Returning to the Office:

I haven’t checked to see if any admin rules have come up for Covid-19 but this post will be about returning to the office full time and picking the brains of a forum of great people on how to effectively get things done and keep safe. As a background, I work at a law firm, we are all more than six feet apart, and will be returning to work in the office full time on Monday regardless of our ability to WFH.

So here are my thoughts:

  1. Less physical paper: My office is not paperless - I work with many old-school attorneys who require paper. With that being said, I still want to keep redundant copies of everything in the electronic file. This will be a good backup in case we are quarantined again, and a good practice to avoid needlessly touching shared documents. This requires some sub-goals: a) come up with an efficient naming nomenclature that everyone would follow, b) setting up text-expander snippets to more easily create those names, and c) come with up a sort of Readers Digest sheet on how I want things to be done so my staff can mirrors said naming nomenclature.

  2. Being in the office: I’m very bad at keeping 8-5 hours - I typically end up goofing around for an hour after lunch, and stay until 6-630. My goal is to no longer do so and only be in the office when required. With more of my documents paperless, if I need to work later I can do so at home and away from space involving other people.

  3. Focus: I’m going to put very strict controls on my phone to keep myself focused at work. With the economy behaving as it is, I need to prove my value to my office and the only way I can do that is bill time. I’m hoping between the time constraints of forcing myself to leave at five and the limits to the outside world, I will be able to get more done in shorter periods of time and continue to prove my value to my firm.

  4. Cleanliness: I have a habit of files ending up spread throughout my desk, chairs in my office, book shelves, etc. Because I want to avoid touching things needlessly, all files with be in the filing cabinets if not actively being worked on. I want everything clear so it can be disinfected each day and so I can try to feel more at ease at work in general.

Does anyone have suggestions on these goals, anything they think I have overlooked, or any other insights? I appreciate your time and advice as always.

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I’m hoping that we “see the light” as a business sector and begin to see value in WFM strategies. Often companies are too reliant on eating up hours of the day in meetings. Pow Wows at the table can be valuable but they are prone to more socialization than probably required to convey the needed information. This leads to the passing of illness. Every year I watch as my wife’s office is beset with colds that get passed around.

Collaborative tools are plenty but how many companies really leverage them? I think meetings should skew towards gap analysis the planning states should be well visualized in various tools that convey the larger picture to those who are part of the process.

I know with my undiagnosed ADHD that I need blocks of time to shut out the world and grind out work, in office environments few get this benefit thus they have to take work home and address it when they have “quiet time”.

We have to become more agile especially in the arena of security. I’ve worked for some many companies that have all these fantastic tools that relatively ineffective after the security clamps have squeezed out any real utility.

Bring your own lunch and eat at your desk. Bring tools to clean up after.

Honestly. Don’t.

If you can work from home you should continue to do so. Anything else is irresponsible.

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I agree with you but if my options are “work in the office like everyone else is required to do” or “lose my job when there are 20 million unemployed workers,” unfortunately “work in the office” is the only way to pay my mortgage.

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Could you shift your schedule earlier? Companies not doing WFH can still reduce transmission by narrowing their definition of core hours.

Nope, I am required to be in the office the hours that the courts are open, so 8-5 M-F.

Believe me, I’ve tried to convince the office otherwise - I’ve proposed showing up MFW in the office and working from home TR, I’ve proposed splitting the office into an A Team and a B team to reduce contact with other people where half the staff comes in one week and half works at home then vice versa, I’ve proposed getting internet based phones so I can answer the office phone from my house and not have to be here, I already have Rescuetime on my computer and can offer them reports on everything I do throughout the day.

No matter what I suggest, we only have 11 employees and two floors of offices and work in an essential industry. We comply with the distancing recommendations by the governor, have and will remain an essential industry, and are therefore are in business.

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This is a tough place to be in. Bad choices and pressures all around. Sorry that you and millions others are in the same bind, facing work requirements versus personal safety. I hope you can stock up on the best PPE you can, have a safe way to get to/from work, and can maintain the safe distancing before and after work. Take care of yourself. If I were in those shoes I would do my d-mdest to be in-the-face with my employer to make them recognize that personal safety is more important than state “guidelines” that are tainted by political pressure more than founded on data-driven science.

I’ll be facing a similar situation shortly. We’re classed as an essential service (financial services) and so we have been ‘open’ throughout lockdown. Those first weeks in March we were split into two ‘teams’ of seven and spent alternating weeks in the office / working from home. This only lasted three weeks and after that we have left the office manned by three ‘volunteers’ with the other eleven of us working from home. We have a small open plan office that is probably suitable for ten, though there is probably 95% work space and 5% non-work space.

In my previous job with another employer I could split my week between office and home as our systems and infrastructure had been built to suit, so I am quite used to working from home and have a suitable home office to work from. However with my current job/employer there is an assumption that you are, for the majority of the time, present at your desk in order to work as part a team.

There is a quite a strict open plan office culture in the company I assume derived from the idea that it is more collaborative. The fact that much of my role requires deep work that cannot be done in an open office with the myriad of distractions means I end up doing this work at home in my own time.

I could quite easily undertake 80%-100% of my role working from home permanently and so I hope that there is a change deep within the organisation that could see the benefit to this.

We have had a communication last week that the business is looking at how they will get people back to work, I believe they have been surveying our various offices to see what realistic number of people they can get in to meet social distancing guidelines. We do have certain roles in our business that really do need to be office based (due to our current systems and procedures) and so I can understand that these people should be encouraged back to the office when it is safe to do so in order that they can do jobs properly.

Selfishly, I really do hope that my employer takes this as an opportunity to change the way we work. I have been more productive during lockdown at home, and as an introvert, working in an open office is exhausting for me. So for me, lockdown can last forever if it means I can complete my work in a much healthier (for me) way.

Selfishly, I really do hope that my employer takes this as an opportunity to change the way we work. I have been more productive during lockdown at home, and as an introvert, working in an open office is exhausting for me. So for me, lockdown can last forever if it means I can complete my work in a much healthier (for me) way.

With you 100% on this.

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This guide for laypersons by immunologist and biologist Professor Erin Bromage is the best thing on Covid 19 I’ve read.

I highly recommend reading it all…

(Spotted on Kottke.org)

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Regarding the paper-less part of the question, I think you need to be realistic about how much you can do by yourself. Unless you can get institutional buy-in or from support staff, you really have to triage how you do it. I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent by my trusty scansnap. Things have gotten a lot easier for me since most of the courts I appear before are on efiling. I don’t use naming conventions though. I use DEVONthink and have described my workflow here

It may sound extreme, but have you started looking for a new job with more flexibility?

My boss suggested we all start coming back next week also, but I pushed back verbally in our weekly GoToMeeting asking what to do if we don’t feel comfortable with that. He let up and said it was not mandatory. Our state just started to reopen and I am waiting a couple weeks to see how that goes before getting too crazy. Thankfully I’ve shown I am as or more productive WFH so I feel confident this won’t threaten my employment.

Bonus: a couple co-workers emailed me after the meeting thanking me for speaking up as they had the same fears of going back too early.

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Interestingly my boss asked our team a couple of questions today which had clearly come from our HR department:

  1. What is your immediate preference, to work from home or from the office?
  2. If we asked you to work from the office would you be happy to assuming all precautions were taken in respect of social distancing etc?

We were advised earlier in the week that were no immediate plans to change the working from situation (though he himself has started showing up in the office on an ad hoc basis for the past two weeks).

Obviously I answered ‘home’ for the first question and for the second I replied ‘see 1’. My preference is to WFH so would I be happy, probably not, but at the end of the day if they said you have to come back I have no choice, do I?

I’m grateful I have a job and have been in continuous employment for 32 years.

That second question is pretty heavily loaded and I’d be nervous about answering it. Easy for that response be used against me.

Despite being in a region that’s starting its phased re-opening this weekend, indications from my office are that we may not be asked to return to the office en masse until September. Before hearing this, I had told my manager that I’m preparing myself for working from home through August if not longer. In part, this is because there’s no sense in thinking short-term if there’s a strong possibility that this won’t be short-term, so I may as well make myself as comfortable as I can for as long as possible.

Once things do re-open, will I go back to the office 5 days a week? Unlikely. My manager was already OK with me working one day per week from home, though I hadn’t started doing that. Now? I’ll take advantage of that for sure, especially since I’ve got a decent workspace built out now. Also, I’d need to see a lot of changes to the cube farm layout to even consider spending 8 hours a day there. Things like higher walls, more space between people, and a lot more care taken with common areas.

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I mean that’s a long term plan, but I just graduated in 2018 and live in a very crowded legal market - I know people where it’s taken months for them to find jobs and that was pre-Covid induced possible recession.

My present goals are networking and becoming as good as I can in my particular area of law so I’m more valuable as an associate. This way I can either (1) use my technical skills to convince my job to give me the flexibility I would like, or (2) use said skills to find a new job once I’m in a good position to market myself