I’m alternating between states of alarm, annoyance, frustration, amusement and disbelief at the various recommendations, roadmaps, guidelines, laws, media reports and expert opinions that I have read in the past few weeks. It’s quite a simple question when considered by some people: That question is: When do we resume working in offices?
There are a few reasons why this question is very important to me.
- I hate commuting
- I have a lovely office at home
- I have used those extra hours in the morning and evening to achieve things I never would have achieved otherwise.
- I love being able to walk my children to school in the morning. Currently my son comes back from school at 1:40pm so I even get to walk him back. I have relished this opportunity most of all.
- There’s no noise in my home office. I am consistently a lot more productive here than I am in an open plan office.
Of course, although in theory, I would love to work from home every day, I acknowledge that it’s important to go talk to colleagues in person. It’s good to have a coffee with them in the mid-morning and to be able to speak to them about something other than work. So, for that practical reason, I’m okay with a blended or hybrid work balance where I work from home and work in Dublin. Fortunately, it looks like this will be possible. The reason I got thinking about this was an article I read that discusses the potential alternative work practises on TheRegister.com.
But let’s get back to the question and take a closer look at it: When do we resume working in offices? There are a few considerations that need to be addressed first:
- For people who have settled into remote working, is there a policy to enable them to keep doing this? In an unmentioned twist, the Irish government and almost all companies are talking about a policy as if it’s written into law. But that’s not the case. They talk about the new normal, but they haven’t decided how that will look yet. Instead, they want the work force to return to offices and then after some time, public and private employees will legislate and create policies that may or may not enable / permit officially have sanctioned remote working. There’s a very clear example of this misinformation from recent news reports in January. This article from the Journal and this article from the Irish times talk about law as if it was already in legislation that would enforce the right to switch off. But it also spoke about the right to ask to work remotely. An Irish Blogger called HeadRambles wrote about the right to ask for this a few days ago. He makes a good point. We have always had the right to ask. Just as the employer always and continues to have the right to say no. But my understanding of this is that the right to ask still isn’t actually law.
- From what I gather, because it’s not very clearly written anywhere, the Irish government have issued two statements concurrently that both appear valid. They want us all to work from home where possible but also prepare for a return to offices in July. But how can people who are very likely not vaccinated return to offices in July? Also, on the Citizens Information site, it’s said that RAD (Rapid Antigen Testing) policies along with an opt out policy is required first. Do you know of any employer that has such a policy? I certainly don’t and I don’t hear any talk of it either.
- There’s also the problem of social distancing. Some employers were hoping that some magic would happen that would reduce the requirement for social distancing from 2 metres to 1 metre. This hasn’t changed in 15 months so why they anticipate it was going to change now, I have no idea. Let me assure you, on ever site I checked Here, here, here and here the requirement for 2 metres social distancing is crystal clear. So, given that desks are usually spaced so that there is not 2 metres distance between people, this is undoubtedly going to result in a reduction of usable desks.
- There’s a lot of work required to implement proper social distancing guidelines in offices. So much needs to be considered! This article is very comprehensive but I’ll provide a quick summary:
1. Flow of foot traffic, 2. Touch surfaces such as door handles, 3. Potentially high use areas that could become congested such as printers, 4. Routes between desks that could lead to dead ends, 5. One-way systems to discourage passing in confined spaces and finally 6. 2 metres or 6 feet distance between each desk
So, if you were to believe everything that you’re told, here’s the summary:
- Prepare to go back to the office in July
- If you’re not vaccinated, it’s likely you won’t be going back
- There’s an international climate crisis but it’s risky to use public transport. Still, drive if you can and keep the windows open if you’re with someone else. Imagine that going down the M1?
- There’s going to be a new normal with hybrid / blended working, new rights to ask questions that you could ask already and a safer more equitable society overall. But that hasn’t bee legislated for yet. But just go back to work anyway. They will get around to that eventually. No seriously! They promised!
- Stay home, stay safe, don’t socialize, don’t travel, be responsible. Until 80% of the entire population is fully vaccinated (remember this includes young children) we are all still at risk and a fourth wave is very possible. But hey, come back to work. Sitting in an office with air conditioning all day is going to be absolutely fine.
I have one little foot note to add to this rant. No. I actually have two.
Firstly, I have been very conscious of something amazing that has happened in Ireland. Drogheda, my hometown is heaving! People are out enjoying coffee shops, restaurants and pubs as if it was the boom all over again. People are stopping to talk on the streets and there’s a general giddiness on the streets. Drogheda is a commuter town. But these commuters have more time than ever before to live, work and play in Drogheda. That first word live? That’s an important one. They aren’t just passing through each day to sleep while they spend most of their productive hours in Dublin. There’s a buzz and an energy in my town that I have never encountered before. In stark contrast, I have recently travelled to a few other towns that would have relied much more heavily on tourism and commuters. These are dead. Soleless husks with depressed locals and decimated businesses. I’m delighted for Drogheda, but I fear for the financial stability and the mental wellbeing of those areas. They will bounce back. Because they are jewels in Ireland’s crown. But if the right policies and laws aren’t implemented before this new normal appears, that new normal, I fear will favour the people at the top with money. Drogheda and commuter towns like it will ease back into being an empty town with empty streets and tired residents burned out by constant commuting.
My other footnote is an opinion that’s less commonly held. I need to bullet point this though for clarity:
- I will get vaccinated. But only now that I know that the vaccinations seem to be effective against variants.
- I wear a mask. Not for myself. But for others.
- I never believe the media and only sometimes believe the government. The medical professionals are the source of information that I prefer.
- I do not believe everything I read from anyone in relation to Covid-19. I have a healthy mistrust of the entire situation. Do I believe it’s dangerous? Yes. Do I believe it has killed people? Yes. But I also believe that there’s a massive amount of money changing hands. And where there’s money, there’s greed. And where there’s greed, there’s corruption. There’s now talks about winter vaccination boosters. This is concerning me. Not enough yet to make a decision. But it concerns me enough to want to do more research. Because at the end of the day, it’s private companies who are getting this money from states all over the world. That just seems dodgy to me.
- Do I believe the so called anti-vaccers? No. I’m not about to go out and buy a tin foil hat. But I appreciate the decentres. The people who ask questions and who dig for the truth are the people I want to hear from. I don’t believe that the media have done this enough.
- But the most important thing I need to say is it doesn’t matter what I believe. It only matters that I take a risk-based approach to this. I don’t know exactly what is real and what isn’t. So, I take the approach that what the government say is true and as a result, I want to protect those in my circle of family and friends that may be vulnerable. So, I wear the mask. I wash my hands very regularly. I don’t visit people that are particularly vulnerable unless I have been away from potential risks of infection for at least two weeks. In my view, this is the most responsible action to take.