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The question

COVID-19 has brought out some major differences in my workplace team. My boss is in denial and thinks he will be out for group coffee very soon and is even planning an international trip later this year. A colleague is on the opposite side of the scale and is quite fearful of COVID-19, in large part to due to family medical situations. Recently, our colleagues have started going back to the office. One of them has their door closed all day; the other the opposite. Any suggestions for those of us stuck in the middle?

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The answer

It’s funny the spectrum of reactions this pernicious pandemic has engendered in those (in other words everyone on the planet) dealing with it.

At one end of the spectrum are those who are scrupulous, even fanatical, about self-isolation, physical distancing and all the rest of it – a camp that includes some self-appointed civilian “enforcers,” such as the mask-and-glove-wearing dude I recently witnessed admonishing a maskless man in a fruit-and-vegetable store. Friction ensued, maybe both days ruined.

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I confess I’m inclined to this end of the spectrum. Not berating strangers in the street, but always wearing a mask and sometimes gloves on the rare occasions I exit the perimeter of my domicile.

My wife says I’m paranoid about COVID-19. Me, I prefer prudent. (Though it should be said I also purchased a front-line-worker-style face shield, which I only wore once before feeling foolish, so she may have a point.)

At the other end of the spectrum are those who adopt a devil-may-care, devil-take-the-hindmost, “I am immortal” attitude – and it never ceases to amaze me that maskless people continue to gather in clumps, apparently oblivious to – or unconcerned by – everything we now know. Like the massive, thousands-strong crowd that gathered at the park across the street from my house recently on a sunny Sunday, apparently without a care in the world.

To me, totally unbelievable. But then, I’m ultra-cautious. “Paranoid.”

Then there are those who are, as you describe yourself, “stuck in the middle.” In a way, you have the hardest row to hoe – but it’s important you hoe it. You, the reasonable ones, the middle-of-the-roaders, are humanity’s best hope to emerge from all this mishigas with some semblance of sanity intact.

Regarding your office, it strikes me that your boss is the weak link, the non-linchpin, in this scenario – turtling, ostrich-ing, just as a firm hand on the tiller is called for.

Approach him or her. (Talking to your colleagues on your own is a recipe for fruitless, fruit-store-style friction.) Say something like: “I think you need to set some guidelines as to how we should all be in the office.”

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If your boss refuses ... well, there are legal recourses you can take if you don’t feel you can return to your workplace without danger to your health. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, that reasonable heads will prevail.

In a way, yours is a bit of a canary-in-the-coal-mine situation, since you have non-virtually reconvened relatively early on. Soon enough (I hope), many from-home workers who’ve been Zoom-chatting and conference-calling will snap their laptops shut, don dry-clean-only clothes, grab briefcases or satchels, blow kisses to wall-climbing offspring and hair-tearing-out spouses and plunge back into the familiar, warm waters of work-from-office culture and politics.

Except now with the added bonus of all sorts of physical distancing and other protocols – which are your boss’s responsibility to institute and inculcate, I say.

The good news: If you are able to adapt and thrive (something it turns out, our species is very good at), you all will be an inspiration to all the rest of us.

If not, we’ll learn from your mistakes. Either way, thank you for your service.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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