming into the two posts on this blog that were set aside for essential workers to talk about their experiences and taking over the conversation.

      Intentionally or not, you are not looking for people to “work together towards solutions”, you’re talking over people with different problems then you so that only yours are focused on.

  47. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    Full disclosure, I have been fortunate enough to work from home since the outset of the pandemic. I recognize that everyone has had hardships during the pandemic but that putting my health at risk by going to work in the public-facing sphere was not remotely among those hardships.

    This whole phenomenon of focusing on WFH experiences (and people’s fears about returning to office environments) reminds me that nine times out of ten, national media will focus on the challenges facing the highest paid segment of the workforce whenever the opportunity strikes. Think back to coverage surrounding various workplace topics like #metoo, parental leave, and the topic of women returning to the paid workforce after taking time off to have and raise children. All of these issues are relevant to every segment of the workforce, but the stories highlighted often feature people whose earnings are in the high six figures (or higher).

    Of course, pointing out this bias in the media is hardly a solution. And I certainly don’t have one. I feel like the workers most at-risk right now aren’t well-protected by their unions (or don’t have union representation at all), or are part of a larger gig economy that was absolutely built to bypass worker protections entirely.

    1. 50/50 onsite/wfh*

      Honestly even the focus on WFH hasn’t focused on any WFH experience I’m familiar with.

      They aren’t exactly focusing on the struggling middle class who feel like they are constantly failing everyone all the time when they do a fluff piece on sourdough starters.

      1. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

        Yes, and – I’d like to believe that a political culture with the will to tax corporations would be more likely to spend those taxes on worker protections, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I was thinking more like a general strike — and how amazing would it be for WFH workers to show solidarity with essential workers by striking with them.

    2. Permanently exhausted*

      There’s a class divide for sure. I also wonder if essential/in-person workers don’t have as much ability to vent on social media, so that’s another reason that they’re invisible. They just don’t have the time to tell their stories!

      We work in health adminstration, but we’re not an area that directly impacts frontline workers and we’re not public facing, so there’s also been this weird guilt that although we still have to put ourselves at risk by going to work, it’s nothing close to what our nurses and doctors are dealing with. Or even worse, all the other low-paid essential workers who get very little recognition for their work. The delivery workers, the truck drivers, the warehouse employees, the cargo handlers, restaurant workers, sanitation, utility on and on.

      At least I’m still employed…at least I’m not in the highest risk of frontline workers…at least I still get some human interaction…at least we have an understanding manager…at least we’re now almost all vaccinated in the office…at least people now know what epidemiology means lol…at least we get to feel slightly useful and not entirely helpless…at least we’re supporting those who support the frontline…at least I have somewhere to go…I’m tired of looking for reasons to be grateful.

      But I have to be grateful, because I’m one of the people who gets to count the numbers, the numbers of the dead, the recovered, the contacted, the number of household members, the vulnerable, the swabbed, the followed up, the tested, the lab results. My colleagues and I have to know, down to the last integer, how bad it really is. I have no choice but to be grateful and I hate it.

      Even worse, my primary job function is to count those with exactly the underlying conditions that make them a higher risk for death. Those numbers weren’t good before this pandemic, so I get to worry about the people in the files that I carefully strip of all personal information, before sending the files to the underfunded federal surveillance programs that very few people cared about before the pandemic. So many numbers, counting people I will never meet, people I know and people I love, all of them at much higher risk of death from COVID-19 if they haven’t already succumbed.

      Like some people pointed out upthread, those of us who have been in-person haven’t been super strict about COVID-19 protocols. We’re a small satellite office, so there’s about 10 staff, but we’re not all in at the same time.
      Family members and loved ones are passing away; we hug each other and no one cares. We have to be there anyway, we’re a pod anyway, we’re at risk anyway. We may as well offer each other comfort while we’re in this shitty situation. We know better (lol non-practicing doctors, epidemiologists, support staff), but we’re still humans.

      My colleague and her son contracted COVID-19 a few weeks ago (add 2 more to the numbers!), so we now have to rotate when we go in and be stricter about mask-wearing. Thankfully we’re all in the middle of getting vaccinated (she had already received her first moderna shot and she and her son are recovering -in fact she’s already back to work).

      I’ve had my ups and downs working in person – I live alone, so I’ve been grateful to see my colleagues and have some human contact that way, but I’ve also spent a lot of time crying in the bathroom at work out of grief/frustration. I used up all my accumulated sick time in fiscal 2020/21.

      Now that we’re working in rotation (and partially from home for the last 2 weeks, but that’s a joke since most of my tasks require me using specific files in the office that I can’t take home), I only get to see 1 0r 2 colleagues at a time. It’s turned a risky, lonely life into an even lonelier one.

      Part of that loneliness is hearing people talk about how “most” people’s WFH experience has been “X” and even here – on a post explicitly for essential workers to talk about our experiences! – people can’t even give us room to talk about what’s happening. Yeah, we get to talk to each other at work, but it’s very telling that so many of the WFH crowd won’t just listen to us without getting defensive. We aren’t really all in this together if *simply* listening is this difficult.

      Those working from home have had their experiences well documented. Thanks Alison for giving us some space to add to the documentation of those who still have to go in to work.

  48. Nishipip*

    Something that I’ve really struggled with is the social isolation that I’ve had while working.

    I go to work, every day, work with 10-15 people every day in extremely close contact, and yet go home and not be able to see my friends or family. I obviously understand why, and it’s particularly important that people like me don’t socialize since we need to keep both our friends and our clients safe.

    However, it becomes EXTREMELY DIFFICULT when dealing with an 75 year old man arguing with me for 15 minutes about wearing a mask or filling out the screening, and all I want to do is scream “I GAVE UP MY ENTIRE LIFE FOR YOU!!! LITERALLY FOR YOU!!”. I saw no one. Not a single other person, for an entire year, except for my work. Even people super strict with the rules had 1 friend, or their boyfriend, or their parents or SOMEONE. Nope. I had grumpy older people frustrated that they have to stay at home, and not allowed to go to florida for the winter.

    It’s been a hard year.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      This. I haven’t seen a single friend or family member in person in over a year. Even outside and social distancing isn’t an option for a lot of us who have been back at work for months now. I get why we have to be careful, but we’re tired, we’re so tired and lonely.

    2. Nope*

      THIS THIS THIS. Even in helpful spaces like this (thanks, Alison!), I feel like this point still doesn’t get the full attention it deserves: IT’S NOT JUST WORK.

      Our entire lives have revolved around work risks for a year. These choices were vastly different than if we could have stayed at home. Pod with friends? Nope. Isolate to be able to spend a holiday with…well, anyone? Nope. Able to drop everything to attend to a family emergency? Nope. Attend a (distanced, outdoor, etc) memorial service for a loved one when you’re in public all day and others are high risk? Nope.

  49. MassMatt*

    Great article, this is the first time I’ve seen such a variety of people who have been working on-site the whole time voice their frustrations. It definitely makes me grateful to them and the good fortune I have that my job can be done from home. Yes there are challenges but overall I am very fortunate.

    I have long felt that many of these workers were treated as though they were invisible. From the start of the pandemic there was a lot of focus on doctors, nurses, and first responders. But what about the hospital administrators and janitors? What about all the people all over the place cleaning everything constantly to make us all safer? Grocery store employees are woefully paid, how is it we are OK with people risking their lives and health for minimum wage? Everyone working in energy/utilities and transportation–it turns out a lot of people really are “essential” but they sure don’t get paid or treated as though they are.

    If it were possible, they should all be given extended PTO to recuperate.

  50. twocents*

    I appreciate showing more sides, but man, the dig at “nonessential workers” who have job loss related anxiety… Yikes. It really made me stop reading for a minute to take it in. This whole mini series just drives home for me how suffocating our own anxieties and stressors can feel that it can be hard to see beyond just trying to bail water out of your own boat.

  51. MI Social Worker*

    I felt this in my very soul, working from home is hard psychologically but let’s not pretend that the physical and psychological toll on those who have HAD to be on the front lines is worse. While trauma is not a pie, there is more than enough to go around, I simply do not want to hear the only focus be on the fears of those who are coming back into a situation I have worked to make safe for the last twelve months. Like the article says, I’m not afraid, I ran out of fear 6 months ago. Maybe there should be some focus on the impact on those who have been working on the front lines while others were at home in their PJ’s. Lets take a look at what that story looks like.

  52. Notnow*

    The media and public in general seems to forget about everyone but Medical staff and essential workers at retail and restaurants. Sometimes that is disheartening. There is a lot of administrative staff, maintenance, janitorial, food service at hosptials, teachers etc. If I forgot anyone sorry! So don’t forget about those people, as your offices open back up.

    1. OyHiOh*

      Someone in my office has to open the mail, print certain checks, make deposits, and keep things filed (we have a hybrid digital and file cabinet system). The rest of my job I could certainly do from home but if I’m coming on site once or twice a week to do the things that must be done in office, I might as well come in for a full schedule. I have an office with solid walls and a door. I feel safer here than most other places I regularly need to go.

  53. Non-essential essential worker*

    Thanks for seeing us. As someone whose family got Covid because they were forced to go back to work in person and is still dealing with the after-effects 9 months later I find myself struggling to have empathy around those worrying about returning to work. We were off when the initial rulings came down and then forced to go back to work 8 weeks later. It was difficult and frustrating and our health may never recover. We lost employment and also had to deal with having to manage childcare sporadically because our district didn’t return even part time until this month so it’s hard for me to do much more than play a very tiny violin for those who are frantic or having a lot of feelings about it a year later.

  54. Grayson*

    I’m in a weird place, because until September of 2020 I was full time telework. Then I switched to 2 days in the office for 8 hours each day. In February, I shifted again to 4 hours telework/4 hours on-site. Then I switched AGAIN to 2 hours telework/6 hours on site. Our government agency is trying to transition us back to “normal”, while also shooting for a vaccination goal.

    I had to reassure my pandemic bubble about my agency’s safety measures, and we had SO many conversations about it. But at the end of the day, I can’t tell my company no. Even if Steve in accounting has his nose uncovered.

    Government client vs consultant = govvie wins!

  55. Tenebrae*

    I have the view from both sides. I worked in office for about half the pandemic (although not a high contact job like retail or medical) and am now wfh for the foreseeable future. It definitely has its challenges but my goodness, it’s nothing to compared to in office. And honestly? One of the ways it felt better was being able to go, “Me, too! I get the memes, too, now! I exist in the cultural mindscape again!”

  56. Non*

    I have to admit I was a little grossed out when all those “thank you essential workers” videos came out…my company did one and it just struck me as incredibly tone deaf. I felt (as a wfh person) that it was a lot of wfh staff making a really meaningless promotional gesture. My company did try to do a lot to ensure the safety of people still working on site, as well as offering a lot of paid leave for people whose work couldn’t be remote and also couldn’t be on site during closures (and a lot of other things that tanked the budget)…but those videos…yikes. I’d love to see back pay for everyone who worked on site once budgets are looking more stable.

    Whenever this is “all over” I think a lot of anger is going to be released in some unpredictable ways…anger at other people and at the systems that have failed us. That goes for people in a lot of situations right now, but I just think the total invisibility and disregard for low-wage, in-person workers right now and total lack of safety net unless you lucked out with a decent employer really rises to the level of dystopian. Thinking of that meatpacking plant where management was holding betting pools on how many plant workers would get sick. Once people leave survival mode, it should be interesting.

  57. Julianna*

    Essential Workers: We’ve been burned out, exhausted, afraid, angry and we feel that we have been excluded from the national conversation. Workers who have been safer than us are given more of a voice and are expressing terror at things we’ve been asked to live with. We would like to express our emotions about this and may not always be diplomatic.

    Non-Essential Workers: Wow, someone used the word ‘whining’, that really hurt my feelings. Why can’t we have a nice insightful discussion about this? Preferable one where all of the word choices are carefully sanitized so I don’t feel personally attacked and where we complain about other people making this ‘us vs them’ while talking over them about how hard it is for us.

    1. Julianna*

      And this is very uncharitable comment, but I am frustrated by how these discussion seem to inevitably be split between actual essential/non-wfh workers discussing their feelings and people in the comments wanting to take issue with some nitpicky word choice or talk about how being WFH has affected them.

      Please just let other people talk. You have plenty of other posts to talk about your experiences. There is a post every week on this site to talk about work. Please just–let other people, whose experiences are unlike yours, vent. Let them be angry even if their anger isn’t fair or perfectly directed. Let them be tired and frustrated and express their emotions without having to think about your feelings. If you read the Slate post and think ‘wow, can’t relate’ or ‘wow that’s unfair’ it’s fine to just not comment.

      1. EmmaPoet*

        THIS. Could we please have this space to vent without people tone policing and telling us we’re not being nice about our frustration?

  58. Gawaine*

    One thing that has annoyed me is the way that people in the office end up getting stuck with more “other duties as assigned”, which make them less productive. We have work that needs to be done, but not everyone needs to be in the office, which reduces to people who have the right mix of health, commute, and poor home environment for work being willing to come in, while everyone else dodges it. However, those people turn out to be the people who’re also most swamped, who can least afford to be the ones copying DVDs, scanning packing slips from packages, leaving things for the UPS driver, etc.

  59. Alexis Rosay*

    If I could add something I haven’t heard much about, that I think needs to be highlighted more: people who continued to work in person while their kids were home from school. We’ve heard so, so much about the difficulty of working from home with kids around; what about those who literally were unable to supervise their kids’ learning?

    1. R2-beep-boo*

      So much this!
      My kids are young teens and great students…and it’s still been hard. We’ve been remote and in-person for school, with last-minute shut downs and kids in quarantine. I can’t troubleshoot. I can’t mediate. I can’t police who is sitting at the table when someone else wanted to sit there, and who had the nerve to walk through the room while someone was on a Google Meet.
      And I acknowledge that I have good kids and I had it easier than some…but it’s still one more thing to worry about and feel like you’re failing at.

  60. Temporary Throwaway*

    Do we have to feed into the “us vs. them” hyper-individualistic narrative that has been present throughout the pandemic? People working from home did not make the decisions that resulted in them working from home any more than people working onsite did–your political representatives made these decisions, and in many cases, failed you by not also ensuring decent sick leave and working conditions. Indeed, the entire point of limiting people working onsite where possible was for the good of *everyone* and to reduce transmission, and not just to pamper those working from home. There are some meaningful things that can be done to support essential work (so much of which is low-paid and insecure) but hand-wringing from white collar workers who need to assuage their guilt ain’t it. Get out there and publicly support better working conditions, wages, security and sick leave for people who have lacked it throughout the past year, make a donation to union organizers, anything that is something instead of just expressing directionless regret.

  61. Ana Gram*

    Yep, I feel this. I’m a cop and my agency doesn’t allow sworn staff to wfh. Most civilians have been home since fairly early in the pandemic and we’ve been getting agency wide emails about how to prepare to return to work. I’m also on our employee committee and there’s been a lot of talk about how to help people with the transition. And I don’t want to diminish peoples’ anxiety but, on the other hand, I’m frustrated that this consideration wasn’t given to us. I signed up for a certain amount of risk in this job but I never expected a pandemic. Oh, and in my free time, I’m a volunteer EMT and I just got hired to work as a vaccinator. So I recognize I’ve brought a lot of stress upon myself but it just irks me to see the civilians being coddled and thinking about how a friend stood in line at a distillery for me last April so I could have hand sanitizer…

    Sigh. Thanks for giving me space to rant.

  62. Amy*

    There’s just so much to be angry about here, on all sides. Essential workers have been risking their lives! Usually with insufficient safety equipment, under-enforced safety precautions, indecently low compensation, and in the face of a bunch of angry, dismissive, entitled customers who don’t even acknowledge the risks they’re taking, much less appreciate it. For at least some people, they’re not even jobs that needed to be happening. We never really had a full lockdown in the US, we could have closed more things than we did if there had been enough government support. Even a lot of things that went remote at first, and were working at least semi-sustainably on that model, ended up reopening long before it was safe. (Even with offices that are reopening now, I feel like that’s still an issue! Until kids can be vaccinated, there’s no way we have broad enough immunity to justify acting like everything is back to normal.) It’s infuriating.

    All of us have been really viscerally reminded that our system prioritizes productivity and economic profit over saving lives. We should be angry. And now that we’re starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel, I think a lot of people who have been too exhausted to express that anger are going to be getting a lot more vocal about it.

    1. Beth*

      With all respect, you’re “not all men”-ing the topic at hand. Yes, not all have-been-remote-but-are-now-returning-to-the-office people show a lack of concern for those who have been in office all along—but enough are failing to do so, or are doing so to a much lesser degree than they are showing concern for their own situation, that it’s a significant problem that warrants discussing. By nitpicking that, you’re decentering the actual problem in favor of centering your own behavior, which is really unhelpful.

      The better approach is, when people are talking about a broad group exhibiting a problematic behavior, to assume they know that there are some exceptions. They don’t need to specifically call out the exceptions for that to be understood; it’s okay for them to focus on the problem they’re discussing. If you don’t think you’re part of the problem, you can just assume they’re not talking about you, no scolding necessary.

      1. 50/50 onsite/wfh*

        I suspect a lot more people feel bad but don’t know what to do. The perception is the same – a callous disregard – but I think it’s fair to call out assuming the worst intent from WFH colleagues. What good does it do to assume they don’t care about you? It certainly isn’t going to make working in person together any easier.

        Like have I noticed they always stick the 15 year old kid at the “masks mandatory” sign to be chewed out? Yeah. Do I feel bad for the kid. Yes! Can I do anything about it other then being kind when I am shopping? No! I’ve thought about calling the manager but figured I’d just get the poor folks doing this awful work in trouble if I tried to speak up for them. Maybe the manager would think they put me up to it.

        Heck when I was working onsite I stood up for the patient receptionist not having access to any cleaning supplies with known Covid efficacy rates. The result? A pissed Dr called me to scream at me that her office was following the (outdated) infection prevention protocols. When I saw the receptionist again she was pissed at me too for scaring her. (Dr. lied and said Cavi was effective which we did not know at the time).

        I highly doubt I’m the only person whose had these experiences or felt this way. I think it’s valid to bristle at being told I’m precious for being nervous about returning full time.

        1. knitcrazybooknut*

          We’re not telling you you’re precious for being nervous. We’re telling you that this column, this comments section, this brief space in time is not centered on your experience.

        2. Beth*

          As with the original comment in this thread, you’re centering your experience here when it’s not actually important or relevant to the topic at hand. No one is saying that WFH people can’t be nervous about returning to the office. No one is saying that no WFH people have had any compassion for in-person workers. But this post, and this comment thread, are intended as space to acknowledge the issues and struggles that in-person workers have been facing. Taking this space to tell them they’re not being generous in assuming people’s intentions is unhelpful and off-topic.

        3. whatever #2*

          Dr. lied and said Cavi was effective which we did not know at the time

          Honestly, it’s stuff like this that makes me label people as precious. The doctor didn’t lie – the doctor was right, based on their own medical knowledge. Yes, nothing is certified for SARS-CoV-2, but there are known effective disinfectants for Human Coronavirus and SARS-CoV-1 – and Cavi is one of those (and, btw, Cavi meets the CDC criteria for SARS-CoV-2 since April 2020).

          Basically, you freaked out and harassed a receptionist because of your own anxiety issues. That doesn’t help anyone.

          1. 50/50 onsite/wfh*

            Yes and this occured in late March. Literally a few days after we had been told in our department that only bleach or alcohol was to be used. Things were changing quickly but at the time we were not sure Cavi would work so yes, the Dr. did lie to the receptionist. It’s also no surprise to me that while that Dr. And others had bleach and alcohol their patient receptionists had Cavi only.

      2. Julianna*

        This is a much more coherent response than I would have been able to muster and is exactly correct.

      3. Mental Lentil*

        Thank you, Beth, both for calling out the issue with this comment and providing a better approach.

        Good lord, Crabby Patty’s response is another example of a “but let’s get the spotlight back on me and my concerns” type of response.

  63. The Rural Juror*

    Several people have made comments about how some of the ways the pandemic has played out has highlighted class divides, and I couldn’t agree with that more. I work in construction and we went back to the job sites a few weeks after the beginning of the pandemic. I worked from home for about 6 weeks, then went back to the office.

    We set up our job sites as well as possible to have hand washing stations and ways to keep clean/sanitize…but there’s only so much you can do. We just kept telling people to follow the rules if they wanted to be able to keep working on our sites, but we can’t police all the of the people who work for our sub contractors. It’s impossible!

    Another aspect of this is the fact that some of the workers on our job sites are probably not citizens. I don’t know which ones, I couldn’t care less. Some people may have opinions about that, but inevitably I know there are some out there that have no option for relying on government services. Some of those workers also probably don’t know how to use a computer, so it’s not like it’s super easy for ones who can apply for unemployment to do so. They would have to figure out how to navigate that system…or figure where to use a computer since the libraries were closed. Not all of them would have family members who could help, especially the ones who are living away from family or friends. The best thing we could do for them is give them a way to keep working.

    So, all in all, we’ve done the best we can with the time and resources we have. It wasn’t perfect, but we sure tried. We didn’t have too many cases of people testing positive, but there were a few. I never had it (thank goodness), although my coworker did (he faired pretty well).

  64. Done with parents*

    I work in childcare and have been open this whole time. We have people who are working from home bring in their children telling us that they are worried about being back in an office. There are also the parents who bring their children in having given them medication to cover up a runny nose, cough, low grade fever and lie when asked the daily screening questions. Most of theses parents work from home. They feel it is fine to expose us at work along with the other children in the classroom. Everything in childcare has changed for some places to make sure that people are safe.

    Hopefully at some point people with understand what happens in early childhood/childcare effects every other part of the system for people working.

    1. Mister T*

      The parents who would bring their sick kid to childcare and cover it up before COVID were the worst, but to do it during a pandemic? That is low.

  65. Firecat*

    I hope workplaces take stock of these feelings and are prepared to moderate these interactions.

    I worked at a hospital onsite for 9 months (not direct care) in 2020. I’ve worked from home for the past 7 months. So I think that puts me in a position to better understand where people onsite are coming from then most.

    However to be frank, some of these quotes about WFH really upset me. If a coworker said “I wish I could have been safe at home doing nothing” I would probably snap at them. They would have torched our working relationship at the fragile start of a being together again.

    1. Beth*

      This year has been incredibly hard for everyone, and I get you on feeling like you’d snap at that. But I want to call on us who have been able to work remotely to take it on ourselves to have some grace on this. Yes, there have been a lot of mental health implications, there have been a ton of work challenges, and we’ve been asked to take on extremely unreasonable things. But our in-person colleagues have also been dealing with all of those—and they’ve also been at significantly higher risk of death, serious injury, or bringing death or serious injury to a housemate. No one has much resilience left right now, but we probably have a sliver more.

    2. Twinkle Toes*

      Then I think Firecat must understand how stressful it is to hear constant complaints about how unhappy ppl are to have to return to the office.

  66. Albus Mogs*

    I’ve been working in person with kids since June. I’ve gone through the rigamarole of changing with the state requirements every few weeks, watching kids get into a routine only to have it dashed as things get looser and, “we can do more now, so why not?” On top of that, my own position has me visiting multiple cohorts during a given day–that basically means I don’t get to turn off my heightened sense of safety–which basically just means I had to choose early on to continue to trust people or have a nervous breakdown. Given how far away I am from emotions right now, I don’t actually know which one I chose.
    And before anyone starts in on how hard it is working from home, A) I was working from home five days a week from April-June. Unlike the classroom teachers I had to fight for my classes to continue, and boy am I glad they did. B) I got exposed from one of my kids, so I had to quarantine for two weeks. The unknown of whether I was going to test positive or not balanced nicely with a smaller commute, more familiar surroundings, and way more downtime that I could fill with whatever I wanted. I don’t have any patience for people complaining about coming back, and I have little but disdain for people who are talking like they’re basically martyring themselves (“When I get sick and die, my blood will be on your hands and conscience!”). Frankly, I wouldn’t mind a week of working from home right now, but I don’t have the option.
    To anyone coming back now, I get that it’s hard and that you’ve been conditioned for a year to see anywhere outside of your house as something scary. I remember that fear, and all of the anxieties. But please also remember that a lot of us returned to work with no hope for a vaccine and knowing far less about the virus and how to stay safe from it. But, on that note, also keep in mind that we’ve been in person for a long time. We might do things a little differently than the guidelines, and that’s OK. If you keep an open mind, you might learn something cool, and adapt a lot quicker.

  67. Lils*

    Thank you for collecting these comments, Alison. It’s good to be reminded that other people have suffered in different ways and that I should be more thoughtful in considering their experience.

    1. TPS reporter*

      I agree! I don’t know if Slate plastering that headline is helpful but sharing experiences I hope is making at least some people feel heard. Anyone on here- I know you have been suffering and you are among many but do not hesitate to share your struggles.

  68. QuinleyThorne*

    The one about not having hugged their parents in over a year really hit home for me. We went into lockdown on March 15 of last year, and I didn’t get to hug my parents until April 22 of this year.

    I work for the state, and while we we are essential, the agency did a really great job of ensuring as many people as possible worked from home. Due to the combination of my job duties and the tiny apartment my husband and I share, working from home was not a feasible option for me. Most of my job duties involve interacting with the public, so even though our office was closed to public visitors, in the early part of the pandemic I was in the office to answer the phone calls we were getting. The rest of my job duties involve in-office clerical duties like filing, mail, and creating case files with information that couldn’t be taken home.

    The industry my agency regulates is the alcohol/restaurant/nightlife industry, which has been among the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic. Since we’re a state agency, we had to take direction from the governor on how our agency would handle this, and while the restrictions themselves were reasonable, his office did not communicate with our agency, at all, leaving us flat-footed then scrambling whenever a change was announced. What that meant for me personally was that I was receiving the brunt end of callers who were either verbally abusive or in some form of emotional compromise. Every day I got calls from owners going on tirades about how unfair the restrictions were, and asking me things like, “how am I supposed to pay my employees?! Pay my bills? Feed my family? This is ALL WE HAVE, How could [our agency] do this to us?” At least once a day I had someone either on the verge of tears or break down completely. After a certain point everyone in the office had either had to de-escalate and angry caller, comfort a caller who just called to vent, or outright talk down despairing callers who were literally on the verge of losing everything because their livelihood had been pulled out from under them basically overnight. The longer the lockdown went on, the more desperate and angry people became–our agents regularly received threats of violence and death from owners refusing to follow the protocols. It got bad enough that we were told on two separate occasions not to come to work due to safety issues regarding statewide protests happening at our regional offices. It was one of the most mentally and emotionally draining 6-7 months of my life.

    And since we had no say or input into the governor’s executive orders, we had to enforce them as is, meaning our agents were constantly exposed to COVID while dealing with complaints from the public about locations refusing to enforce the health protocols. I was exposed to COVID no less than seven times. And while I never got sick, because kept getting exposed I couldn’t see or be near friends and family. Our state’s rollout for COVID testing came too little too late, and with many testing locations at capacity, getting a test every time I got exposed wasn’t possible, so there was no way for me to know if I had it and was just an asymptomatic carrier.

    We’re in a state that had a series of premature reopenings and loosening of restrictions, so it seemed like every time there was a plan for everyone to come back into the office, it got delayed. When the governor rescinded the COVID Executive orders earlier this year, our office re-opened to the public (though we did not advertise to the public that was the case), and everyone was supposed to come back into the office, with the caveat that they could work with their supervisors and HR if extenuating circumstances prevented them from doing so. The day has come and gone, and it’s still just the 8 or so of us who’ve been in the office all along. The most recent date was April 26th, and the last I heard was that supervisors were fighting tooth and nail to keep their employees at home. Which–while I can appreciate the supervisors having their employee’s backs–is admittedly frustrating, given the hellish those of us in the office have had, and the fact that nearly all visitors and callers are needing assistance from the very employees who are sequestered at home, reachable only by email.

    There are some signs that this may be the new norm though; this year has proven that the agency has the infrastructure needed to work from home, and overall, employees have proven that they can remain productive at home. Legislative changes have streamlined some of our processes, and the most utilized (and most confusing) of those that usually brings people into the office is about to begin the 2 year transition to an online only. On top of that, they’ve also replace every agency-owned desktop computer with SurfacePros to make remote work a more feasible option. So it could be that work from home could just be how it is for the foreseeable future.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      I hear you. I live alone and did not hug a single soul from March 1st 2020 till April 16 2021. I can count on one hand how many times I had even the slightest physical contact with another person, even brushing ungloved hands when a Lyft driver handed me something. My skin actually stung with shock at human contact. I started sobbing when I met my counselor in person for the first time since the pandemic started and she hugged me.

  69. Wrench Turner*

    It’s been an utterly dehumanizing, exhausting, and terrifying year as a service tech (HVAC, plumbing, etc). People refuse to wear masks, have us around out of town guests, under-the-radar B&B/rentals and more. The work is already difficult but now I have to wear masks and gloves, and get treated like an anonymous robot because nobody can see my face. More than a few of my customers were sick, some died.

    But we’ve been here, every day. Keeping your furnace and AC from trying to kill you; fixing pipe leaks so they don’t rot and ruin your home; getting bit by your “friendly” dog that isn’t used to having anyone but you there; getting yelled at for interrupting your meeting when you were the one that scheduled us; being outright ignored when we have questions/need payment because your web conference is more important than the service pro right there in your home; dealing with your anger that your AC doesn’t perform the way you expect when you’ve never been home more than 8 hours; wondering if your loud cough is contagious… That was just last week. It’s been over a year.

    I haven’t seen a dime of hazard pay. I’m supposed to feel fortunate I can get a new mask every day.
    I hope you all can return to work, school and comfortable routines safely, I really do. We want you to be happy and healthy, too.

    It’s been clear for many months that ‘essential’ means ‘sacrificial’ for comfort and convenience. Don’t call us heroes. We haven’t been “in this together” for a long time now.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      It’s been clear for many months that ‘essential’ means ‘sacrificial’ for comfort and convenience. Don’t call us heroes. We haven’t been “in this together” for a long time now.

      This. A large part of our population has the bad habit of referring to casualties* as “heroes.” Heroes are the ones who make choices, who choose to make a sacrifice. Casualties are out there working because they need the job and WFH is not an option. Don’t act like they made some deliberate noble choice, unless you think paying the rent and putting food on the table are a choice. No one is fixing your A/C or stocking the shelves at your grocery store because “we’re all in this together.” But it’s easier to think of them as heroes, because that way we don’t have to think about how they’re actually being victimized.

      *Okay, “casualty” is a little strong. But I think you all know what I mean.

    2. Mister T*

      We hired several service professionals during this, and while we tried to do all we could to a, keep them and us safe, and b, treat them like human beings, it was awkward to basically be like, I don’t want to be in the same room as you if I can help it, and please don’t go in that room because my kid is in there. I wrote glowing reviews of the folks that did the work, if that helps.

  70. Krystal*

    Thank you so much for this Alison. I am in the UK and had the first lockdown off. Limbo for 1.5 months (with no pay as self employed) to then be thrust back into work (in childcare) with 10 hour days surrounded by children whom obviously have no boundaries and families that didn’t seem to realise or care about the danger we were placing ourselves in to help the country keep going. I managed to survive until December where I had 2 weeks off and came down horribly with COVID for new year. I was back to work as soon as I’d recovered and was cleared for it. Have been ‘like normal’ ever since just with severely reduced pay.

  71. Liza*

    Thank you, Alison! I’ve been the token in-office person on my team of 6 since mid-March 2020. I didn’t use PTO for most of last year at my bosses’ request to be able to be in the office and do tasks for others. At this point, my company and local government rules have loosened to allow my coworkers to come back, but they’ve decided (without consulting me) that I’m going to be the in-office contact for the foreseeable future still. Several of my colleagues have moved farther from the office because they can do that now that they don’t need to commute, and often my coworkers go on vacations and WFH(h being hotel) or have long voluntary quarantines, while I make every effort to be in the office so our team’s work can get done. I don’t get much thanks – just complaints if I take a day off, haha… And yet I still have not thought of myself as an essential worker – to me that’s retail, food service, emergency services and health care, etc, who I totally respect – until I read this article. I realize now that for my company anyway, I *am* essential. Seeing the other comments from fellow essential office workers was therapeutic for me.

  72. SnappinTerrapin*

    I thought about writing an essay about my experiences working with the public during the pandemic, but it seems pointless, after reading all the what about responses.

    I’m tired. With a little luck, I’ll be able to pay for my ER visit before I retire. I was able to pay bills during my quarantine, with the stepped down unemployment benefits. Maybe wages will go up enough to keep up with the inflation we will soon see.

    I’m tired of seeing people from across the spectrum reacting emotionally rather than trying to figure out practical solutions, but that didn’t start last year and won’t end any time soon.

    I have avoided a lot of potential sources of conflict over the past year, and have kept my mouth shut more than is my habit.

    I see people doing things that don’t help, because they have superstitious beliefs that their behaviors will protect them from the virus, but it would be a waste of effort to raise the issue. I see people resisting things that could actually help, because they are afraid.

    I can’t fix it. I just have to keep working to pay my bills, while I wait for things to approach normal, whatever that will look like in the future.

  73. Tryinghard*

    I don’t want to hear “when it is safe” anymore. It was never safe for essential workers but now it’s a big deal. I posted before about the lack of respect I got from WFHers. I work in IT and when I asked WFHers to work around my scheduled work I got crap. If I needed equipment brought in it was always them standing there trying to hurry me or going outside to “stay safe”. I worked in laptops with gloves and cleaned them before (because it was too big of a hassle for the WFHer to do even though it kept me safe) and after (to keep them safe).

    I look around at the other essential employees that truly appreciated me and my team. Did most WFHers thank us for our hard work, yes. But the ones now complaining about how stressed they are coming back are the same ones that treated my team like crap.

    Honestly if those WFH staffers could stay there but leave the rest of us alone I’d be all for it. But that would require those staffers to take on more of the responsibilities they would have in the office.

    I see some people truly distressed an it their health and I can understand that. But some are pissed they are going to be required to work their full job instead of shunting into the onsite essential staff.

    Btw – we are a client facing agency so we are exposed every day. My entire family had covid including my teenager. We are all vaccined but we take being safe for others very seriously. Are those WFHers taking precautions?

    PS. Can someone text me when it IS safe?

  74. RedinSC*

    Immediately after Shelter-in-place our office’s work load doubled – overnight, quite literally. oh man, this line sums it up for me: “We are burned out: physically, emotionally, mentally.”

    I am, all three and just reading that makes me want to cry. My office has a blend of people we were able to send home and people who had to be here. We lobbied and got vaccinated early (Feb 2021), thank goodness, we had no instances of intraoffice infection, so our protocols worked.

    But now, looking at bringing people back in the office, to join back with the folks who have been here all the time is challenging. And I’m being challenged while being burnt out on every level. I’ve been in the office the whole time. I’m part of leadership and what message would it send if the leadership team said, “Ok, you all have to work here, I’ll be home” That wouldn’t fly, and sometimes I just want to tell the folks who had been at home over this past year – SUCK IT UP, it’s your job. But that also would be counter productive.

    I probably just need a nap. Thank you for sharing the stories, I know them, I’ve heard them, and some of them I’m living. It’s good to know we’re not alone.

  75. justabot*

    I live in a tourist area and work at a hospitality type tourist-y job. That has been able to be open throughout the pandemic. Meaning I work in-person. You know what has been happening this past year? Guess who are the ones coming in – the people who work from home, in states with more shutdowns and heavy restrictions, and who could now be remote and work from anywhere. So they packed up their things, rented out (or bought) places in these sunshine, beachy, coastal towns, and decided to come out and do non-essential touristy things, scream about having to wear masks, travel around, get off planes from high rate areas and walk into my workplace. I have other friends who have been able to work from home – and go gallivant off to Mexico. Long before vaccines were available. So it was very frustrating to see people who have the privilege to work from home, thumb their nose at taking precautions while exposing essential workers who HAD to work in person, often for low, hourly pay, and even less than they would have made staying at home collecting unemployment, plus the PUA. I’m physically and mentally tired.

  76. BurnOutCandidate*

    I’m a copywriter.

    About four weeks after the company went WFH last March, I had a phone conference with the company’s Vice Presidents. It was a rainy day, and I honestly hadn’t had anything to do that day. They told me, confidentially, that the company was going to put almost everyone on furlough. They wanted me to stay on, but they also wanted to give me a choice. I could take the furlough and get the unemployment bonus (and, they acknowledged, I would make more that way), or I could stay on and work through the furlough period, coming back in about six weeks when things ramped back up. That was the plan.

    I said I would stay on. I know what I do. I also know that not a single person in the company knows how to do what I do. There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. “I’m in,” I said. I’ve never regretted that decision. If we went down, it wasn’t going to happen on my account. I’ve never felt one bit of regret at the “raise” I could have gotten by taking the unemployment. (I was irritated, though, when the CEO was interviewed in the media about his PPP loan, and he said that his employees were doing better on unemployment.) I was a little shocked when I saw the list of employees who were kept on after the furlough; I was one of two non-manager positions kept, and there were a lot of manager positions that were furloughed. People started coming back in June, not May, and some people never came back. And then there are the people who came back and were subsequently laid off. We cut too deep with the initial furlough, and the layoffs haven’t helped. It’s a tight operation, a little too tight, and I know it’s affecting operations. I know people are burned out, and people are leaving because they’re burned out. I just applied today for a non-profit position that’s closer to home and more money. (Except for the raise that exactly matched the increase in insurance premiums, I haven’t had a raise in years.) Upper management is telling people to take time off, but we’re spread way too thin and there’s too much to do. They also want to reopen the office as soon as possible because they’re worried people aren’t doing their work, even though with how thin we are operations would grind to a halt if the work weren’t getting done.

    There are some people in the office every day and have been all along. I’m in about 40% of the time (so, two days out of five) because I need access to equipment at the office I don’t have at home, I have work that can’t be done easily remote, or because I’m out of data at home. Except for a phone tether, I don’t have internet access at home. Between stagnant wages and annual 5% rent increases, my finances got squeezed, so I cancelled my internet years ago. Tethering through my phone works, but I also have to watch my usage like a hawk, and there have been some months where I flirt with using up all of my tether data. It embarrasses me to write this — I’m a knowledge economy professional, I rate an office at work, and I can’t afford a basic tool I need to do my job at home. I don’t mind the time I spend in the office — honestly, I like it for the change of pace, and I try to take care of other errands I need to run on those days — though I hope I can maintain the flexibility of working in the office when I want to when it reopens. Maybe I’ll work three days a week instead of two. But I don’t see myself wanting to work five days a week every week.

    Because I never stopped working — I took a day off last summer — I didn’t get into baking or binging television or developing a new hobby. Work went on, it filled my time, it wore me out. I was okay until September or October. I’ve lost the last six months. I had some prescriptions refill last month… and all of them seemed early, as I wasn’t about to run out of any of them. Did I forget to take my meds for two weeks? I live by myself. I haven’t seen family since September 2019; they live states away. I didn’t tell my family that I got vaccinated; they think I had my first shot, but I actually had my second. The only conversations I have are with the coworkers I occasionally see when I’m in the office. I’ve put on weight. I feel lost and tired all the time. My concentration is gone. I’ve been a key cog in keeping my company — maybe even the industry it’s a part of — running for the last fourteen months, and I wonder if it was worth it.

  77. Jen*

    Some very fair points made. I read something at the beginning of the pandemic about how we are all in the same storm but not on the same type of ship. I think it’s been challenging for everyone in different ways and everyone deserves a voice and to be heard.

  78. tired*

    I feel for the people who have been working from home. I have that option on paper but because my project dates haven’t been pushed back and there are parts of my job that require either that I come in or send in someone else, I come in. Also I was going stir crazy staying at home. Other people also have parts of their jobs that they can’t do from home. You know what they do? They call on us who are going on site to do those parts of their jobs. So my work plus parts of their work and I’m not alone. I hear this all over. If I have one more person say that they never want to come back into the office while asking me to do something that enables them to stay home…..sigh. I need this job. I need work not to see me as a problem but a solution to a problem. Work has done an awesome job of making sure even furloughed folks got paid and keeping as many people away from exposure from work as possible. They actively are trying not to lay people off. For that to happen, some of us have to come into work and do the physical things that get the business paid. Not that the people working at home aren’t really working, but you can meet and design until the cows come home. Until services or goods are manufactured, delivered and paid for, we are all just 2 steps away from unemployment.

  79. Destroyer of Typos*

    Thank you Alison, for giving us a space to be heard!

    “Essential employee” here, fortunate enough to have full time job with employer who sent most staff to work from home and closed the office to client visits. I can’t really print or deposit client checks from my house. And there’s definitely been weirdness for me with colleagues who aren’t comfortable coming in, but then need me to do the in office bits. I didn’t feel like I got a real choice to insist on working from home, because it would just mean someone else had to do stuff for me.

    Not to mention that we had daily protests for months in my city of work after Certain Major Events, blocking freeways, jamming traffic, and occasionally getting violent. I was never quite sure if I would get stuck in a mob when I was just trying to get home from a job that if it didn’t get done, real people would financially suffer. Indirectly of course, but in a world where people were losing income left and right, it seems somewhat important to pay our clients bills to the people providing nursing care…

  80. Chef*

    Thanks for the acknowledgement and for admitting you’ve contributed to the problem. That shows again how awesome you are.
    As someone who has been working in person in a public facing position during the entire pandemic I’ve found myself reading your column less and less. The selfish, self righteous comments from readers just became too much to bear.
    I’ll probably still skip over columns regarding work from home, but I’ll definitely try reading Ask a Manager more regularly again.

  81. Go back to the office, please*

    As an essential worker who has spent the past too many months dealing with ungrateful, unpleasant, abusive clients and their much better-behaved pets it is a relief to see a couple of columns dedicated to everyone who has been at work, face-to-face with the public/sickness/staff shortages. I am really appalled by those who have been WFH this entire time who are so quick to demand they went through this “horrible” experience of being at home avoiding a potentially deadly virus. Yeah, I’ll trade you a few weeks of spreadsheets and ZOOM meetings for clients who trash the waiting room, refuse to wear masks-and refuse to leave the building- and end up arrested, standing 6 feet away from clients while wearing masks and face shields in an attempt to provide the best, safest experience possible for all involved, and being super efficient so clients are never in the building for more than 15 minutes then having them complain about being “rushed”. Go down the street to the curbside practice then. Oh wait, they fired you for beating on the door demanding to be let in. It’s been a terrible year for everyone, but I would have chosen staying home with the cats and books over unrelenting patients and unreasonable clients who were working from home and considered a trip to the vet a field trip.

Comments are closed.