Back to the office: When, where, and mostly, why?

Are you a nervous introvert to who dreads going back to the office? Or are you a lonely extrovert who can’t wait for those sessions around the water cooler?

While Mike Causey is away, please enjoy this column which originally published April 21, 2022.

Are you a nervous introvert to who dreads going back to the office? Or are you a lonely extrovert who can’t wait for those sessions around the water cooler? Or do you not have a clue what a water cooler is? Whatever your status, things are changing. Again!

In some places the changes are happening fast. As in very fast for the government, as offices move back to 2019, pre-COVID mode. In others, despite White House back-to-the-office policy, returning employees from home to office is taking more time.

Merchants in many federal enclaves from metro D.C. to San Antonio, Huntsville, Alabama, and Ogden, Utah, are anxious to have feds returning to restaurants, parking lots and stores per the good old (for them) days!

According to news reports many people have, or will, quit their jobs if forced to return to an office. But does that group include feds, especially those vested in their retirement system? Probably not, but who knows? So we put the same home-or-office question to a group of readers in a variety of agencies and locations. And as always, we got lots of different and interesting takes:


I have never left the office! LOL

I think I worked from home maybe three days during the entire pandemic. I could do this, as I’m the sole occupant of my small office in the Indy federal building. I do still wear a mask in enclosed spaces even though I’m not required to out of a healthy respect for how fast & far COVID can spread.

I can tell you though that regardless of what the CDC, the SAFER workforce, some politicians or executives say, a LOT of employees are VERY apprehensive about coming into the office even twice a pay period. They have a lot of social anxiety & believe the last two years have shown they can work from home full time.

A small percentage want to return to the office but I look for many to retire if they can or find another job because of this trepidation. — Duncan Giles

Still working from home, but occasionally go into the office for a more reasonable work pace. From home, working is from sunup to sundown, no set aside lunch hour, breaks or 10 minutes walk with a colleague to get a coffee or fresh air. The work filters over into at least a few hours each weekend. My agency was understaffed before COVID, and things seem to have only gotten worse. Even if they’re able to hire someone, it takes about six months for the newbie to get up to speed. In the meantime, us long timers get to do our work and train the newbie. Every fall, we’re fearful what the brain drain and stampede to retirement will leave us. The saving grace is serving the public by doing good work and knowing that one day our time will come, and we’ll join in the stampede. — MV

And finally this deeper dive from an Energy Department worker:

I am going into the office two days per pay period. That’s the minimum standard for telework here. Most folks pick one day of the week. I go in Tuesdays and Wednesdays of the first week. That way I can catch the Tuesday and Wednesday people. In spite of that strategy, the office is still fairly empty, like 5:30 p.m. on a regular day, but before, well before. Almost every one teleworks/works remotely. Everyone except for N. who lives withing walking distance and is basically off the grid at home; he comes in every day. If I were within walking distance I would walk to work everyday also. Maybe I could get rid of these extra COVID pounds.

Telework is fairly established now. I do not see it getting more restrictive than two days in the office per pay period. At least not for a long time, at least not until the glitches and flaws become noticeable. Remote work is a different animal, and means you do not go into the office at all. We have had remote workers in the larger “office” for a very long time. Right now we have a budget person who is in Idaho, or Washington, and has been doing that since well before the virus hit. There may be others. With remote work, you get paid where you live, (or have an address) not where the office is (except for a few cases where you live outside the locality pay area, but within 50 miles of the office).

A number of smart people have noted that this situation will make it harder to maintain engagement. One half of engagement is identifying with the organization. Being apart means extra work just maintaining organizational “Esprit de Corps,” no less developing or increasing it. It is a great challenge. No water cooler, no chats in the hallway, no birthday cake, etc. Likewise on-boarding a new employee, developing the employee, integrating the new employee, etc. will be more difficult than before. Some SES mentioned learning “how the building works” will be a problem. That’s a major challenge, even when you are in the office full time. I still don’t know “how the building works” after more than 20 years here. I have concluded it does not actually “work;” it operates in some fashion, and how it operates is not clear to me at all. It kind of just muddles along.

Thoughts? Love to hear from you!

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Abigail Russ

In the 19th century, roller coasters had perfectly circular loops, but the rapid onset of curvature caused extreme G-force spikes that rattled passengers to their core. Coney Island’s Flip Flap Railway could exert up to 14 G’s on a person, more force than astronauts and fighter pilots. Now modern roller coasters are a loop rather than a circle.

Source: Vox

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