The COVID-19 Office

The Human Rights Work Continues

One positive change that could emerge from the COVID-19 global pandemic is the change in how  we do our work.  People working at home have been exposed to a whole new reality. To work, it is not necessary to be sitting in front of a computer 24/7.  Flexibility in work schedules is allowing people to schedule their days to attend to physical and mental health, as well as get the work done. 

On the common deck of my condo in Kits, my neighbour has run a power cord from the hall and set up the laptop screen to increase visibility of the screen.  He asks if I’m okay with his choice of music.  He is studying to be a pilot.  Sometimes I find him on the deck working as a personal trainer with one of his clients.  He has taught me that to explore angles on the laptop screen and shade it with a shirt to create a visor in order to increase screen visibility.  When I tilt back my reclining chair back, I can see the screen as well as the ocean and the mountains.

Down at Jericho Beach, I watch as the young women beside me tentatively step into the ocean and quickly decide it is just too chilly today.  The phone rings, and one of the young women shifts gears.  She effectively negotiates her business call and makes the commitment to draw up a proposal and have it to her client tomorrow.  As she chats, her friend takes out her computer and gets some work done.  There are no hurt feelings or resentment for not giving her friend her undivided attention.  The social contract allows and expects these disruptions.

I frequently give my son a hard time for not giving his father and I his undivided attention when he comes for dinner or for a bike ride.  And yet, at the same time I’m incredibly proud at how well he is doing with his business.  Clients around the world are paying the bills, manufacturing product or ready to work collaboratively.  Communication cannot be limited to a 9-5 context if you are being responsive to needs.  The phone rings or the text comes through and my son  seamlessly slides into business mode, negotiates the call and rejoins us.  

My cousin has an office job.  Working at home started when COVID-19 hit Vancouver in Spring.  It has just been extended until January.  She has adjusted to the reality that some days includes far more work that other.  She always meets the expectations of what needs to be done in a day.  For the employer, no work space, office furniture, phones, supplies or daily cleaning are required.   The employer has got to have noted the obvious benefits of reduced costs. 

In British Columbia, schools were closed after Spring Break to everyone but principals, vice principals, operating engineers and trades people.  I went into my office first thing in the morning, stood at my desk for hours on end, absorbing all of the new information possible, attending online meetings, planning and problem solving.  I turned my head to pick up the phone and left my office to attend to very specific tasks.  The intense stress exacerbated the muscle strain.  Two things happened to change things up for me.  Nearly all meetings were online so there was less need to dress in my regular work attire.  We were also given direction to leave the school by 3:30 pm to allow the deep cleaning of the school.  This allowed me to ride my bike to school and get some exercise, and some perspective as I rode home along the seawall.  Some phone calls I navigated en-route, and people got use to some huffing and puffing when I reached hills.  Sometimes I just stopped to focus on the situation.  I also stopped to do video-tweets for the students at my school.  It was a refreshing and much needed break.  I was still available for work.

Initially I thought perhaps Millennials were just better at pivoting during this new  reality than Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers.  And yet Alex Neve,  Canadian Human Rights Activist and Secretary General of Amnesty International, popped up on Facebook with his office set-up in the forest.  It seems to be that people with their own businesses or more job autonomy have been the blade runners in defining these new realities.   Granted some jobs lend themselves to more flexibility.  When schools opened on a voluntary and part time basis in British Columbia in June, educators certainly needed to be onsite more frequently.  However in July when I was facilitating a course for BCPVPA, I transitioned to a work space in my dining room.   Now I have expanded my options.  The side deck or front deck in the shade with the birds, or the common deck with the mountains, ocean and sunshine are working just fine.  This could be the upside of COVID-19 

The Best or Worst Versions of Ourselves?

With the advent of the COVID-19 global pandemic, we are witnessing extreme versions of people. Some people take Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice to “Be Kind” to heart. We see examples of people choosing to be the best version of themselves and acting with generosity and kindness. Then there are the other people who unleash a nastiness and vitriol that we only saw hints of in past interactions. The ongoing conversation has become, do difficult times reveal the actual predisposition of a person or does it reveal of lack of coping skills?

What do people see when they look at you?

Since the beginning of civilization, there are examples of people who seek out those opportunities to dominate others.  The motivations have ranged from selfishness, jealousy, insecurity, entitlement, sadism or fear of losing power.   We have historical relics such as the pyramids, the Great Wall of China, concentration camps and the documentation of slavery, as glaring examples of this.  With COVID-19, there are increased reports of family breakdown, abuse, separation, divorce, racism, and volatility in the community.   Last week, a Kitsilano resident assumed the responsibility for aggressively questioning people on the beach, where they were from and ordering them home to their own neighbourhood.  There is no shortage of examples of outrageous, opportunistic, and perhaps Machiavellian behaviour to warrant responses of anger, depression and dismay. 

Yet, the friendliness and kindness is palpable on a daily basis.  There are so many examples of generosity and kindness in person and online that have the capacity to fill our heart with gratitude.  The smiles, the friendly conversation, inspirational stories, and the commiserating over lines at stores are daily occurrences.  The 7 o’clock salute to thank health care workers has expanded from pots and pans to include percussion instruments, car and boat horns, sirens, and in some cases full bands.  In their lives, did these people receive good character education with an emphasis on moral justice, integrity, and kindness from friends, families, or teachers? 

In my heart of heart, I don’t believe in truly bad people who go out into the world with a mission to make other people miserable.  And yes, good people have bad days.  However, all of us are called on to make choices and are responsible for those choices.  The COVID-19 global pandemic will be one of those times when the measuring stick comes out to judge where we were as a civilization in 2020.  History will hold out the examples of the human capacity for greatness, or like Margaret Wheatley points out, the very clear indicators of the fall of yet another civilization.  We will be held responsible for how we raised up the voices of those in need of help and encouragement, and how we responded on a societal or individual level.   

“Fenced In” during COVID-19 Lockdown

Lockdown in the city.  Although social distancing could have been the answer to the dramatic effort to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, stronger government measures have been required to enforce common sense measures like social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.  As a result, most of us are in our homes for most of the day in Vancouver and many other places throughout the world.  Only Taiwan used the SARS experience to prepare adequately to manage this recent global pandemic.  For people in Taiwan, life includes travel restrictions, regular temperature checks, masks, and strictly enforced isolation for people who have travelled or feel sick.  It also includes going to work, restaurants, and the gym.  For the rest of us, we’re inside.  No socializing.  No yoga.  No gym. No eating out at restaurants.  No visits to the local coffee shop to sit, work or socialize.  Even the logs at the popular Vancouver beaches have been gathered and fenced in to prevent people from gathering and socializing in groups.  The quest to cope is daunting for many who feel like they have exchanged control of their lives for abject boredom.  However we continue to have control of how we perceive our situation and how we spend our time.

I am grateful that we our two week Spring break that pushed the card on self isolating and government enforcement of Health and Safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while my family, friends and my school community are still healthy.  Prior to the break, our school did a good job of reminding kids to wash hands properly, cough into their elbows, and maintain clean spaces and surfaces.  We are now in a better position to teach and reinforce the importance of social distancing.

My Grandma Derksen kept four young kids together and alive through-out World War II in Germany.  She lived to be 100 years old,  Her stories of rats nibbling on toes in emergency shelters and other horrific conditions framed her later life.  She demonstrated a fastidious attention to cleanliness.  For her joy came with a clean and organized household.  When I was newly married, I’d take a toothbrush to crevices when she came to visit and shove piles of stuff into closets.  The family joke has always been that the clean gene skipped my genetic make-up.  I prefer to go out and do something.  If I’m at home, I’d prefer to read or write rather than clean the house.

I was gifted with the collector gene of my Grandma Keenan.  Books, rocks, shells, tea cups, photos, letters and other treasures carry stories and possibilities.  My recent obsession with clean surfaces have brought the realization that the clutter also brings dust and presents a cleaning challenge.  I will require more than a two week lock-down to meet the Grandma Derksen standard, but I am well on my way.

My recent painting, organizing, and cleaning obsession has been made enjoyable with audio-books and the Netflix binge watch.  I have discovered that weekly featured audiobooks are available for under $10.00 and some great classics are even cheaper.  Nothing like a hard boiled detective with Tourettes to entertain you while you paint a bedroom.  Multiple seasons of a series on Netflix with well developed characters has kept me shuffling papers and sorting “stuff” well into the night.

Social media has the merits of checking in on people and statistics, but like binge watching television or the news can become a black hole.  It has the same capacity as empty grocery store shelves to fill me with anxiety and apprehension.  My mother was the ultimate worry wart.  The worst things that happened in her life were the things she never saw coming.  The worry just made her more nervous and less able to experience joy.  I have found the need to just turn it off.   Daily technology and television breaks are mandatory.

Reading is how I cope with life.  It allows me to shift gears.  It provides the front-end loading that feeds my curiosity and helps me process life.  It allows me to do big picture thinking and make sense of things in the past and yet to come.  It’s not an “add on” to a busy schedule but part of my life.  The additional time at home has diversified my reading.  I am even listening to a grisly book called Still Lives that would make my older sister proud – the ultimate consumer of scary books and movies.  I just finished a book called Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang that has reframed my thinking around work/ life balance.

Daily outdoor exercise is part of the mix.  It provides a welcome addition to the day.  There is something to be said for the positive addition of having time with nature to calm our nervous system and experience joy in its beauty.  There is time for long walks and bike rides.  My preference is for long bike rides because it gives me a better way to work out.  Spring is a great time of year.  As new growth emerges, so do the possibilities for learning, considering things in a new light and creativity.  With this new learning and inspiration comes the desire to write and to cook.  Olive’s bran muffins from when my cousin and I worked on 4th Avenue at The Computer Tax Service, Nanny Keenan’s oatcakes, along with homemade croutons have become staples.

By the end of the day, I still find I have more to do.   Today I will venture out into the rain.  Then the promise of a pot of tea and a good book.  Tonight I have decided that it will be date night.  I will put on nice clothes and perhaps even make-up and make a fancy dinner.   Something to change things up.  I may even let my husband teach me a new card game.  My husband will be delighted not to be co-opted into another organizational venture!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COVID-19 Distancing

Social Distancing at Spanish Banks
“We can chat from cars!”

We are social animals.  A range of cultural and social institutions, as well as businesses have been organized around this premise.  COVID 19 strikes.  The World Health Organization responds with 5 basic rules for us to follow.

Do the Five by WHO
5 things to prevent the spread of Covid19 #DoThe5 #Covid19

The first two imperatives are under our direct control on a regular basis and have been implemented to varying degrees over the course of the last several years.  Kids in public school are familiar with repetitive reminders to wash their hands and the mantra – “Cough into your elbow, away from people”.  The success in NOT touching the face depends  largely on how successful people have been in conquering the habit of nose picking.  Unfortunately the adult nose picker driving a car demonstrates this is an ingrained habit in as many adults as children.  To obliterate this habit could be the one upside of the global pandemic.

People have clearly taken the recommendation to stay home if they are sick.  I have heard a few sneezes but none of the coughing that is usually quite apparent at this time of year.  The last time I heard someone coughing in a public place was at a yoga class before Prime Minister Trudeau appeared on television and the level of concern and vigilance increased exponentially.  The obviously sick person had a big box of kleenex on her mat and evoked a fair amount of angst in the group.  I’m not certain if she returned to class while sick but it was enough to have me to take an extended break from yoga class and for the studio to close their doors within days.  I have heard the occasional sneeze escape in a grocery store or outdoors, followed by a plethora of apologies or explanations of allergies.  Sick people are self isolating due to the directive or reaction of the general public.

Maintaining a distance of at least one metre between people is the most challenging of the directives to implement.  Even though many people are trying, habit is again the culprit.  The hand goes out to shake.  The hug to say thanks.  The high five to recognize.  Fortunately Star Trek has given us the “Vulcan handshake” along with the very appropriate “live long and prosper tagline.  For long time trekkies, it also is guaranteed to evoke a smile.  Better to avoid  the physical proximity of the elbow or toe tap.

The direction to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has met with good timing with the two week Spring break in British Columbia.  Yet, the wild card has been the Vancouver sunshine.  As every Vancouverite understands, sunshine screams, “Get outdoors now”.  Life in a temperate rainforest has taught us that rain is often just around the corner.  A pause in quickly getting outside to relish the sun is perceived as a lost opportunity.  Certainly by me.  What better place to socially distance than to be in the great outdoors?  This is the case in many places.  NOT in city parks of Italy or Lower Mainland of Vancouver where scenic parks are magnets for people to convene.

Living in Kitsilano, the most beautiful and accessible places to head are the beaches, parks, bike/ walking routes west from Kits Beach to Spanish Banks and east around Granville Island and the Stanley Park seawall.  As the week of stay at home lockdown has been self inflicted to prevent the spread of COVID-19, all these scenic places and routes have become much busier and hundreds of people are congregating to have a coffee, chat and watch the children play at the beach and in the parks.   Apparently this is also the case at Rocky Point Park in Port Moody and the White Rock boardwalk.

Social Distancing is possible.

There are some valiant efforts to establish the  recommended 1 -2 metre distance between people.   Many people have jumped on their bikes to do this.  In too many cases they are too difficult for some to sustain or not taken seriously.  Certainly that has been the case on the playgrounds.  Yesterday there were some new signs reminding people to maintain a 1-2 metre distance at Kits Beach but the sheer quantity of people made that difficult in high traffic areas.  My husband wanted to go for a walk, rather than a bike ride and we were unable to maintain the recommended barrier when passing people at Kits Beach or along the Granville Island walking route.   What healthy people do not understand in their risk as carriers.  Clearly on the beach and in the parks, there are also some people who believe their own physical health will protect them.   They don’t understand their role in exponential numbers of other people getting sick and the implications of the stress on the elderly, the vulnerable, medical system and the economy until we emerge out of flu season.

It does seem that we need to exercise our own judgement about how to monitor the physical proximity of ourselves to others.  I feel grateful to have my husband in stay at home lockdown.  Yes, partially for the chores around the house I’ve wanted to get done for some time, but mostly because we have fun being together.  We still want to get daily exercise outdoors, however we will be more discerning about how, when and where to do that. We will choose less busy places to walk and ride.  My pivot has been to bike the Arbutus Greenway, continuing along through the quiet Kerrisdale neighbourhood bike route to UBC, and staying on the road in the busiest sections of Spanish Banks.

If we are not making good decisions to avoid contact during a pandemic, then we are inviting government to make those decisions for us in order to protect the population.  Then again, the inevitable Vancouver rain seems poised to grace us and it will assume the responsibility for enforcing social distancing as more people are more inclined to stay inside.  Then those of us who love the smell of rain will be free to venture to the beach routes for our daily exercise without risk of close contact with others.  In the meantime, #DoThe5 and stay healthy.  Books, Netflix and binge watching all beckon.

Afternoon Update March 22, 2020 – Metro Vancouver cities have closed outdoor sports areas.  Parking lots for popular beaches and parks have been closed.  Prime Minister Trudeau adopts language indicative of further measures to ensure people people are practicing emergency distancing.

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