Ready to go back to the office? Is it ready for you?

The “traditional” federal office is not all that traditional anymore. If it ever was.

Uncle Sam is into lots of things and areas and projects that don’t fit into a standard office space. It can be a cubicle at the Pentagon, an IRS workspace in Austin, or a Social Security Administration in Seattle or Boston.

It could also be in a moon-bound rocket, an air traffic control service center, an FBI SWAT team truck or on horseback along the Rio Grande or Yellowstone.

Or it could be that area in the CIA complex in Langley, Va,, where they have this room filled with … sorry, if I said any more I’d have to kill you.

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But you get the idea.

Now thanks to the coronavirus, federal office turf also includes a Brooklyn apartment with two roommates and two cats, a Salt Lake City home doing double duty as a classroom or preschool, even a privately owned motorhome in Nebraska.

The bottom line is lots of people are manning offices but lots of people who never thought they would be doing extended — if any — work from home are working exclusively from home.

Some have been at it for months. And it may become the norm rather than a temporary solution.
People are wondering what the pandemic-triggered changes will mean for the long term.

Will teleworking become the norm? What does the isolation — mitigated by all sorts of electronic communications — do to the workload? And the workers? Are people doing more or less? Better or worse? Does the lack of office-related distractions mean a better product and more productivity? Or are people literally losing the human touch and not benefiting from group dynamics and the wisdom of the crowd?

Who knows better than the people doing it, either teleworking or still on the job? So we asked some readers. New feds, old-timers, people in mid-career and retirees who are still in touch.

This is what they told us:

”My experience as well as that of my colleagues regarding working from home during COVID-19:

  • Children at home can make it a bit challenging, but at the same time rewarding for both the children and parents because they spend more time together.
  • Flexibility to work an 8.5-hour day in any manner as long as the 8.5 hours are met in order to help workers cope with some family needs during the day.
  • Most common behavior is working beyond 8.5 hours because employees take into consideration the drive time. For example, if the normal time to arrive home from their job has usually been 5:30, and the individual should clock out at 4 or 4:30; they continue to work till 5:30. No overtime pay. It is just a matter of something that has been routine.
  • With no stress driving to and from work, or having to get dressed, etc., one feels less stressed and more productive.
  • The technical advances that allow workers to feel engaged such as Zoom meetings, and video chats/conferences are helpful because we can see and talk with groups of people.
  • There is some anxiety staying at home all day and not getting to spend time with co-workers at lunch, etc. But many groups are creative now and have virtual lunches and so on.
  • Saves money on gas, clothing, eating out.
  • Most would prefer a balance of being at the office one or two days per week.
  • Food is readily available, so exercise teams have been set up to handle health issues that may arise.
  • Some see it as an opportunity for government and businesses (depending on the nature of their operation) to save a huge amount of money by having their business go 100% virtual. COVID-19, as devasting as it has been, might have become a world gamechanger.

Thanks for the opportunity to share” –Yvonne

“Isolation is awful, but productivity is at an all-time high. It seems incongruent, I know. My life as a Fed seems a little incongruent since March. I only see my peers on Skype. Everything is done via conference call. I’ve trained over 300 employees without being within 300 miles of even one of them. And yet, I’m leading more programs with broader scope than ever before in my career. I have zero distractions during my work day (I’m 55, so no young children at home). No noise from the conference or break room, or the office down the hall. No too cold/too hot office space, etc. Just getting up BEFORE my TOD to catch those customers in a different time zone because, why not? And working harder than ever to make sure my internal customers can deliver to taxpayers in this really frustrating and frightening time. I feel empowered and valued and important. I feel like I can do and am doing something to help the citizens of this country. If I’m working longer days, it doesn’t bother me at all. I really feel like I’m accomplishing great things, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. So, I’m probably sounding a bit Pollyannish and sappy. I don’t even care. I’m proud of us. The job we’ve done and continue to do under very difficult circumstances.” –Margaret Hindes

“While the 100% telework situation has been quite the adjustment, I must say I’m able to get more done without the interruptions typical of being in an office. Fire drills, for instance. We don’t have those in this house at the moment. I do miss seeing people and interacting with folks – it’s different being able to see someone in person versus seeing an email. While the productivity has gone up, my ability to want to keep doing this forever isn’t very high. I absolutely understand the need for 100% telework at the moment but my hope is, in time, the need will pass and a few days back in the office will be a welcome thing. I’m used to working at home now so I hope teleworking three or four days a week becomes a permanent thing. But one or two days in the office wouldn’t be a bad thing, really. Access to printers, scanners, and copiers would be nice. Yes, I can print here at home but having a printer at work that can print dozens of pages a minute has its advantages.

“When we first started teleworking back in March, it wasn’t just me that made adjustments. It was my family as well. My husband had to adjust to me being home. That meant adjusting what he normally did to what was my new normal. He retired several years ago so his daily routine consists of hobbies (some loud involving drills and saws) and taking care of things around the house – all of which had to make sure they weren’t going to be heard on one of my all-hands calls or staff meeting calls. It’s been interesting but we’ve managed. There was one video call I was on and he happened to come into the room and walk behind me. The lady I was having the video call with said, “Hi, Dixie’s husband.” I will say this, the food is better here at home than at work–just saying! Not to mention if I want to have cake for breakfast, there is no one here giving me judgy looks :). Things happen. You make adjustments and make the best of it. Anything is doable when done with humor!

“We’re blessed with jobs that have kept going during this pandemic. That’s huge. I’m thankful, I’m in awe of all of our first responders and I will continue to wish blessings of health and happiness to all. Remain flexible during this time, my darlings. Things will calm down and life will get back to some level of normalcy soon enough. In the meantime, wear your mask, wash your hands, be mindful of your fellow human beings – and have fun, always have fun!!” –Dixie Cansler

We’ve heard from so many feds, in different jobs in different places. While all the stories are different, there is a common theme: Working from home for extended periods of time can be stressful. But most say they are putting in more time and getting more done for the folks who pay their salaries. Hopefully politicians who are trying to eliminate or reduce teleworking — either out of genuine concerns to simply to sock it to bureaucrats — will read this too.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Brian Bradley

Started as a tradition for teenagers, the Albany Shoe Tree in Albany, Ind., eventually became embraced by the entire community. One shoe hung on a tree grew to hundreds, and became a unique fixture for the small town.

Source: Atlas Obscura