Weekly Digest – 28 October 2020
All around the world, pandemic fatigue is setting in, as the need for social contact outweighs the commitment to following restrictive rules. Unfortunately, this is coinciding with a surge in infection rates in the U.S. and Europe. Asian countries, on the other hand, are managing to return to “mostly normal”. New infections in China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong, combined, have been around 1,000 per day, while here in the U.S., new infections are in the tens of thousands. Asian countries largely managed to avoid lockdowns by quarantining infected persons, aggressive contact tracing, and cultural differences that are more accepting of restrictions.
This virus will be with us for the foreseeable future, but there are things we can all do to at least make this time better all around.
I am a firm believer that “Taking Some Personal Time Each Day Enables You to Focus on the “Tough Stuff” – this blog & video were filmed and posted last August but I feel the message is most relevant in times like this…
CARES ACT UPDATES
Without a new stimulus plan, many of the protections from the CARES Act will expire at the end of December. Included in those safety net protections that will expire are:
- A moratorium on evictions from the CDC
- Mortgage forbearance relief for homeowners with federally backed mortgages
- Expanded unemployment relief for the self-employed and independent contractors
- Paid time off for employees impacted by COVID-19 or who have childcare responsibilities
- A pause on payments and collections for student loan payments for federally-backed loans
- Deferral on some payroll taxes
- Suspension of early withdrawal penalties from retirement accounts
When the CARES Act was enacted, most envisioned a quick return to normal conditions, which unfortunately has not been the case.
Another stimulus bill?
Hope is not completely lost for a stimulus bill before the election next week, but the possibility of a deal between the Senate and the House is slipping away. Economists are cautioning that doing nothing or not providing enough financial support could prolong the recovery, which could cost more in the long run.
Economic Impact Payments (aka Stimulus Checks)
The IRS has extended the deadline to November 21 for non-filers to enter information using the IRS non-filers tool so that they may receive a stimulus payment by year’s end. Millions of people are eligible for stimulus checks but have not yet received them because their income was too low to require filing a 2018 or 2019 tax return. Using the secure non-filers tool will allow the IRS to send payments to eligible recipients this year. Otherwise, they will have to wait until 2021 when they file a 2020 tax return.
Tips for voting safely
The CDC released a set of tips for safely voting. Besides the usual recommendations for social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing hands or using hand sanitizer, the CDC recommends that voters verify their registration status, find out where, when, and how to vote, and to be prepared. If casting a vote in person, bring your own black ink pen or stylus. I have scheduled my day today around going to my local early voting site. I have heard varying reports, but I am bringing my surface and kindle and am prepared for a long wait. I hope others have had a good experience with this.
Do we need to keep wiping down surfaces?
Early in the days of the pandemic, when little was known about the virus and how it was most likely to be transmitted, initial research indicated that the virus could survive a week or more on hard surfaces. However, more recent research, as reported in Wired, indicates that transmission from hard surfaces is much less likely than initially believed. While some high-contact areas, such as elevator keypads and hospital rooms, should be disinfected regularly, constantly wiping down surfaces and disinfecting groceries and mail do not seem to be required. Researchers fear that the focus on surfaces may tempt some people to become complacent about mask wearing, social distancing, hand-washing and good air flow, which do impede transmission. In the early days we had “loads” of mailed in tax documents we staged for 4 days before scanning and using. Of course the documents we received through our portal were ready to use upon receipt, another unforeseen advantage of “digitizing”.
The IRS has resumed sending out balance due notices to taxpayers after a pause of several months due to a backlog of unopened mail. However, the IRS hasn’t completely resolved its backlog because many people report that the IRS still hasn’t cashed checks mailed months ago. Please do let us know if you receive any notices and we will follow up with the IRS problems resolution section or NYS website once we have evaluated the issue.
Reminder here that the IRS efile site typically closes in mid-November so for you procrastinators get cracking or you will have to wait until mid-January to file your business and personal tax returns on line.
WORKING FROM HOME
Now that the novelty of working from home has worn off, it may be tempting to wear pajamas all day. But many successful remote workers find that getting dressed for work – even if no one sees you – helps to set the tone for the day. Changing out of pajamas into comfortable clothes helps separate work from home life. For days when you will be participating in a video chat meeting, or hosting a webinar don’t forget to dress as your would for any in-person meeting. Last week I was invited to be a participant for a test run of our annual symposium which will be totally virtual this year. I popped on in my running clothes, no make-up and “messy pony”. The host chatted to me to turn on my video and mic, I had been upgraded to a remote panelist and was on camera. Luckily I am a volunteer among friends so it was fine.
Working remotely requires intentional actions to support fellow team members, as this article in Financial Management describes. To take the place of chance meetings at the water cooler, try creating opportunities for spontaneous conversation such as virtual happy hours. Timely responses to emails can enhance connection. Asking open-ended questions like “How can I help?” instead of simply ending the conversation with “Let me know if you need anything” lets team members know you are available and willing to help out. We also find that scheduled video chat staff huddles and our on going group chat with photos of our walks, runs, and fancy home cooked dinners help us feel connected. Sharing a photo from yesterday’s run on the beach with all of you here, just as I did with my staff on our group chat…
LIVING WITH AND AFTER THE PANDEMIC
Even people who love winter may be dreading the change in seasons as the pandemic continues with no positive end in sight. However, as this article in Vox argues, shifting your focus outward can go a long way in dispelling depression and feelings of discouragement. The trifecta of social connection, a sense of purpose, and inspiration may not change the outer circumstances appreciably, but can make a long pandemic winter less daunting.
Work in the post-pandemic world
The open office plan was already on the way out when the pandemic struck, and COVID-19 seems to have accelerated that decline. According to a recent survey of tech companies, less than half plan to retain their current open office configurations. Almost 80% of respondents indicated that their space needs over the next 12 to 18 months was decreasing, and more than half said they were planning on getting rid of some of their excess space in the next 18 months. With Elizabeth’s recent move to Atlanta, Myriam and Monica continuing to work remotely from their home offices in Florida and New Jersey, and Ramona coming in on Monday’s and Friday’s, most days it’s just me and Raquel in our space; very roomy and luxurious. We still feel very connected via our new phone system which allows us to intercom each other and our expanded use of our video chat software which allows us to work together on projects sharing our screens.
- Our Covid-19 Resource Center with relevant blog posts, videos and prior weekly newsletters
- Payroll, HR and benefits company Gusto has put together An Employer’s Guide to Navigating the Coronavirus
- Accounting Today has a special page for articles on COVID-19
- The best source for up-to-date and accurate health information is the Center for Disease Control (CDC)
- The CDC also has recommendations for businesses and employers
- Intuit QuickBooks has a dedicated page to help small businesses
- The Red Cross has pointers to help young adults stay safe
- Entrepreneur put together a listing of free tech resources for remote work
- Kiplinger has a state-by-state guide to absentee ballot voting.
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has warnings about COVID-related scams
- Fast Company has a listing of the best productivity apps for 2020
- The New York Times has an online newsletter on K-12 and higher education
- The Wall Street Journal has a collection of articles on education
We sincerely hope that you and your family are well and remain well. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are all in this together!