I am nervous about returning to the workplace

Q: I am working from home because of the pandemic and I feel safe.  Can my company force me to return to the workplace?  I think I am doing a fine job from home.  How are companies handling this?


A: I am glad that you are working at home effectively.  Many of us are working from a home office, a kitchen table, a card table in our basement or a desk in our guest room.

Safety is a concern for most of us.  I think most of us have limited our contacts with others to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Most employers are treading lightly on the “return to the office” expectation.  Some roles can be performed remotely, while some cannot.  Others may require some in-office time, but can be performed during off-hours.  We have worked with a few clients and every arrangement is a bit different.  Some parents are coming into the office over the weekend to help with childcare challenges.  Other employees are working in the office a reduced number of hours per week.  Most of our clients are limiting visitors (e.g., clients, vendors, partners, etc.) and asking them to just connect by phone or by Zoom.  Others are having meetings outside with two lawn chairs or at opposite ends of a picnic table.

Some employers are expecting a return to the office in the fall.  Yet other employers have announced a work from home mandate until January 1st.  Finally, some employers are sending the message that this “new normal” of working remotely could be permanent.

I think a remote work arrangement is toughest for new employees, or employees requiring close supervision or training.  For more experienced employees, it seems to be working for most roles.  And there are some roles which could never be remote, like a machine shop worker or a retail employee in a main street shop.

I would encourage you to have a conversation with your supervisor.  Explain that you are working well at home and you hope to continue to do so.  You could ask about the expectation of returning to the office.  There may be some flexible options that could work for both you and your employer.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.