Home alone: How long can you hold out?

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By some estimates, 42% of us are working from home full-time! That is a lot of people not driving to work each day. Another 33% are now unemployed because of the pandemic. That’s something those of us with jobs might want to consider when we complain about the hardships we endure to feed our families. And 26% are working from their old pre-COVID space at the office, or some place other than home. Those are staggering numbers from Stanford University that would have been hard to comprehend earlier this year. Now they are the new norm.
So what’s next for the nation and the economy? And what’s in it for you?

The country seems to be split between those who want to lockdown and wear masks until things get better, and those who think things will only get worse unless schools, bars, restaurants and businesses reopen and tough it out. Do we go Sweden or New Zealand?

Like front-line workers across the economy, many feds don’t have a choice. Whether protecting the President, patrolling the borders, guiding aircraft of working in hospitals/prisons, some people have to be on the spot. Many of them have suffered because of it.

Pollsters are asking how many people want to work from home forever vs. how many miss the office (or hate their cats) and want to return to normal? The numbers seem to be split. Some think the best of all worlds is working from the office 2 or 3 days per week. Many companies are looking at the bottom line and discovering they can save a bundle if people work from home. The numbers on enhanced productivity from home, in at least some studies, have also been encouraging. The clean air people like because fewer cars have been on the road for an extended period of time. But many big city realtors (New York City is the poster child) are suffering because commercial real estate is sitting empty. REITS (real estate investment trusts) are floundering.

In a column last month we asked readers how they were holding up, and what they hoped and expected will happen in future. Some great comments. Bosses everywhere — especially at the IRS and Social Security — should read them. And think. Meantime, we’ve heard from another thoughtful fed who seems to think that working from home is the obvious path for many operations. Here’s what he said:

“Your column last month had a great set of thought provoking questions and concerns.

Adjusting to COVID work circumstances was relatively easy for us, since we were already “frequent telework” participants and had made adjustments at home to avoid conference call conflicts. As some of our agency locations were closing to save on real estate expenses, those employees who were distant from another office location were moved to full-time telework from their homes. I feel that any “POD (post of duty) neutral” hiring notice could be full-time telework after initial training period

There are several enablers which, when possible, contribute to full-time telework:

  • Where possible, set aside an area which is exclusively the “office”, so when you go to that location you are at work.
  • Make sure there is a secondary communication process (e.g. Skype for Business, Instant Messaging, TEAMS, etc.) to check-in with team-mates. This also enables me to “whisper / text” to a team-mate during a conference call that they should mention XYZ because they have a lot of credibility on that topic.
  • I’m your team-mates occasionally to keep in touch, like the water cooler or breakroom conversations you used to have.
  • Let your home phone go to voice-mail during work, you wouldn’t have answered it when you were at Dupont Circle, Crystal City, Pentagon, etc. and it is probably just solicitations anyway.

On your question about locality pay… I think that will need to take some time to stabilize. Current employees should get locality pay from the location into which they were hired, since the “business” saw their skill contribution justified to pay that rate. As new employees are hired to replace attrition they and do not need to be in DC, Manhattan, Philadelphia, we will see more of those positions filled from ROUS (sorry rodents of unusual size – Princess Bride) – OK RUS (Rest of US). Over time, we will see the high-cost locations become less expensive as excess office space reduces rents, etc. City governments will have to adjust to smaller budgets. Agencies should already be seeing some savings from less PTSP (Public Transportation Subsidy Program) for the METRO, etc.

I agree with you that it will take quite a while to return to the “old ways”. I’m still getting notices from our facilities group that one of the must-be-onsite employees is presumed COVID positive and the sixth floor is closed for cleaning. So on-site and public transportation are not something I’d like to risk when I am fully productive and my team-mates are spread across the country. We stay connected by phone, instant messaging, e-mail, and team meetings.

Take care.” -G.E.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Alazar Moges

From 2013 until today, every time the World Happiness Report (WHR) has published its annual ranking of countries, the five Nordic countries – Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland – have all been in the top ten, with Nordic countries occupying the top three spots in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Source: UN World Happiness Report

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