As I sit down to reflect on the changes that COVID has brought to my life and work, I am in a room that I am using as a temporary office. It was once my children’s computer space, and still does double duty as our craft room. Shelves of slime-making materials, clay for ceramics, and fabric for sewing compete for space with my files and books on associations. School is being held virtually, so we have three simultaneous Zoom calls in the house for 6+ hours a day. Seven months have passed since my region first went into lockdown and we are still very much not normal. I am fortunate in that my children are older and fairly self-sufficient and that I have the ability to have fast internet and separate spaces so we can have privacy during calls, but that doesn’t make it easy to adapt to the current situation. I have been reflecting on the unexpected challenges and opportunities that this pandemic has brought.
The ASCB office like many workplaces went completely virtual earlier this year. We were able to make the initial pivot very smoothly because almost all employees had telecommuting arrangements already in place and were used to working from home at least one day a week. Initially, we had to focus on the transition of business processes such as how to move our payment system from paper checks to electronic payments. We also needed to transition several in-person meetings and training events to be virtual. We then worked to expand our online offerings for our members who were stuck at home. The fact that our team all knew each other and were used to working together helped tremendously to keep us moving.
In the Washington, DC, area it is unclear when it will be safe for businesses like ours to reopen so we will be working remotely for the foreseeable future. This has moved us to a new working mode. We are being more purposeful in checking in with each other since we don’t have the random hallway moments. We are also holding more short, small group meetings so people can check in on progress. Unfortunately the meetings result in many of the staff suffering from Zoom fatigue so the novelty of team building activities like virtual happy hours has long worn off. We are working to find new ways to keep connected, including a walking challenge and lots of pet and cooking photos in our Slack messages. I have also been encouraging people to take some of their vacation days even if they are staying at home. We are also working to make sure that work doesn’t bleed into all hours of the days. I find that the ASCB team works more effectively when they have a chance to recharge regularly. No one can maintain focus on work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. for months on end without burning out, so I encourage ASCB staff to look after themselves so that we can look after our members.
Parents in the Workplace
When our local school system declared that classes would start online and children would return to school in January at the earliest, you could hear a collective scream of frustration from parents echoing through my community. The impact on parents of young and school-aged children during the lockdown period has been significant. Additionally, there are indications that this is affecting women more than men. I have children in middle school and high school (12 years old and 14 years old, respectively) so they can log on to classes and manage their work fairly independently, but I still find myself distracted by their noise, IT issues, meal prep, etc. At the same time, my work is busier than ever as we prepare for our first large virtual meeting, Cell Bio Virtual 2020.
I would encourage parents to cut themselves some slack and be as flexible as possible. Given the negative impact that COVID appears to be having on women’s careers, parents need to share their parenting duties so that the burden is falling as fairly as possible. My children spend half of their time with their father so I try to work longer hours when I don’t have them. Additionally, I have given up some (all) of my ideals about limited screen times, since that is now the way that my kids learn and socialize. It should not be up to individual parents to figure this out by themselves and fill the void of the lack of child care on their own; employers need to keep in mind that it is not just up to the parents to adapt. This is a temporary situation, and managers and supervisors must do our best to retain employees. This is not the time to micro-manage employees. Parents may need to shift worktimes to accommodate their children’s schedule, and workplaces need to accommodate them by focusing on what gets done rather than worrying about working hours. And while it isn’t sustainable in the long term, short-term leave or short periods of lower productivity should be expected to enable employees who may get ill or have caretaking duties.
New Ways of Doing
The press has been full of articles speculating about how many of the changes due to the pandemic will be permanent. I think that increased teleworking is here to stay as many employers who were reluctant to allow it have had it forced on them (and hopefully have realized that it is just fine). I also think that we will be doing more small meetings virtually, which should be good not only for people’s time, but also for the environment. At the same time I don’t think that Zoom and its ilk are the death knell for in-person meetings. Virtual interactions cannot replace in-person experiences, and I for one cannot wait for the day that I can see our members face to face again. Until that day, I hope that you stay healthy!
About the Author:
Erika Shugart is the Chief Executive Officer of ASCB.