All day in-person retreat?

Work wants to host a small executive team, all day, in-person strategic planning retreat in a person's backyard. The host guarantees that each chair will be 6 feet apart and food and drinks will not be shared. But, it's from 9:30 am - 5:30 pm. Bathroom use will need to happen. Among the proposed attendees, one person sends a child to camps. The host says there will be wipes in the bathroom. 

Even if it's outdoors, spending 8 hours day in a backyard, talking, eating, drinking feels like it's increasing risks. You can't be masked while eating and drinking. Bathroom air can linger indoors. 

The location will require me to go to a gas station and pump gas which is additional contact with the world. We have been living on 100% contactless delivery and have not kept up with our car. 

I'm very nervous about this. I think some people believe that there's magic and concrete benefits to in-person interaction. I think the benefit is real but does not weigh the risks. 

How should I talk to the powers that be? Or do I just take the plunge and hope and pray that we remain lucky? Am I overreacting? 

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RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

Hi! I completely have the same concerns. I think that it is important for you to voice your sentiments about this in writing and request a virtual option. I am refusing to delve back into in person meetings especially because the number of cases are rising and people are being extremely careless about protecting themselves and others. Both of my children are immuno-compromised and I WILL NOT oblige to do anything (pertaining to work) that will put them or myself at risk. 

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

First, I'm not sure BPN is the best forum for this question. I'd recommend you read about "COVID return to work" topics on askamanager.org, which has lots of recent questions in this ballpark.

But, my opinion is split. Yes, you are overreacting a little bit because you have been so sheltered-in-place. But also yes, this is a situation that essentially requires you all to select into a social bubble that you should have the option NOT to join. You should feel fine about telling your boss you don't feel comfortable and send you the zoom link. However, you should also work on tiptoeing back into physical work life. As a perspective, at my office of 150 people, we went "remote" on the day before SIP started, but about 15 staff never work remotely because their job can't be done remotely, and about 20-30 more of us (including me) have been working in the office 2-3 days per week with other people. We wear masks now, didn't at the beginning prior to that guidance. Plenty of people are out there in the world, taking precautions, because work has to get done. For whatever reason, your work has decided to ask some employees to show up physically (in this dumb setting, but whatever), and as long as they are following the health order, that is their prerogative as an employer.

Maybe you can find some wiggle room by negotiating the length of the event. If it's only 3 hours, everyone can keep their masks on the whole time, no need to eat or drink.

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

Hi - if you are under 50, you have a greater risk of dying from a car accident than covid.  If it's outside, your chances of contracting this I believe are next to none.  This website has good data compilation (links directly to CDC website and other sources).  I don't understand why the media reports only stories and not overall data ...

https://swprs.org/studies-on-covid-19-lethality/

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

I actually don't disagree that there are concrete benefits to in-person interaction--but that doesn't necessarily mean we should push into it too quickly. For this situation, I'd encourage the host to do a half-day, which significantly reduces the need to deal with the bathroom (and presumably cuts out at least one meal). There are ways to do this where you don't need to rely on being lucky, but an 8-hour day does make that more challenging. Spread out (more than 6'!), have box lunches to eliminate food prep on site, and agree in advance that anyone feeling ill or with an ill family member will stay home. Also consider whether everyone should wear masks even with the distancing, and agree on this in advance too. On a side note--whether or not the retreat happens, you should go fill your car and drive it periodically. Leaving it idle for several weeks has the potential to create much bigger, more costly problems down the road. Gas pumping is relatively painless as potentially risky interactions go--take gloves, hand sanitizer, and a mask. Put on the gloves, pump the gas, throw away the gloves, sanitize your hands and credit card, and be on your way. Although gas pumps are high-contact surfaces, you can easily control that contact, and the layout of gas stations makes it very easy to stay more than 6' from people. It would be a good starting place to build up your confidence in navigating the outside world, since unfortunately I think our current reality is here to stay for some months to come.

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

Are you considered an essential worker? If not, this kind of gathering is likely not allowed under the public health orders. I think it's completely reasonable to feel uncomfortable about this for personal reasons, I would too, and I think you can also make the case that you're not comfortable with committing a misdemeanor (if that's the case). Maybe politely indicate the language in the relevant health order that prohibits this, or that at least discourages this kind of thing (most at least say that work should still be done remotely when at all possible). And also indicate that you personally feel uncomfortable doing this. If it were me, I might mention any underlying health conditions, contact with at-risk family members, etc. that might be part of the reason for being concerned, though I think those feelings are valid without those factors. I'd be really concerned if they decided to move ahead despite hearing how you're feeling about it.

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

My work is doing the same as there is interest and there are clear benefits to in-person meeting and not everything can be done efficiently over web conference.  Though the bosses were clear that those who don't feel comfortable can skip out and not attend the in person events.  Those employees of course will miss out on the networking and ability to argue for their positions in person (since they will remain connected via email during events and can provide emailed comments), but otherwise there is no professional cost to not attending in person.  If most of the employees are supportive of the event, you don't want to be the one who ruins it for everyone, and my advice will be to speak to the employer and focus on how it affects you. If you don't feel comfortable attending then be honest about that and propose to provide written comments (if possible) or say you will hold down the fort and manage day to day operation virtually while the rest of the team is at the in person retreat.  The state is slowly re-opening so this will start happening more and more, and we all have different risk tolerance when it comes to this.  I attend all in person events since I see value in them, we are low risk and my kids are attending camps outside of home anyway so it is minimal additional risk, but I know plenty of co-workers who decided to skip and there really are no negative consequences to that as everyone understands the risks. 

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

I think your employer has the responsibility to make you feel safe! Even if it's likely okay being outdoors I wouldn't attend if you don't feel good about it and that should be okay with your employer. It's a life-threatening virus after all and you shouldn't feel pressured to do anything you don't feel safe doing.

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

I don't think you're overreacting at all. If you've gone to the trouble of being really careful about isolating yourself (and I know how much work that is because my family is doing it too) of course you don't want to spend a full day sharing the same airspace with a bunch of people talking and laughing and eating. And the bathroom! Given the articles in the news in the last day on aerosol virus-spread as the result of flushing the toilet, there's NO WAY I would go to this event. I'm not sure about how to tell your employers this but I did want to assure you that you are 100% not crazy, or overreacting, or exaggerating the danger.

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

Also, there’s a lot in the news lately about toilet flushing being a method of spread of the virus?  (Haven’t read them, have just seen a bunch of articles indicating that)

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

Hi, I don't think you're overreacting. You've obviously thought about this and don't feel comfortable with it. Everyone has different comfort levels about the virus. And if you're not an essential worker, this doesn't sound like it is in accordance with the Alameda County order, which only allows get-togethers within a "social bubble" of up to 12 people who agree not to have contact with _anyone_ else for at least 3 weeks. And since this sounds like a group of more than a couple people, each of whom may have spouses/families, that sounds like more than 12 -- so it might be against the law. You mention this is an "executive team" gathering, so I presume you are an executive of this organization; therefore, you have a degree of power. I suggest you use it. Bring up your concerns to the group. You may not be the only one with concerns, and others may also be hesitant to speak up, but if you say something, maybe someone else will as well. Do you have a team that reports to you? How would you want one of them to bring up a concern about something you were organizing? That should guide you. You can always mention a reason if you are worried about seeming unreasonable -- I don't want to violate the county order, I take care of an elderly relative and can't risk exposure, my spouse is in a high-risk group so I can't risk exposure, I have no one to take care of my child if I get the virus, etc. for whatever may apply to you. The other thing to think about before bringing it up is, what _would_ you be comfortable with? That might be no gathering at all, but there might be a middle ground to suggest. Examples could be, what if it were held each morning for 2.5-3 hours for 3 mornings in a row? That might eliminate or reduce the need for bathroom or food. What if the company provided face shields and masks to attendees? Or if there is no middle ground for you, what if you offered to facilitate it over video-conference? Sometimes making an offer or suggestion can indicate you are interested not only in complaining / rejecting, but in finding a solution that will work for everyone. If your company respects you and its employees, I think the powers that be would listen and attempt to accommodate. If they don't listen, or you are judged for this or face negative repurcussions (even if non-explicit, like being left out of informal decision-making conversations), you might have a crappy boss or work for a crappy company. Best of luck to you! (BTW, I wouldn't want to attend either and would have the same concerns)

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

I would feel ok if it were a 2-hour event with no food or drinks. 8 hours in proximity and the inevitable bathroom breaks seems extreme.

One thing I've noticed re: in-person, socially-distant backyard get-togethers (a few of which I've hosted, for about 90 minutes) is that it's hard to hear each other through masks, and people end up having to kind of shout to be heard. If it's a work-strategy meeting, then understanding each other would be especially important, unlike small talk. And I don't know about you, but breathing through masks for extended periods makes me a little fuzzy-headed, not ideal for decision-making - too much CO2 and all that.

So, if the aim is to have a productive strategy session, this may not be the ideal way to go about it. 

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

This situation has been so hard because we're getting such mixed guidance from our leaders and everyone has to set their own level of acceptable risk.  I completely agree that you are being reasonable to worry about this.  They are taking all precautions to minimize risk, but its still there and its still higher than you are comfortable with.  I don't know/understand your work dynamic, but if I were in your position, I would say to my work that my family has decided on a high level of self-containment for our own safety and this is more in person contact than we are comfortable having at this point in time, so I am happy to be a laptop on a chair. 

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

My partner’s work likewise wanted to plan a many hour outdoor meeting. We didn’t feel safe with it. He said that we have high risk family members (true, grandparents who are in our bubble and doing babysitting), and he could not attend because we didn’t feel safe enough.

I would just be matter of fact. Given your family’s risk tolerance due to your health, you cannot attend an in person meeting. You hope they can zoom call you in.

(even if you aren’t high risk, it’s still your risk tolerance due to your health. And frankly, I bet any doctor right now would write a letter for an accommodation to attend the gathering remotely, if you needed).

Since they really legally can’t do this under the shelter in place orders, (as it’s almost certainly not essential) and people’s risk tolerance for covid risk brushes right up against disability accommodations, I hope they will accommodate you.

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

Based on my read of the (unsettled) science, I would say you are overreacting unless you have special circumstances you don't mention here.

I will also note that when you say "We have been living on 100% contactless delivery", I don't imagine that can be accurate.  I would guess you are doing what I am doing, and that is "we have been paying others less fortunate to assume our risk of contact".

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

To be honest, I do think you're overreacting a little - especially about pumping gas (wear gloves, no issue). But I think your boss is out of line to suggest such a gathering during a pandemic. What about suggesting TWO meetings, each 3 hrs long on consecutive days so bathroom breaks are less needed. No shared food, just BYO. Meet in a park vs a person's yard and YOU be in charge of spacing the chairs. Under these circumstances your risk of infection is as close to zero as it can get. If you need to use the bathroom at any time, just wear a mask and use disposable gloves, bring hand sanitizer. Seriously, should be fine. You can meet in person but mitigate the risk with a few adjustments. 

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

To each their own but personally I think you are over reacting a little. Remember that essential workers have been working in person for all these months just with cloth masks and washing their hands and the vast majority have been fine. It might be freeing to you to go to this in person day which has good safety precautions in place and see that everything is fine. You would be surprised how important in person interaction is. Bring a good mask, hand sanitizer, keep your distance, and change your clothes and disinfect your phone when you get home, you should be fine.

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

You are not overreacting! Your employer is completely out of bounds with this idea. I'm a professional educator and also a coordinator for a professional group, and I can tell you that all professional conferences/meetings are going virtual, as well as classes.

I have to say, not only is your employer putting people at risks, the health and safety risks and discomforts required for this gathering will negate any positive "magic" for in-person gatherings. For retreats to work, people need to have  sense of safety, fun and comfort to share with one another. I can't imagine that happening with people being forced outside for 8 hours without food/water being provided. Plus the stress of dealing with daycare and worry about one's health/safety of unnecessary exposure.

I have an alternate suggestion - perhaps instead, your boss could find a professional facilitator to work with your group virtually?  There are lots of folks out there who are skilled at this and not very expensive since you don't need to worry about travel costs.

Hope this helps. I am not an HR expert, but I definitely feel you are well within your rights to push back, especially if you have made a point for your family's safety to stay completely at home.  

RE: All day in-person retreat? ()

Not everyone will share your level of concern, but you are definitely not overreacting. The good news is, if it's a small executive team event, and you are supposed to attend, you are presumably an executive team member and you are not powerless here.  I would send a message to the team, and whoever is planning this, stating that you are not comfortable taking the risks that are necessarily involved in an all-day in-person meeting (no need to get into specifics about personal health, I think every employer is well aware of the issues), and propose a videoconferencing or other 'remote' alternative.  Depending on the nature of the team and the business, it may be more appropriate to push for an alternative form of event for everyone, because risking the health of the entire executive team is also a risk for the company, or as an option for those unable/unwilling to attend in person due to their own circumstances.