Will your home office survive the pandemic?

Back in the day, as we ancients say, working from home was something only very weird people did. People with strange jobs. Or maybe bad personal hygiene. Or bosses or coworkers who couldn’t stand to have them around. Who paid them to stay home.

Now, working from home is standard operating procedure for millions of Americans (those still lucky enough to have paying jobs). While a huge chunk of the federal workforce are first-responders, literally on the front lines around the world, a record number of feds are also doing their thing from home. And by all reports doing it well. There are upsides — cleaner air, less traffic and fewer accidents — to working from home. The challenges include dealing with home-schooled kids and missing the reality of real world situations and dealing with coworkers both present and larger than a zoom screen.

The resistance to feds working from home was both fierce, stubborn and slow to happen. A handful of members of Congress — mostly from the D.C. and the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia — pushed teleworking but got lots of push back. Many officials simply didn’t trust any worker, especially of the federal type, out of their sight. From time to time a work-from-home fed was caught running errands, running a day care center or writing the great American novel — on government time. Not often. But enough to continue the trench warfare. Some bosses got around Congress by setting up work from home programs where employees worked ONE DAY A YEAR at home. That way they could check the box of complying with the telework programs.

Then along COVID-19 and (coinciding with near universal home high tech) teleworking took off. Like it or not, it seems to be working. Some like it. Others can’t wait for a return to the good old days. Some workers say they are being pressed to return to the office even though the pandemic is apparently far from over. Workers at a VA hospital in Pennsylvania have gone to Congress and their union about what they say is “pressure to return too soon” to their administrative jobs.

Some employees, naturally, have had enough work-from-home experience. They are anxious to get back to a pre-February 2020 world when people got in their cars, parked at the office, talked with live colleagues and then returned to home — which is supposed to be a haven. Not a cubicle with dogs, cats and kids.

Last week we talked about the people side of working from home. Here’s what folks are telling us:

“Good afternoon. I’m going to have to say I have a mixture of feelings about the pandemic versus telework situation. I’m able to function for the most part at home (while my wife is struggling with the new dynamic) and certainly don’t miss dealing with traffic issues of people zipping in and out of lanes, riding the shoulder while forcing a merge into a space smaller than their vehicle, people driving slowly but staying embedded in the left lane, etc., etc., etc. I certainly feel safer at home than I would at the office and I would miss the two minute commute from upstairs to downstairs but the downside is that I am a little heavier (going to have to work on that!) and I do miss the “cheek-to-cheek dining and travel limited only by time and finances” that you mention. I haven’t quite figured out yet if having a politically incorrect but honest conversation with myself out loud is a good or bad thing (just kidding – the voices stay INSIDE my head – lol!).

As far as the idea of accepting a lower pay check to work in an area outside of a major metropolitan area, like Washington DC, it would not matter to me at this point in my career because I already have 42 years in so I’m not going to entertain any ideas of relocating or at least not before I’m retired. But, if you had asked me 20 or 30 years ago, I probably would have said yes. Many, many moons ago, I pointed out to some of my coworkers that Austin seemed like a good location to do the work we were doing. Frankly, some of our customers with whom we work closely are in Austin so, in some respects, we would be better off in improved communications but that wasn’t a viable option until the recent past. There still is the concern about the work performance of some people suffering during telework but, for the most part and depending on the alternate location, I think a lot of people would entertain the idea if not flat out accept it.

I hope you are staying healthy and safe! Thanks.” -David D.

”I read the column. Good piece. I recently listened to a Malcolm Gladwell podcast. He said being in lockdown and forced to work from home in isolation wasn’t that difficult for him, because he was an introvert and enjoyed solitude even pre-pandemic. So, that might be another angle to approach your question. Perhaps introverts like working from home more than the extroverts, who tend to be more gregarious, and have more of a need to be around people.

While I have been retired since the start of 2012, I have had experience with working from home. I enjoyed it. I accomplished much more from home, with fewer distractions and interruptions. I found that tasks requiring focused concentration were ideal for days I worked from home. Initially, my Agency permitted working from home one day a week, then expanded it to two days a week. After that, the managers that believed in line-of-sight supervision emerged and reduced the permitted work at home days to one per week. They seemed to feel if they couldn’t see you, then you weren’t working. A major tipping point (had to put that in, since The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference is the title of one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books) at my Agency was when they allowed managers to work from home. Suddenly, even those recalcitrant managers suddenly jumped on the bandwagon and thought it was a great idea. I remember being in the office and on a conference call with a manager as a participant, and he was doing the call out on his deck on a beautiful sun splashed afternoon, with laptop in hand. He discussed how much he enjoyed the near perfect weather and yet was still working. He was one of the most adamant managers opposed to working from home, but suddenly, he saw the light and was in favor of it. That may be another good question to pose to your readers, at their agency are mangers permitted to work from home?

Regarding work location tied to locality pay, that would be a virtual nightmare to track. There would probably be dozens of ways to game the system. Have a friend in the city? Just use his or her address as your official residence while you work from a cabin in West Virginia, is one example that comes to mind.” -Anthony C.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Alazar Moges

The headquarters of the Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia, known as the Pentagon, is the world’s largest office building with around 6.5 million square feet, of which about 3.7 million are used as offices.

Source: Architects’ Journal

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Feb 26, 2021 Close Change YTD*
L Income 22.3956 -0.0246 -0.10%
L 2025 11.2825 -0.033 -0.24%
L 2030 39.3109 -0.149 -0.32%
L 2035 11.7431 -0.0487 -0.35%
L 2040 44.2037 -0.2012 -0.37%
L 2045 12.0579 -0.0584 -0.39%
L 2050 26.2994 -0.1372 -0.41%
L 2055 12.7194 -0.0908 -0.44%
L 2060 12.7194 -0.0907 -0.44%
L 2065 12.7194 -0.0905 -0.44%
G Fund 16.5337 0.0015 0.07%
F Fund 20.7403 0.1701 -0.71%
C Fund 56.8721 -0.2653 -1.01%
S Fund 80.2962 0.2929 2.85%
I Fund 35.7955 -0.5623 -1.09%
Closing price updated at approx 6pm ET each business day. More at tsp.gov
* YTD data is updated on the last day of the month.