new employee refuses to learn technology, pigeon poop drama, and more

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

1. New employee refuses to learn technology

I’ve been managing a new remote employee for four months and it’s been a daunting task for many reasons. The one I’m writing about is this person’s resistance to learning our basic technology systems: Microsoft, Sharepoint, calendars, Doodle polls, just about everything. She is familiar with Apple products but that’s not what we use (and can’t change just for her). I’m not sure whether she’s unwilling or unable to learn. Our whole team has offered training support, whether from us or from online tutorials, classes, etc. and she has largely ignored the offers. Instead, she asks someone else to do basic tasks (e.g., setting up a Doodle poll and scheduling the meeting, filing email attachments in Sharepoint), which others can do in five minutes but shouldn’t have to — this is part of her job. I’m at a loss for what to do next. I’ve questioned for weeks whether she can do the job at all. I have reason to believe she might badmouth the company if we were to let her go and she is very well-connected in the community we serve, but I know fear of retribution is not an excuse for keeping her!

It sounds like it’s time to say very directly, “We do need you to learn how to do XYZ and have training to help you do that; it’s a critical requirement of the job and not something we can be flexible on. To keep you in the role, I need to see you start taking the trainings and learning these skills in the next week. Is that something you’re up for doing, or do you feel the job isn’t for you?”

If she agrees to learn and then doesn’t make any move to do so, at that point you really do need to let her go. If she’s going to badmouth you regardless, there’s not a lot you can do to stop her but sometimes having started with “do you feel the job isn’t for you?” can make it feel more like a mutual decision where she had some agency, which can help.

Read an update to this letter

2. Pigeon poop drama

On Friday, we had a party at work starting at the end of working hours, held at a lobby in front of our office. When we moved into that office, I heard from my coworkers that we have a rule that the last one leaving the office makes sure all windows are closed. It’s a large office, more like an open space, with lots of windows.

At the party, I stood and drank with two teammates and at one point I decided to leave, and they decided to stay a bit longer. There were lots of people at the lobby at the time. When I left the windows in the part of the office where our team sits were definitely closed (and anyway, the rule is that the last one in the entire office checks the windows, but I still checked because I figured people were drunk and might forget). I packed my things and left.

On Monday, I arrived early and found the cleaning ladies and a huge mess all over the lobby and the office: as it turned out, pigeons came in during the weekend and left a lot of poop. The cleaning ladies said they had found the windows wide open in my team’s part of the office, as well as one other team’s part. They also said that it was in our part of the office that most of the excrement was found, but they had cleaned it all before we arrived. Later I heard rumors that the balcony door had also been found open (it’s on the opposite side).

I found it odd that the windows in our part had been found open — this meant that someone came at some point after I left and opened the windows in our part. But I didn’t give it much thought until later, when some coworkers began to treat me and the other two teammates as the culprits for the mess. I find this really unfair since I definitely found the windows closed when I left and my teammate, who left some time after me, said he also found them closed. I did not drink any alcohol at the party, so I was capable of telling whether windows were closed or not.

We have three possibilities: either we are lying, or the cleaning ladies are lying, or we are all telling the truth but someone else came in at some point after my team left and opened our windows. But the way things are going, it seems like the three of us will get all the blame from our coworkers. What is the best way to deal with this? It was a pretty serious mess that affected a lot of us (we had to delay the beginning of work etc.)? I don’t want people to associate me with that, and I especially don’t want to be viewed as someone who is lying in order to cover for themselves.

This is a lot of drama over pigeon poop! All you can really do is state clearly and firmly, “When I left, tons of people were still here and the windows were closed. I have no idea what happened after that, but I was gone.” If someone implies you’re lying, you can say, “Are you seriously implying I’m lying about pigeon poop? I really don’t appreciate that. Tons of people saw me leave; feel free to check with them.” But from there, I wouldn’t worry terribly about it! People will likely move on within a few days. If for some reason it does blow up into something bigger, you can do a very serious “I do not want to be accused of something I clearly didn’t do and I need you to stop saying I did” … but it’s unlikely to become a huge thing.

3. New hire doesn’t seem to be trying that hard to move, after agreeing to

My company was fully remote for most of the last two years. We are now back in the office three days a week (down from five pre-pandemic), though with flexibility for those who aren’t comfortable or have health concerns. (This is in line with guidance in our country). One of my reports started two months ago. At that time we were still mostly remote so the interview was virtual, though it was made clear that we’d be going back into the office and they’d be expected to move to live nearby.

Now nearly everyone is back in, and they still don’t have any firm plans to move. I understand it takes time to view places and sort things out but I also feel like they’re not putting in as much effort as they could. (The rental market isn’t *that* bad here, and they are definitely well paid enough to afford deposit, etc., so I don’t think it’s that.) For comparison, every other new hire has managed to find somewhere to live prior to their start date. When I talk to them about it, they say that they want to move, they understand their training would go more easily in the office, and they’re still trying to find somewhere. But they have also said things like, “I’m going to take this week off looking, it gets tiring.” They live with parents at the moment so they’re not tied into a lease or anything like that.

So … I need to be a clearer about this not being optional! But I also don’t want to be unreasonable — maybe they genuinely are trying and can’t find anywhere. I could give some arbitrary deadline, but realistically we’re not going to fire them if they miss it so I need some wording that’s in between “politely inquiring about their plans” and “this is a condition of your employment here.” Help?

It’s possible that your new hire doesn’t realize you expected them to be moving more quickly, and this will nudge them into action. It’s also possible they didn’t take the moving requirement all that seriously and aren’t fully committed to moving at all, or that they’re having second thoughts, or who knows what.

So how about just naming what you’re seeing and asking what’s going on? “I had expected you to be closer to moving by now, and I’m concerned that you don’t have firm plans yet, since it’s getting more important that you be here. What’s going on on your end, and what’s your sense of when we’ll have you in person?” If the answer is vague, you can say, “I want to make sure I’m clear on my end that that this isn’t something we can be flexible on, and we do need you to make the move in the near future. Is that something you feel you’ll be able to do?”

You should also figure out what you’ll do it it continues to not happen. You said you wouldn’t fire them over missing an arbitrary deadline to move, but what would you do if they still hadn’t moved six months from now? A year? Game that out in your head so you know where the limits and consequences really are, and can communicate them if you need to.

Read an update to this letter here

4. Are fake Zoom backgrounds less professional?

I’m in the middle of a friendly debate with a colleague about fake Zoom backgrounds. She thinks they are much more professional than even the most benign regular background in your home. I disagree. Now, of course there are some extreme circumstances, especially during the worst of the pandemic (I have a friend who had to do a lot of calls sitting in his garage next to his car, just to get away from the kids doing homework, and another friend who had to put a chair and table in a bathroom). But barring that, what’s wrong with a plain wall or set of bookshelves? Plus I find the way those backgrounds move around a person’s head endlessly distracting, especially if multiple people on the call are using them. And I don’t see how a fake beach photo is “more professional” than taking a call from your kitchen counter. But I’m curious to hear your take!

I’m with you. The less distracting the background, the better. And because of the way our minds are trained to expect to see office-y backgrounds, the beach is more distracting than bookshelves, desks. (And that’s before even getting into the movement problem you point out.)

5. Do I have to include my full address on my cover letter?

I am in the process of looking for an internship, and the ones I am looking at require a cover letter. I’ve reviewed your previous examples and am feeling good about my content, but I just am unsure about the headings on the letter.

The examples my school references often have physical addresses included for myself and the company in the heading, but this seems a little dated and unsafe. (I definitely don’t want every person who sees my cover letter to know where I live!)

Nah, you don’t need to do that. Putting your address and the recipient’s address at the top of a letter is the traditional format for a formal business letter sent through the mail. It is not a required part of the modern format for a letter sent through email (even when it’s an attachment to your email). It’s perfectly acceptable to put the date and the recipient’s info at the top and then open the letter, skipping your own address block. So something like this is fine:

March 31, 2022

Valentina Warbleworth
Delicious Desserts, Inc.
123 Key Lime Drive
Pie Town, New Mexico 87827

Dear Valentina,

Some people skip the recipient’s address block too, although it does look much less formal:

March 31, 2022

Dear Valentina,


(Pie Town, New Mexico is a real town.)

{ 786 comments… read them below }

  1. indubitably*

    My parents occasionally use a fake background in our weekly Zoom. I find it very distracting and a little disturbing to see parts of their bodies disappear and reappear.

    1. many bells down*

      One of my co-workers has a painting of a large flower in his home office. When he uses a virtual background, sometimes just the middle of the flower will appear… and it looks INCREDIBLY like he has a large painting of a butthole behind him.

      1. CatCat*

        Oh noooooo LOL. If I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it and would have to minimize the window when the person came on screen.

      2. Nanani*

        Then it goes will with the uncountable numbers of cat buttholes in zoom calls. Your co-worker is on trend.

        1. Homeworker*

          A large percentage of comments to #4 are centered around being annoyed at flickering or imprecise capture of the person on the background filters. I’m not so inclined to use the phrase “tone deaf” as one poster did, but they are not wrong. If you are annoyed, you need to find a way to put that aside and stop assuming that everyone can setup a professional looking background. Everything from limited space, roommates, children, parents, pets are things we have to live with. A huge number of us just can’t afford an extra space for each person in the house to have as a zoom room. Not to ignore the tech costs that may be necessary to have a better camera, pc, internet to make the background more seemless. Check your own assumptions and bias before you let your “annoyance“ be the most important factor.

    2. Artemesia*

      Fake backgrounds only work for one person; when my husband and I zoom together with one, he is moving in and out like the cheshire cat — so I only use them when solo — and for work I’d only use a fake office if I didn’t have a background I wanted to share.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        There are two people on my team who seem to use fake backgrounds that are of the fake office/fake house variety. I honestly didn’t even realize at first they were not real but you can kind of tell around their hair sometimes. I actually have been pretty impressed with how well they work to be honest. They do definitely look professional. But the other people on my team who are just in their actual space also look professional. So I think either option is fine and if someone doesn’t have an office space at home I can understand why they would feel more comfortable using the fake background.

        But certainly I’ll agree with OP that using one like the beach or space or whatever is clearly less professional and I don’t know why the person OP is talking to would possibly think a beach background is more professional than just a decently tidy part of your home lol. I mean some people do use those at my company on the bigger meeting’s and it’s totally fine–there’s usually a comment or two of “wish I was there” or something like that at the beginning of the meeting and then we move on. But it’s definitely not *more* professional.

        1. 2Legit*

          At my org, it is the norm to use virtual backgrounds. However, there’s a small set people are choosing from. They add fun to our meetings. Zoom meetings are not an everyday thing here. No one is being inconvenienced by somebody else’s virtual background.
          For people that value inclusion/etc – think about this – what if you were embarrassed to show your home on camera? Not everyone lives in homes that are HGTV-worthy… This is one way that the playing field truly gets leveled. True inclusion. Thinking about everybody’s circumstances… not everyone lives in the same type of home with the same amenities. You truly don’t know what a colleague’s home life might be like. Backgrounds are a true lifesaver for people who are living and working in small spaces…. and instead of planning entire days or hours of “how can I hide the laundry” or “how can I hide this, rearrange this furniture” etc… the background handles it.

          1. Just Another Starving Artist*

            …assuming your computer is new enough for the background, of course. My old one wasn’t, so a norm of using virtual backgrounds would have been significantly less inclusive in my workplace.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              I just got a 2018 Chromebook and was disappointed that it can’t do virtual backgrounds effectively, unlike my 2011 iMac. It will let you do a virtual background, but instead of tracking the outline of your head/shoulders, it has a specific round/rectangular/heart window in the middle of the screen. Looks super weird and fails at hiding the mess in your house, car interior, etc.

              I guess if I use the Chromebook for Zoom calls, I’ll just have to make sure I have a decent background to sit in front of or people will deal with me calling in from my (parked) car or whatever.

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      My organization moved into a new building just before the pandemic, and our branded Zoom backgrounds feature views of the new building. One of my colleagues is visible (in long shot) in the photo that she chose for her background. It’s not distracting, but it does amuse me whenever I see it.

      1. Susan*

        I have a feeling that the multiple, casual mentions of “it’s unlikely” that the pigeon poop thing will not be a big deal is pretty cavalier.

      2. Zephy*

        One of the mucky-mucks at the school where I work sometimes uses a promo image of the campus as a fake Teams background. It’s a nice image, showcases two of the buildings and a beautiful water feature in the middle of campus…but to people familiar with the layout of the campus, it looks like the person is standing in said water feature, to have those buildings framed at that angle behind them. Not the biggest faux-pas but it makes me laugh.

        1. YA Author*

          My child’s therapist (for anxiety) has a similar background, but the placement—in front of a hospital—would put her in the middle of a busy road! I find looking at her very stressful.

        2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          When I worked for a college some of my colleagues would use nice aerial shots of campus as their zoom background. It was SO distracting to see just a giant disembodied head floating above campus.

          I did get a kick out of my VP using a fake background to hide the fact that he was working from his office when campus was supposed to be closed, though.

      3. Jasper*

        One of my colleagues has taken a photo set of the current office and has shopped herself into it at least 3 locations. It’s not necessarily ‘professional’, depending on your norms, but it’s certainly fun.

    4. Yay, I’m a Llama again!*

      Fake backgrounds I agree with on the whole. We have some branded ones that people can use so we aren’t seeing holiday photos, but it is weird when their head disappears… however, I use the zoom blur background as I think it looks tidier, and that one doesn’t seem to make body parts appear and disappear.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I agree. I use a Teams blur background. On Teams, body parts don’t seem to disappear all that often, but the blurring usually fails between the top of the head and the “handle” if someone wears on-ear headphones.

        1. NoviceManagerGuy*

          I have one coworkers who has big hair and has a ceiling fan behind her; when she uses a fake background Teams mixes and matches her hair, the fan blades, and her face in a weird kaleidoscope.

        2. Another Liz*

          Unfortunately, “blurring” can still be distracting. At home, I’m working from a basement. That means the blur still means you can see exposed ceiling tile frames, and stuff piled around me. At work, it just means you can’t read what’s on my whiteboard but you can see it and half my desk supplies.

          My solution was to find a few gentle Zoom backgrounds that don’t have loads of color, and use them. A few colleagues use the branded ones, but then we end up with 6 people “outside” the same building!

      2. ecnaseener*

        Agreed, the blur is much more forgiving than a picture background. Not just of the glitchiness but also bad lighting — it looks pretty weird when a poorly-lit person uses a bright picture background.

      3. Charlotte Lucas*

        I agree with blur. I use it when I WFH, because in my small apartment, things like blank walls don’t exist.

        1. These Tiny Keyholes*

          Agreed. I live in a 400sq.ft. studio, there is nowhere I can sit that doesn’t have my bed, kitchen, and/or wardrobe in full view. I don’t mind coworkers seeing my galaxy print bedspread but for any meeting outside of my department I turn on the blur.

          1. A Wall*

            Yeah, I was going to say, during the pandemic rents in my city went up at least 30% across the board. I live with a number of people in one apartment, and in order to not be talking over each other all day that means we each work from desks stuffed into our (already pretty small) bedrooms. There is not another way for folks around here to afford a place to live, you’d have to be pulling down a pretty incredible amount of money to have a home that allows more than maybe one person to have bookshelves or a blank wall behind a desk. We all use virtual backgrounds and/or the background blur because there is literally not a way to configure our workspaces where you’re not looking at our entire personal bedroom space, and we would all prefer at least a tiny bit of privacy.

            It never occurred to me that people would have an issue with this, and frankly I find that pretty aggravating. “Why can’t you simply have a big, pretty workspace set up at home with a nice background?” is a rather tone-deaf (not to mention unrealistic) stance to have on something that literally does not affect you at all. Sorry if you find the tiny bit of fuzz at my shoulders distracting, if you’d like to give me an extra $1500+ a month to rent a nicer place I’d be happy to fix it for you.

      4. Dasein9*

        I find the branded backgrounds super distracting. Part of the reason is the inconsistent borders of the people I’m trying to listen to and part is the creepy way people in the distance shots never move. I’ve read enough science fiction to be alarmed by that! Also, when two client reps both use the same branded background, it looks like they’re hopping in and out of each other’s seat.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Interesting, I’ve not seen one that has other people in it! That does seem like an odd choice. My company apparently has one that just looks like you’re in our office but there are not other people there. It took me a minute to realize it was a fake background because the person using it is the one person on our team who does have to go into the office sometime for her work so I thought she was really there for a bit.

          1. alh*

            My workplace posted a bunch of images to use as backgrounds on Teams, the usual nice pictures of our buildings and such. But one is an image that includes a couple of employees, including me! It was very, very weird to see myself popping up as other people’s backgrounds (they took it down after a couple of days, so I don’t think I was the only one to find it weird!).

        2. Can’t Sit Still*

          My company used corporate HQ for the standard backgrounds. My favorite appears completely professional to us locally, but is apparently the hallway outside one of the cafeterias. My colleagues at HQ find that background disturbing but I think it’s hilarious and will never stop using it.

      5. PeanutButter*

        Yeah, I use the blur when I’m on a video call with people outside the organization, because my cat has a habit of parking himself directly behind me and cleaning his backside. My co-workers love the furry little a**hole though, so I’m obliged to make sure they can see him when we’re on an internal call.

    5. Expiring Cat Memes*

      Some of the older laptops at work seem to have trouble keeping up with picking out the person, so occasionally they’ll kind of fade/ghost out into their background. It reminds me of that Niles Disappears meme, like they’re mentally checking out of the meeting and off brain-golfing or whatever.

    6. WoodswomanWrites*

      The solution I’ve found is the Blur function. It’s my real space, but avoids the actual background popping up.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Yeah, that’s what I use too. Otherwise people focus more on all the Star Trek/Star Wars stuff on the shelves behind me!

        (The only place with a blank wall at home is the bedroom)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I had a Zoom interview with a really nice manager who had a ton of Star Wars stuff behind him. When I complimented him on it, he got up and moved the computer to show me a FULL-SIZED STORMTROOPER by the door of his home office.

          I did not get the job, but man, he would have been cool to work with.

    7. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

      None of the devices I own are even capable of displaying a fake background. They aren’t even particularly old, either. People will just have to put up with my taste in art.

      1. Worldwalker*

        I’m lucky that behind me is a very large (and very full) bookcase. There isn’t a blank wall in this rather small place.

      2. whingedrinking*

        During my stint of teaching at home, I remembered about two minutes before class started on the first day that I had a mid-sized painting featuring a naked person (seen from the back) in my dining room. Not graphic, but still a butt. Had to take that down quick…

    8. Stripes*

      I can’t use them at all. I have a unique predicament, but I’m pale. I’m very pale. The wall behind me is off-white, and when you combine my lighting with these two factors, I’m the exact same color as my wall. Zoom puts the background over my face, and the wall, so the only things you can see are my hair, eyes and mouth. Hilarious and terrifying.

      1. Rolly*

        You can use a green screen. I understand if you don’t want to, but it would work. I have one that attaches to my chair.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          My husband bought a green screen at the beginning of all this as he is working in an extremely messy space (I accidentally kicked him out of what had been his computer room when at the start of the pandemic we tried to share it but it was a problem when we both had meetings so he ended up moving all his stuff into the room that is full of all the junk that doesn’t have a home lol).

          It does work really well and there are a lot of reasonably priced options for anyone who might be interested! (Though certainly it is not something anyone should feel like they *have* to purchase.)

          1. Elizabeth West*

            There was one on Amazon that clips onto the back of a standard office chair. I think it’s fairly affordable.

      2. Software Dev (she/her)*

        Haha I have this same problem, might have to look into a green screen someday

    9. NYWeasel*

      I’m finding the replies to you interesting. For the first 18 months or so of remote working, my teammates all just used whatever their backgrounds were. Now everyone seems to favor Blur plus fake backgrounds. Honestly I find those WAY more distracting than everyone’s bedrooms/kitchens/garages were to start. The edges of my coworkers appear/disappear constantly and I find myself having trouble following the discussion when it gets too active. There was never any sort of “This is a best practice” memo, so it quite literally must be everyone’s preferences, but uggggghhh I can’t stand when people use it and I just wish they’d stop.

      1. NYWeasel*

        And I see people saying below that they favor Blur to obscure mess behind them, but I can’t recall ever thinking “OMG, look at that squalor!” during the time when no one used blur. Now I’m finding myself dreading meetings with certain people bc I know all I’m going to see are the magic headsets appear and disappearing.

        1. jj*

          But knowing your clutter is visible can be distracting to you, even if nobody else cares

          Some of my colleagues also blur because they don’t have a private space, and blurring allows partners/family/roommates to move through the space without appearing on screen.

          1. This is a name, I guess*

            People def saw my girlfriend without a top on during the early pandemic. Thankfully, it was far in the background, and my coworkers are all unfussy and women.

          2. Rolly*


            Plus, some of spent time cleaning up before calls. When i was working from home, I was spending ten minutes a day staging my space (I’m on calls with external constituents). Less than my commute, so it was OK, but one reason my space looked neat was I had to put in the work. And I am privileged enough to have a big space so could move the junk out of camera frame.

            When I knew I’d be in a rush and could not clear up, I’d throw up a fake background with a green screen.

          3. whingedrinking*

            Exactly. I have worked with children doing online tutoring, and I quit as soon as it was an option because of the stress. Such as the fact that children are naturally curious and *anything* they could see in the background of my home was a nucleus for distraction. A background was necessary just to preempt the barrage of “What’s that? Who painted that picture? Is that your husband? What’s your stuffed owl’s name? Etc.”

        2. ursula*

          I’ve worked in offices where there were significant, significant class disparities between various staff. I started out on the low end, but in a context where I had to fit in with people on the high end (lawyers, judges, senior administrators) and believe me, it matters whether they think you’re “on their level” or if they can intuit that you don’t quite belong in their world. It’s not where I’m at now, but I often think about how I would have used any background at all rather than have some of them see even the tidiest and blankest corners of my home. (Blur might have been best though – they also don’t like flashy beach sunsets.)

      2. This is a name, I guess*

        I started using blur when I ran our intern cohort, and I found out that (like typical college students) they were tracking my cats behind me. I’ve more or less kept it because I live in 1000 ft2 with another 80% remote worker, and my options for desk placement are limited. It’s very easy everyone in to see cat drama (funny) and laundry mountain (my secret shame) behind me.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I use a background at work because of the distraction factor as well. I have some stuff displayed in the home office that evokes “STRONG” reactions for reasons that totally befuddle me. These things are a few Growlers (mason jar style glass jar that holds beer) and a Mardi Gras Porcelain Mask I got in Venice. Not things that most of us would have problems, but well, for two of my coworkers ARE A DEFCON 1 PROBLEM.
          I go with an office image or the blur, not something crazy. It’s better than debating why I have certain things in my personal house.

          1. Forrest*

            My partner also has a Venetian mask and honestly it’s the creepiest thing, sorry. It completely freaks me out and I make her keep it in her office!

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Oh that mask was what set the first person (no longer a coworker, fortunately) off. She started lancing into me about how horribly SINFUL it was to have a pastel blue and yellow Mardi Gras mask* on the wall in my office….. it wasn’t that it was creepy – it was that she felt it was blasphemous, and couldn’t believe I didn’t agree. She did the same when she figured out that the growlers normally hold beer when full, because alcohol is also apparently blasphemous.
              I do not miss her at all – she was constantly looking for things to be offended by in your workspace, including going all the way into your office/cubicle to look thru your stuff.

              * the mask in question looks like a court jester face, compete with the two tasseled cap.

      3. mlem*

        It could also be peer pressure — the more people who use it, the more who think they’re *supposed* to use it. Though if you mention the visual glitching bothers you and nobody stops using it, you’ll probably prove yourself right.

      4. Lynn Whitehat*

        At the risk of sounding “not everyone can eat sandwiches”, not everyone has an actual background that is remotely appropriate for work. My WFH setup is a desk in the corner of my bedroom, because that’s life in the big city. Behind me is my bed, which I don’t want my co-workers thinking about too much. My husband comes in and out and sometimes changes clothes. Trust me that that would be 100x more distracting than a fake background. I’ve gotten good at not moving around too much so you don’t get the weird fading in and out.

        1. WhiskyTangoFoxtrot*

          I’m (still) working out of my bedroom and the only way to fit my desk in is with my bed directly behind me. For meetings within my team, I have a variety of funny Zoom backgrounds. And for meetings outside my team, I have a few plain backgrounds that read as a wall or a room with a few plants. I don’t need my co-workers seeing my PJs or my stuffed rabbit! :-)

          1. Splendid Colors*

            I live in a studio apartment. The only place I can consistently get decent lighting* has my bed behind me and a bunch of clutter I need to sort. At the beginning of the pandemic, when I might have one meeting per week where I’d be on camera, it wasn’t a big deal to rearrange and tidy up–but now that I might have three meetings at different times of day (so the natural lighting changes) the default location is facing the kitchen with the bed behind me.

            *Yes, I know ring lights behind the camera are a thing. They are a thing that will probably give me migraines or at least make me squint unflatteringly so I’m not spending the money to get one. I don’t have to have professional video lighting to discuss what our group is going to say at City Council or chat with people after ZoomChurch and half the folks don’t even have enough bandwidth to use video.

      5. StressedButOkay*

        I’m finding them interesting as well! I feel I’m one of the few people at work not using the fake backgrounds – I don’t even blur unless I have some laundry piled up behind me, whoops. I get it for my colleagues who don’t have an office and have set up shop wherever but it’s interesting seeing how many have gravitated towards it regardless.

      6. A Wall*

        I said this above but like, I don’t want everyone I work with to be able to see my bedroom. I already have to combine what should be my private space with my daily work space, and I would like to take back just a teeny tiny little piece of privacy and not showcase it to my coworkers all day every day.

    10. Lore*

      This seems like an appropriate time to mention that my company switched to Teams during the pandemic. I have one coworker that I only see a couple of times a month in a meeting and didn’t know well enough pre wfh to know where she lived. I spent a good six months envying the cool loft apartment she appeared to be calling from…until .one day another colleague who cycles through the standard Teams backgrounds was living in the same loft.

      I tend to use backgrounds because at home there’s a print on the wall in my living room that is fine when you see the whole thing but in the angle captured by webcam looks inappropriate (which we figured out doing a test Zoom for my partner’s job interview!) and at my office I’m in front of a frosted glass wall that the camera perceives as a green screen and weird things happen.

      1. This is a name, I guess*

        I have multiple coworkers who use that background on Teams! I joke that they are together. We’re in social services, and 65% services are delivered in the community. It means that people jump on Teams calls from all sorts of locations, and in this case, backgrounds end up being useful.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I spent a good six months envying the cool loft apartment she appeared to be calling from…until .one day another colleague who cycles through the standard Teams backgrounds was living in the same loft.

        Plot twist – it really was her loft! They’re having an affair!

      3. generic_username*

        LOL I know exactly what loft you’re talking about. I did the same exact thing! My team mainly uses Zoom, but one group I work with meets over Teams and the guy who leads that meeting was using that background. I was super impressed by how cool his place was and jealous of all of the natural light he must get, and then as the pandemic wore on and his pandemic hair kept growing I noticed the slight fuzziness around the edges of his hair and realized it was a background, lol…..

    11. Violet Fox*

      The fake backgrounds work a lot better with a proper green-screen setup, which is not something most people have.

      I’m also in the category that finds them generally more distracting, unless the person really does not move around much or randomly disappear and reappear. I know though that some people do prefer to use them for privacy reasons, which I do respect.

      1. Rolly*

        And good light and a powerful enough computer. I have a green screen that attaches to my chair that works pretty well.

        I’ve been on Zoom calls with all sorts of people – from community leaders in the Amazon to billionaires to at least one head of a UN agency. And I’ve seen plenty of fine fake backgrounds. They can be done well but require being not particularly distracting and also have some intentionality in the message they project. A beach is not a good message for a work meeting (though we had a person who is pretty big shot take a zoom from a beach literally). A field of growing crops is good for people working on sustainable agriculture and I have seen that many times in my work. A fairly plain branded background is often good. I’ve used the view out my window of a cityscape. A generic office or room is meh or OK.

      2. Lydia*

        I used a fake background when I was interviewing and set up a sheet behind me to act as a kind of screen. It worked really well! Now that I have the job and am fully remote until this Monday, I use blur.

        I say I set up the sheet, but it was actually my husband because I can’t reach that high.

    12. ThatGirl*

      I use a fake background because the best-lit spot in my kitchen has a lot of clutter and an open doorway behind it, and I just don’t love people seeing it. A lot of my coworkers use fake backgrounds – I try to keep it simple, a pleasant and non-distracting nature photo. But my hair does occasionally blend in with it. Sorry.

    13. Lady Blerd*

      One of my colleagues, Steve took a high res picture of our cubicle as if he was sitting in the office. The first time I saw him use it in a Zoom meeting, it was so well done I honestly thought he went in for the Zoom meeting, I was viewing from home. Our cubicle mate, Bucky, was in Steve’s background but when I saw him moving in his own grid square, that’s when I realized that Steve was not in the cubicle.

    14. BurnOutCandidate*

      In my department’s weekly Teams meeting, I will often see:

      The Planet of the ApesThe bridge of the Enterprise-DThe TARDISOcean City, Maryland from the air high above the boardwalkA Pantone color swatchThe orbital from HaloAnd a couple of others

      I used a cemetery once, just for the giggles. It’s about half of my department. The self-expression is fun. My team is a bunch of weirdos, to greater and lesser degrees, and people are using things that make sense for them. :)

      But the constant “disappearing” (full or partial) when someone moves or the momentary “bleed” of their actual background is quite distracting. And, whether justified or not, the use of the virtual background sometimes makes me feel some irritation with one or two people on my team, like the person who can’t stop moving so he’s constantly fading in and out, and I can feel that irritation affecting my interactions with them outside of the Teams meetings.

      1. kitryan*

        I mostly just make the bed and let the corner of the bed and a bookshelf remain visible, but for when I’m feeling playful (and it’s an appropriate venue for it) I have a number of SF&F backgrounds to use: the bookshop from Good Omens, Crowley’s flat from Good Omens, a bunch of Star Wars ships and planetscapes, a couple different Tardis sets/shots, etc. I also have some opera house and grand library images I use.
        When everyone locked down initially back in 2020, a lot of these image sets went around and I collected them like a magpie. I really enjoy changing them up when I’m on a casual call.
        Work also gave us a couple backgrounds that are just tiled repeats of our logo, but as I’m not client facing, I don’t really need them.

    15. TweedleDee*

      I am not a fan of fake backgrounds. I hate the way people drift in and out and the way they don’t work well for many different hair styles. They are so distracting.

      I give a pass if it’s a company branded background because that seems much more professional than a beautiful picture reminding me I’d rather be at the beach. I’ve seen some great company created backgrounds that show the company’s support of things like Pride Month, Juneteenth, or that promote their upcoming expo.

      I am in a tiny corner with my fake plant and non descript wall art from target. It’s neutral, shows that I care about my video presence and I don’t have to worry about my naked toddler deciding to go streaking behind me.

    16. Kenneth D Warthen*

      I have a friend who makes photomurals for offices and restaurant type places for wall decoration and he lent me a 5’x5′ mural of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. I asked everybody if they liked my new home office.

      After a big laugh from the group I removed the mural and the could see my kitchen. Easy come, easy go…

    17. A Feast of Fools*

      We use fake backgrounds at work but we’re on Teams with pretty good external cameras, so there’s only the occasional blurred edges of someone’s hair if they move their head too quickly.

      The beach, mountains, or cartoony-y backgrounds are kind of weird and only used by a teensy subset. Most people choose one of the standard “office” options or go grab something professional-looking off the internet. We use those backgrounds even when we’re in our cubes in the office.

      And I’m grateful that the fake backgrounds are normalized at my company because I couldn’t have a clean, professional-looking, bland area behind me in real life without completely reconfiguring my “office” space and/or my house and its occupants.

    18. Zombeyonce*

      I use a fake background of a library for meetings. My setup shows the room behind me (I use a standing desk and arrangement options are limited.) It doesn’t make much mess around my head and even if it does, it’s better than letting my coworkers see my office. Between my ADHD, my two young kids, and the room being the catchall for half-unpacked boxes from our move a year ago, the room is impossible to keep tidy. I’d rather my coworkers be distracted than show them my mess and worry about judgement.

      I always use the same background and people are very used to it. Some have been told me they forget it’s not where I actually am because they are so used to seeing me with it.

    19. Canterlot*

      It’s important to remember that not everyone lives in a large house where they have room to set up a professional background. Tighter living quarters are the norm in many world cities. We are five people in 2 1/2 rooms, and the background is my family’s living space / our bedroom / the kitchen. The only way to get a white wall is to climb up on my MIL’s bed and sit cross legged with a laptop balanced on a stack of pillows.

      And honestly, even if people do have lots of rooms or a home office, they may just feel private about their homes and not want to be forced to invite everyone in. COVID broke a lot of boundaries, and I think a virtual background is a small price to pay for preserving them.

  2. FlyingAce*

    #4 -My workstation is set up in my bedroom, so my camera is facing my kid’s crib. I feel more comfortable using a virtual background. My company sends us branded Zoom backgrounds every few months, so I generally pick one of those. (Both the crib and the wall behind it are white, so the crib doesn’t show if I’m using a virtual background.)

    The branded virtual backgrounds can be quite colorful, but the walls at the office follow the same color scheme so I don’t stand out that much compared to my coworkers joining the Zoom call on site ;)

    1. Detached Elemental*

      Ditto. I live in a small apartment, which is perenially cluttered. My work from home space is my bedroom, since there is nowhere else I can work with some privacy. I do not want coworkers seeing my bed (including the piles of yet-to-be-put-away laundry), so I use a background image, typically a generic office. I feel more comfortable with the fake background than my real one.

      1. Stevie*

        Same. I live in a studio apartment. There really isn’t any way to have a good background. I even have a folding screen behind me, but the camera angle is just too wide and it gets my kitchen and some junk I have on the floor.

          1. Alice*

            Same, I don’t really care for people to see the mess in my sink, and I only have space in the kitchen. It would be different if I had a blank wall behind me.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Can I just say some of these comments are making me feel so much better about my own cluttered apartment?

          1. Dona Florinda*

            Same! Some of my coworkers seem to work from a very tidy space and that always makes me feel bad. Good to know that I’m not alone in my clutter.

        2. These Tiny Keyholes*

          Also same! I live in a tiny apartment and on video calls you can see everything but my kitchen and bathroom in the background. For a long time I also found fake backgrounds distracting and didn’t want to use one, but recently I’ve started using the blur feature for privacy and honestly it’s been a huge relief. It’s partly not wanting my clutter visible and partly because I got tired of feeling like I was constantly inviting strangers into my personal, private living space.

      2. This is a name, I guess*

        I feel like Zoom background “preference” is really a position of privilege (unless people are using distracting backgrounds). I live in a 1000ft2 open-floor-plan 100yo crappy apartment, with only 2 interior doors (to the bathroom and to our bedroom that’s small that no one could work in there). My partner and I both worked remotely 100% of the time during the height of the pandemic. Now we try to go to the office 1-2x each on opposite days.

        I had limited choices of where I could place my desk within these confines. It has a busy background (the archway into the dining room in the middle ground, and the doorway into the kitchen in the background, all visible). My camera shows EVERYTHING in my living room, including laundry mountain and unfolded couch blankets, etc. I usually just blur.

        Funny story: I started blurring when I ran the intern cohort, and I found out that there was a guessing game among interns about how many cats I had. Because they were all tracking them interacting behind me.

        1. Rolly*

          “I feel like Zoom background “preference” is really a position of privilege (unless people are using distracting backgrounds). ”


          I actually think blurred backgrounds are little more distracting than a fake background – the bluriness makes my eyes water plus if there are other people in the space their movement can be strange. But whatever – i try to not judge between the two.

          1. This is a name, I guess*

            We use Teams, and for whatever reason, blur tends to work better than backgrounds. We’re not super meeting heavy, though, so I doubt it causes major issues.

        2. generic_username*

          I feel like Zoom background “preference” is really a position of privilege (unless people are using distracting backgrounds)

          100%. I don’t use background because I was lucky enough to have a large apartment so I could keep my background clutter-free at the beginning of the pandemic and now have a house with a designated office space. A lot of people, especially in cities, have to work from their bedrooms or kitchens/dining rooms (both spaces that tend to have more clutter and day-to-day mess that you don’t want people to see)

        3. Anon Supervisor*

          “Funny story: I started blurring when I ran the intern cohort, and I found out that there was a guessing game among interns about how many cats I had. Because they were all tracking them interacting behind me.”

          Aww, I love it when people’s pets help them or make their play for stardom.

          ***also, how many cats do you have?

        4. L'étrangere*

          I thought the best part of all this zooming was to get to know everyone’s cat, butt and all

        5. A Wall*

          I feel like Zoom background “preference” is really a position of privilege

          Right? I’m surprised Alison’s response didn’t include that, you know, a lot of people do not have a nice background to have visible, so the silly virtual ones might not be perfect but they are the best option. “What’s wrong with a blank wall or a bookshelf” made me laugh because like, it’s a very “let them eat cake” kind of thought. If folks had a way to have a plain background like a blank wall or a bookshelf behind them, they would already be using it. The virtual backgrounds are specifically for folks who do not easily have another option, a bunch of people lamenting that they don’t like having to see them and want people to stop using them is sort of like… Ok, well, there isn’t a better choice, so ?

    2. Eyes Kiwami*

      Yes, I feel there are plenty of work-appropriate fake Zoom backgrounds that look like an office, or just a blurred background. Some of my coworkers have a company-branded logo background, or a photo of our conference room window (it has a nice view). For those of us whose desks don’t look onto a plain wall or bookcase, surely these are acceptable alternatives.

      That is quite different from choosing a beach or “colorful blobs” or whatever non-workspace option.

      1. Rolly*

        “a photo of our conference room window (it has a nice view)”

        This is good. I urge that backgrounds be somehow related to the person using them, and not just “I thought it looked nice.” If discussion come up, it presents as very authentic even if fake.

    3. grlgoddess*

      Yeah my coworkers/clients reeeally don’t need to see the junk food and random clutter of my kitchen counter.

      When some people were in office during one of the first phases of the panini where that was allowed, I was zooming with a coworker and they moved their computer to my old spot and ducked out of frame so I could grab a screenshot to use as my background. Multiple people have thought I was really back in office!

      I definitely find the sillier backgrounds more noticible, but zoom being zoom, I think everyone should use whatever makes them most comfortable. Yes, even if using a potato filter makes you comfortable. Follow your potato dreams!

      1. magoo*

        I don’t know if it was intentional or autocorrect but “first phases of the panini” gave me a chuckle!

          1. This is a name, I guess*

            I do not approve! Don’t besmirch the sanctity of a warm, Italian sandwich!

    4. Raboot*

      All other things being equal, then a real background is less distracting imo. Of course all other things are often NOT equal, so I’m not judging people for them because idk their preferences and circumstances. But I do think that using fake bgs for the sake of using fake bgs is not a good practice. If you prefer a filter background to the real one that’s fine, but the letter advice to ALWAYS use a fake one because it’s more professional is still not good advice.

      1. Antilles*

        YMMV of course, but to me, I feel the complete opposite – a real background which can have other people walking around, all looking different, etc is far more distracting than a “generic color with the company logo” fake background. Especially if many/most of your video calls are internal, everybody having the exact same generic background basically becomes unnoticeable.

        1. mlem*

          It’s not unnoticeable to some of us because of the glitching. My company offers some plain backgrounds which always glitch around one of my colleagues; my director sometimes uses a fake background of his own company office (even though he used to let his home office show through; maybe he’s now calling in from the cafe, idk), and it’s *very* distracting to keep realizing he’s not actually in that location when his edges blur out.

          1. quill*

            I do wonder if the best way to cut the knot between “eyes don’t track the green screen” and privacy is to have people on video less.

          2. Sparrow*

            One of my coworkers has occasionally used a fake background of his actual office! The angle is such that it’s not quite the same perspective you’d have if you were meeting with him in his office, but it was still very recognizable. I found it really disorienting and was SO thrown off the first time he used it. I’ve trained myself to mostly ignore backgrounds (fake or blurred or not), but that time I could not!

            1. Rolly*

              “I found it really disorienting and was SO thrown off the first time he used it”

              Brutal. So rough.

        2. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex (she/her)*

          I agree, I get so nosy looking at what’s behind people in their real houses! Most people here, myself included, usually use one of the pre-set “office” backgrounds on MS Teams.

          1. Anon Supervisor*

            I second the nosiness. Let me see how you arranged your furniture PLEEEAAASSSEE!

    5. Two Chairs, One to Go*

      I agree. My actual background is not as professional as my company-branded virtual one. I don’t have a blank wall or bookshelves and the virtual one looks better. Really surprised at Alison’s answer here.

      1. arjumand*

        Same. I never used to use virtual backgrounds – and I fact, I can’t on Zoom because I have a bookshelf behind me most days – but I do now, on Teams, because I’m tired of doing the whole angling of the camera business.
        Not all of us have a choice of genteel looking backgrounds in our homes.

      2. Storm in a teacup*

        I think it’s that if you are lucky enough to have a plain wall or bookshelves behind you, then it is not less professional than a zoom background. Personally I’m a fan of the blue feature as I fidget a lot and with zoom backgrounds I’m always going in and out of focus

        1. Researchalator Lady*

          I do have a wall of bookshelves behind me, filled with books, and that does not play out well in calls. I have never gone on a call without some variation of the following conversation: “Is that a real background?” “ Yes, haha, those are all real books.” “Oh, are you in at work?” “No, this is my home office.” “Oh my goodness! Those are all yours?! That’s a lot of books!” or “You’re kidding! How many books do you have?! You have heard of Kindle, right??”

          I work in academia! Now I use a virtual background because you will pry my books from my cold dead hands, and if I don’t show them, then I certainly won’t have to put up with comments and questions about them, which I think is rude anyway.

          1. Antilles*

            As someone who loves to read myself, I can’t imagine people being surprised that you own physical books. Like, yes, Kindle exists and it’s a nice tool, but c’mon, there’s something to holding a physical copy rather than staring at a screen that just adds to the experience.
            But as a reader, I also will absolutely skim the titles on the spines of your bookshelf to evaluate your taste in books.

            1. Formerly Ella Vader*

              Bookcases were the least distracting thing in my apartment, so I cleaned up the one behind my table – everything faced tidily, nothing resting on top of the volumes because it wouldn’t fit in the shelf, some sorting. And then everyone was exclaiming “ALL THOSE BOOKS” and I was thinking, wait, you’re only seeing one bookcase? I actually have ten, this is what I picked to look normal.

              1. Jasper*

                And not even a doublestacked bookcase? I mean, I’ve stopped buying physical for space reasons, but not after merely the first bookcase worth.

                Hell, my DVD collection is two bookcases alone… never mind the actual books.

            2. quill*

              Also work in academia long enough and the books just accumulate? And they don’t have DRM and you can copy a page for a class without having to figure out a digital workaround.

              There are advantages and disadvantages to both formats.

          2. Birdie*

            I’m not in academia, but I also have a lot of books (I wanted to be an academia…..academia didn’t want me). I set up in front of the wall o’ books and had to answer so many questions from my co-workers. And then some of them wanted to see what’s on the shelf. I studied 20th century Europe. Suffice to say, there’s an alarming number of volumes focused on things like genocide, hostile takeovers of neighboring countries, and making your political enemies disappear. It was….awkward.

          3. eisa*

            That’s a strange reaction from your colleagues.
            I would be more likely to ask you to give me a tour, you know, move the laptop along the shelves so that I can see all the titles, but maybe I’m the strange one ;-)

            1. Caraway*

              Yes, this is surprising me! I have a lot (a lot!) of books in my zoom background, and I’ve gotten a few questions from people asking if they are real, but mostly people just say something like, “Wow, all those books! Cool,” I say, “Thanks!” and then we move on to our meeting topic.

          4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            Oh weird — I have a bunch of shelves full of nerd knick-nacks, medical models and D&D books behind me, and I don’t use a virtual background (or blur) because they are super distracting to me. People do occasionally comment that I have a lot of stuff in here (which is also a comment I get from people who physically walk into my home office), but otherwise, the comments are all along the vein of “Is that a loth-cat?” (one is, the other is a tooka-cat) or “Oh, cool skeleton, does he have a name?” (Yes, the life-sized one in the corner is Sam. The 12″ one on my desk is Frank, and the disembodied skull is Bob.)

          5. Ace in the Hole*

            That’s so strange! I wouldn’t have expected those kind of comments in academia.

            I also have a lot of books… I’m just nervous to use them as backdrop because it puts my interests and political beliefs on display in a way I’m not 100% comfortable with at work. Like, I don’t mind my coworkers seeing me read “A History Of Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe” at work, but it feels different to have them see my entire shelf full of queer history books.

        2. lilsheba*

          We use teams and I just use my natural background, which is a colorful tapestry hanging over a cluttered closet so it doesn’t look bad at all.

      3. Daisy-dog*

        Well the question was more of: what is better a real professional/plain background or a fake background? So the answer isn’t don’t use a fake background under any circumstances – it was that it is professional to use your real background. The part not covered is if your real background is messy or busy.

    6. ceiswyn*

      Yeah, the idea that this is a choice between a Zoom background or a plain wall / bookshelves is unusually tone deaf.

      My company is informal, and I don’t mind my colleagues seeing my tatty sofa, piles of random stuff, hoover in the corner etc… but if I wanted to look professional, you bet I’d use a plain Zoom background.

      1. Zelda*

        “a choice between a Zoom background or a plain wall / bookshelves”

        But… that’s exactly what the LW asked, so that’s what Alison answered? There was no contention anywhere, in either the letter or the response, that Zoom backgrounds are always bad or that anyone who doesn’t have a suitable blank wall is unprofessional for having whatever home they have. Just, if you *do* have a suitable wall, go ahead and use it.

        1. Loulou*

          Thank you! That was literally the question. If you do not have a blank wall or bookcase or other relatively neutral background then you are not in the situation OP and Alison are discussing.

      2. Observer*

        Yeah, the idea that this is a choice between a Zoom background or a plain wall / bookshelves is unusually tone deaf.

        Except that that is not what the OP is asking. The op EXPLICITLY asks about a background vs ” even the most benign regular background in your home.”. And then also goes on to explicitly exclude situations where this clearly doesn’t apply, saying “ Now, of course there are some extreme circumstances” and citing a couple of examples. They ALSO point out that they are also not necessarily talking about simple backgrounds, but things like beach scenes.

    7. Well...*

      My zoom background has my university logo, which is helpful in virtual conferences to place me in context. I’ve been distracted by people’s home backgrounds too. Sometimes they look too staged, or the level of wealth on display behind them feels a little tone-deaf in academia where grad students really struggle (and some postdocs depending on the country). Sometimes there’s something quirky or personal in the background (think extremely expensive instrument) which also grabs my attention as much as a disappearing hand gesture.

      Overall I’d say it’s more professional to give people the benefit of the doubt about backgrounds and try to keep your mind from wandering too much either way.

    8. Ed123*

      I have a blank wall behind me (well you can see my curtains. my manager commented that I have nice curtains). I still use company branded backgrounds. Some clients and colleagues use weird ones. Is it slightly distracting? Sure. But at the same time I don’t really care. I don’t really care about “professionalism” in this type of context.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I agree. I don’t think any less of my coworkers who use virtual backgrounds. Some of them are quite cool.

      2. Anon all day*

        Yeah, honestly, same. I have an office, but it’s pretty cluttered right now, but I don’t care. (I’m fortunate to be at a company/place where it also isn’t a big deal. I’m sure at some places, this kinda stuff is great gossip fodder.)

    9. Graeme*

      I’m in my actual workplace office and the background is still cluttered – I have a couple of cabinets which contain visible and potentially confidential information if left open, have necessary but untidy-looking junk on top and which are next to the hanger I keep my work trousers hanging on if I need to change into them to spend time in production. Co-workers know what my office space is like so I don’t worry too much about them, but 100% will blur if I’m talking to someone from outside the company.

    10. allison*

      This was a surprising answer to me – it’s not that deep, guys! It’s funny that people find Zoom backgrounds to be distracting when I’m infinitely more distracted by getting a glimpse into someone’s home. I use a company-branded one because I often work in different places (sometimes at home, sometimes in the office, sometimes elsewhere entirely) and I don’t like people on Zoom always being able to know exactly where I am (although I am leadership so I acknowledge that is a privilege I have).

    11. TweedleDee*

      I don’t like the virtual backgrounds but I do support their use for added flexibility. Plus, being company branded makes much more sense especially for any external meetings.

    12. Evelyn Carnahan*

      I often use a virtual background at home because I’m just a messy person. I keep my “office” (not an office) at or above my standard level of clean, but I sometimes I don’t notice until I’m on Zoom that there’s a pile of stuff for Goodwill in the background. I have made several changes to my home working space so I’m less self-conscious about it, but I often use a pretty simple background image just for consistency.

    13. I like soup*

      My former employer started branded Teams backgrounds after everyone went into homeoffice. There were some …interesting choices. Like it would look as if I was sitting on the lawn in front of the company, or a robot behind me was tapping beer.

  3. Isabel Archer*

    For #1:
    If the employee can’t learn basic office software, they might not be smart enough to understand that “Let’s talk about logistics for moving you out of the role” means they’re being fired. That wording is an awkward hybrid of blasé and indirect.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      It definitely sounds like you’re being given a different job that won’t require using this software, not that you’re getting fired.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ha, fair enough. That was intended as general framing, not the whole conversation — you’d of course follow it with specifics like explaining today will be her last day or setting an ending date — but I’ll rewrite it to make it clearer.

    3. CatCat*

      Yeah, I also found the wording confusing. This person is potentially not going to realize they’re being fired. That’s a set up for drama.

    4. Turingtested*

      Yes, I’d go with something like “If you can’t learn the essential functions in x, y, and z in two weeks, you will lose your job. It’s a requirement I can’t change.”

    5. Sylvan*

      I agree. I think you need to be extremely direct. I don’t know if the problem is their intelligence, exactly, but they don’t understand their basic job after receiving various instructions and probably “hints.” They’re not going to take a hint.

    6. Smithy*

      I agree.

      I also wonder if this is a case where using a PIP might be of value for the OP both regarding external optics but also perhaps taking a step back and considering how to learn those basic applications and on what timeline. What are the key things that need to be learned in 30, 60, 90 days? What are links to reasonable training modules/videos connected to a relevant mentor/coach per task – and what’s a reasonable learning curve? Basically to say, here are the tools to learn how to send all Microsoft meeting invites on your own and Bob can meet with you 30 min a day this week and as requested the week after, but by the end of two weeks – you have reduced access to XYZ’s time and need to be 90% self sufficient.

      In my current job, it was the first time I had to learn how to use Google platforms for work and it was a bigger learning curve than I would have expected. And when I asked questions around modules or training, I was told that certainly if I looked online I could find something. Ultimately, I figured it out on my own – but for someone who’s really struggling, making that extra effort may really be needed. And also if there’s ever question internally (because you can only control how much she says about you) of how you tried to help them, there’s a clear track record of how much you invested in trying to teach someone how to send calendar invites.

      1. Observer*

        Your employer doesn’t sound too reasonable, to be honest. The OP, on the other hand is clearly willing to provide training. In fact they clearly state the they (and other staff) have offered help and she’s just ignored them.

        A PIP might be useful if the she agrees to start learning, to provide the timeline. But, the first thing is that she needs to hear that if she does NOT agree to start learning, she’s out of a job.

        1. Golgo 13*

          I’m amazed that this has been going on for four months (!) and she not only has no PIP, but still has a job. She lacks the basic skills to do the job, and even worse, is refusing to learn. Maybe OP is new to managing, or inherited this employee, but I have to wonder what they have been doing these four months. I guarantee all the coworkers are resenting having to spend time doing her work for her. I would fire her, if at all possible. If your organization requires warnings/PIP etc prior to doing so, get the process started ASAP.

          If your organization suffers from being badmouthed by an entry level employee incapable of doing the work and uninterested in learning how, well… that SHOULD be a hollow threat. If it isn’t, you have to wonder how effective the organization has been.

          It’s definitely worth asking how this employee was hired in the first place when she lacks the basic skills necessary, otherwise you will be saddled with another incompetent employee for months while wondering what to do. Just about every office job (and lots of non-office jobs) requires using technology, ability to learn to use it shouldn’t be optional.

          1. Observer*

            If your organization suffers from being badmouthed by an entry level employee incapable of doing the work and uninterested in learning how, well… that SHOULD be a hollow threat. If it isn’t, you have to wonder how effective the organization has been.

            This is an excellent point!

      2. RunShaker*

        If new employee has worked at few different places, I think word is out that her knowledge is lacking in basic computer skills & that community is aware it’s a her problem. Do not worry about what she will say, instead worry about your other employees frustration. If it helps to document & show you did what was necessary to help her being successful, then have direct conversation & document in PIP. As pointed out above to ensure she understands this is necessary to do job & if can’t then you have to let/fire her.

        1. Cj*

          I don’t think the problem is so much that she doesn’t know the computer skills that this job requires, but that she’s not willing to learn them.

          The letter says she is familiar with Apple products, and maybe that is what she’s used in previous jobs. I wouldn’t know the first thing about them if I got a job that uses them. The difference is I would be willing to learn.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            As a PC person, I’ve avoided jobs that primarily use Apple products, mostly because they were asking for more skill with them than a beginner would have. But yeah, if that was all I could find and they were okay with teaching me, I’d go for it. The difference is having a job and not having one.

    7. quill*

      I mean, it’s possible they are socially and linguistically competent and just have no aptitude for technology… I met a few people like that during school, including college. One was so bought into apple that he didn’t realize that you didn’t need safari to get on the internet.

      (Business major, of course.)

  4. Unkempt Flatware*

    I’m so impressed that you found out the zip code convention for New Mexico, Alison. Warms my Christmas-loving heart (the chile not the holiday). The little details.

      1. Seal*

        As I was reading the letter I was thinking “I wish Pie Town, NM was a real place.” Lo and behold, IT IS!!!

        1. Delta Delta*

          I did not know Pie Town is a real thing and now that I know it is it’s making my heart sing just a little bit. And also now I want pie.

        2. Magpie*

          Not only is Pie Town a real place, it’s a quite delightful one. The entire town is 3 streets, and there are 3 pie-centric restaurants there, including 2 that only serve pie. They’re open on alternate days and different hours so they don’t directly compete! That’s pretty much the only business in town aside from a septic service company, but it’s a stop on the Continental Divide Trail for thru-hikers, so there’s a wonderful woman there named Nita who runs a hostel out of her house. It’s called the Toaster House, the fence is made of old kitchen appliances, there are windchimes made of cutlery, and if you ask nicely she will drive you to the nearby telescope array and talk to you about all the UFOs she’s seen.

          I love Pie Town, so, so much.

          1. JayemGriffin*

            I’m so freaking happy this place exists. I have never met Nita, but I love her from your description.

    1. Eat Dirt, Jim*

      Yup! I don’t want to derail, but Alison knowing having knowledge of Pie Town just makes me want to bake her a green chile apple pie!

    2. RedFraggle*

      Same! I looked it at and thought “that’s a minor detail that lends a chunk of credibility to this made-up company.”

      It’s been years since I was in Pie Town last. But I have some wonderful patients from there.

    3. IndustriousLabRat*

      I truly wish that Pie Town NM could swap zip codes with Savannah GA and claim the 31415 code that it should rightfully be assigned!

      1. AnonInCanada*

        Or maybe have a Pie Town district in Savannah GA and therefore more pi(e) for everyone! Peach pies are yummy!

    4. Forrest Rhodes*

      Former southern NM resident here. Pie Town definitely exists and, when last I saw it, was a great small town in the middle of incredible scenery (although that last bit is true of pretty much all of New Mexico).
      Surprised to see Pie Town cited here, though—Alison, have you been there?

  5. CatCat*

    I hope we can have a thread to talk about Pie Town. Because I had to immediately go down the internet rabbit hole about it.

    Who will join me at the Pie Town Pie Festival 2022? Looks like festival planning is underway!

    1. saddesklunch*

      I have been to Pie Town, NM before! I ate some pie at the (now closed, I believe) Daily Pie Cafe and it was a delight.

      1. MsM*

        Pie Town does seem like a logical place for a teapot convention. Not sure about llama grooming, but I guess they probably like pie, too.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I’d heard of it before because I read a lot of hiking memoirs and it’s only two miles from the Continental Divide Trail so nearly all CDT hikers stop there for resupply and PIE. I love that Alison used it in her example.

      1. Magpie*

        I commented above, but I’ve been to Pie Town on the CDT and will be there again this year on the Grand Enchantment, I can’t wait. Nita’s toaster house is the best.

        If there is an AAM Pie Town Festival, you all better be prepared to give some smelly hikers a ride, because there is NO traffic on that road, it’s very difficult to hitchhike into and out of. It’s only polite to stop when you’re in the middle of the desert.

    3. Resident Catholicville, USA*

      I have never wanted to visit New Mexico before, but I definitely need to eat at Pie-o-Neer now. (They are going to definitely wonder about all the random web traffic they got today.)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I’ve driven through it—well, ridden actually, on a bus. It’s astoundingly gorgeous. It was the first time I’d ever really seen the Desert Southwest and I was surprised by how colorful it actually is.

    4. Renee Remains the Same*

      There needs to be a road trip to Pie Town.

      Pie, pie, me oh my,
      Nothing tastes better, wet, salty and dry,
      all at once – oh, well it’s pie.
      Apple and pumpkin and mince and black bottom,
      I’ll come to your place every day if you’ve got ’em.
      Pie, me oh my, I love piiiiieeeeeee
      -Andie MacDowell

    5. WFH with Cat*

      I came here to ask if anyone *else* is ready to move to Pie Town at the drop of … a … fork? I didn’t even stop to go down any internet rabbit holes. They had me at “Pie.”

      A festival will work, too, if that’s all I can get.

    6. Forrest Rhodes*

      Used this reply above before I saw CatCat’s comment, so allow me to add it where it should have been in the first place (!):

      Former southern NM resident here. Pie Town definitely exists and, when last I saw it, was a great small town in the middle of incredible scenery (although that last bit is true of pretty much all of New Mexico).
      Surprised to see Pie Town cited here, though—Alison, have you been there?

    7. Mannheim Steamroller*

      Pie Town is down the road from the town of Quemado (“burnt”). I hope that doesn’t describe the pies!

      1. Forrest Rhodes*

        It definitely doesn’t, Mannheim! But it’s an incredible drive, west on 60 from Socorro to the Arizona border—Magdalena, Datil, Pie Town, Omega, Quemado, Red Hill; across the Plains of San Agustin—and Pie Town is the perfect “stop, stretch legs, and apply pie” spot.
        Now I’m really homesick for New Mexico. (And sorry, Alison, I’ll stop derailing things now.)

  6. CatCat*

    On #5, does the same go for resumes? I wonder if I’m behind the times on this. I have my address along the top… because I’ve always had it there. But now I’m thinking, what for? No one is going to be sending me something in the mail about my application.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s different. That said, you don’t have to have your address on your resume anymore and a lot of people don’t. It used to be that if you left it off, a lot of hiring managers would wonder if you weren’t being up-front about the fact that you weren’t local … but it’s become so common to leave it off these days that it’s less of a big deal. You will still get hiring managers wondering if you’re local or not, and if they have a bunch of strong local candidates, you do risk being deprioritized — and being local can be a plus — so for those reasons, if you are local I’d recommend still including it (or at least your city and state) unless you have a specific reason you don’t want to. But leaving it off is much less weird than it used to be.

      1. Golgo 13*

        I think a home address on a resume is a potential privacy and safety issue, especially for women. Resumes get posted online, shared among staff and recruiters, etc. It only takes one nutcase out of those people for something terrible to happen. I know someone who was stalked for months based on her name and address being on a discarded Costco magazine. Sadly, it really doesn’t take much for an imbalanced person to decide to latch on to you.

        1. Momma Bear*

          I like to see a general location so I know if someone will have to relocate or not, but I’m not bothered by not having a full address. Sometimes that can be a hinderance if the person reviewing the resume thinks you live in a “bad” area.

          Last year I received a resume that went too far…I had no contact info. Make sure you have a phone number and email address and that they are correct. I even went to HR to see if that contact info was in the job posting platform/application somewhere and it was not. Shame, because he otherwise looked good on paper.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Well yeah, but they’re going to have it anyway because all the applications I’ve ever seen ask for your address and it’s usually a required field.

    2. Isabel Archer*

      I stopped using my street address (still use town and state abbreviation) about a decade ago, because crazy people. When Netflix runs out of serial killers to make shows about, maybe I’ll put it back.

      1. Felis alwayshungryis*

        Less disturbingly, wasn’t there a thing a while back (maybe here) about people streetviewing home addresses and then making judgements about them based on stuff like the house/lawn/car parked outside? That’s another good reason to keep your home address to yourself.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          That’s one of the things I have had to yell at my library co-workers about. Their attitude was “Oh, we have all these research skills and a collection of paid databases of personal information at our finger tips, lets use them to look up all the candidates before we decide who to interview! This one’s house looks bad, and that one’s was appraised for $X…”

          Just because we can do a thing doesn’t mean we should.

          1. Hey Pal*

            Yikes. I was going to say that’s a slippery slope to discrimination, but actually, I can’t think of a reason for doing this that isn’t discriminatory at least in part. Be as nosy as you want on your own time, but looking up people’s houses before deciding who to interview is not okay.

            1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

              I’d argue against it being okay for us to be nosy on our own time as well, personally – the research skills we develop professionally, and the resources we have ready access to make it so we can delve far deeper into the object of our curiosity than most people would expect a coworker or acquaintance to be able to. Our respect for the privacy of members of the public shouldn’t just stop when we clock out.

              But I’ll settle for us at least not using it on candidates before we meet them.

        2. Nanani*

          That’s bonkers for a lot of reasons!
          In addition to grossness, there’s the problem that streetview doesn’t magically update when people move – they’re probably judging the houses’ previous owner! If someone is job hunting because they just moved to the town, then it’s pretty much guaranteed to be the case.

          1. The OTHER Other*

            This happened to me years ago. It was a pretty new feature at the time, and someone put in my address. It was an old picture from when the prior owner was doing construction, so there were tarps and debris everywhere. It was all in fun, but yeah if it had been used for a job interview, not good.

        3. PhyllisB*

          You will be surprised what shows on that site, too!! My daughter was showing her son how to use it and used our home address as an example. The photo showed my husband trimming a wisteria tree!!
          BTW, I do know that wisteria is a vine, but if you have a bunch of them twine together, it can form a growth that looks like a tree.

          1. Nanani*

            I have relatives in the streetview of their old addresses, too!
            Depending where you live, google may blur faces at least.

      2. Just delurking to say...*

        Two other reasons: a potentially eyebrow-raising commute, or living in a … less-affluent area. I left my address off my resume in my last job hunt on both counts. (Though it generally came out anyway so it really just delayed the inevitable. I knew I’d lost one opportunity when the phone interviewer couldn’t drop the subject of how long I’d spend on the train … and then I landed CurrentJob with a commute 25% longer than the one she’d been so worried about. And THEN I could afford to move.)

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          Also more affluent – I’ve heard hiring managers say “Well, candidate X lives in Wealthy Neighborhood Y, so they clearly want to work for use because of the mission/prestige of our organization. We can probably lowball them easier than we can candidate Y.”

        2. Irish Teacher.*

          Yeah, my immediate thought if I heard of somebody leaving their address off their resume would be that they lived in an area with a bad reputation. I did some work experience on an estate that had such a reputation when I was in college and some of the teens there told me there were companies in the city that would not hire people from the estate (which was ludicrous; the police actually said the number of people involved in the anti-social behaviour the estate got a reputation for was 20-30 people; the estate had a population around 5,000, but apparently 20-30 criminals living there was reason not to employ anybody from the estate).

      3. Covered in Bees*

        It doesn’t even have to be attempted murder. A non profit ghosted me after I gave them availability for an initial interview and a few months later, I got mail from them seeking donations.

        I don’t get other solicitations from non profits where I had no previous connection and the donor management software they used* didn’t have an applicant tracking module. So, this was an intentional choice.

        *Three job I was splitting for would have put me in charge of their donor database, amount other things. The irony that I ended up in it instead.

        1. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

          :O :O :O

          I shouldn’t be surprised anymore at the things people decide are good ideas, and yet it is constantly breathtaking.

        2. RabidChild*

          Yes, something similar happened to me too. Two rounds of in-person interviews after a phone screen, a perfunctory rejection email, then a solicitation for donation. SMH–is this the new normal?

    3. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I’ve been doing hiring recently, and it’s becoming very common for someone to have just a town and zip code without their street address. That’s all I really need, and I’m willing to consider a non-local candidate if a cover letter clarifies that they’re not blast-applying to everything. It’s been my experience that non-local applicants are often just blast-applying and not reading the job description, but I’ve seen many exceptions.

      As for the convention of putting an address at the top of a business letter, I understand it’s from the old days when it was common for a secretary to open a business letter and give it to her boss. It was likely the envelope would be thrown out and the recipient wouldn’t see the return address. Now that secretaries are a thing of the past and the recipient will probably open the envelope him/herself, there’s no longer a need for this.

    4. Kes*

      I haven’t bothered putting my address on my resume or cover letter for years, I don’t think people need to know that information. I do put location next to each of the jobs on my resume though, so it’s obvious that I am able to work in the area since my current and recent jobs are there

    5. Bernice Clifton*

      I screen resumes for my company and we have no remote office positions, and we indicate in the job description that it’s not remote. It’s helpful when candidates include a city and state on their resume when they have a number with an area code out of the area and their previous jobs are all out of state. That way I can tell the candidate may have just moved vs. applying thinking it was remote and I don’t have to contact them to find out.

      1. Magpie*

        Yeah, I kept my Quebec cell number when I moved to BC five years ago, because it’s cheaper, so I always include something that says I’m local. (I also have to specify that I’m fluent in English, but that’s a more specific thing.)

    6. Critical Rolls*

      When I really needed a job and was sending my resume out less selectively than I prefer, I cut it down to just the zip code. So it still told people I was local, but I didn’t give out my address to any agencies or whatever.

    7. GlitsyGus*

      For resumes I put City and State for clarity, but not my street address.

      For cover letters I have my name, email, phone number and date in the top right, and then the standard recipient address block below on the left. If I don’t have the address for the recipient, I delete those lines. I do like having my email and phone number on the cover letter because, in my own experience, the easier you make it for me to find those, the easier it is for me to contact you. Also, in case the letter gets separated from the resume, having my name at the top helps. Addresses are really not necessary anymore, though.

  7. GelieFish*

    A part of my job involves getting people to complete tasks. While most people just need a single letter/reminder, there are always those who give vague excuses. With them I give them a specific timeline (14 days, 30 days, 60 days) with an option to propose an alternative deadline if that timeline doesn’t work. I would suggest that for the employee that needs to move. Give them a deadline and then they can come back with a counter, but at least there is a starting point.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I would also frame it as being the date by which they need to be available in-office if that’s actually what is needed. rather than telling them they need to move house. (I realise that it may well come to the same thing, but them being in the office is business requirement, whereas where they are living is their business, as long as they can get to work when they are needed

      1. Snow Globe*

        I agree with this – the requirement is that by [date] they need to be in the office X days per week. How the employee achieves this is up to them.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          I worked with someone who was told he had to be in the office 5 days a week by date X after his original site closed and he transferred to one about 90 minutes away. He said he was going to move but dragged his feet, and 10 years later he’s still doing a 90-minute daily commute. The company just cares that he’s in 5 days a week, whether he moves or not is up to him.

          1. a tester, not a developer*

            That’s what I was thinking – depending on how far away the employee is and what the WFH schedule is like, it may be more cost effective for them to live at home most of the time and stay in something like an Air BnB for the 3 days they need to be in the office.

            1. A Library Person*

              I did this once for a part-time job. I lived one of the largest metro areas in the US and worked three days a week in a suburb diagonally opposite from where my apartment was. I scheduled my days back to back and stayed at my brother’s place for two nights each week. It was a bit grueling and I don’t think it would have worked long term, but it was nice to get to see him more often.

              1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

                I did that for 2 months when I got a new job and was in the process of moving. Drove 3 hours Sunday night, crashed with my sister to be in the office Monday and Tuesday, and drove home Tuesday afternoon. It was grueling and horrible to be away from my family but I did what I needed to do.

          2. Ama*

            As long as he’s showing up on time and as expected, that seems fine to me.

            I have a friend whose workplace hired someone who lived in the next state over (this is in an industry where it is standard practice for people to relocate from state to state for a new job) and it turned out he thought he could just keep living in that next state more than two hours away. Which would have been tolerable except that then he started asking for standing staff meetings to be rescheduled later in the day just for him so he wouldn’t have to start his drive so early. I haven’t talked to her in a bit so I’m not sure how/if that got resolved.

          3. generic_username*

            I had a two hour commute for my entire three month internship when I was a grad student. I lived with my parents because I couldn’t afford an apartment closer to the job (lol, since it was unpaid) and commuted through a mixture of car, bus and train (I drove with my dad to his office then took the train to work, but on the ride home he had left for the day an hour earlier so I took the train to a bus that took me to their town where my mom drove to pick me up from the bus stop about a mile from their house) It was exhausting and I was glad when it ended… Now my commute is about an hour but I WFH 4 days a week and I pay to park near my office and drive the entire commute (to be clear, this is a different job and I no longer live with my parents)

        2. Momma Bear*

          Agreed. I think that at this point the boss/manager needs to lead that horse. Make it clear and direct.

      2. Cara*

        Yes, I was really surprised this didn’t come up in the response. *Why* does the employee need to move? Do they need to come in on specific days? Do they work remotely but need to be available for in-person meetings? Will they be called in to the office on short notice, and need to be within a certain distance to accommodate that? Unless it’s the last one, ultimately I agree that it should be framed as in-office availability rather than dictating where they’re living.

    2. MsClaw*

      NOT giving them a deadline may seem like a kindness, but it isn’t. It just allows to this drag on forever.

      ‘We need you to be in the office by the 15th of Febtembuary’ let’s them know they have a limited amount of time to either figure it out or find a new job.

      And… you might need to prepare to find a new employee if they’ve been dragging their feet this much.

  8. Ariaflame*

    I’m primarily mac using at home, and I can use Office and similar software just fine. I’ve got a work laptop that’s windows for the software that only runs on Windows if I have to work from home and use that, but this is specialised software, not standard stuff like Office and Sharepoint. Unwillingness to use standard software is not a good sign that someone is willing to learn what they need for their job. But from what I can tell none of their issues are down to not being able to do it on a Mac machine, but an unwillingness to learn and use new, to them, tools at all.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      Yea, I had to start using a Mac for school after a lifetime of Windows and…it wasn’t that hard. I doubt this person is that great at these tasks on a Mac, it’s just an excuse to do things poorly.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I’m not a technical genius by any means, don’t like Apple on principle, and grew up on Windows, and yet when an IT course I took at university covered Macs for two lessons and had us do some stuff in the designated Mac Room, I found that I didn’t have any major problems.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, it’s not that complicated. Admittedly the last time I used a Mac was in my first year as a student. The student union had Macs for students to use, mainly for email (clunky character-based ELM client that couldn’t handle umlauts, running on an IBM mini with the Mac used as a dumb terminal for the email).

        2. Momma Bear*

          Right. Or even Windows to Google – one of the orgs I volunteer with does everything in Google aps (Slides, Docs, etc.) and it’s not that hard to change platforms for basic processing tasks. IMO she just doesn’t want to do the task.

      2. Rolly*

        “I doubt this person is that great at these tasks on a Mac, it’s just an excuse to do things poorly.”


    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      I had used Macs before starting my current job, but never as my main work computer. It took me less than 2 weeks to get used to it. I still miss Windows Explorer, though!

    3. turquoisecow*

      I switch between Mac on my personal machine and Windows on my work computer and it’s really not that different. I mess up a few keyboard shortcuts occasionally but they’re not different enough that I’m completely lost when I switch. It also helps that I use some programs exclusively or much more for work (like Excel, for example) and so I’m used to the shortcuts in those programs in Windows and I don’t have to worry about it on the Mac. But things like web browsing and email is pretty much the same nowadays.

      I don’t know if this person is reluctant to learn new things (which isn’t a good look for their job!) or if they’re having genuine difficulties but my money is on they just don’t wanna.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        “I don’t know if this person is reluctant to learn new things (which isn’t a good look for their job!) or if they’re having genuine difficulties but my money is on they just don’t wanna.”

        People who pull crap like this absolutely astound me. Never, ever, ever, in my entire working life, would it have even entered my mind that I had the “option” of declining to learn software or do a task that was a critical part of my job. I’m gobsmacked just trying to imagine the sort of person that could believe this was even almost a little bit okay! The sheer effrontery of it is making me see red.

        I hope the LW will make it clear to this woman that refusing to do the actual job she was hired to do is unacceptable and give her a deadline by which she must be able to show she has at least completed some training and is making an honest effort to learn the stuff she needs to know. If I were one of the coworkers who are being coopted to do portions of this woman’s job, I would be absolutely livid by now.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          Yeah, if using only Mac products is THAT big a deal for you, you really should ask about it in the interview process.

          1. Worldwalker*

            Really. It’s on a par with refusing to drive a Chevy and saying you will only drive Fords. It’s a computer. It’s a tool to do things. Learn to use the tool, whether it’s a computer or a car or a Sawzall, or find a job that doesn’t require you to use those tools. (I’m currently climbing up the wicked learning curve for Blender for work, so I have no sympathy)

    4. Mockingbird*

      I’m an Apple native going back to an AppleII+ and sat with an Idiots Guide to Microsoft Office in Barnes and Noble cramming until I could pass the tests on it temp companies give before they’ll hire you. And ended up knowing it better than many of the actual employees I worked with because of it. Microsoft programs and Windows still know I’m an Apple person and so do weird things like turn random cells in Excel pink for no reason, but it’s really not hard to learn the basics you’d use for most jobs. At that level, there’s not much difference between Mac and Microsoft products. Unless this employee is a genius at every other aspect of their job, and is super wonderful to be around, other employees will tire fast of picking up these tasks and it will get ugly.

      1. PollyQ*

        Microsoft programs and Windows still know I’m an Apple person and so do weird things like turn random cells in Excel pink for no reason


      2. A.N. O'Nyme*

        One day Excel is going to assume SUM means “summon” and I’m going to end up with a very confused demon who was supposed to be monthly expenses…

        1. Lyudie*

          There’s a Charlie Stross book where a scrum team accidentally turns themselves into vampires with Excel.

          1. CanadianPublicServant*

            Oooh, having recetly read and enjoyed “Several People are Typing” (guy gets absorbed into Slack), I may have to check this out!

          2. Worldwalker*

            Which one? I’ve read a number of his books, but not that one. Is it part of the Laundry Files?

    5. Elara*

      I’ve often found an element of “maybe if I just make it clear I don’t know how and am not good at it they won’t make me” when dealing with people like that. When we had another department take over some of our tasks, there was tremendous resistance from them and some people made it very clear they were at the training under duress. (Of course, then there was the person who didn’t want to learn to check their voicemail…)

      1. Brightwanderer*

        And the other half of it is that people with this attitude have often found it works very well for them in the past! They just don’t do the thing, no-one really says anything, other people pick up the slack. Particularly if they can hang it on any sort of learned helplessness – it’s just so hard and they’ll take hours to do it while coworker could just do it quickly in a few minutes, kind of thing.

        Sometimes it’s not even a bad faith thing (though other times it very much is). Sometimes the thought of Learning To Do Thing is so overwhelming and scary that they just keep chickening out. “Okay I need to learn this, I know I do, but I’m so busy right now and this needs to be done quickly so I’ll just ask someone else…” (This does not change the advice to OP. In that case, they definitely need a good push to get past the fear!)

        1. Mongrel*

          Some people, and it’s not age related, seem to have just classified ‘Computer Stuff’ as beyond them and just shut down when you try to explain.
          Keep pushing OP #1 otherwise she’ll become every-ones problem quite quickly

          1. Golgo 13*

            It’s already been four months, I think it became an “everyones problem” about…14 months ago.

        2. KRM*

          This reminds me of my old job where they swore up and down that we’d be getting a program to make data analysis easier, and get the training. 3 years and it never happened, so I ended up analyzing plates and plates of data (384 wells plates!) by hand in excel. Had some templates to help, but the structure of the experiments couldn’t always be standard. So when NewJob was like “we use X program, here is is, let us know when you need help learning it” it was just so exciting.
          OP, this sadly doesn’t help you, it sounds like your employee is planning to skate by asking others to do tasks for her. I think you need to sit her down and say “You need to be doing all these tasks yourself by {date}, if you need hands on training we’re happy to provide it (maybe just reading manuals doesn’t work well for her and someone walking her through will help more), if you can’t do this we’ll have to start the process of terminating your employment”. Gotta lay it out in clear terms, or she’ll still try to pass off tasks.

        1. IndustriousLabRat*

          Came here to say exactly this. “Can’t wrap my head around this” is NOT the same as “can’t be arsed to try”! And if the incompetence- real, feigned, or otherwise- means being allowed to slough off tasks onto others without repercussions… why bother learning at all?

          1. Worldwalker*

            I used to work with a guy who would ask me stuff he could look up for himself. Admittedly this meant looking it up in giant manuals that filled a shelf (yeah, DEC system, which dates this story) but he was interrupting me repeatedly for this stuff. I finally told him to go look it up for himself, and he actually said “But I can just ask you, and it’s easier.” Yeah, dude, easier for *you*.

            1. kitryan*

              Been there! I had to move desks due to some office space construction and my options were to go right next to my teammate or on the other floor. I picked the other floor because I knew that if I was next to this guy, I’d just be his Google forever. After about 2 years I thought it was safe to move to that spot, since my new supervisor’s office was right there, it’d be easier if the team were all in the same area. Yeah, it was probably not as bad as it would have been initially, when teammate was much newer, but I still got asked loads of questions he could have looked up in 1 to 5 minutes himself.

          2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

            It depends a bit if tasks are very infrequent, like once or twice a year – in that case it *may* be more efficient to have one or two “specialists” do them for the whole office so they do it more often. When you do something only once in a blue moon, you won’t build muscular memory – so you either train for it often (e.g., first aid or firefighting), concentrate it, have exact write-ups and checklists, or do it badly.
            Just two weeks ago I was rather glad I just had a refresher course on safety, including some first aid – witnessed a head-on collision in a 40mph zone and everyone was just staring in shock until I, a foreigner just arrived on a 10-hour flight, took charge jolting people into acting. I don’t need to draw you a picture (it ain’t pretty) but we may have saved a life that day.

        2. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I used to work with a man, my peer in role and age, who had no idea how to use the Office suite and absolutely no desire to learn it. He would try to get me and our teammate to do all of his work. 97% of our jobs was done in the Office suite. After several months of trying to show him things and pointing him towards tutorials, I gave up– and started looking for another job, because our boss refused to acknowledge what was going on. That’s what happens when this type of bs is allowed to continue.

          I left in 2020 and I’m still salty about that.

      2. Smithy*

        Absolutely this.

        Not so much the Mac/PC switch, but I found switching from Microsoft to Google platforms with a job a lot clunkier for me to figure out than I would have wished. Not that I couldn’t do it, but goodness I wish it had been smoother.

        However….my job is one that includes interactions with some other software infrequently. And while admittedly I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed in picking it up, I know that the more I use it, the better I’ll learn it. But from others at my level the range of weaponized or useful incompetence around not learning was always interesting to watch. In my current job, the structure of our team is one that seems to have predicted the most aggressive and petty versions of weaponized incompetence and therefore have set up a system where they ask us to enter nothing and rather have specialized roles for people who do that.

      3. Observer*

        I’ve often found an element of “maybe if I just make it clear I don’t know how and am not good at it they won’t make me” when dealing with people like that.

        Annoying! But surprisingly common. It’s called “weaponized incompetence”.

    6. Expiring Cat Memes*

      I heard a bit of Old Me in the reluctance of Apple employee to start using the Microsoft products. Apple was my life for 20 years, it was what I knew and my every experience using any MS product had been horrible. I avoided it for as long as I could, but I just needed a (self) push to do it and then getting used to it was totally fine.

      In either case, unless she’s very senior, I would make it clear that palming off her basic admin tasks to others on the reg is unacceptable. Not taking the hints about training is one thing, but someone who hasn’t grasped that delegating their filing to others isn’t the way the world works, is likely someone with bigger boundary/professionalism issues.

      1. Mongrel*

        “In either case, unless she’s very senior,”

        In today’s office environment age isn’t the issue, I’ve had the same problems from 20 year old.
        Computers have been a common part of the landscape since the mid-90’s, there are very few excuses for being unable to use them at a basic level.

        1. Myrin*

          I’m pretty sure ECM meant “senior” in the sense of “high-ranking” (and as such someone who could coneivably have someone else do all their admin work), not “old”.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I had never touched an apple until one was plopped in front of me for a new job and BOY did I hate it – but it’s part of having a job you adapt to the technology.

        And honestly even if she’s very senior…frankly she just sounds insufferable and I wonder if all the other people in the community know that and would take any badmouthing with a grain of salt.

      3. Anon Supervisor*

        Frankly, I can’t believe people are sending emails for her, etc. If I were her co-worker and she asked me to schedule a meeting for her, I would have just advised her that she needed to take care of that herself.

    7. Ally McBeal*

      Yeah, my first managerial experience was as a student manager of a box office when I was in college. (Basically, my bosses worked 9-5 and I took over as manager when they left until the box office closed at curtain time.) I’d been promoted because I was reliable AND because, when we switched ticketing software over the summer, I was quick to understand it. I had a fellow student worker, however, who simply refused to learn the ticketing software. I get being nervous about using a new program when an impatient customer is waiting, but he didn’t try at all, even when we told him we would keep him out of the window but he NEEDED to use the software to log voicemails from customers so we could follow up later. He chose instead to lean REAL hard on the “study” part of work-study (which was obviously a fundamental misunderstanding of how a work-study job works), except that he was reading the Bible instead of anything for class. He was not invited back the following semester, but there was much gnashing of teeth until then.

    8. alienor*

      Yeah, I’m a long-term Mac user, and I loathe Windows, but when I need to use it for something, it’s not that hard (just mildly annoying).

    9. AnonInCanada*

      No doubt this new employee is coming up with excuses because she’s either 1> a Mac snob who wants nothing to do with “evil” Microsoft products, or 2> a person who’s unwilling to learn. And if she doesn’t want to learn something that’s fundamental to her job, then obviously she needs to be let go.

      I’ve been using computers since learning BASIC on a Sinclair ZX81. I’ve been using PC’s since the DOS ages. If she really wants to get worked up into learning something complex, let her try configuring drivers and writing batch files to get a GUI working in the pre-Windows 3.1 era. Or trying to get your computers networked. Compared to those days, really there’s not much difference between Windows and Macs, other than maybe File Explorer vs. Finder.

      1. Worldwalker*

        Yay for the ZX81! That was my first personal computer, too — it arrived as a bag of parts and several conflicting sets of instructions. I remember writing a Galaxians game in hand-assembled machine code that I had to poke into RAM because there wasn’t even enough space left for a hex loader.

        And at the college computer lab, I used a VAX 780. Bit of a switch in the evenings!

        Ah, nostalgia. PIP. EDT. DECtapes. And on the PC side … MemMaker! And the original Norton Utilities, that saved my sanity more than once. Building PCs and setting DIPswitches. Those were the days … may they remain long in the past.

      2. LittleMarshmallow*

        There’s an elusive third option that she prefers and thinks it’s appropriate to delegate her “administrative tasks” to others instead of spending her “important person” time doing them.

    10. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      I don’t use Macs, last time was over 10 years ago in high school and I had to have my friend turn it on for me. And I’m vaguely familiar with iPhone/iPad from a previous stint working for Verizon.
      But aren’t the things that the OP state pretty much the same regardless if its an Apple or PC? Microsoft might have different commands but calendars should be the same. Maybe laid out differently but relatively the same. And Doodle should be the same.

      I will say that Sharepoint can be a PAIN and even people who have worked with PC’s all their life and fairly versed in other Microsoft products can have difficulties. But if the employee is refusing to take training then she needs to be let go.

      1. quill*

        Sharepoint breaks painfully easily but I’m pretty sure that Technologically Incompetent Employee should not have the permissions to do anything that widespread.

    11. Ama*

      I have a newish employee who had only ever used Macs before we hired her (she hadn’t had a lot of traditional 9 to 5 office jobs in general) and while there have been some learning pains she’s getting better all the time. The real tricky part is that she’s just not always able to diagnose when she can’t do something I’ve asked her to do because there’s an actual legitimate technical problem and when it’s just that one of the quirks of Office and Windows is getting in her way.

      For example the first time she got that standard pop up you get if you download a file off the internet and try to open it she told me “oh it says I can’t open it because the file might be corrupt” — but it also took us her entire first month to realize she wasn’t saving items to our department Sharepoint folder because our IT hadn’t given her the proper permissions, she just assumed I meant her to save things to her individual One Drive because she didn’t understand the difference.

      It is at times frustrating, especially since she has a knack for running up against a problem when I’m working on something that needs a lot of focus but the fact that she’s committed to learning and improving has gone a long way in actually making progress.

      1. Observer*

        I can see how this could be frustrating. And it might help if she got some training from someone who could help her recognize when it’s a question she needs to bring to you, to IT, or just needs more training.

        But, as you say, the key difference is that she trying to learn. And clearly, she willing to do her job! So, while progress may be slow I’m glad you’re working with her.

    12. Selina Luna*

      THIS. The school where I work uses a combination of HP Desktops from the Obama era and newish Macbooks. I don’t use Office (I use Google Docs, which easily adapts), but it is available on both and I CAN use it if I have to.

    13. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I’m PC Windows and did not like having to learn the Mac environment. But as soon as I actually needed to, I did. Yeah, there was a learning curve and I still have to google how to do x on a Mac every now and again. But the basics, even as reluctant as I was, just took a few days. So it is possible to adjust!

      I still prefer windows for most things but love the powerpoint interface on a Mac and miss it now that I work on PCs again.

    14. Sara without an H*

      Ariaflame is right. It is perfectly possible to toggle back and forth between Apple at home and Office at work — I did it for years. The differences were probably greater back in the Early Days, but IF the employee is willing to put in a little time, she ought to be able to do it.

      I agree that this is more likely that the employee is unwilling, rather than unable, to learn new tools. It’s time for the OP to sit down with her for a frank and explicit conversation about what’s going on.

    15. LittleMarshmallow*

      I’m pretty much a windows person. I have and iPad and iPhone but that’s different than a Mac vs whatever you call the ones that run windows buuuut, I can still go to my friends house and navigate her Mac just fine. Both platforms are relatively intuitive and, I’m sorry but if you can’t figure out how to save a file on a sharepoint after being shown once you probably just don’t want to learn.

      The fact that she’s asking others to do the tasks for her instead of asking them to show her actually makes me question whether she actually doesn’t know how to do it vs just preferring to delegate her administrative tasks to others. If she’s “important” enough in the community that the LW is worried about her being able to damage their rep It could be that she views tasks like filing files on a site or setting up meetings is below her as opposed to not knowing how to those tasks.

  9. Waving not Drowning*

    I use a fake background both when working from home, and also working in the office. It alternates between a beach scene, and a company approved promo backdrop (of which, some are actually beach pictures due to the nature of our business).

    At home its because there are other people in my household, and it can be distracting seeing them walk past, and, I don’t have a dedicated office, so I don’t want to worry about privacy, and worry that people are judging my loungeroom cleanliness (I’m the first to admit, housework is not my forte).

    I use it at work, as I sometimes have a person working behind me, and I find it disconcerting when on a Zoom chat to see their head in my background.

    My workplace has a series of Zoom backgrounds to use. Some of us use those, others, more individual backdrops, or some not at all. Some times it can be a conversation topic – this morning I had a meeting with someone who had a Doctor Who backdrop – and I could show them my collection of Doctor Who figures in my office.

    It can help if people are not using a background to see if they are in the office, or working from home (if I need something do I pop around to their office, or drop it in a chat), but, I don’t care either way if they are used, or not, I don’t find them distracting. Its not my hill to die on though, and if I were with someone who didn’t like a background photo, I’d turn it off (and make sure my camera was looking at a clean spot beforehand if working from home!)

    1. Rolly*

      All this. Some thought should go into backgrounds if you’re in meeting with important constituents, the same way we care about how we dress. Not as a thing to stress over every day, but to think about with some intentionality at least at the start.

    2. Moonlight*

      See, I have issues with it for the exact reason that you use it. I would have Miller as she was with someone needs in the background because other people are walking nearby. I work in a roll where confidentiality is very important so having people walking by and then having a person not being clear about that with me would be a major issue. I am assuming this is not an issue with your job otherwise you would presumably make sure you could use a bedroom or something and tell people you live with that you need privacy, so it’s definitely not a criticism. Just another perspective.

    3. LittleMarshmallow*

      I just don’t use video as much as I can get away with it. Which is most of the time.

  10. All Hail Queen Sally*

    #1 – Decades ago when I became a brand-new manager, I had to fire the very first person I ever hired within the first month because she flat out refused to learn our office software. (Anyone remember WordStar 4.0?) I had told her in the interview that she would have to learn it and she agreed to do it. That was a very learning experience for me!

    1. PollyQ*

      WordStar was my first word processor! I forget which version I used, but it was on a Kaypro II. Not that different from HTML when all is said and done.

      1. Generic Name*

        Saaame! The Kaypro was portable because they put a handle on it and you could attach the keyboard to the monitor/pcu combo to make lugging around the 30 lb computer easy.

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        WordStar was my very first word processing system too! I was so proud to learn it and was amazed at how easy and faster it made writing. My work paid for me to take an evening course to learn how. Compared to word processors today it is hilariously slow but at the time it was a game-changer.

      3. Filosofickle*

        Lol, WordStar here too. Though not on a Kaypro — my family decided against one in favor of a touchscreen HP. (If you shuffled across the carpet and touched the screen, the zap could turn the whole thing off! Way ahead of its time; touchscreens didn’t go mainstream for many years.)

        After decades of Apple use I honestly wouldn’t take a job that required that my primary systems be Windows. But if you take the job, ya gotta learn the tech! No other way through.

    2. Not Australian*

      Now that I think about it, I also learned on WordStar – but it wasn’t 4.0, I think it may have been the original… (1980s…)

    3. FlyingAce*

      I do! I think that’s what my dad had in his office computer. I was learning WordPerfect in school, though.

    4. Lore*

      I work in book publishing and at least as of one particular author’s last book (which was admittedly some time ago as the current one is years overdue), there was a machine in our IT department running WordStar because this author refused to give it up and we needed to be able to convert his files to something we could use.

        1. JustForThis*

          Me too. I’d be surprised if there were too authors who deliver their manuscripts in an archaic file format and publishers are still interested in publishing their work.

    5. Construction Safety*

      Lotus 123
      Harvard Graphics
      All three would not fit on my laptop’s hard drive (20 MB (yes, megabytes)) at the same time

    6. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I remember WordStar, and…my sympathies to the first person you ever hired. That was not an easy program to learn! I remember it being infamously user-unfriendly even at the time. There was plenty of in-app help for remembering all the various key combos you needed to know, and lots of people had cheat sheets or keyboard templates (remember those?) to help.

      But its adherents were devoted. And some still are. IIRC, George R.R. Martin still does his writing in WordStar.

      1. Observer*

        WordStar was pretty bad. And the later versions even worse, because they lost the few things that made it worth the pain.

        But, don’t agree to learn a tool then refuse. I really can’t get on board with that.

    7. AnonInCanada*

      I remember WordStar. And WordPerfect. And VisiCalc on an Apple II+ on 5¼” floppies. Now get off my lawn! :-P~~

    8. A Poster Has No Name*

      I do not, and don’t think I’ll ever, understand people who are told “You need to learn/do x as part of your job” who then just…refuse to do it and somehow expect to remain employed.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same, and I can’t really do anything with that. If you don’t have the skills but want to learn, that I can do. If you don’t WANT to learn, then there’s really no point in wasting both of our time.

  11. AutolycusinExile*

    #2: I think that in most reasonable workplaces Alison is right, and this should pass relatively quickly once the novelty of the mystery wears off. However, the fact that some people are casting blame at all makes me worried that OP’s coworkers might not be taking the most rational approach. Unless this is a pattern of larger problematic behavior from a mysterious troublemaker that’s worrying them, or some kind of high-security building access violation at play (and presumably OP would have mentioned if there was), somebody accidentally leaving the windows open merits a reminder to make sure you close them before you leave – at best. Why is ‘blame’ even entering the conversation? Do these particular coworkers happen to have a history of spreading gossip or making mountains out of molehills?

    If you know these coworkers are drama-prone and they continue to direct this at you, it could be worth engaging with the conversation and participating in the gossip proactively. For example, next time someone implies you had something to do with it respond cheerfully with, “Nah, the windows were all completely shut when I left. It’s crazy, imagine if (insert outlandish but technically possible explanation here) happened! I really hope they figure out what happened soon, I’d hate to come back on Monday to find that the rain ruined all my paperwork”. Blasé denial, then a quick pivot to almost but not quite change the subject to mirror their concern about the situation without taking it too seriously.

    You’ll want to choose an explanation or joke that is amusingly improbable and that doesn’t put blame on any other humans, i.e. “I bet some of the windows got so bored watching us do (boring work task) that they tried to make a break for it!” or “Blowing our hair into knots on the way in this morning wasn’t enough for the wind, so now it’s trying to mess with us at our desks, too? Unbelievable!” If you react calmly, the people inclined to throw blame around will be more likely to believe you than if you react defensively. People like this are often just looking for anything that can entertain them when they’re bored, so they are hoping to find or trigger some drama. Introducing an alternate explanation, no matter how improbable, can help nudge them away from this black and white ‘someone MUST be lying, who can we blame’ nonsense and if you make your suggestion entertaining it gives them something new to latch onto instead. It’s a bit like the redirection a magician does – wave your hand and they’ll look away from the top hat to follow the movement, and then your other hand can make the bird disappear without them noticing.
    …not that the birds need your help, apparently.

    1. Dasein9*

      My first inclination is a variation of the “who smelt it, dealt it” rule: someone is trying to pin this on OP because they’re the one who opened the windows, then forgot to close them. I’d use Alison’s script, but also watch carefully to see if I could spot the source of the rumor so I know whom not to trust.

      1. Cj*

        My reading of what happen is a little more nefarious. The OP and their teammate both check the windows before they left that night, and they were closed. And I have no reason not to believe this.

        So who opened them and why? Everybody was at a party in the lobby, not in their work areas. It doesn’t sound like anybody but the three team members would have had reason to be in that area.

        Did somebody open the windows and leave them open on purpose knowing the OP and their team name members would get blamed?

        I have no idea why somebody would want that to happen, put I also have no idea why anybody would be so insistent on assigning blame to this in the first place.

    2. Cait*

      I think this is all much simpler than everyone is making it. Alison’s script is right on as far as refusing to take the blame. But what’s done is done. It doesn’t matter anymore who opened the window, only that the cleaners are fairly compensated for cleaning up the mess and steps are taken so it doesn’t happen again. Have a posting made near the door that says something like: “Are you the last one here? Please make sure the windows are closed!”. If that doesn’t work, maybe make a rule that windows in the communal space aren’t allowed to be opened at all (is the pay off for a nice breeze worth the pigeon poop and potential burglary?). And if people really suspect the cleaning people did it (what??), then maybe get some security cameras installed. Either way, everyone needs to stop dwelling on who’s to blame and focus more on remedying this for the future.

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Cait, that was my first thought too! The cleaners – who do NOT earn huge salaries and who do NOT expect to have to clean up bird droppings in addition to all the rest of their work – need to be generously compensated after having to deal with that mess. A sincere apology AND a large bonus would be a good start. And the promise that this will not happen again would be a good conclusion!

        If the pandemic has taught us anything, it should be never to take support staff for granted. Those underpaid, overworked, anonymous people are now in a position to be far more choosy when it comes to the jobs they’ll take (and about time, too!) They don’t have to put up with cleaning offices that look like frat houses and, if they do, they deserve far better than to be utterly forgotten and blithely ignored while the office staff squabble over who left the windows open.

      2. JustaTech*

        I’m sure there must be a reason no one’s said anything about this but, why not just install some screens? Then you can have the windows (if not the balcony door) open with risking bird incursions.

    3. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I don’t know, if I heard a coworker making up crazy alternative theories about what happened, I’d assume they did it and were (badly) covering their tracks!

      If I were the OP, I’d just shrug and decline to engage in any further speculation about it. I tend to use a lot a phrases like “yeah, it’s crazy. Anyway, gotta get back to [project]” to get out of employee gossip.

  12. Amerdale*

    I think Alison’s answer is very US-centric. I’m in Germany and a cover letter without the addresses of both would be very unusual here.
    Just pointing that out in case the OP doesn’t live in the US.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Please definitely assume that all my answers are U.S.-centric! I have no ability to speak to anywhere else and all the advice here is culturally specific.

    2. MudStuffin*

      In the UK, it is normal practice (in organisations with HR at least) to strip all identifying data such as names and addresses from application forms, CVs and cover letters before passing them over to the recruiting manager. This is to reduce discrimination.

      1. TechWorker*

        It might be ‘normal’ where you are but it’s definitely not universal. (Source, huge company with U.K. HR, the CVs I see are unaltered)

      2. SarahKay*

        Not as normal as one might wish. I’m in a large company in the UK, with HR, and I’ve had CVs with names and full address sent to me.

      3. sunglass*

        It’s an uphill battle to get my UK company to do this. HR keep agreeing that it would be a relatively easy and simple method of reducing bias in hiring, and have been agreeing for years, and yet it’s not happened. It’s infuriating.

      4. AnonymooseToday*

        I work in state govt in the U.S. and hiring for my first position. I really wish they would do that here! But considering there’s a new mandate to contact current supervisors as a reference (argh!), seems like any positives for the applicant will never happen.

        OP I definitely stripped off complete addresses a while ago, mostly for space. But for personal info I leave only my city and state, and on the cover letter I do the same for the job I’m applying to. Mostly to help me make sure I don’t accidentally send the wrong cover, so usually something like “University X, City, State”.

    3. Myrin*

      I always say that it’s on an OP to bring up the fact that they aren’t in the US – Alison, as an American with mostly American readers, is going to talk about what she knows, and that’s the American workplace.

      1. I heart the letter u*

        I agree. I also think it is on commenters to be clear of their context. This can be tricky though as the site auto corrects some language signifiers (such as ‘…our’). I have had someone object to my saying ‘I am Australian and x’. I mean, I’m not bragging – just trying to be transparent.

        I’d love to know the demographic breakdown. What % are US vs other parts of the world?

        1. Myrin*

          I’d love to know the demographic breakdown. What % are US vs other parts of the world?

          I think Alison provides a rough answer to that from time to time? I’m not sure if I’m simply remembering the answers to the big poll she did a year or so ago (where people selected their own area) or if there’s something like a year-end roundup with information she gets through IP addresses and whatnot (I might be getting that confused with another website but I reckon I’ve seen it here at least once?).

          I do think non-American commenters can go a bit overboard sometimes with the “I’m from [place] and here it’s [completely different scenario]”. Of course there’s often interesting potential for discussion in that but a) not always and b) not relevant to the letter writer at all, who now gets fifty comments pertaining to their letter but not really.
          Like, (ironically, in this thread) I’m from Germany and I’d guess that on average, there’s at least one question a day that’s completely foreign to me, either because of our laws or unspoken rules or habits or cultural mentality or simple language. But most of the time, it’s not really helpful for me to point that out (unless I somehow assume that every OP, unless otherwise stated, is potentially not from the US, but I don’t do that) so I simply don’t comment on that letter (and in fact, there are entire topics I never comment on whenever they come up because of how completely differently our respective cultures view these topics). Problem solved.

    4. Susan Calvin*

      Having very recently been a hiring manager in Germany, you’re mostly right in the sense that I would expect the applicants address on a properly formatted cover letter, but including a postal address for the recipient (rather than just the name of the company, and the recruiter named in the ad) would be pretty superfluous and possibly anxiety inducing for the applicant – which to use? That of HQ? That of the office which the posted job is in? The recruiters office?

      Maybe I’m just hardened by getting mostly international applicants who occasionally had some odd ideas about which norms to apply though.

    5. Clipper*

      These kind of comments always make me laugh. If an American went into the comments section of a German blog and complained that it was too German, they’d be ripped apart for it. But Europeans love to complain when American websites don’t cater to them. It’s such a weird double standard that Americans are expected to share everything with the rest of the world, but no other country is expected to do that.

      1. Xavier Desmond*

        I think all the commentor was pointing out was that it’s different in Germany. Obviously Allison is American but I think most of her advice is universal so it’s sometimes worth pointing out when there are differences between countries.

        1. Loulou*

          Yeah, there is really no need for such a dramatic and emotional reaction to a fairly straightforward comment!

      2. pql*

        It’s just bizarre. Why would you come to an American advice column looking for advice about something that varies so much by country? Other countries must have their own advice columns, don’t they?

        1. ACanadian*

          A lot of advice that is provided here is transferable across countries. The idea that non Americans should not partake in this advice is rather offensive.

          1. Tilly*

            Personally, I don’t mind that people from other countries comment here. It can lead to interesting discussions sometimes, but I do find it annoying when people complain and imply that Alison should be doing a whole bunch of extra work to accommodate what is probably a very small portion of the readership.

          2. Sylvan*

            Partake all you want, but it might not be the most useful for you.

            The idea that a single writer’s advice focused on a culture/location-specific subject should be universal is kind of silly. How do you think Alison is going to give advice for workplaces in countries she has never worked in?

      3. Nanani*

        yeaaaah no.

        The vast majority of English-language websites that don’t explicitly have a uk/ca/au/nz in their name assume everything and everyone is American even when NOT discussing something as local and variable as workplaces.

        1. Lt*

          If a website doesn’t have uk/ca/au/nz in their name or url and is in English, it most likely is American.

  13. Lizzianna*

    For a while, I was working out of my bedroom, and there wasn’t a way to angle the camera to not show my bed. It just felt too intimate for my coworkers to see my bedroom.

    I’m in the natural resources field, so it’s not unusual for people to use natural landscapes of the resources or areas we manage.

    1. Constance Lloyd*

      My office is also a guest bedroom, so while it isn’t *my* bed in the background, it still feels oddly intimate. If I angle my camera the other way, there are an awful lot of concert posters that aren’t especially professional for a boring government job. I’m a big fan of the blur option, it feels a bit less distracting when my hand goes in and out of focus than when it disappears entirely.

    2. Green tea*

      Yeah, OP’s friend’s opinion is far outside the norm in my experience, and I’d guess most people with backgrounds do so because they need that element of privacy for whatever reason.

      I don’t always use a background but when I do, it’s not because I think it’s more professional than some generic office setup with bookshelves in the background. It’s because whatever is in my background is likely to be much more distracting than a generic background – could be people moving around, hyperactive cats, or just a messy, unprofessional space if I’ve had to travel to my family for whatever reason. It would be so lovely to have a workspace with an undistracting bookshelf background but that is not an option for me.

      I’ve been on a lot of Zooms with a lot of different people and I’d say un-ideal backgrounds for video calls are much more common than the ‘outlier’ situations OP is thinking of. It’s better to try to have empathy for others’ situations and trust they’re making the most appropriate decision for their workspace.

  14. The Other Nigel*

    On #4: We were told not to go in to the office, but to prepare to work from home. I scheduled an office visit (bit of a hassle) to pick up some stuff I needed, and used the occasion to get a photo of my workspace from the POV of my office Zoom camera :)

    So my fake Zoom background was my actual cubicle background (whiteboard, bookcase, pile of junk, odd FunkoPop figures…). Caused a certain amount of confusion on some calls with other teams — “How come Other Nigel gets to be in the office?” — so was definitely worth it.

    But yeah, we then had an edict that distracting Zoom backgrounds were forbidden. What to use as the definition of “distracting” was a conversation that I thought was going to last as long as the pandemic.

    1. Becky*

      Some people in my office have to remote into a desktop when working from home (not everyone has been issued laptops). One of my coworkers left his webcam on the monitor at work so when he remotes in and turns on the camera…it shows an empty cubicle. And occasionally someone walking past.

    2. Rolly*

      This is good.

      I typically use a view out of my apartment window as a Zoom background. When people ask if it’s real – I say “Oh, that the view out my window as a background” – it’s not “fake” like a fancy office or room I don’t actually work in.

    3. Neosmom*

      I took a photo of my workstation to use as my background and fooled my Chairman, my President, and my VP on separate Teams video chats. I told them that if I was masked, I was at the office and if I was unmasked, I was at home!

  15. Lioness*

    #4 : I use a fake background. It’s just a plain wall with a couple of frame photos. I’ve used it for interviews and other zoom calls. I’m just very self conscious about my place and don’t like anyone seeing it. If I end up not using it, then I actually zoom from my bed so the only thing behind me is a blank wall. I have a lap desk and I don’t use pillows when I’ve done that so it doesn’t look out of place.

    There’s just a lot of backgrounds and I don’t think one is in itself more distracting than the other as I’ve had people join zoom while outdoors or in a coffee shop. Movement to me is the more distracting part, movement in the background or while it hasn’t happened to me, when things disappear and reappear in a fake background. I’ve see people’s hair disappear but I haven’t personally had an issue with it not differentiating me from my wall.

    1. KateM*

      I have very rarely been asked to have camera on, but if I do, my usual choice of fake background is a boring white plain office. I think that’s a better background than my bright yellow curtains with colourful dots.

    2. Asenath*

      I just stick with my real background which isn’t always need as it could be and sometimes comes with cats, but that’s in an informal setting. The only person who uses a fake background has a lovely sunny view over what I am sure is the Mediterranean. During some of the more miserable weather we had this winter, I loved looking at it, but I suppose that means it was distracting!

    3. Grace Poole*

      For general work meetings, I don’t use a background. My WFH desk is in my spare bedroom, and the spare bed is right behind me. My workplace is casual and my colleagues are chill, so I generally don’t care. In the case that there is a more formal meeting, I’ll sit at the kitchen table with a non-descript wall behind me, even though the fridge is old and sounds like a freight train. I’ve tried blurring and backgrounds and they’re more distracting.

    4. Ann Nonymous*

      The best Zoom background is Blur which doesn’t have the in-and-out jerkiness of fake backgrounds and you can’t see the mess behind you.

      1. KateM*

        That REALLY depends on the size of your mess. If you have three huge heaps of laundry on your background, it will be seen, even if others won’t know exactly whether it’s dirty or clean and whetehr that pink thing is underwear or towel.

  16. Kevin Sours*

    At some level if you aren’t going to fire them if they don’t move by a deadline, it *is* optional.

    1. Cait*

      Right! It would’ve been prudent to give them a date when you first hired them but hindsight is 20/20. That doesn’t mean you can’t give them a date now though. As long as it’s reasonable (say, 6 months), I think saying, “We need you to be coming into the office three days a week by Monday, October 3. If you haven’t found a permanent place to live, we expect you’ll find a temporary place to stay (on your own dime) at that point. But if you can’t be local by October 3rd, we can no longer employ you.”

      1. K*

        Yeah it seems pretty obvious this person is just enjoying living for free with their parents and would prefer not to divert thousands of dollars per month to rent or a mortgage of their own.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          I mean. I’m very sympathetic to the worker here and default to wondering exactly how necessary the “everybody back to the office” thing really is. But the worker is signaling they are happy with the status quo and are going to continue it as long as they are able. (And, I’m wondering, if pressed if they’ll actually move)

        2. Nanani*

          That’s quite a leap to make.
          You don’t know what’s going in that person’s life. Maybe they’re having a hard time finding a rental that will allow their pet, maybe they’ve got expenses you don’t know about makign it hard to save up a deposit, maybe the aliens hiding in the basement won’t let them leave, maybe a lot of things.
          “Wah they must be lazy” is a ridiculous and unkind assumption to make.

      2. Cj*

        It probably wasn’t possible to give them a date when they were first hired. Many companies have told their employees they needed to come to the office and then pushed that that date back when case counts went back up. Or didn’t know when they would be having employees come in, and then gave them a week or two notice to come back.

        1. LW3*

          Yup it’s more this. Though we gave everyone more than 2 weeks notice and generally senior leadership is trying to go for a softly softly approach with options for people to say if coming back in is hard for them/they have specific reasons to delay vs hard deadlines. For most people that looks like ‘I’m not coming in for the next week because I’m about to go on holiday’ or ‘I’m only going to do 2 days whilst I work out the commute’ rather than ‘not coming in at all’ though.

          1. Cara*

            I really think the conversation with your employee should be about how soon and how often they need to be in the office rather than where they are living. As long as they are fulfilling your business needs with the former, the latter is their own business.

  17. UKgreen*

    I teach a student who started using a Zoom background of a tropical fish tank. The fish moved! The other students found it so distracting I had to ask her to remove it!

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, the moving backgrounds are something else. So far I haven’t seen them on Teams, though.

  18. Sleepy cat*

    #3 I think you need to ask them directly about it, not just politely enquire how it’s going.

    1. Sleepy cat*

      Whoops hit send too soon! I was going to say I wouldn’t just ask how it’s going – ask them about what’s going on for them re this.

  19. A.N. O'Nyme*

    LW 1, while I do agree with your employee that once you’re used to literally anything other than Microsoft (Apple, your preferred open-source software, clay tablets,…) you kind of start to wonder why the hot, inefficient mess that is Microsoft is so popular…it’s no excuse for what she’s doing. My guess is she’s overwhelmed or just not very good at what you want her to do and is hiding behind the Mac thing. I’ve used Mac’s and I can still use Microsoft products when they decide to work (seriously whenever Excel or Word does what I need it to do it’s probably by accident. They say doing the same thing again hoping for a different result is the definition of insanity, but with Excel it’s just good practice).
    You need to have a frank discussion with her about how learning this tech is not optional and if she can stay in the role.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I’m primarily a Microsoft tech and until last year had never used a Mac. First time I was really confused about where anything was but soon figured it out enough to use it. I’m never gonna be able to technically support one though – it’s just too unfamiliar.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yeah I had to work with a mac for two years and I’d really prefer to never use one again. A person’s native tech is really hard to shake – I can only imagine tech support is a whole other animal.

      2. quill*

        My mom learned computers in 2006 ish, my dad has always worked in computers, and the school system that my brother and I went to and which my mom worked in uses macs almost exclusively.

        She used to wander the house when there was a technical error to try and find which one of us wouldn’t say “your mac, your problem” when her gradebook software locked up.

    2. Asenath*

      I rarely borrow my sister’s computer because she’s a Mac user and I find it just different enough to be annoying. But as much as I loved the old WordPerfect, when I got a job that required Word, I learned to use Word. And I did so quickly. It was a basic requirement of the job. In fact, being able to figure out how to use new software quickly was a real advantage when I moved in to a job that required using more specialized software than the basic ones.

      1. Don't be long-suffering*

        Ah, WordPerfect. Wasn’t it great? So sad that the best program gets buried under one that is so inferior. But it happens all the time.

        1. Worldwalker*

          I really miss AmiPro. It was everything a word processor needed to be, and nothing it didn’t. It was clean and fast and good.

          It’s been gone for about a quarter-century now, and I still miss it, that’s how good it was. When Win95 came out, Lotus tried to follow it up with WordPro which was so bad they couldn’t even give it away, and there has never been anything to match it.

      2. UKDancer*

        Same for me. I liked WordPerfect and thought it was a much better product but when I joined the company that used Word that’s what I learnt to use. When I got a job using a lot of Access databases I learnt how to use Access even though it wasn’t a package I knew.

        1. Dragon*

          I work in legal, and in the WordPerfect era all of us who knew WP absolutely HATED Word.

          In WP you could get at the guts of the document and see what was causing weird formatting. Not in Word.

          1. Asenath*

            There were other things I liked about Word, but that ability to look at the actual formatting and fix it that WordPerfect had was SO useful. And I didn’t even work in legal.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            Yup. You can now turn on some of the codes in Word (Alt+F9), but I miss my WP keyboard shortcuts keyboard reference and far preferred the way it worked before WYSIWYG formatting became a thing. It was a far superior product, though I’ve now adapted to Word and do well in it.

    3. WellRed*

      Haha. Apple native here and we switched the office to the hot mess that is Microsoft last year after being acquired. I still internally mutter about the inefficiency of certain aspects of Microsoft but I’ve otherwise adapted. Solidarity!

    4. Mockingjay*

      Microsoft became ubiquitous in government and large businesses through its licensing agreements. (Although ‘agreement’ is such a mild word. Stranglehold, death grip, prenup by the world’s most evil attorney…)

      But back to practical advice for OP1, given the prevalence of Microsoft in the business world, it is completely reasonable to expect employees to learn and use those tools, especially when training is provided. Is MS listed in the job description? If not, add it and screen for the level of competence required. Again, you can offer training for those unfamiliar with MS products, but check for willingness to learn.

      1. JustaTech*

        There’s another thing about the Microsoft ubiquity – they know it and these days actually make pretty good training documents and videos and whatnot. I used them to figure out how to use Teams (our internal training was laughable) and also how to use Access (back in 2011).

        So even if everyone refused to help train the new person (which is not the case) the new person could still get training directly from Microsoft (for free).

        So Mockingjay is right, this is about willingness.

        1. Anon Supervisor*

          I taught myself to use Access a million years ago, but it was super basic user stuff (I still put it on my resume though, lol)

    5. JayNay*

      i think it’s almost hilarious that this person refuses to work with completely standard office software. That’s like working in a restaurant and not knowing how to use the burger flipper and every time you need to flip a burger you have to call a coworker over to do it for you.
      it’s such a basic requirement of almost every office job these days.

      1. Sunny*

        Wholeheartedly agree! I often wonder why job descriptions even bother still listing it because it feels as basic as asking people if they know how to use a telephone – but then I read questions like this and it becomes clear. I wonder if this person has been riding on ‘Oh technology is just so hard…’ for so long and they haven’t realized that the window for that excuse is quickly closing up. (Unless they’re close to retirement, maybe.)

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Job descriptions list it so, when you need to fire someone for refusing to learn it, you can point to the job description as where it said that it was required to perform the job. (I am also a big fan of complete and accurate job descriptions because I like clear expectations.)

          Also, the “kids these days” often don’t know how to answer the phone. :) We are still trying to teach my tweens phone manners, and they think it’s dumb and something they’ll never have to use.

      2. Graeme*

        There was a task at my previous job that it occasionally fell to me to do as part of routine cover for holidays/lunch breaks, and I always used to pass it on to my boss by saying I didn’t know how to do it. The task? Using Word to edit a very simple certificate template and then save as a pdf and email that pdf to customers.

        This was a running joke obviously, but also it was something that could quickly stack up into a lot of work if a number of these requests came in at an inconvenient time. And by passing this task on, I was generally able to cover and do my own job to a passable level for as long as needed. So me “not being able to” do this simple task kept everything else working more smoothly than it otherwise might have done, and everyone therefore accepted it as a reason!

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        I had someone like that on the team a couple of years ago (fresh college graduate), and they thought we were going to train them from the ground up. We do provide extensive training and resources for office productivity tools folks need to know how to use, including hands-on workshops and desk-side, individual training, but they could not do basic stuff like create a new document or bold/resize text. I don’t know how you get through college not being able to create a basic word processing doc, but that’s what we had.

        1. Chilipepper Attitude*

          I work in a university library. It amazes me what students don’t know about basic computer tools. We had to add GCF LearnFree links for Word, PPT, and Excel to our page so students could teach themselves some basics.

          And I have started teaching basic Word formatting skills (how to “clear all formatting,” set line spacing, hanging indents, etc) in my classes. We also give them a Word template formatted for a paper in our citation style.

    6. KayDeeAye*

      I am going to (maybe) go out on a limb here and say that she clearly doesn’t WANT to learn. I am a long-time MS user, but I have poked at a Mac from time to time, and yes, there are significant differences…but they aren’t that significant. I guess it’s not impossible that someone can learn one system and be incapable of learning the other, but it’s really unlikely. So if she isn’t learning it, it’s because she doesn’t want to, and you know what? Too bad. She has to, or she has to go. If I were a chef in a vegetarian restaurant, I would have to cook vegetarian meals, and I would have to confine my use of bacon to cooking in my personal kitchen. So if you work in an office that uses MS, you have to use MS products, and save your Mac moments for home.

      1. kittymommy*

        Yeah, as much as I despise Mac and pretty much everything Apple, I can figure it out. And if it’s required for the job then that’s the end of it.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          Yeah, I mean, yes, there are differences, but there are LOTS of similarities, too. So the OP’s employee needs to get over it, like, now. I am trying to feel some sympathy for her, but I am not succeeding very well. All of us who have been in the working world have had to make many adjustments, some of them far more significant than Mac –> MS, and this person has to do so, too. If my career is anything to go by, it won’t be the last time!

      2. Artemesia*

        This. And what kind of management lets this drag on for months. The job is to use X; she needs to be using X within two weeks and subsequently be improving in her accuracy and speed at using X. Zero excuses for not being up and running in two weeks.

        Might bad mouth us because we expect her to do the job? This sounds like really rotten management all the way to the top.

        It is much harder to fire someone 6 mos in for not doing what they were hired to do when you have let it drag on, then to do it in the first six weeks. She is not struggling with it — she is refusing to do it and expecting other people to do her job. A PIP is needed since management has not been able to be clear otherwise. And she should have to show substantial use of the software to do: (the 3 most important things you expect her to do with it) in two weeks, with continued mastery to also be able to do XYZ and increase proficiency over the next 6 weeks.

  20. KT*

    #3: If this is a condition of their employment then you need to specifically state that and express the urgency to them and also find out what is happening. Some thoughts on my end:

    – Is the new hire young? It could be they have serious anxieties about moving somewhere unknown.
    – Is the contract full-time staff? If not, perhaps they don’t want to or can’t meet the expenses of moving for a job that isn’t permanent.
    – How far is the new hire from the office location? I had serious issues viewing properties because I lived so far away. It was genuinely tiring trying to arrange video viewings at all hours of the days and weekends and then having to make the journey to see it in person.
    – Though there may be a lot of places available, the competition might also be very high for those places. When I was trying to rent, apartments were going for more than they were advertised for because desperate applicants would put higher rental rates on their application forms.
    – You know the income side of the personal finance equation but not the costs side. Maybe the new hire has some serious student loans that are limiting their ability to rent.
    – Potentially new hire has a medical condition that they’re uncomfortable even mentioning that limits their ability to get into the office.

    So agreed with Alison’s advice, you need to talk to the new hire and found out what’s really going. Additionally, you could consider if your office vs remote policy is flexible. Most companies have proved that they can work remotely and for me personally, it’s irritating to me that my own company tried to force me back into the office (that I started at during covid but I’m an experienced hire). Too many companies want people in offices and C-19 isn’t even over yet and the statistics on long Covid are concerning. A final point to consider is that, understandably, your question was from the perspective of you and your business. New hire has the ability to resign and I would consider how that could change things – do they have a valuable skill or experience, or are they immediately replaceable?

    I did wonder at first reading if you’re my manager. :)

    1. LW3*

      Hey LW3 here.

      Yes, this is a new grad. The job is full time, permanent contract and well paid (~50% more than median salary here). They will have moving expenses sure, but the student loan set up here means that isn’t likely to be a factor. Your 3rd point is I think exactly what’s happening – they live 3-4 hours away and viewings are hard. I get that it is difficult and that’s why putting a strict deadline on it has felt unreasonable. Saying that, that’s also true of probably the majority of people we hire and it’s not impossible to overcome. They *have* come into the office twice – once the week before they started to say hello, and once since then to meet their grad cohort.

      With regards to whether it’s a requirement of the job – yes it really is! Almost especially for grads, they’re doing ok so far but everyone (including them) agrees the training would be easier in office. (And training is something that goes over a number of years, it’s not like they could come in for a short training course and then live remotely again).

      They’re not immediately replaceable, but at this point they also don’t have enough experience for us to want to keep them remote. Eg if they’d had asked in interview to be full time remote we wouldn’t have hired them and I don’t think working here 2 months changes that!

      1. askalice*

        The phrase that caught my eye was ‘still lives with parents’ and I thought, uh oh, a young person who is unmotivated to move out of their parents, we’ve all seen THAT before.
        There can be a vast difference in gumption between the kind of young person who is fully motivated to move out from their parents home, and one who is reluctant because of the many benefits. Definitely a frank conversation, and possibly a deadline is in order.
        KT above raises some very fair points about the challenges and expenses of moving, but I also have my mildly sceptical face on for their true motivation!

        1. AcademiaNut*

          If he’s reasonably comfortable at his parents’ home, and isn’t paying for rent/food/utilities/commuting, moving to the job is going to up his expenses a *lot* even if the salary is good and covers living expenses easily. Going from having your whole take-home income be discretionary to paying all your own expenses is a big jump, so I can see him hoping to put it off as long as possible (and maybe forever).

          I’d go with one more conversation making it very clear that they need to move as soon as possible, and that if they don’t they will be let go. Give it a week or two, and if there’s no change be ready to set a firm date and stick to it, otherwise you could find yourself having the same discussion six months from now.

          I’ve moved to other cities for work six times (in three different countries) and only had a place arranged for one move. It sucks, but you have to go ahead and do it.

          1. Ganymede*

            It may not be a question of his or her own comfort – there may be pressure from the parents to stay etc. Also I don’t think it’s safe to assume that this person has enough cash for a deposit simply on the basis of what you are paying them. Family circumstances may preclude that.

            However, there’s no getting round it – if you need them to move and they knew that before accepting the job, they need to get on with it. They should perhaps come and stay a week in a B&B in your city and do apartment viewings in that time.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes. I took a job in Brussels from London on the clear understanding I would have to move to Belgium to take it up. I came over for a day beforehand and viewed 8 apartments in 1 day to find somewhere. It was not ideal but I knew it was what I had to do so I did it.

              I turned down another job because it required me to be in small inaccessible town for 3 days per week and I didn’t want to move there or have a 2 hour commute each way (despite it being advertised that the job could be done in London or small inaccessible town).

              If a job says that it needs people to be in the office in city X a certain amount of time and you take the job then you can’t complain that you’re not able to do that later

              1. Loulou*

                Exactly. The time to decide whether you were willing to work in person, move to another city, live on your own, etc. was when you were considering the offer. Whatever legitimate reasons someone has for not wanting to move don’t mean that they get to both keep the job and not fulfill one of the clearly outlined requirements.

            2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

              I am thinking that the parents may be getting overly involved in the apartment search which is making it harder to find a place. Like, for example, they make enough to find suitable housing, but not suitable by mom and dad’s standards.

          2. Joielle*

            A friend just had to move for a job and he and his wife bought an entire house sight unseen (aside from online pictures and a brief video showing). Not ideal but sometimes you have to get it done!

        2. Cheap Ass Rolex*

          It’s also likely that if this is the first time they’ve moved out on their own, the reason their search is taking so long is that they have unrealistic expectations about what amenities they can get within their budget.

          Also if they’re moving to someplace they’ve never been, the instinct might be to thoroughly research every possible neighborhood they might live in, which can just get confusing from afar when you’ve never been there.

          1. quill*

            Another thing: They may not have any of the equipment to have their own place. Downpayment on an apartment is one thing, but cost of moving, stocking basic kitchen / cooking equipment (You need at least one pot, one pan, one good knife and 3-4 each of glasses, plates, bowls, cutlery… Which I was able to get for cheap when I was 24 because of the strong tradition of local garage sales,) may be additionally daunting, especially right now.

            But the furniture I personally owned fresh out of college consisted of one desk chair, a microwave, a couple sets of closet shelves, and a rug. (My parents would have 100% let me take my bedroom set and the spare table and chairs in the basement, and helped me buy any kitchenware I needed, if I’d had to move out right away at that time, but not everyone’s parents are like that. Some won’t even help their kid move.)

            1. Cj*

              Like Loulou says above, the time to have considered those things was before they accepted the offer.

              If it’s true that they don’t have any of those things, including furniture, and they really don’t need anybody to help them both. Order the kitchen stuff and just enough furniture to get by on for now and have it delivered from Amazon.

              1. quill*

                This was more to point out that it takes longer / is more expensive to move out on your own for the first time than OP might remember, taking the idea of “I’m sure they have enough money to move” into consideration. Monthly rent where I am is approximately half my income if you want to live in an apartment building, no matter the quality, and I’m making just over 50K per year.

            2. Nancy*

              The first time I moved out on my own I subletted a room from a grad student and slept on an air mattress while I saved and looked at apartments. I know others who dealt with long commutes for a while. It is possible to move somewhere without buying a home unseen or immediately dropping several months’ rent. If none of that is possible, then a job that requires a long commute or moving is not a good option.

              1. quill*

                Yeah, this was purely a pushback on the “three months is plenty of time to move” and “I’m sure that this job pays enough to realistically get an apartment on short notice even in today’s prices” (I had to wait a month for my unit to be available.)

                What it sounds like is that the new employee thought they could move but is finding it much harder than they thought. So the kindest thing OP can do is set a firm deadline so that the employee can either commit to the search or leave for a more feasible job.

        3. Artemesia*

          If living with parents though moving is EASIER than if this person were in a rented apartment and had to give notice etc etc. They can look for a house share, a small efficiency etc at the new location and make the move with little fuss. If you don’t have an apartment full of furniture then moving is easy. And they could look for an AIRBNB furnished for a couple of months while they look further locally.

          They just don’t think it is important and are comfortable.

      2. KT*

        Ah ok, understandable then. 3-4 hours is quite far for in-person viewings given its a return journey but online viewings are still going ahead. And there’s the option of temporary accommodations at your location until they find a place. And if it was an experienced hire then it’s a different story for training but I can’t imagine having to train a new grad online and office is so much easier.

        Ultimately your last sentence says it all. I think you need to have the difficult conversation with them and set some sort of a deadline so that they’re aware their absence is a dealbreaker.

        1. the hills have eyes*

          I recently moved 11 hours away for work and had to rent an apartment sight unseen, but someone at work was willing to vouch for it. Maybe ask if there’s any way you can help.

          1. LW3*

            Yeah I had already offered that – they have a relative who lives closer who I think was going to do some viewings for them, but not sure if that happened or not.

            1. the hills have eyes*

              Good luck! It sounds like they might be sort of apprehensive about the move. Maybe if you (repeatedly) reach out and offer to answer questions about the area, or just try to seem welcoming in general. Even taking them out to a group lunch when they’re on-site could go a long way psychologically..

        2. Medusa*

          Yes, assuming it’s not a financial issue, there’s no reason why they can’t book a month in a temporary place and look once they’re there. Most of my moves have been between continents and I still manage to book *something* to shelter me before I leave. Being 3-4 hours away is not a good excuse.

          1. AnotherLibrarian*

            Yeah, I was about to say this. I’ve moved across the country several times and I’ve always managed to find a serviceable place to live. You either rent sight unseen and ask for a clause that lets you cancel without penalty upon seeing the unit, or you stay in a long stay hotel for a few weeks while you find a place, or you schedule a busy day of viewings and make the trip. This is 3 to 4 hours away, not days or another continent.

        3. K*

          It’s extremely common to rent properties or buy a home without an in-person visit. I’ve rented two homes and bought a house that way. It’s life. Either make the trip and see it in person, or don’t and don’t, but either way, they need to figure it out and it is NOT the LW’s problem to solve.

          1. Irish Teacher.*

            This may possible depend on how in-demand housing is in the area though. I know when I worked in Dublin, not only did I sometimes call at lunchtime about a room or apartment advertised in that morning’s papers (this was nearly 20 years ago when a lot was still advertised in newspapers rather than online) and find it gone, but people were also unwilling to agree to rent to me without my viewing the house because…well, it was a seller’s market and they wanted to see the people and talk to them to see who seemed the best choice to rent to. This was especially true for house-shares where people wanted to know who they would be sharing with. To be fair, still not the LW’s problem though.

          2. HHD*

            It’s just taken my partner and I a solid 6 weeks to find a rental in the UK because we work full time (which you’d think would be a bonus), viewings were only available weekdays and no agency would rent without an in person viewing.

            We were rejected for the first ten we applied for, because someone “better” applied (by better in this context I pretty much mean traditional nuclear families…)

      3. Bagpuss*

        I think the conversation needs to be that they need to be in office by [date]

        While normally it wouldn’t be part of your role as a manager, do you feel that you could make a couple of practical suggestions ?

        e.g mention that you know viewings are hard from a distance, and suggest that they look into they can get a cheap motel / AirBNB for a week or so, so they can be more on the spot (and perhaps also, if you have the authority, say that you would be able to let them go to viewings during the day and make the time up, if it’s hard to get viewings in the evenings / weekends, if they were working in the office and had done that .

      4. Allonge*

        Hi – just to say it’s not at all unreasonable to give people a deadline for this. And some people really really need a hard deadline to get them moving on something, especially complex things like a move. You would be doing them a favor, really.

        1. Washi*

          Agreed, I think you might be doing the employee a favor by having a conversation where you set a moving deadline 2-6 months away and stick to it. I was a new grad with limited means who moved 600 miles away to an apartment sight unseen and yeah, it’s pretty stressful, but this person shouldn’t have taken the job if they had no intention of moving. And if there is some concrete circumstance getting in the way, it’s on the employee to explain in general terms “medical issue” etc and figure out if their timeline is going to be compatible with the job’s timeline.

      5. yikez*

        At 3-4 hours away, I would tell them they need to start coming in 2-3 days per week. It will absolutely suck, but that might force their hand. If they can’t put up with a crummy commute it might light a fire under their butt.

        1. Heidi*

          I agree with this. The employer doesn’t really have much control over where their employees live, but they absolutely can control whether employees have to be in the office. Just tell the employee that they need to come in for work and let the employee decide how they want to handle it, whether it’s commuting or moving or finding temporary housing during the week.

        2. Velocipastor*

          I don’t know that a reasonable solution to “my employee is having a hard time finding housing” is to have them dedicate an extra 7-8 hours a day to commuting to the office. That removes all the time they actually have for house hunting and will negatively affect their performance/lead to burnout.

          1. Purple Cat*

            I think it forces them to get a hotel to cover those days a week. And then the cost of the hotel *might* be the financial motivation they need to actually move for real.

            Either way, LW needs to set a firm date by which employee MUST report to the office. Whether or not they have moved.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            But the LW’s problem isn’t “my employee is having a hard time finding housing.” Their problem is “I need my employee to be in the office.”

          3. KRM*

            The employee knew coming into this that they would be required to be on-site at least part of the time. It’s on them to make that happen, and saying “you MUST be here 3x week” makes them actually really search, then so be it.

      6. WindmillArms*

        I think you’re being very understanding to this new hire, but if this a job requirement, you don’t have to be quite so kind. Moving for work (*especially* when you don’t have to deal with ending a lease or selling a house on the front end!) is not as impossible. This employee has many options:
        1) Find a temporary rental in Work Town and stay there to help ease the apartment-hunting stress
        2) Remain at home, but commute to Work Town 2-3 days in a row per week, and stay at a hotel for those 2-3 nights (this is what my parents did for 20+ years!)
        3) Rent a place sight unseen

        Figure out what your limit is for tolerating the heel-dragging and communicate it now. You’re not telling them they have to move–just that they need to figure out how to show up in person for the required times.

      7. Oakwood*

        Was your training program designed pre-pandemic?

        If so, then maybe you should consider redesigning it.

        Remote work isn’t going away. Three days a week is higher than most other company’s hybrid schedule (2 or 1 day a week).

        You are going to have problems in the future because you are out of step.

        1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

          We can take the LW at their word and believe some of this job is much better done in person. Some jobs will never go fully remote because they involve hands on equipment. Most of my job _can_ be done remotely, but counts on me knowing about physical setups well enough to interpret what, is going on. A new hire would struggle to picture it until they could work with it, and identify when they need to go in and check the wires.

        2. Rocket*

          You know remote doesn’t actually work for all jobs, right? And that tons of the orgs and companies that went fully remote during the earlier stages of the pandemic did so while drastically reducing their ability to get their jobs done, right?

          1. tangerineRose*

            I thought the LW said that the training worked better in person, not that the person had to be in the office to do the job. I’ve given and been given plenty of remote trainings that worked fine, but then again, I have no idea what kind of training this person needs.

            1. Rocket*

              I was responding to this sentence “You are going to have problems in the future because you are out of step.” There is nothing in the letter that indicates OP is out of step. There is nothing out of step about an employer that knows what works better in person vs remote, and requiring things that work better in person to be in person. There is nothing out of step about a hybrid schedule that requires three days in the office (it’s currently my hybrid schedule). There is nothing our of step about a job that is fully in person.

              Remote work is great. It’s not the be all end all best thing ever.

        3. LW3*

          I know lots of commenters are vehemently pro remote work is best ;) and we *do* have more flexibility for some roles, but not this role. From knowing what other companies in the industry do we are actually not out of step. If it becomes a deal breaker when attracting applicants in the future, then sure we can reconsider – at the moment we are not at that point and I fully believe our new grads are best served by in person hands on training. Yes it *can* be done remotely – we did it for 2 years! But it is not anywhere near as good and those grad cohorts are noticeably a bit behind other years.

      8. Lizzo*

        LW: what *is* the rental market like where you are? Not just costs, but availability, and specifically the availability of a type of place that a young grad might want to live solo? What is the public transit/commuting situation? Does the student have a car or do they need to acquire one? (That’s an additional expense.)
        Is there a local real estate agent that you could pair the student with to help wade through some of the rental logistics so that you don’t have to get involved in those details?

        All that said: I think it’s great that you’ve been so supportive, but the reality is that jobs have requirements, and if they cannot meet them, they don’t get to keep the job. Just because you set down that explicit boundary, doesn’t make you a bad manager…or a bad person.

        1. HHD*

          I would add that if demand is above supply and your employee is anything other than a straight, cis, abled, white person for whom your local language is their first, then they may genuinely be struggling to be accepted somewhere, even with all the cash in the world. Discrimination may be illegal but its rife in rental markets.

      9. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        Years before the pandemic, my spouse and I dealt with “need to find an apartment on the other coast” with round-trip plane tickets, a few days in a hotel, and using online listings to select several places to look at one day. That was before video tours, just text and photos.

        It’s doable.

        Also, we were told this was an absolute requirement of the job. Once we’d uprooted ourselves, my spouse’s boss kept finding excuses to postpone the move, and had still avoided uprooting himself and his family a couple of years later. Three, four, six months from now your new hire will be arguing that he’s been doing OK remotely this long, she shouldn’t have to move.

      10. Nanani*

        You sound like a reasonable and understanding employer!
        Please ignore the people who’ve decided to stereotype your employee as an entitled young moocher and follow your gut – it really is hard to move!
        The pandemic isn’t really over and it can be hard to schedule viewings at all, especially when the distance is in that awkward space where coming in for just one thing is kind of a waste but setting up several in one trip is hard.

        Talk to your employee, figure out what kind of timeline makes sense, and make it clear to them that while you can be flexible you can’t make the job permanently remote.
        Give them hard facts to work with and, if at all possible, give them things like the flexibility to do move-related stuff during work hours (I’m thinking flex time or PTO for it or whatever makes sense).

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I disagree that the LW “ needs to find out what’s happening.” The LW needs to make clear that the the employee needs to start coming into the office by X date or they will be let go.

      They don’t have to move. They can have a terribly long commute or stay at a hotel for a day or two. The business requirement is to be in the office a few days a week AS AGREED TO AT HIRING.

      If the new employee has a medical condition that prevents them meeting the requirement, they need to ask for accommodations. All the other reasons, they need to work out on their own.

      Maybe they have never planned to move and are dragging the job out as long as possible. Or they are suddenly anxious or procrastinating because it’s overwhelming, but you need to be clear about the consequence of not meeting the condition they agreed to.

      AirBnB and long term stay hotels exist. The employee doesn’t have to find an apartment, they just need to be in the office a few days a week. But staying in a short term solution locally makes it a lot easier to find the long term apartment.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Excellent point and one I totally missed! Where they live is irrelevant. They need to be in the office, on time (+/- whatever is reasonable at your office) X days a week. How they make that happen is on them. I have worked with plenty of folks who commuted during the week to an urban area from their tribe’s lands. 3-4 hrs is totally doable if you have somewhere to stay overnight if needed.

      2. WomEngineer*

        I agree LW3 should talk to the new hire and give them a specific deadline to be in the office.

        I’m in a similar situation and didn’t know when the office would open up. My manager made it clear that I’d be in a “hybrid” position, and the company let folks work from anywhere. When they unexpectedly moved the date up, they let me keep working remotely for an extra month.

        It’s comfortable at home, and it takes effort to move, but you gotta do it. Give them a deadline to move, but don’t assume anything about them just yet.

      3. AnonymousReader*

        I agree, it’s none of the Manager’s business if the person chooses to move or not. From the letter is sounds like the Manager has a mental map of where he/she wants his/her employees to life. Sorry Manager, you can’t dictate your employees’ personal life! As long as the employee is in the office the required days and the employee performs their job duties, the Manager should stay out of it.

        I suspect the Manager’s real issue is that he/she is anxious the employee will quit or is looking for other opportunities. There’s not much the Manager can do but set a firm deadline and be ready to look for a replacement if the employee does not move.

        However, the Manager should have an honest conversation with the employee. There could be life circumstances they are unaware of. Perhaps the employee’s spouse can’t/won’t move? Maybe the employee is taking care of a sick/elderly parent? I had a professor that lived in the Bay Area but flew down to LA to work a few days a week. Spouse was the breadwinner and near retiring age, so they didn’t see the point moving or the spouse changing jobs.

        1. LW3*

          I am not ‘anxious’ that they’ll quit or look elsewhere. They are welcome to do so if they want to! I would obviously prefer to keep them. The statement that they’d have to move to be able to come into the office is also something they themselves have said… they sound like they’re really not up for a 3-4 hr commute (who is?!) so it’s not something I’ve just asserted they have to do.

          1. AnonymousReader*

            LW3 – You need to call their bluff! Say starting X day, we’ll expect you to be here X, Y, and Z days a week. Be firm. If they complain and bring up “but I have to move first”, tell them again “I know you have a tough commute ahead of you but we agreed at the time of hiring that you will be in the office X days a week. I have told you for X months that this change was coming and starting on X day, it is being enforced.” Tell them it’s not fair on the rest of the team that is in the office those days, and everyone must be treated equally. If meetings are a big thing for your workplace, send the invite but no dial-in phone number/link. State in the invite that the meeting will be held in person in X conference room. You might have to give them a little tough love but sometimes it’s the only way people will react. Don’t let them pull the pity “I have a terrible commute” card.

    3. Buster*

      I would add that becoming a first-time renter is stressful with many barriers. Having zero rental history and a short time at your current job can really affects an applicant’s chances of getting approved. My first solo apartment required 2x rent as a deposit and first month’s rent due at the time I signed the lease because I had minimal rental history outside of on-campus housing.

    4. Kesnit*

      “How far is the new hire from the office location? I had serious issues viewing properties because I lived so far away.”

      When I got my current job (5 years ago), I lived 5 hours from the new job. My wife and I drove down on 2 consecutive weekends to look for housing. The first weekend, we looked at places to buy before finding out I could not qualify for a mortgage. The next weekend, we focused on rentals and lucked into a nice place.

      Note where I said “lucked into.” Yeah, there weren’t a lot of options. LW says the rental market “isn’t too bad” and the employee is paid well, so hopefully it isn’t as bad as what we ran into.

      “Though there may be a lot of places available, the competition might also be very high for those places. When I was trying to rent, apartments were going for more than they were advertised for because desperate applicants would put higher rental rates on their application forms.”

      This. A friend of mine just moved out of an impossible living situation. It took him several weeks to find an available place that he could afford – and he was staying in the same general area. (Moved from one city to another, but only about an hour apart.)

      “You know the income side of the personal finance equation but not the costs side. Maybe the new hire has some serious student loans that are limiting their ability to rent.”

      And this is the key that I came to the comments to address..

      Remember when I said I couldn’t qualify for a mortgage? It was because of my student loan debt. I’ve been in in my job for 5 years and STILL can’t qualify because of student loans.

      Rent is also only part of it. How are utility costs? How much is reliable internet? What are gas prices? (I live in one state and work in another. About once a week, I bring my wife’s car to work so I can put gas in it since it is about $0.20/gallon cheaper across the line.)
      “Potentially new hire has a medical condition that they’re uncomfortable even mentioning that limits their ability to get into the office.”

      Or needs ongoing care (i.e. chemo, dialysis) and has had difficulty finding a doctor in the new area.

      1. LW3*

        Other than the fact I have explicitly asked them if there’s any barriers to their move and they said no ;) I can promise you there are affordable options. The starting salary has gone up recently and there is a town a v short (<10min) train ride away that’s pretty cheap. Most people choose to live somewhere nicer & pay more, but if you really wanted to save then you know, I lived there two years and some senior folks still live there – house shares are very cheap and even a decent solo apartment would be ~30% take home salary.

        I appreciate all the attempts to think of reasons they’re delaying but I honestly do not think finances are it :)

  21. Former call centre worker*

    How much pigeon poo could there possibly have been? Pigeons aren’t sitting outside offices just waiting for a window to be opened so they can all fly in to use the place as a toilet. And the fact that they mentioned pigeon poo but not, you know, actual pigeons, makes me think that it’s not true. Surely if pigeons had got in the story would be “we had to spend two hours trying to catch/chase confused birds that didn’t know the way out or understand windows” not “we had to wipe up a few poos from a small animal”

    Maybe once in the distant past a window was left open and one pigeon flew in and pooped on the floor, and now that’s the story that’s used to enforce the rule. So this time, someone opened a window or two and forgot to close it and the cleaners made up a story to guilt everyone.

    1. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

      “Pigeons aren’t sitting outside offices just waiting for a window to be opened so they can all fly in to use the place as a toilet.” – I wouldn’t put it past them!!

      1. A.N. O'Nyme*

        Where’s that cartoon of the baby pigeon telling their mom they need to use the bathroom only for the mom to respond “you’re gonna have to wait until we found a parked car, honey” when you need it.

      2. Pennyworth*

        I’m pretty sure they would head right in, especially to sleep.

        Reading the pigeon letter, I wondered why no-one seemed worried about security as well as the pigeon mess. If LW and her co-workers left the windows and doors closed when they left, who opened them again?

        1. indubitably*

          YES! The pigeons are bad enough — but with a door left open, they’re really lucky no humans came in to steal the computers!

    2. Brightwanderer*

      I have some bad news for you about pigeons. Particularly city pigeons. They absolutely do seek out interesting new opportunities in the form of open windows and doors, particularly if it’s cold outside. City pigeons also have a known health issue: they eat so much weird junk that they tend to have constant pigeon-diarrhoea. So they’re not just leaving a few small poops, they’re spraying stuff all over as they move around.

      On top of that, the LW says they saw the mess when they arrived. So I think it’s very unlikely the cleaners are lying about the existence and results of the pigeons! What is possible is that they left the windows open and are blaming it on someone else. I’m reluctant to blame janitorial staff for things off the bat, but I am struck by the description of like… all the windows and doors being open. That sounds kind of like something you’d do while cleaning to air the place out, not something a partygoer would do.

      (Though, having said that: I could also imagine oh say someone lighting up a joint or something and then frantically trying to air the place out.)

      1. After 33 years ...*

        It’s amazing how much poop one pigeon (or one gull, in our port city) can produce. Pigeons, gulls, and geese are very social and love a good party!
        Having been in LW #2s position with the ‘responsibility’, no matter how many times you check, there’s always the possibility that windows will get left open, and that someone will be blamed for it. Unless your building is haunted, the likelihood is far greater that it’s partyers rather than custodians. Our custodians would take responsibility for any errors they or their colleagues would make.
        Alison is correct: in a normal workplace, this should blow over rapidly. It’s not like the situation where an open window during a storm led to rain damage to electronics – poop is a pain, but can be removed and the areas sanitized. I wouldn’t respond to an accusation of lying, unless it persists – in which case, I’d probably stick with a quiet but firm “no, I’m sorry but it wasn’t me”.

    3. MsSolo UK*

      The pigeons were in over a whole weekend, so I’m wondering if any party food was left out that would have kept them hanging around until they polished it off. Eating various pastry and bread products does do a number on most birds’ digestive systems, so you’re not dealing with neat poo, you’re dealing with large amounts of pigeon diarrhoea (fun fact, the reason a lot of city pigeons have malformed feet is because they eat so much discarded junk food their poos corrode their own flesh and cause massive infections).

      1. Be kind, rewind*

        Yeeees. Birds know where the food is and when to come get it. Case in point: anyone who has ever attended a SF baseball game and watched the descent of seagulls at the beginning of the 9th inning.

    4. Sibilant Susurrus*

      Depending where the office is based, and how many potential perch points of the surrounding architecture are covered in anti-pigeon spikes, the birds could indeed be on the lookout for any available perching/sheltering spot.
      I remember an anecdote about a company that removed the spikes from their windowsills only to find that practically every pigeon in the city would perch and poop on their building because it was the only available perching spot for several blocks in any direction. The sheer volume of the deposits was too much for the building’s maintenance team to keep up with, so the spikes were regretfully replaced.

    5. Other Alice*

      “How much pigeon poo could there possibly have been?”

      In uni, we went into a classroom on Monday morning to discover that a lone pigeon had got in, crapped over almost every single seat and desk, and died in a corner. The answer is: a lot of poo.

    6. sagewhiz*

      While this accusation is aggravating now, it’ll be a funny story in the future. But not as funny as this one! From Letters of Note: “… a very entertaining letter about a gang of hungry seagulls who once swaggered into a pepperoni-filled hotel room and caused chaos …”

      A friend/colleague of mine almost got into the same hot water while we were at that same gorgeous hotel in 2010. She was the conference planner, and a platter of pastries was among the goodies sent to her room. The weather was gorgeous, so she opened the windows. Went to take a shower, came out, and yup … seagulls gorging themselves. And yup, she madly shooed them out, slammed the windows shut, and madly scrubbed so housekeeping wouldn’t find out. She didn’t tell any of us about it until last year!

    7. I don't mean to be rude, I'm just good at it*

      How wrong you are Zaphod Beeblebrox*. I had an amazing classroom that was once an orchestra classroom with tiered seating and huge windows.

      The bad thing, the room was used for every important event that the school hosted. I returned to school after a fun weekend to find the Friday afternoon meeting left every window in my classroom open and the room inhabited by perhaps 100 pigeons.

      The maintenance man walked in, turned around loudly proclaiming, “It ain’t in my job description”, and walked out.

      We had a district superintendent meeting scheduled for Wednesday and the boss pleaded with me (and offered a substantial bribe) to clean the room and somehow, I got the room clean. There was poop in places you could not believe there could be poop.

    8. Anima*

      Pigeons are not known for being very clever and my experiences with them says the same. I image a few of them getting in and then staying because they could not work out how windows work. Also yes, not well maintened city pigeons (or any bird with the wrong diet) do nasty poos.
      That said: is this maybe a prank? That some coworkers thought it might be funny, maybe even after some drinks, opened the windows deliberately, saw it got out of hand and now blame the recipients of their stupid prank to cover their tracks up? To me it sounds like a prank that went haywire.
      So, yeah, I would lightly dodge any accusations with the wording discussed.

      (Side note: I am glad my city has a program for pigeons where they get housed, feed, medicated and monitored by a veterinarian. The pigeons here are in top shape, rarely a bad foot, and also not too many. Every Lager city should have a pigeon program!)

    9. Popinki*

      Another problem is, pigeons are vectors for a whole host of infectious diseases, including encephalitis and histoplasmosis, plus they also carry mites, fleas etc. So on top of the “ewww” factor, pigeon poop is actually hazardous waste and the cleaning staff probably had to disinfect all the surfaces were pooped on as opposed to just squirting on some Windex and wiping it up.

  22. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP1: I work IT and one memorable time we had a request for a Mac and specific software to be ordered and installed for user ‘Tracy’. I went back to their manager (who’d put in the request) and said we don’t have any Mac computers or software in the company and pretty much all of our internal software will only run on Windows.

    ‘But she can’t use Windows!’ said the manager, ‘she’s only used Macs and has some kind of mental ting where she cannot deal with big changes’

    Told him there was no way on this earth I could get a Mac to run with our systems and gave him all the details of the in-house training we provide. Later, through office gossip, found out he’d gone back and essentially said ‘there’s no alternative to this – you’ve got X weeks to get trained and using our Windows systems or we’re going to have to let you go’.

    She ended up leaving the company but I don’t know if that was her decision or HR/management chucking her out.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Haha! True, which ups the probability that the company told her to leave. If she really couldn’t use our applications and had anxiety attacks every time she was asked to then there’s not much work she *could* do.

      2. Susan Calvin*

        I mean yeah, if I had accepted a job after the hiring manager had promised me (what sounds like) some certain disability accomodation, only to go back on it within a week because they didn’t bother to check if it was actually feasible, I’d find that pretty hard to deal with for sure!

        Obviously you can debate wether or not there’s ever a valid medical reason for only using macs (tbh I hope not, sounds horrifying!), but in Keymaster’s example, the manager seems pretty clearly the villain!

        1. ecnaseener*

          Yeah, if the hiring manager did promise that without checking whether it was possible, that’s his fault.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Or maybe the applicant/employee was vague about how much accommodation she’d need and the company couldn’t know that it couldn’t accommodate her until they had already hired her.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            As far as I know – she never raised it as an accommodation she needed. It was after a few weeks of panicked ‘I can’t use this! I can only do familiar things!’ and I think some kind of explanation on her part that she cannot handle changes to her environment because of some neuroatypical reason. Then her boss asked her what she needed – more training? And she said it had to be a Mac. Thus the call to me.

            Beyond that I don’t know – not my department.

        3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Nope, they hadn’t promised that the person could use a Mac – they’d only found out within the first month that this person would only use Macs.

          It’s pretty standard here to ask if they needed any disability accommodations nd apparently nothing was raised till they’d been using a windows pc for a few weeks. Absolutely no way could we put our industry software on a Mac.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      So many things are either cloud or virtualized now that I wonder if it would be more possible to use a Mac in a Windows-only shop now. Mail? Outlook Web Access. (Or Gmail). Office suites? MS Word, Excel, and Powerpoint on the Mac isn’t much different from on a PC. Sharepoint is just a web site. Slack runs just fine on both Mac and PC. Lots and lots of applications are just web apps now and doesn’t matter much whether you run them from a Mac or PC. And for the custom Windows-only programs—well, there’s always remote desktop into a Windows machine (which Macs can also do without a problem).

      I mean, I get “We’re a Windows shop; learn to use Windows.” And adding one Mac to, say, 1,000 PCs complicates things a lot (exceptions are a PITA). But if there were ever a VIP who simply insisted on using a Mac, and that keeping VIP were deemed more important than keeping IT sane…I wonder if it wouldn’t be as hard to manage now than it used to be.

      1. J.B.*

        I have a mac for work reasons when most of my colleagues are on windows. We just went through some really weird ip address issues and the fix was using the pc side of the bootcamp-ed machine. So it definitely has to do with how much effort is worth putting into one setup.

        ArcGIS only runs on pc’s so if some complex software like that is a critical part of your work the options are limited.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        A lot of our industry specific software simply won’t run on a non-windows pc and we really do not have the budget to go back to the suppliers and ask them to make a Mac or Linux version.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          (We’ve got over 2,500 different applications in this firm and that’s not a typo)

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Depends on the application but a lot of the older ones are decidedly not VM compatible.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

                I’ve got a Windows 3.1 box running in one of the depots – because that’s literally the only thing a particular bit of kit will talk to. Does explain why the average age of techs here tends to be over 40 – there’s some really old stuff.

                1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  I’ve got a Windows 3.1 box running in one of the depots

                  I have fond, monochrome memories of that OS…

          2. Observer*

            Just out of idle curiosity, are most VM friendly?

            On top of what Keymaster says, using VMs also generally means a lot of additional infrastructure.

            We actually have significant VM capacity for a number of reasons. But even though we already had the basics in place, when the pandemic hit and I needed to upgrade our capacity to handle that many more people, it cost us a pretty penny. Setting it all up to allow someone to use a Mac? I think that once I presented the budget to do that, someone would have inquired about the last time I’d seen a doctor or if I need a vacation.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              One of the more senior execs once proposed that we move to Linux in order to save money in license fees and all move to open source software across the board. The then director of IT told him how much that would cost – over a billion. ‘But it’s all free to use!’ ahh bless.

            2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I wasn’t intending Virtualization as a solution to this problem (though I see where it might appear so). I’ve just noticed a lot of overlap between “won’t run on OSX or Linux” and “won’t run Virtualized” and was curious if that still applied in that environment.

              In this case, Virtualizing everything so a single user can run OSX is like am arm transplant to cure a hangnail. I agree.

      3. Ama*

        Years ago I worked at a grad school that had a large part of its operating budget underwritten by a specific donor. Said donor was happy to purchase computers for the entire department, but insisted that they be Macs because she thought they were aesthetically more pleasing (a LOT of this donor’s gifts were based around making things look nice rather than what was actually practical). The university’s budget system only ran in Windows/IE so those of us who needed to access the budgets had to have virtual PCs installed on our Macs — which at the time was not inexpensive software. But donor paid for that, too, so that’s what we did even though it took a full ten minutes to log in to the budget system every time when you added the extra virtual PC software power up to the already clunky budget system log in.

        The only good thing is that I can now list on my resume that I have work experience in both Mac and PC. (I had never used a Mac before that job.)

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        The issue isn’t what’s technically possible but what is supportable by the organization and complies with security requirements. We’re not going to have our security organization set up a whole separate silo for one person who can’t or won’t use a Windows PC.

      5. Hillary*

        Not as easy as we would all hope – it’s not just what the user uses, it’s also all the company stuff. A lot of device management applications don’t work for Macs and the security stuff is different on both the computer side and network side. The helpdesk has to support twice as many issue types. Remote desktops & virtual machines are both expensive to run & maintain. You need the remote desktop software, now you need two OS licenses per user, and you have to train & support on virtual desktop.

        The company I work for has 10,000+ employees. There’s one mac, which marketing uses for video and photo editing. It’s not connected to the network most of the time, files are moved with USB drives. It only talks to the internet when it needs a software update. Our entire infrastructure isn’t set up for macs. ipads are allowed on the network under limited circumstances, but they basically only have email and the ability to read documents.

  23. JV*

    My wife is a civil servant in the UK and her great-grandboss has a picture of the Queen in his home office. (for some reason. A bit “yes minister” but never mind).

    This is apparently very distracting on all-staff calls as the guy uses a virtual background but the face detection keeps identifying the Queen briefly so she pops in and out of their meetings…

    1. Brightwanderer*

      I just laughed out loud. I would be playing Queen Bingo in three seconds flat if I were on that call.

      1. GlitsyGus*


        That or deciding what was and was not important on the Agenda based on when Her Majesty felt the need to pay attention.

    2. Blinded By the Gaslight*

      I cannot stop laughing. Thank you for sharing this delightful information.

  24. Expiring Cat Memes*

    #2 sounds like a good time to invoke some chilled Shaggy repetition:

    They pooped on the counter! (it wasn’t me)
    They were pooping on the sofa! (it wasn’t me)
    But your teams window was ajar! (it wasn’t me)
    And all the poop in your area! (it wasn’t me)

  25. Annie J*

    I’m pretty sure it’s an urban myth that a single employee can badmouth a business and make it go under, I’ve never heard of it happening ever, often times when businesses go under they like to blame particular people but there’s usually something more going on behind the scenes.
    All that to say that as long as staff are treated well, I really don’t see how one employee no matter how well-known she is could sink your companies reputation.

    1. WellRed*

      That reasoning is always so strange to me when it comes up. Honestly, even if they do this it’s likely to reflect poorly on them, not the company.

  26. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2: The pigeon poop / who is blamed for the mess is a red herring here. The real question that needs answering urgently is how/why is your building able to be left unsecured and what can be done to prevent that in the future – especially if there is any kind of confidential or personal information kept in the office. The company’s insurance company would also be very interested.

    1. Just J.*

      Came here to say something similar. If I were the Big Boss, I’d be pretty mad that the windows were open and were a security threat. Also, what if it rained over the weekend and stuff got wet?

      BTW If this really causing this much drama, then take a fact based approach. Does your office have security cameras on the inside or the exterior? Do neighboring buildings have cameras? Seriously, most urban settings are blanketed with cameras. If it’s really that important to nail the culprit, then check the footage to see who was the last to leave. In pretty much every office I have been in, the last one out also alarms the security system for the night. Most – but not all – systems require your unique code to access the system.

      Finally, I would be pushing back as to why people want to pin this on you. Do they think you are irresponsible partier? Is there a perception issue here that needs to be remedied? I would be having a quick conversation with my manager to see if there is anything at play here.

      1. Myrin*

        Regarding your last point, the coworkers seem to suspect OP and her teammates because it’s their specific area where the most poop was found and whose windows were open – which I don’t quite understand because I’d assume that during an office party, people aren’t glued to their usual seats, so why would OP be any more responsible for the windows near her work station than anyone else? But that seems to be the thinking.

    2. ecnaseener*

      That is a very good point. I admit my first reaction to this story was just “why aren’t there bug screens in the windows?” But I guess those won’t keep out a burglar.

    3. Jean*

      THIS! The windows in my office building don’t even open at all, for reasons that to me seem pretty obvious. This situation is so odd, it’s like this letter came through a wormhole from the 1950s or something.

    4. Terrysg*

      Where I work, our build one a but after the last person has left a security guard eckooms, checks that every window was closed and sets the alarm. Does your office have some kind of out hours security?

  27. Onetime Poster*

    LW 3: The one question I kept coming to is “is this really affecting their work?” Like, if they are coming in now from further away than the manager feels is ideal, they are still coming in. Are they late? Basically, what’s the *real* issue here?

    Too, I feel that this LW is putting his/her own assumptions on how this employee should can make a physical move happen. “The rental market isn’t *that” bad here,” or “They make enough money,” etc. That’s not for the manager to be concerned with as he/she doesn’t know what the employee’s situation is. We’ve seen posts about that here before.

    Which is why, ultimately, I keep wondering what the requirement to live physically closer to the office means in terms of the ability of the employee to do the work they were hired to do. Loads of people commute long distances for a job and are okay with it.

    Finally, if it’s required to live within a certain proximity of the office, should this not be in the employment contract? Not just a verbal mention and/or agreement during an interview… a time when people will generally be open to anything in order to make themselves more likely to secure a job. (Look, this is not entirely ethical but it is realistic and human nature.)

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I think they’re still working remotely and haven’t ‘returned’ (in quotes because they were remote since they started) to the office, e.g. they’ve said “they understand training would go more easily in the office” which means it’s currently happening remote. I don’t think the issue is commute length / exact distance from the workplace but rather that they currently aren’t able to work in-person at all.

      I wonder how firm a requirement this is though, as OP says it’s not optional, but also that “realistically we’re not going to fire them”.

      1. Allonge*

        OP says they are not going to fire this person if they miss a specific deadline to move, but ‘we’re not going to fire them’ is not a good place to be in an employment situation even shorter term.

      2. LW3*

        It’s not optional in that if they outright refused to move, we would discuss them leaving.

        Saying ‘here’s a deadline and if you miss it you’re fired’ seems heavy handed to me – if they had something agreed and it fell through last minute, and meant they’d be another couple of weeks, then I don’t think it would be reasonable to fire them in that scenario, which is what I really meant. But perhaps giving a deadline to *be in the office* & let them worry about the details (as I think someone earlier in the comments suggested) is the way to go. It’s not a problem if they decide to commute in and stay a couple of nights in a hotel/hostel every week.

        1. UKDancer*

          I think this is the way to go. They may or may not move. I’ve one colleague who lives on the south coast in Dorset and comes up to London Monday-Wednesday as it’s actually better for them (cost and quality of life) to pay for the hotel than to move to London permanently. It wouldn’t be my choice but he enjoys it as it gives him 2 nights in London to go to the theatre and a view of the sea the rest of the time.

          Tell them what the requirement is for office time, when it will need to be demonstrated from and they can either meet it or explain why not. If they’ve some reason why it’s not possible they need to explore that with you.

        2. Lynn Whitehat*

          I would bet they just don’t want to move, and are hoping to drag it out as long as possible. Ideally forever! But without actually coming out and saying so.

    2. SarahKay*

      LW3 comments above (search for LW3* ) that other than two one-day visits the employee isn’t coming in at all, as they live 3-4 hours away. Not only that but apparently everyone, other new grads included, are agreed that the training works far, far better when they’re on site, plus other new starts have made the move.

      1. Emily*

        Allonge: I 100% agree. It basically sounds like this person is making her lack of knowledge everyone else’s problem. Kathleen, if it is within your realm of control, I definitely think it’s worth looking at how the hiring process can be tweaked to better screen candidates to make sure they have the needed skills. Also, I know you’re worried about this person bad mouthing the organization, but “doesn’t have the basic skills needed and hasn’t made an effort to learn those skills” is a pretty clear cut and understandable reason for someone to lose their job.

        1. Cj*

          I think you’re confusing letter 1 and letter 2. One is the person who refuses to learn how to use a PC instead of a Mac. Letter 3 is the person that said they would move when people had to go back to the office, and so far they have it. They admitted training would be easier in the office, but they aren’t refusing to learn, or making it anybody else’s problem.

          The person in letter one should be fired and fired right now. It sounds like there may be some other workarounds for letters three, like not moving as long as they can be in the office the required three times a week by staying in an Airbnb or similar.

    3. LW3*

      The ‘real issue’ is they’re remote when the rest of the team is in the office 3 days a week and it’s much harder to train remotely.

      Yes, they could have all sorts of things going on I don’t know about – but they also took the job knowing that it was very much not a remote role and have always said they want to/plan to move. I included the detail about what we’re paying and the rental market to try to give some context around how likely it is this is caused by it genuinely being ‘impossible’ to find somewhere to live vs some level of inertia because it’s easier/cheaper for them to stay where they are.

      1. Rosemary*

        I think you are making this way more difficult than it needs to be. If they need to be in the office, tell them they MUST be in the office X number of days per week (or whatever the requirement is) by X date. If they feel they cannot make that deadline, they need to explain NOW why that may not be feasible (and you can assess if reasons are legitimate – such as health issues that need accommodating). But if no legit reasons for not moving are forthcoming – time to show them the door.

      2. anonymous73*

        You’re focusing on the wrong issue here. You can’t force someone to move. You can enforce the need to be in the office though. Give them a deadline and let them know if they can’t be in the office regularly by that day you will need to let them go.

  28. Kathleen*

    I’m the #1 letter writer. Thanks for the advice & follow ups! Wondering if people have specific training ideas. This person said she learns best hands-on, not via tutorials or reading. But we can’t spend days walking her through how to do everything one-on-one…

    1. Allonge*

      This sounds harsh but you may be better off firing her now.

      Specific training preferences could be accommodated (mostly) for one or two systems, but if she does not know how to use practically anything and would only learn in a very high investment fashion, she cannot do the job, and will not be able to do it for months yet.

      Instead of training her, spend the time onboarding someone else who is not starting from scratch, and maybe revise the hiring methods to ensure this level of incompatibility does not happen.

      1. Rosemary*

        Agreed. She sounds like a pain in the you-know-what, and OP has been far too accommodating.

      2. kittymommy*

        Hard agree. Beyond the fact that some of this is just so basic that I’m just flummoxed, the bigger issue is that 1. the employee seems to think that this is a discussion and 2. she has just outright refused to try anything. It does not bode well for the LW>

      3. Mental Lentil*

        I have to agree.

        If I tell someone that this is their job and they’ve had four months to learn and simply refuse to, well….I’d be showing them the door.

        I mean, yes, it can be hard to find employees now. But basically, all your other employees are already doing her job. It’s time to cut her loose.

        She’s taking advantage of your kind nature, I’m afraid.

    2. Doctors Whom*

      Give her Google and YouTube and a deadline and tell her to get with it. Seriously.

      If she’s not capable of learning how to set up a doodle poll using Google and YouTube by her own self, then she needs to move along. This is 101-level stuff and honestly … a professional who needed to switch contexts from Mac would have just gone to Google or YouTube instead of refusing to do basic office tasks. You have an employee who doesn’t *want* to put in the effort.

      You’ve offered training, tutorials, classes. She refused to use any resource you made available. This is a her problem, not a you problem. Give her a list of tasks and tell her that she needs to to get proficient in those basic tasks by x date or she will not be able to retain her position. Ask her which of the tools you have made available that she will take advantage of. Then follow up.

      (I am assuming there is no learning disability in play here that needs to be accommodated, because it is the employee’s responsibility to make known to the employer if they need an accommodation.)

    3. Constance Lloyd*

      Is it feasible to dedicate one day to in person (or virtual) 1:1 training? You could give her a quick training on the basics she keeps interrupting her coworkers for and spend more time giving her at least the building blocks of more complicated programs you use. It won’t make her an expert but it may at least be enough to see if she can learn the job. If she shows some improvement after that training you may at least have an idea of how much hand holding she needs to be successful and decide from there if it’s worth it.

      1. Constance Lloyd*

        (You would be fully justified giving her a deadline to self train and firing her if she doesn’t meet it. You sounded reluctant to doing that, so this in an entirely too generous last ditch effort to consider before parting ways, if you are inclined to be entirely too generous.)

      2. IndustriousLabRat*

        Adding to your suggestion, how she responds to the training (positive/motivated or sullen/grudging) is going to give the LW useful information about her as an employee beyond just the technical skills or lack thereof. Not being trained is surmountable.. not being TRAINABLE is another thing entirely!

      3. Sunny*

        This sounds like such basic ‘it’s 2022 and this is how the world works’ stuff, that I’m not sure a day of training is even reasonable. This isn’t specialized software that only this company uses, or something equally highly skilled.

        And what will happen if, say, doodle polls shut down and people gravitate to something else? Will the company need to take a full day again to train her? That seems ridiculous.

        We use things like surveymonkey a lot, and of course people always have questions. But it’s normal to go in, do what you can yourself, and if there’s something you can’t figure out, you might google and then ask a coworker. Most often, it’s things like finding a setting in an obscure spot, or asking if the program can generally do a certain task, so you can assess whether it meets your needs.

        1. Constance Lloyd*

          I agree. It’s the kind of effort I might put in for a new hire during their first week, but she’s well past that. I also highly suspect that a day of training would not result in noticeable improvement and the real benefit would be making OP more comfortable with the idea of firing her.

      4. GlitsyGus*

        This was my thinking. Give her the video tutorials to start on her own and then a one-day crash course type thing where you or someone on the team can go through and answer her questions, run a couple trial surveys, show her some shortcuts, etc. If she can’t even try to get started on her own, that is a problem, but I understand wanting a chance to bounce of another person.

        Alternately, if there is a seminar class or something like that she could take outside of the office that the company might be willing to cover the cost of, that might help take the burden off her coworkers.

    4. WellRed*

      At the very least require her to run through the tutorials (which are kind of hands on). That’s perfectly reasonable. And yes maybe a one to one session or two but otherwise, I’ll think this person thinks if she holds out long enough you’ll say, ok, jk. You alone don’t have to do this.”

    5. A.N. O'Nyme*

      In your letter you mention you’ve already given her several options which she just ignored, so I think your biggest hurdle is still “make this something she can’t just ignore” and then offer her the options again. If she’s a hands-on learner maybe try getting her set up with the basics and have someone available to answer more niche questions – someone who has the willingness and authority to say she needs to do it herself.
      That said, if you can figure out why she’s so resistant to learning new things that would probably help even more. Learning how to use software you wouldn’t in daily life is a pretty big part of the working world, so I’m genuinely curious why she thinks she can just not do that.

    6. SarahKay*

      “Learns best” is all well and good, but sometimes a person’s preference is not an option and they need to be able to cope.
      Years ago I got given a ‘how you learn best’ test before being sent on some training, and it came out absurdly unbalanced in favour of ‘give SarahKay a book of detailed instructions to read and she’s set’ – a fact for which the trainer apologised, as that wasn’t going to be an option for this training. I survived, I learnt what I needed to perfectly well, and in fact took it in well enough to go on and train others in the new system.
      Is she willing to try things like YouTube tutorials to learn the Windows stuff? If not, then I think this still goes back to what Alison says, that either your new start sucks it up and gets on with it, or she’s just not suitable for the job.

      1. Allonge*

        Yes, ‘how I learn best’ is a piece of information for my own knowledge – if I prefer self-guided learning then it might not make sense to go to a class series on teapot weaving instead of looking up YouTube tutorials. But if I need access to the teapot loom, I will have to take the class, no matter the preference.

        It’s also not something my employer (or the world at large) needs to accommodate at all costs.

      2. LW#1*

        One last thing on this… there is a very limited labor pool in the area where this employee needs to be located, so finding a new person would be especially challenging.

        1. Starbuck*

          Aha, so that’s why she’s getting away with this level of incompetence! Well, maybe the job will have to pay more to lure in someone more qualified. Or, your company is getting what it can pay for at this point.

        2. A Non E. Mouse*

          One last thing on this… there is a very limited labor pool in the area where this employee needs to be located, so finding a new person would be especially challenging.

          Gently…if she’s not doing the work, she’s not actually part of the labor pool you should pull from in the first place.

        3. Sara without an H*

          I can sympathize, having worked for several universities located in small towns. Yes, the labor pool is limited, but you can’t continue to carry an employee who refused for four months to learn basic office tools and now wants to control how she will deign to learn them.

          At most, you can explain that self-instruction is expected, and maybe offer to send her to a class. But you need to get moving on this, because I guarantee you that the rest of your staff are losing patience.

        4. Higher Ed*

          If other people end up having to do her work, you risk them leaving in frustration, then you will have to find additional workers from that limited pool.

      3. Irish Teacher.*

        As a teacher, I’ll just add there is CONSIDERABLE debate about learning styles, to the point that some people doubt they even exist at all, at least in the “x is a visual learner and y learns best by doing” sense. Personally, I do think there is a fair bit in them, although I also think they are more complicated than just the “x is a visual learner” thing, but just to say that the debate does exist and part of it is, I think, because of situations where a person gets so comfortable in their preferred learning style that they get convinced they cannot learn by any other method.

        I also come out absurdly high on the “reading and writing” scale. And yeah, that IS how I like to learn, but it’s not like I refuse to learn in any other format.

    7. Lynca*

      In the workplace you have to be somewhat self-starting to be a successful hands on learner with technology.

      I have to learn new software as part of my role (specialty stuff for analysis) and I learn best by just diving into using the software. That’s how I retain the most useful info. I also often write notes for people that do better with written guides.

      And even though I learn best by “doing,” I still read manuals/watch tutorials! I’ll set up my own projects so I learn how to do certain things in the most effective way for me. Which isn’t always the way the manual directs.

      If she’s really a hands on learner, outline your expectations. You expect progress in her learning by X date. Outline that since she works best as a hands on learner she cannot have others do this work for her. She’s not learning by having other people complete the tasks. And instruct the others not to do the work for her. If there’s no improvement there are XYZ consequences.

      You’ve given her the tools to succeed. She has access to training and the software. She does have to take the steps to learn how to use it.

    8. Just another queer reader*

      Learning an entire operating system as an adult has got to be really hard!

      I don’t have specific teaching advice, but just want to point out that this skill that many of us take for granted is just that – a skill that’s got to be learned.

      Cheering for you and for your employee.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Really, though?

        I’ve used Macs in the past and have managed to muddle through. The basics are common, and these are designed to easy to learn and intuitive.

        And this kind of information I’ve very googable and leads to all kinds of results including videos where you watch someone do it.

        I don’t know about that polling software mentioned, but creating a meeting invite is easy and a matter of putting the right information in the right boxes on the meeting invite. It’s actually not hard to figure it out.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yes if these things are as basic as they sound then most of the info should be very easy to find on Google.

          I’ve never even heard of a “doodle poll” before this thread but I just googled “how to create a doodle poll” and several step-by-step guides were immediately at my fingertips.

          1. Starbuck*

            Also, surely making a Doodle poll has nothing to do with what operating system you’re using? It’s web based!

      2. Doctors Whom*

        The LWs’s employee isn’t being asked to learn an OS. They are being asked to learn basic office tools for doing basic office & project stuff. Those tools happen to be tools run on a different OS, but she’s not being asked to write shell scripts on a Linux box or learn Rust or anything. She’s refused to do ANY learning (tutorials, classes, or training by peers/teammates for FOUR MONTHS). She’s not “trying it and not getting it” or “having a hard time learning” – she’s just refusing to try to learn.

        It takes about 10 minutes to learn how to make a Doodle poll.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes. Most of these tools, e.g. doodle are pretty user friendly because they’re designed to be used by everyone without extensive training. You don’t need Penelope Garcia levels of IT savvy to use them as you’re presumably not asking the member of staff to rewrite the software or do something transformative with the operating system.

        2. Accountant*

          Isn’t Doodle web based anyway? Any program like that is going to be identical regardless of OS.

      3. L.H. Puttgrass*

        The Mac vs. Windows thing is just an excuse. The things LW1 mentions—Microsoft, Sharepoint, calendars, Doodle polls—don’t change that much between the Mac and Windows. MS Office is not identical between Mac and PC, but the differences aren’t big enough to prevent someone who has used it on one platform from being able to use it on the other. Sharepoint is just a web app—it’s the same on Mac and PC. Same with Doodle polls. Calendars are either part of the Office suite or they’re web-based. Either way, pretty much the same on a Mac or PC.

        Now, it can often be annoying to use Windows if you’re a dedicated Mac user, in ways large and trivial. But it shouldn’t be debilitating. LW1’s employee doesn’t have a Mac vs. PC issue; she has an “I don’t want to learn how to use basic business software” issue.

        1. Sunny*

          Exactly. The differences are getting smaller and smaller, especially on those specific platforms. It takes two seconds to learn the different keyboard shortcuts, and a few days to commit them to memory. Or put them on a sticky note in front of you, or something. There are so many options here that don’t involve sending basic admin tasks to your teammates. Which is also insanely entitled and patronizing.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          I have to admit I have wanted to throw my husband’s Mac out the window because I can’t make it do a VERY SIMPLE THING in MS Office. But I also have to admit I’ve done no training.

        3. Birdie*

          Yep. I just started a new job this week, and after 2 decades in the PC world, I am now in a Mac office. And it’s just not that hard! There are some little quirks, but I spend most of my way working in Word, Excel, Outlook, and some fundraising-specific web-based platforms. All of it works pretty much the same on both OS.

          My much bigger challenge has been the new office uses Google cloud storage and I spent my of my first day trying to figure that out. Very different from my old physical server. But I’ll get there soon enough.

      4. J.B.*

        Windows is not that different from Mac, and it’s a big complication to support both types of devices.

      5. Sylvan*

        I learned to use Mac OS as an adult. It’s fine. Some buttons aren’t quite where you expect to find them? You get used to it in a week or less.

      6. Accountant*

        Aside from the fact that these operating systems aren’t that different, neither operating system has been static for the past 30 years. They’ve each had at least one huge overhaul that would be akin to switching between their current versions. And practically everyone who grew up using Macs (which is A LOT of people since they were the dominant computer in schools at one point) had to learn to use Windows if they started working in an office. It’s really not that much of a lift.

      7. A.N. O'Nyme*

        It’s not an entirely new OS though. A lot of stuff is very similar (it’s juuuust different enough to get on your nerves, but cmd-s Vs ctrl-s is not that difficult to figure out). The main difference is Apple’s closed ecosystem means they know exactly what’s in and on the devices that runs their OS, meaning they can optimise it better. Windows, on the other hand runs on as many configurations and they have no way to test all possibilities, with the end result being something that’s held together with duct tape (seriously, it’s a miracle it just works most of the time). On the side of most users the two are actually very similar (except Mac allows you to uninstall those preinstalled programs you never use and uses similar if not the same command prompts as Linux instead of proprietary ones, but that’s getting into things that I doubt apply here). I will complain about Windows all day if you let me, but this person still needs to get over herself and learn basic office tasks – even if that means learning Microsoft programs. Which aren’t *that* different from Mac ones.

      8. Observer*

        Learning an entire operating system as an adult has got to be really hard!

        Considering how many adults learned to use computers altogether as adults, I’m going to totally disagree with you. A significant percentage of the staff I’ve worked with over the years had either never used a computer or only used Macs prior to starting with us. We’re a Windows shop. I have NEVER had someone who couldn’t manage the switch and only one person who came close to not being able to learn how to use a computers.

        We worked around that one person. But that was because they preceded the computers with a track record of really being willing to do whatever they needed to, and they were PHENOMENAL at the core functions of their job.

        I’m talking about hundreds of people over the course of decades.

      9. Clisby*

        This is not learning an entire operating system. That would be like hiring someone experienced in creating apps for Mac to write code for Windows. This is just learning to use apps running on an operating system she’s not familiar with.

      10. Worldwalker*

        As an adult — I’m 59 — I’ve gone from VMS to RSX-11M to MS-DOS to Win3.1 to Win95 to Win…various, with branches into MacOS, iOS (phone and pad), Android, and multiple flavors of *nix. And a few others that I forget … oh, used CP/M at one point, and briefly OS/2, and what *did* the old DEC-10 run, anyway?)

        No. It’s not hard. It’s not any harder than learning to use any other new tool. They can all do the same basic things, like moving files around or running specific programs. It’s just a matter of knowing what the specific way of doing it in *this* particular system is, and doing it that way. That’s particularly true for graphic interfaces; no matter what GUI I’m looking at, there will be ways to do the things I need to do, and I just have to find out what those are.

        You’re not *writing* the operating system, you’re using it — and modern OS are designed to be easy for anyone to use.

      11. Sara without an H*

        She’s not being asked to learn an operating system — it doesn’t sound as though coding is required here. She’s being asked to learn some well-established office tools for which there are many, many sources for instruction.

        And I say this as one who’s had to adapt to decades worth of new tools (anybody remember WordStar?). The only one that really threw me was when we switched from DOS to Windows. For that, I paid $90 out of pocket to attend a one-shot class offered by our Continue Education Center.

        Yes, I am that old.

    9. Ari*

      I’m curious if you brought up the necessary software skills during the interview process and how she responded? For practical advice, our local university has continuing ed courses in all kinds of things, including various types of software (although I don’t know how much of this is in person right now). If she really needs a hands-on option, that might be the best solution to prevent your team from taking time away from their own work to teach her basic software skills. Of course you’d have to decide whether the company is willing to pay for the courses. Best of luck to you!

    10. Nea*

      There’s “I learn best hands on” and there’s “I’m looking for excuses to avoid this,” and from what you’re describing, it’s undeniably the latter case. She’s had people offering to step her through, which is hands on. She’s had classes offered, which are hands on.


      Four months and a place to put test documents is the ultimate hands on training! Right there! She’s had Four! Whole! Months! to watch and document what other people do when she asks for help. Sixteen weeks to open up a blank calendar/poll/spreadsheet/word doc and find out what happens when you press that button.
      80 working days to ask how, try herself, make mistakes, ask how to fix them, try again, and grasp the basics of what she needs.

      And I’ll be blunt, usually all you need to “master” a piece of software is to learn just four commands: create, edit, save, delete. Even when it’s a little fancier than that – fonts, formulas – you’ll still only need to really know maybe two or three of those. Everything else you can look up.

      OP #1, in your shoes I’d fire her for not being a self-starter (four months, ye gods, I’d sell a kidney to have that kind of luxury; I had to learn LaTeX in 2 days and Confluence in 1).

      But if you’re absolutely sure there needs to be a last chance, then it is a PIP, with this performance basis:
      Pick the 5 most-often used pieces of software in her job
      – In the morning, someone will sit with her for one hour and show her the basics of exactly one type of software
      – She has all day to get handsy with the software and one person to ask questions
      – At a defined time before close of business that day, she must produce at least one fill-in-the-blank in that software. One poll. One Word document. One Excel spreadsheet. One calendar invite.

      The next day, the next piece of software and another item produced for the software the day before.

      Because right now you’re paying her to get other people to do her work.

      1. Worldwalker*

        LaTeX in 2 days? I’m in awe of you! I’m teaching myself Blender right now but I have more than 2 days to do it in. (great quote from my boss: “Well, that’s *a* texture…”) LaTeX is out where the marble doesn’t roll on the learning curve.

    11. Just my 4 cents*

      What I sometimes tell managers is let’s just start fresh – like rebooting your computer. Sounds like she has what to her is a lot to learn, so set up some one-on-one training on navigating Microsoft systems. Once you learn how to move around (and search help) in one Microsoft product it is easier to do it in another. The caveat is Sharepoint, that is a whole different monster to me, so I’d say have a specific training on that as well. Once she gets more comfortable with this, I think she’ll be able to do more training on her own.

      The other thing I would suggest is having either a training doc or link to a tutorial that you can be sent when she asks someone how to do something. — Create a Doodle poll for me please? Here are instructions on how to do that. If you get stuck, let me know where you are stuck and I can walk you through it.

      1. Allonge*

        set up some one-on-one training on navigating Microsoft systems

        Just a reflection on this: for this one, you need a person who 1. knows Mac 2 knows Microsoft 3 can train 4 has availability. It’s not impossible, but depending on the org size might be a pretty big ask (or takes quite some money – where do you find a trainer like this?).

        I would never do this for anyone who is not otherwise a great worker and has essential skills.

      2. Temperance*

        I can’t wrap my head around needing to be taught over and over to use a Doodle poll. She seems unteachable if she hasn’t picked up these basic skills by now.

    12. Beth*

      Unless this employee has some incredibly fabulous special skill that makes it worth your while to let her set all the conditions of her job — why are you spending so much time and effort to retain her? Because I can promise that your other employees are wondering this. Would you rather keep her and lose your best people when they get fed up with her, or lose her and keep everyone else?

    13. giraffecat*

      Your local community college or public library may have classes/workshops that she can take for more hands on learning on some of the basic stuff.

    14. Sunny*

      I think this person has well passed any reasonable attempts to train them. Four months of refusal on such basic software is severe jerk move. There are so many options out there for self-learning, and I’m not sure how much more ‘hands-on’ you can get than being in the job. Instead, she’s sending things to other people! That’s ballsy. And entitled.

      I’m curious what her previous roles were – was she in a high-level role, where she had assistants? I’m just trying to wrap my head around someone being this inept in office computer basics in 2022. Has she just never worked in a desk job before? In which case, sure, I get it. Or is it an age thing? I’ve worked with a lot of older people, and have found there are people where it’s legitimately an uphill battle to keep up – but those people have usually made up for it with an excess of skills elsewhere, and could still manage basics like most of this (except SharePoint, b/c it really does suck!). But not nearly as many people as we like to assume, and as time goes on, fewer and fewer.

      Age aside, I have little patience for this type of attitude – computers weren’t a thing when I started working, and I learned. As have all of us. Hell, the people who invented computers and started most of the tech we use today weren’t born with this knowledge. It’s just not an excuse anymore.

      You really need to put this person on a PIP and move on. This is way past the limits, and the rest of your team is likely watching how you handle this too, and making their own decisions about whether to stay with your company. I don’t think one employee can do that much damage externally that you absolutely have to keep them, but they can do a lot of internal damage that eventually spills externally as people start leaving en masse.

    15. Nancy*

      There are hands-on video tutorials that walk people through the steps for almost everything now.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        And, if you have access to LinkedIn Learning (our library offers access to it), you can get practice documents WITH the tutorials to work hands-on along with them.

    16. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Try having her do the Northstar Digital Literacy courses/exams? They cover basic proficiency for most of the core microsoft systems. It won’t cover anything super specific to your organization, but she should be able to open and save files, find them, and do most of the basic stuff afterwards. then you can focus on 1-on-1 for the workplace specific bits.

    17. ecnaseener*

      Agreed with Nea that she’s had four months to get hands-on practice. Has she ever said “hey, I don’t know how to use Doodle – could we do one together so I can learn it?” to anyone? Or has she just passed the work off to others and not tried to learn?

    18. SomebodyElse*

      Honestly I’d be starting a PIP now. Detail out the specific things she must know how to do unaided, throw a reasonable deadline on there, and provide the training options you have already provided (which doesn’t include 1:1 training at this point assuming you’ve already done that). LinkedIn, Google, YouTube, specific training from the app website, internal IT training (if it exists), and UDEMY are all good resources.

      If she’s unwilling or unable to learn basic tools of the job, what else is she going to be unwilling or unable to do? I guarantee there is some other person who would love to take the job and either already has the skills or is willing and able to learn them.

    19. Accountant*

      “Learns best” =/= cannot learn any other way.

      I’m also curious if other people are fulfilling her requests to do these tasks for her, and if they are you need to tell them to stop. At the moment there’s no particular motivation for her to put in the effort.

    20. Temperance*

      Fire her. At this point, she’s a net loss for your org; she can’t do her job, and she expects other people not to do their jobs to help her learn basic things like sending attachments.

      If you’re not going to can her, I would tell her to Google and find in-person classes. She’s got the deficiency, she needs to fix it. Otherwise, YouTube has great videos.

    21. Observer*

      This person said she learns best hands-on, not via tutorials or reading. But we can’t spend days walking her through how to do everything one-on-one…

      You can pay someone to do SOME training with her. But it’s not reasonable or realistic to expect someone to walk her through every. single. thing. So, get someone to walk her through the very basics, expect her to learn the rest through videos / tutorials, and then perhaps have someone walk her through some company specific stuff.

      She’s free to find someone to walk her through stuff on her own time. There’s just a limit to what she can expect you to do.

      1. Observer*

        By the way, I’m not saying that you NEED to hire anyone for any of this. I am saying that if for some reason you want to make a last ditch effort to help her (or you had a great new hire who needs some extra help) this is something you COULD do.

        If you aren’t ready to do this, I totally would think you are being reasonable. I would suggest sending her some decent videos and telling her that at this point it’s on her to find someone to step her through stuff.

    22. Wisteria*

      You don’t have to spend days in a row giving her hands-on training for everything she needs to know. You can identify different people (ie, spread the work around so she’s not always asking the same person) to help with tasks as they come up. In other words, the next time she asks someone for help, that person should not do it for her, they should give her the hands on training she is asking for. You should make clear to everyone that this is how you would like them to proceed.

      Have a list of things she needs to be able to do on her own and a time frame when she should be able to do them on her own that you revisit regularly as she makes progress. You could make this a PIP if you want that level of formality, or just track her progress informally and save the PIP in case she doesn’t make progress and/or you are ready to draw a line and terminate her if she won’t perform these tasks on her own.

    23. Worldwalker*

      My preferred style is to hack at something for a bit, then read the documentation, rinse, repeat. That way I understand what they’re referring to with X menu or Y option when I read about it, and I can transfer what I read directly to what I’m doing. Maybe that would work for her?

      Unless I misunderstand you, this is typical office software we’re talking about, not some really weird and specialized program for a specific industry? If so, it’s not unreasonable, in this day and age, to expect someone who takes an ordinary office job to know how to use ordinary office software, just like you’d expect them to know how to use a telephone. This isn’t rocket science, or even Kerbal Space Program. If she’s not willing to do this, she may well be in the wrong job. And given that I’ve never had a job that *didn’t* require me to learn something new, repeatedly, from using complicated computer software to making beaded earrings (that was harder!), I’m not sure what job will be the right one for her.

    24. fhqwhgads*

      In all seriousness, unless you’re using some super specialized software – in which case she needs training on that, not Windows – if she has reasonable average office-worker competence with Macs, she should be able to get used to Windows in a couple weeks on her own if she tried at all. I suspect “Windows” is a red herring for her either being crap at anything computer-related or for her wanting to keep foisting off the work.

  29. TimeTravlR*

    We have the ability on Teams to create our own backgrounds with graphics or pictures we’ve taken. I rather enjoy seeing them as I think it gives me insight into the personalities of others, especially as we are not spending as much time together in person.

    As to the employee who hasn’t moved, I am a little put off by LW’s assumption that there’s no financial reason why this person hasn’t moved. But that’s not really the point so I’ll move on. But if this person is doing a good job remotely, is it really that critical that they come into the office? If you aren’t willing to let them go over it now (maybe ever??), could you just allow them to be remote? I hope more employers will consider this as an option.

    1. Robin*

      This. Especially when the company has been fully remote for two years. Whatever convenience you get from the employee being on site, does it really offset the effect on that employee (and their productivity to you) of burdening them with the massive stress and cost of moving, and permanently shortening their day with a commute?

  30. Doctors Whom*

    I have a colleague who is a hunter and his home office has a mounted deer. He is sensitive to the fact that not everyone finds hunting acceptable/is comfortable with his deer so he uses a pretty innocuous background. Hides the deer nicely.

    But every once in awhile something will happen like the FedEx guy shows up and his dog goes crazy and he pops off camera and then Zoom is like “well where is the face I am supposed to focus on” and it decides that the DEER is the person on the call. So when Fergus gets up from his desk, the deer head magically appears in the frame.

    It’s utterly hilarious. I call it the Ghost Deer.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Just had a meeting with someone whose coat rack stood in for them before they sat down. It was adorable.

    2. quill*

      I’d be playing a coffee drinking game. Take a shot when the Deer attends the meeting! (Don’t.)

      1. Teapot Gnome*

        One time I was helping a customer on zoom only to have the zoom background glitch for a sec and show their partner silently eating a sandwich right next to them (honestly, impressive skills). I don’t know if they knew I knew so I just pretended I didn’t see it but it was a little startling plus then I knew they were back there “hiding” during the rest of the call. And makes me wonder what other things could have been hiding in other calls, haha.

  31. RPOhno*

    LW 3: is it possible that this person is trying to buy rather than rent? The real estate market is so competitive right now that if he’s looking to buy, a lot of what he’s said and what’s going on clicks better than for looking to rent. He could really be putting in a good effort and still getting outbid on everything by a significant margin, which, in turn, is psychologically exhausting.

    LW 4: keep in mind that some of us, though not as extreme as taking calls from the garage, don’t have the luxury of a space that is conducive to a professional backdrop. That said, background blur is usually less obnoxious than “Caribbean beach” while still hiding that my office is also my fiancee’s office and our craft room…

    1. LW3*

      No. It’s a new grad, property prices here are crazy… even if that was the case to some extent it’s not my problem right? If someone wants to buy they can still rent short term whilst they’re looking.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        My coworker who I discussed below had just graduated and started her job but still had caretaking duties for her parents thanks to long COVID. Don’t assume she’s able to move at the drop of a hat just because she is young and doesn’t have kids (that you are aware of). Hell, she might be looking for a rental that can accommodate her own disability which she hasn’t had to disclose since she was working remotely. Negotiate a timeline, stick to it, but if it doesn’t work out remember there could be reasons that you are not privy to at this time. If she decides to quit rather than move, give a recommendation based on her work, not her ability to relocate.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          At this point, though, it’s not the drop of a hat–she’s been on notice that she’s expected to move for awhile. And if she can’t for personal reasons, it’s on her to say so (not necessarily what the reasons are, specifically, but that she has family obligations, etc., that mean she needs an extension).

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            What she needs is a deadline that she can negotiate if there are any barriers to moving or can quit by. LW3 needs to set that first rather than get frustrated that the move/logistics to come in 3 days a week hasn’t happened yet.

            1. biobotb*

              The needing to move wasn’t sprung on the employee, so if she has barriers that could warrant negotiation, she should have mentioned them already.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          But it *is* safe to assume she’s able to move when you said “this is a stipulation of you getting this job” and she said “yes, I will do that.”

          1. AnotherLibrarian*

            Right. They knew the job wasn’t remote. They accepted the job. It’s isn’t LW3’s job to manage this problem. The employee should have never taken the job if they couldn’t move and if something suddenly came up where they couldn’t move, it would be their responsibility to let LW3 know that. The employees’ housing is not LW3s problem to solve.

      2. Robin*

        If someone wants to* do this debilitatingly expensive thing, they can surely do this other debilitatingly expensive thing at the same time, right?

        * I want them to

        1. I should really pick a name*

          But the details ARE the employee’s problem, not the employer’s.
          They agreed to a job that would have to be on-site. Whether they want to buy, rent, or commute is not for the employer to solve (though the employer is welcome to assist).

          The only really flaw I see is that a deadline wasn’t specified up front.