Between You and Me: No commute but no sick days in this new world
By Leah S. Dunaief
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but I tested positive last night for COVID,” was the text message from one of our staff in Wednesday’s morning mail. “My sister tested positive, and I was not feeling good so I tested. I am figuring I will work from home the rest of the week and should be OK to return Monday … I just have a headache and a really bad sore throat. No cough. [Not to worry] I wore my mask [this past] Monday and Tuesday at work because I was not feeling good.”
These are the two ways the landscape for businesses has changed.
First, at any moment, COVID can alter the day’s lineup. The wildly contagious coronavirus can attack anyone, even those who have been vaccinated, those who have also been boosted and those who have already suffered with a previous bout of the disease. No one is safe, unless they have stayed in a cave alone for over two years, and hence no establishment or sports team or orchestra is immune from shake up on a daily basis.
The second change is made possible by the ability to work remotely. Not every worker can do so. Conductors cannot drive trains remotely, sanitation workers cannot clean remotely and surgeons cannot remove an appendix remotely. At least not yet. But many jobs do lend themselves to being discharged from afar. And this has led to some unintended consequences.
Workers have discovered that they sometimes enjoy doing their jobs from home. Yes, they might miss the socializing that is a part of the office scene. And they might feel like they can come up with new ideas better in an in-person gathering. But they really like working on their own timetable, with time out for a walk or to throw in a wash. Of course, the typical work schedule is altered. They can sit at the computer well into the night, with no separation between work time and free time. And they can be with their families more, for better and worse.
So some in my office, who can perform their jobs from home, are asking to do that. In fact, they are requesting and getting software that enables access to their desk computers at work. They can then tap into the key items they need to complete their tasks. That also suggests they are still there. Which reminds me of the early days, when I worked at a large corporation, and we might leave a few minutes early but hung our sweaters on the back of the desk chairs to give the impression we were returning.
One staffer even asked if she could borrow a desk chair from the office. She says it makes her feel totally comfortable when working in her house. It used to be that workers tried to transform their office space into reminders of home, with photos, pillows, plants and the like. Now we have the opposite. Employees are transforming their home workspace into their offices.
As you can tell from the text I quoted, we have no expectation of sick days. We assume that if we are conscious, we can still produce whatever we are responsible for producing. Where before we might have had food trays brought to us in bed, now we have our laptops perched across our midriffs if we remain horizontal.
What will happen next?
For some, working remotely is a dream come true. My oldest grandson has a terrific job that can only be done remotely, and he feels immense freedom to live anywhere he chooses. That’s not so different from when I had just graduated from college and decided where I wanted to live, knowing that wherever I moved, I would be able to find a job because there were more jobs than people to fill them in the 1960s. For others, a hybrid work week seems ideal: the best of the office for two or three days, and no commuting the rest of the week. Only those with no choice may be peeved.