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A Chilling Office Predicament and Unplugging During the Holidays

by Mary Isner / December 9, 2021

Finally! We are starting to return to normalcy in many ways, and more people are returning to the office with added measures in place to protect against ongoing COVID risks. I think one of the more interesting outcomes of the pandemic is that many workplaces have realized that their employees do not need to be in the office full time. Because of this, many people are returning to hybrid offices or becoming full-time teleworkers. No matter where you fall with your office arrangement, these friendly pointers from Miss Office Manners may be helpful to you. In this installment, I offer solutions to two additional challenges you may be facing during these times. Happy reading!

The Cold War

Dear Miss Office Manners: There are two ladies who share a space next to a window in my office. There is a plexiglass divider between these two ladies. One of the ladies read somewhere that you can't catch COVID with fresh air flowing, so she has been opening the window. She told HR that she feels this is a "reasonable" accommodation for her physical and mental wellness. This is forcing her desk partner to wear a coat, hat, and scarf all day. Because they work together closely, HR cannot relocate "coat lady." So, every time “window lady” leaves her desk, coat lady shuts the window. The HR manager has not returned to the office, so this has become known as the office COLD WAR. Any pointers? 

-- Ready to Jump Out of the Window    

Dear Ready to Jump:  

Thinking about this just makes me want to put on a sweater. This is quite the quandary. While everyone is entitled to reasonable accommodations for their physical and mental wellness, I think when it is at a detriment to someone else’s wellness, maybe it is not so “reasonable” after all. I assume that when “coat lady” accepted her job, she did not sign up to work in Arctic temperatures. I think she needs speak to the HR manager regardless of whether or not he or she has returned to the office. This can’t wait…temperatures are dropping, for crying out loud! Some possible solutions might be: 

  • Switch one or both of the employees back to remote work until the weather becomes more mild, if at all possible.
  • See if there is any other possible configuration where “window lady” can still get her fresh (ahem…cold) air and “coat lady” can work in room temperature.
  • If all else fails, nail the darn window shut at least until the spring!

Here’s to finding a solution that will make BOTH “coat lady” and “window lady” happy…fingers crossed!

Holiday…Celebrate  

Dear Miss Office Manners: This year, I am so excited to take time off over the holidays to have a closer to normal celebration with my family. Last year, when my office was teleworking full-time, I tried to take some time off over the holidays but it didn’t work out so well for me. I did not feel like I could unplug and I found myself responding to even non-urgent emails and messages during my time off. We have returned to a sort of hybrid office where we are back in the office part of the time and teleworking the rest of the time. I am worried that I will have the same problems again this year. Any suggestions?

-- On Holiday

Dear On Holiday:  

I am also looking forward to the holidays, especially this year after all that we have been through! Here are my tips for taking actual time off during the holidays so that it is both relaxing and enjoyable: 

  • Plan ahead. Wrap up as much work as possible before you head out, and come to a good stopping point on any work that cannot be wrapped up.
  • Give advance warning. Inform your colleagues weeks before you head out so that they can also plan ahead.
  • Set an “out of office” reply on your email. Make sure the message also lets people know when you will be returning. If you work closely with someone else, direct any urgent messages to that person while you are out. If your workplace uses instant messaging, update your status to “on vacation.” My workplace has made it a policy to not message employees whose status shows that they are taking time off unless it is urgent. I cannot tell you how much of a difference that has made.
  • Put your phone away. This is the hardest one for most people, but it is the most essential. Stop looking at your phone. And change your notification settings so that you have to manually check for messages instead of being pinged all day long. If you absolutely must, set up a time each day to check your work messages - but just once, and then let it go!

Hope that helps. Happy holidays to you! 

I hope you have found this week’s tips both helpful and enjoyable. Here’s wishing everyone a productive and healthy work environment, wherever that may be! Be safe and well, everyone!

Tags: Return to Work

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Mary Isner

Mary Isner

Mary has a master’s degree in public administration and has worked as a facility planning analyst for Fentress since 2003. In her free time, she enjoys baking, decorating, and spending time with her family.