Garrison employees were given a heads-up last week that Health Protection Condition Alpha was likely on the horizon and for some that meant it was time to start thinking about what returning to the workplace looked like.

Currently over 80% of the Garrison’s workforce is showing up in person every day, and that makes sense for a service-based organization, but if or when the installation moves to Alpha, there will be other conversations across the post and most of those conversations will center around telework.

People have been teleworking for over a year now and they like it. At the same time you have people who are anxious about returning to the workplace because they are afraid of getting COVID-19.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat myself because I’m getting old. COVID-19 forced us to adapt new technologies and fundamentally changed the way we thought about work.

I don’t think a post-COVID workplace looks like the pre-COVID workplace.

I don’t think it can, but at the same time it can’t continue the way it has.

Post-COVID is the wrong term, because COVID is still there, but I don’t know what you call the current state we’re in.

There is a pandemic-inducing virus on the loose, but we do have the tools necessary to keep it below pandemic levels and keep the workforce safe if people would just use them. Namely an extremely effective vaccine.

But, just because it’s safe to return to the workplace, does it mean we should?

I’m sure there are a number of professions that lend themselves to telework, especially those that don’t require a lot of collaboration or rely on spur of the moment ideas.

I’ve heard of a number of employers telling their workforce that even after the world returns to normal they would not return to the workplace.

My concern with those employers is even though they say they’re 100% teleworking, I’m worried they’re forgetting about two or three people who act as boots on the ground. The boots always end up carrying the brunt of the burden.

Here’s the test.

If your office is as productive or even more productive as it was pre-COVID and there is no one going into the office at all, then you’re the perfect candidate for telework.

But, if even one person is regularly in the office, then I’ll almost guarantee it’s that one person who ends up picking up the hidden slack that’s inherent in all of our professions.

When that happens you quickly get into a situation of haves and have nots and that never ends well.

But, I don’t think that means we should abandon telework all together.

I don’t work in a profession that can function with 100% telework or maybe I can’t function in it.

I need people around to bounce ideas off of, to be able to talk to face to face to get a situation taken care of and to contribute to the melting pot of ideas that it takes to put out a paper every week.

My team has done some great work. They all teleworked during 2020 and part of 2021, but ever since I’ve put them on a hybrid schedule the work has gotten better. It has nothing to do with the building, but it has everything to do with the random conversations that happen during the workday.

Right now I don’t really see a need to bring them into the office 40 hours a week. And, really if they’re doing their jobs then they are out of the office covering things.

But, if one of them asked me right now if I was going to bring them back into the building for 40 hours a week, I’d have to say “I don’t know.”

What makes the answer to that question difficult is while the workload has certainly picked up since January, it’s still not back to pre-COVID levels.

And, that’s why everyone needs to be careful, because the decisions that are made today are going to be difficult to walk back later.

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