The Coronavirus Blues

August 28, 2020 2:22 PM , Updated October 8, 2020 1:25 PM
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Man appearing frustrated/sad with his right hand over his face as he looks to the side while holding a sign that says 'COVID-19' in his left hand; a calculator and paperwork are on a table in front of him

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Sitting in front of the computer in my home – again. For someone who has averaged well over 60 nights a year on the road, spending the last five months at home has been a real change. I know I have been home a lot because I am starting to run out of hotel soap. 

My wife used to complain about all my travel, now she keeps asking when I’m going to be gone for a trip. She thinks I need to get out of the house to keep my sanity and probably hers also. 

The last 15 years I have worked out of a home office. I don’t know any more what it would be like to have to go to an office every day, but lately I think having a place to go other than home would be just plain wonderful. I think ZOOM and WebEx meetings are great but a steady diet has really gotten old. I think I’ve got a case of the coronavirus blues. 

So much of my work in the past (the past being pre-COVID -19), whether it was teaching, working with labor or management developing contract language, or mediating disputes was done with people. Sometimes they drove me absolutely crazy. Now a little crazy would not be so bad. 

I’m still dealing with people, but the dealings now are with disembodied voices on conference calls or somewhat distorted video images on ZOOM. I miss the direct face to face interaction that comes with having real people in the same room with me. When mediating, it can be hard to bang heads together to get to a solution when the heads are pixels.

In many agencies, more than ever before, employees throughout the federal government are teleworking. Telework has become the savior of many a federal agency. I find it somewhat ironic that some federal agencies, who under this Administration, started a strong push to significantly limit telework have come to rely very heavily on the use of telework to accomplish their missions. 

The Obama Administration pushed people out the doors to work from home. The Trump Administration mandated they be brought back to the office sometimes kicking and screaming. Both approaches were very good for my business because change frequently results in conflict, which results in the need for help in dealing with the conflict. 

Whether these different approaches were good for federal agencies is a different question, one which is not my call. Because every Administration believes it has the answer to the way labor relations should work in the federal sector, I always look forward to Administration changes. They bring with them new and different challenges and thus, new work. 

The pandemic has proven the value of telework, if it had not been proven before. The real challenge is going to be what the future balance will be between telework and work in the office. 

It will be hard to argue employees must always be in the office to be productive if the employees were productive for over 5 months during the pandemic while you worked from home. It likewise will be hard to argue that employees should have an office to work in, if they successfully teleworked for a significant period of time. The supervisors who believe they have to see an employee to know they are working will have their belief system strongly attacked. 

Once offices closed, many of the rules on telework changed. Many teleworkers were providing childcare in their home while teleworking during the pandemic. The childcare facilities including schools and daycare were closed and they had no other option. 

Providing childcare while teleworking is contrary to the OPM telework policy. The argument maybe that the pandemic was an exception and now that the pandemic no longer affects all childcare providers, the old rules are back. If employees were just as productive with children in the home, what is different when childcare is available? 

The question of telework is just one of the many human resources issues that may have to be reconsidered in a post pandemic world. 

What are the signs of coronavirus blues? Doing things you never thought you would want to do is probably one. 

My wife and I drive to a different state park each Sunday. The park might be in Alabama where we live or nearby Tennessee or Georgia. The only rule is it has to be less than 2 hours away. We have seen more of Alabama in the last 5 months than we have in the previous almost 20 years we have lived here. 

Our choice for adventure, in the past, was always to take an international trip (my wife is retired from United Airlines so we fly free). Now our choice is which park should we go to. 

The most unsettling part of this new approach to adventure is that we have a picnic lunch at the chosen park which usually consists of take out from Hardees, Wendy’s or a similar gourmet restaurant which is oftentimes the best available food close to the park in the hinterlands of Alabama or Georgia or Tennessee. It isn’t exactly eating at a café on the Champs Elysée in Paris. I have eaten more fast food hamburgers in the past several months than in my previous lifetime.

It just goes to show that you can adapt to things you thought were not possible. Whether or not you like having to adapt is another story.

Are you doing things now that you never thought you would do? Do you miss doing things which you are not sure you will ever get to do again? Are you starting to think things will never be the same? If the answer to these questions is mostly yes, you have the coronavirus blues. But don’t be concerned; there are millions just like us.

What’s the answer for the coronavirus blues? When can we go back to our pre-coronavirus blues selves? That’s the problem; nobody knows the answers to these questions so the blues keep on coming.

© 2020 Joe Swerdzewski. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Joe Swerdzewski.

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About the Author

Joe Swerdzewski, former General Counsel of the FLRA & owner of JSA LLC is the author of The Essential Guide to Federal Labor Relations, A Guide to Successful Federal Sector Collective Bargaining, etc. For more info on JSA’s services, email [email protected] or subscribe to JSA’s newsletter.

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