I got a new job this spring. This is interesting because of the timeline and because of the type of place where I work.
My husband and I work for the same company, a place where a significant proportion of the staff have doctorates and/or patents and/or academic publications. He is an aerospace engineer. Everyone was sent on mandatory work-from-home the Friday before restaurants and bars were closed statewide. Nowhere in the US had shut down yet.
Incidentally, everyone got sent home two days before I contracted coronavirus.
Quite suddenly, while I was languishing on the couch, pretty sure I only had a few days to live, a job opening was announced. I thought, What the heck, if I die everyone will forgive me, but if I live I’d really like to work at this place. My husband filled out the application with minimal nods and hand-waving from my settee.
By the time we got to the phone interview stage, I was on the mend, and I was well enough to make it through a workday in time for my start date.
I started to notice very early on that our company was different from other companies. If you’ve read Neal Stephenson’s novel Anathem you’ll get a sense of how I feel about this place.
First off, I noted that only three organizations seemed to be taking the pandemic seriously in the early days. Those were our company, Apple, and Toastmasters. They all sent their people home, the latter two because they have an international presence and leadership needs to be consistent.
The first two did it because in Smart People World, your colleagues are actual assets.
In the outer world, I see a lot of stuff that scares me and makes me feel more emotionally attached to my employer.
I see stores and restaurants supposedly banning people from wearing masks.
I see companies forbidding their staff from wearing masks. I see companies pressuring staff to come in and work even when they are symptomatic. I see companies completely disregarding the health or caregiving status of their employees, treating actual human beings as consumable items.
Even appliances and industrial equipment are given more care and respect than people.
The gamble seems to be, oh well, “we’re” doing what’s necessary “to survive” - meaning the company, an inanimate, abstract entity, gets to “survive” while flesh-and-blood people are expected to service it by sacrificing not only their own lives, but their loved ones’ as well.
I take note of which companies seem to be on the side of mass human sacrifice, bloody stone pyramid style, and which actually revere their human assets. It’s not like I’m going to forget three years from now.
Where I work, it’s like this:
Working from home is mandatory.
If you have a need to go to the building, you must get permission. To be on site, you have to fill out contact tracing forms each time, you have to distance, and you have to wear a mask on the premises. If you are caught being lax about these regulations, you will be warned, and it could be a firing offense.
You’re also expected to tactfully remind any visitors about these rules.
How far do we distance? You probably assumed it was six feet?
In our realm, not just our company but others that we pal around with, it’s actually eight feet.
Personally I aim for twelve and hope for fifteen, but then I don’t go out my door very often any more.
There is an entire system with a building floor plan and certain areas marked off. People have to sort of bid for these spots. One of the reasons that we are WFH is that almost everyone shared a small office, and that doesn’t work for distancing. When people work on site, they’re expected to stay only in the area where they said they needed to be.
We are fortunate that we have the kind of work we can do at home. We are fortunate that we had the space, the equipment, the electricity, and the phone and internet access that support our work. I would say ‘lucky’ but good fortune is based on direct action and the situations it creates, like a happy marriage, while luck comes sheerly from timing.
I also know with objective certainty that there are tens of thousands of people who could do their jobs perfectly well from home, and would prefer it, but their management forbids it. They do it because they don’t trust that people are professional enough to work without close supervision. They also do it because they don’t have the technical knowledge to figure it all out, and they do it because they are too lazy to ask.
Yeah, I said lazy. I generally don’t believe that ‘lazy’ is a thing, but when it comes to a matter of actual life and death, it is very hard to understand why else someone would avoid the marginal effort involved. Especially when working from home can have vast productivity improvements and cost savings.
Our company announced today that the signal for us to move from our current posture, and start sending more people back to work in their on-site offices, is wide availability of a vaccine for COVID-19.
This is new!
Previously, we’ve had updates once or twice a week. During my presence there, the message has consistently been to expect to WFH through the end of the calendar year.
Since then, there have also been various surveys and tracking dashboards. The message is clear that not only are people noticeably more productive, most are generally happier. One of my colleagues said she happened to be home to see her baby take his first steps. People are getting more work done, and also sleeping more, exercising more, reading more, and finishing projects. Surveys indicate that this move has left most people, like me, impressed with the company’s judgment and grateful to have job security.
I wish this were true for more people, and I have a strong suspicion that about another 20% of the workforce could do it if they were allowed.
To sum up, it’s like this. We work from home, and sometimes it’s a hassle, like when the VPN glitches or we have a power failure or we’re both on a call at the same time. A lot of the time it’s sirens going by, and that helps to remind us to stay inside and help end this thing. We work for a company that has taken a strategic position to keep everyone as safe as possible for as long as possible. They said today that we’ve had 33 total positive cases, which is less than 1% of the staff at our site.
We stay at home. We do contact tracing. We wear masks. We stay eight feet apart. We might go in again after there is “wide availability” of a vaccine. Then again, I suspect they’ll let most people work from home... forever.
The pandemic will probably destroy the reputations of a few businesses after they demonstrate their whack, psychopathic values. For companies like ours, the pandemic has confirmed our sense that we are actually doing something important, that our contribution matters, and that our leaders make sound decisions. We might not personally live through this, but our company will, and it’s actually reassuring to know that.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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