I love Ask A Manager. It has been a tremendous resource as I transitioned back to a normal work environment after 17 years. Yes, I spent 17 years working 100% commission with a bunch of sharks, but I digress. Today is about Covid and the workplace.
During the past year on Ask a Manager, there was a constant flow of letters about people working from home (WFH) and the trials and tribulations of that. Letters from folks being forced to come back to the workplace and they didn’t feel safe. People looking for jobs and how the company handled Covid is a determining factor. Then recently she had a letter and opened comments to folks who never went home. This post had over 1,100 comments. The most I have ever seen. I didn’t comment, but read through quite a few.
I have been thinking about where we were a year ago compared to where we are today. Last year this time, it was very scary, but we had gotten into a routine.
I never asked to WFH because I knew that it wouldn’t fly with my boss. I stuck it out. At first, I was scared and slightly angry. This lasted about 6 weeks. My company put into place stringent precautions: mandatory mask wearing, minimum 6 feet separation between workstations, temperature checks, tons of hand sanitizer, a health pledge requiring us to be careful with our activities so we don’t bring it to the office.
I did temperature checks for quite a while until we purchased the automated devices. I developed janitorial specs and procedures to make sure we were cleaning the offices correctly. I worked on spacing the workstations. I did a lot of the implementation. It helped me calm down because I learned a lot about COVID and how it was spreading. I felt like I knew what I needed to do to stay safe.
While I was in the office, over half the staff went home. In other locations, everyone went home and stayed home. A guy who lived in my building stayed home while I went to work every day. He would go boating on the weekend with his buddies while I stayed home. Grrr.
I also watched senior leadership steer the corporate ship through these incredibly stormy waters. I was on the sidelines as the leadership battled amongst one another about WFH versus being in the office. I saw their stress about keeping the company afloat. I saw a CEO who is responsible for the paychecks of over 500 people come to the office day after day to try to keep us on track. I saw a company filled with good people who put their heads down and keep churning out work. I saw the CEO reluctantly embrace the fact that people can WFH and be successful. The result was a record-breaking year.
I do not have answers for the right way to respond to the pandemic. I know that our leadership approached it from a science and fact-based approach. I know that the leadership is very politically diverse, so thanks to the team-building coaching they had completed, they had the skills to listen and negotiate with one another. Did they get it right all the time? No, but they are human.
Did we have outbreaks where it spread between employees? The official answer is no, but I disagree. I do think it was limited, but we did have some community spread. I was exposed when I took my mask off in a car with my bestie, who tested positive five days later. I was incredibly lucky.
A year later, I admit that I am glad I had to come to the office. I am thankful that my life stayed pretty normal throughout the pandemic. I am very, very fortunate. My vaccine has kicked in. My office has rescinded the mask wearing with some caveats about continuing social distancing. The final chapters of the pandemic have hopefully begun.