I am writing this from my ‘annual leave’. The university asked us to stick to our booked annual leave, and rightly so, since we couldn’t restart the show on campus if everyone took a month off at the end of social distancing.
I was supposed to visit my ageing mother and play some RPGs in Germany this weekend, but since Lufthansa rightly cancelled my flight, and I wouldn’t want to be a hazard to my mother, I am, of course, spending it at home. I have the privilege to have a garden and so I am sowing and weeding, and weeing into the compost (look it up, it’s a natural compost accelerator) – and I am trying not to do the same things I do during the work week. It also gives me time to reflect on the reasonable adjustments I’ve made since starting to work from home.
First of all, my workplace is not a workplace – it’s a dining room table, and I’m sitting on a dining room chair. Unlike my Significant Other (henceforth to be referred to as the SO), I normally don’t work from home, so I’ve been adapting the place I work at now into a workplace. At first, a confession: after telling my team to start taking their equipment home every night, I – clearly on autopilot – locked mine up, together with my work phone on the last day before starting to work remotely. And there they sit in my locker at work, slowly and lonely draining their batteries. My team, on the other hand, listened to my advice, and are working away on their university devices. Go team!
But, as my mother always says ‘you are allowed to be stupid, as long as you can help yourself’ – I’ve set up my Chromebook and connected it to a cheapish screen I have knocking about for some online role-playing (Star Trek and D&D, if you must know), and started working on Monday morning, two weeks ago. I am pretty fit and have good posture, but knew after a few days I would start feeling my lower back, so I started making adjustments before this inevitability: The biggest improvement was – an empty Amazon box, propping up my external screen to sit above my Chromebook screen. I can touch-type without looking at my keyboard, and now my line of sight aligns with the top of the screen and I don’t have to tilt.
But then, I knew, I would have to invest some money to adapt more.
I invested into a wedge cushion and a lumbar support cushion – together about £35 on Amazon. I use the former to tilt my hips into a more stable position and enable my legs and feet into 90 degree angles; the latter supports my lumbar spine and keeps my lower back at its natural angle.
By mid-week of week one, I noticed that my voice was strained after sometimes pretty much non-stop MS Teams video calls. I admit it – I suffer from YUMPSV, short for Your Uncle’s Mobile Phone Shouting Voice – my SO confirmed this by coming downstairs to tell me to shout less. As there is only so much chamomile tea I can drink in a day to soothe my voice, I knew I had to address this.
I concluded that if I heard my own voice in my ear – or at least all others in the meeting, I would start speaking more naturally, and not end up sounding like Tom Waits by the end of the workday. The principle was sound, but here is where I made my first mis-investment: I bought a fancy-ish gaming headset with mic monitoring – it projects your own voice into your headset, so you don’t shout along like Rambo when playing Call of Duty at 3am (or whatever online gamers do). Turns out that this tech doesn’t really play with a Chromebook. Oh, if I had only listened to myself and brought the lovely Microsoft Surface laptop home with me – I’m sure it would have worked. However, the headset does help, and I’m shouting less – but I will not be able to have technology do the job of disciplining myself.
Having been raised in the Prussian Lutheran tradition – my father would only ever shower cold, except for Saturdays – I have been raised to believe in open windows and scoff at warm clothing; and that shivering could ever be acceptable from anger that it isn’t colder. I am so much less tough than my father was in this regard, but I have stood under a waterfall in the Japanese mountains chanting Buddhist chants. That’s short and shocking, but I was not prepared for the slow creep of the cold while sitting for days in the coolest room of the house. It’ll be great in spring and summer, but it sucked working like this. The SO and I had a discussion – and since I’m responsible for crawling into the roof space on cold morning to check the heating pressure, I qualify as the house’s heating engineer – I could convince both her and the cat that moving the main thermostat on to the ground floor would not freeze the rest of the house.
I keep’em. Almost ‘nuff said – since most of the university works still to UK office hours, most meetings are organised around them. However, since our highly international students are now working from a variety of time zones, my team and I are adapting: we will have to offer synchronous one-to-one appointments at a wider variety of times during the day, with some early and late offers to catch the outliers; and we are recording our group and webinar sessions, so they are available asynchronously. I think though, there will be further thought about this, since a personalised learning experience should not be exclusively coming out of a can.
How about you?
What adaptations have you made? Share your tips in the comments or on social media. The cheaper and weirder, the better.