Cross Your Fingers and Hope Not to Die

There’s a new office game for those who have returned to work. It’s kind of like musical chairs, but instead of trying to capture the seat before someone else does, it’s more like waiting to see how far you have to move your chair to stay six feet apart

It’s a tricky time for office relationships.

Offices are having to deal with new rules—to mask indoors, or not? How do you handle the break room, including clean up? And, a big one: what do we sacrifice in our lives out of concern for others we are around at work?

Several of our office debates have been devoted to lamenting our desire to “not give it to others.” Many in our shared workspace are Millennials, a group that has been identified by some research as potential super spreaders. They are nice people, more concerned with not carrying an infection to mom, dad, or grandma than they are with anything else.

It’s a worthy debate, and is part of figuring out how to set “rules” where there are none. Yes, we are all adults. Yes, we are courteous to others and mindful of their concerns. And, yes, we are required to show up at the office, at least once in a while—even in a flexible work environment. And therein lies the rub.

Is it OK to come in if you are “sure” it’s allergies?

Is it OK to come in if you went to a wedding, a funeral, a concert—any event—even with social distancing?

When are you potentially putting others at risk with a disease that you don’t even know you have until it’s too late to avoid exposing others?

For months the collective mindset has been to lock down, go nowhere, do nothing. That’s now changed, as people are stir-crazy, events are happening regardless, and there is a desire to support the economy by showing up to eat out, shop, even go to a drive-in concert.

And yet, if American business isn’t careful, everyone will be the enemy. We already give sidelong glances at a cough; we already perk up our ears if someone says they are tired. And, yes, we conduct a careful inquisition to see how others spent their weekend, to know what new exposure potential they may be bringing in.

Personal responsibility is not only about choosing your own actions; it’s also about determining to whom you are going to be accountable. For the health and safety of the economy, coworkers have to be in that accountability mix, and it’s something business isn’t necessarily ready for.

Businesses that choose personal responsibility over policy have become popular over the last ten or so years, as people look for freedom in the workplace. Do we risk going backwards by setting policies? Even more, are policies even possible in a world where the information and suggested protocols change seemingly overnight?

Coworkers owe it to each other to talk, and to volunteer information. Businesses, in return, have to figure out how to accommodate continued remote work, have to let employees make choices, have to be ready to use technology to include people into in-person meetings, have to  be ready to accept last minute changes, and have to be ready to enable people to make common sense  decisions.

So, the question is back to personal responsibility. We are collectively counting on our friends, our coworkers, and the people who attend the same events that we do, to show common sense. To stay home if they are sick; to tell us if they’ve been exposed.

One fallback has been continuing to have all employees work remotely—sometimes accompanied by office remodeling while no one is in. However, just as schools have figured out hybrid learning situations, businesses are doing the same—with the onus on the employees.

Our coworkers are not the enemy. The virus is. Let’s not let this cause workplace stress in the midst of all the rest of the angst and worry.

We are all crossing our fingers that we are making sound judgment calls. Crossing our fingers that we are staying safe. Crossing our fingers that we aren’t inadvertently doing something terrible.

Right now it’s on us.