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Advice for This New Era of Working and Learning from Home

by on March 24, 2020 4:30 AM


During my six decades of existence here on Earth I have lived through the following pandemics: the Hong Kong flu, HIV/AIDS, SARS, Swine flu and the Zika virus. And I just missed the 1957 Asian flu. At present I am living through the COVID-19 virus. 

In other words, I’ve averaged one pandemic every 10 years of my life. And I’m still here.

Which is really quite normal in this day and age when you understand the definition of a pandemic. According to the World Health Organization — the current decider of all things pandemic — a pandemic is defined as, “the worldwide spread of a new disease.” Although our current situation is obviously very serious, what does not define a pandemic is its severity or mortality rate. The SARS pandemic in 2003 killed less than 1,000 people worldwide. Pandemics are identified as such due to geographic spread, not the severity of the illness or mortality rate. This is important to keep in mind as we suffer these days of forced social distancing and consume ever-increasing amounts of information we may or may not understand – all of which add to our stress and anxiety levels.

Because what else besides stress and anxiety would have driven us to buy up all the toilet paper we could get our hands on? I guess we found out the answer to that age-old question, “What happens when the you-know-what hits the fan?” To compound that issue, in times of great strife, brand-loyalty is also forced out the window. Longtime Charmin user? Sorry, Scott is what you get. 

Now, since I am not a doctor or an expert on infectious diseases, and don’t play one on TV, my thoughts on how this national upheaval should be managed are really of no consequence. I’m listening to the folks in charge, doing my best to follow all guidelines, “social distancing,” and trying to keep my family and friends safe and healthy. 

But there are three areas where I do have a bit of expertise that might be of some use during these times: youth sports, homeschooling and working-from-home.

First, youth sports. Or more specifically, high school and college sports. Thousands upon thousands of young adults have had their passion, their happiness, their life-fulfilling enjoyment pulled out from under them. Seasons have been postponed or canceled. Championships cast aside. Lifetime dreams crushed. Teams dismantled and spread to the wind in a moment with absolutely no closure. No season-ending banquets, awards or recognition. 

And I have seen, read and heard well-meaning people say something to the effect of, “Well, it’s only high school/college [enter the name of the sport].”

Yes, people dying from coronavirus is a tragedy. Yes, the health of our nation and the world is paramount. Yes, for the millions living paycheck-to-paycheck who are now staring into a financial abyss this is catastrophic. Yes, older loved-ones being denied the company of family for months is heartbreaking. 

But this is not a competition to see whose suffering is worse, and those truths do not diminish the very real pain and grieving these young adults are going through. Please acknowledge their grief and tell them you are sorry. They need to know you care and understand that their pain is genuine. That you are there when they need you. That the youngest among us deserve as much concern as anyone for the losses they are incurring in this national time of need. Please don’t minimize it.

The second area where I have a bit of expertise is homeschooling. Our daughter exclusively homeschooled for 11 of her 12 “schooling” years. Our son homeschooled for six years, spent another year in a charter school, and his final five in public school. We’ve seen most sides of the educational equation.

My primary suggestion is do not try to re-create a standard school day in your home. Do not make a lesson plan, force your kids into time constraints, or judge their choices. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Use this time to allow your kids to direct you to the topics they are interested in, then involve them in ways that feed that interest. We discovered it’s possible to learn an entire 12-year curriculum of a subject – math, for example – in a matter of months when someone is interested and involved. Use this opportunity to let them learn what they want and enjoy. You might be surprised at the results.

The last area where I have some expertise is in working from home. For those of you who have an extended daily commute – I spent many years commuting four hours daily, two hours each way – working from home would seem to be a huge benefit. 

Here’s the first catch though: when your home is your office, the upside is the commute is darn short, but the downside is you’re never out of the office. Which is why you should consider setting up your home-office space in an area that is physically separated from the usual living/sleeping portions of your house. That way the “office” isn’t staring you in the face while you are living the non-work portions of your life. This is also important should you decide to deduct some of your expenses on your federal taxes – to qualify for a deduction the space you are using must be exclusively for conducting business.

A few other quick thoughts on home-office life:

  • Wear a watch that alerts you regularly if you haven’t moved out of your chair. It can be easy to get “locked-in” to something and forget you’re a human that needs a little exercise.

  • Wear whatever clothes you wish but if you are doing video conferencing at least make your upper-half presentable.

  • And if you’ll be doing a lot of video conferencing, pay attention to the image you’ll project from the items around you and behind you that will be in the camera’s frame and in everyone’s view. 

  • If possible, get outside and walk at least twice a day to replace missed movement. 

  • When it’s time for lunch, dinner or a break, take that time away from your workspace. Don’t eat at your desk.

  • Enjoy the flexibility and base your workday on what you normally accomplish in the office, not in how many hours you sit at your desk. 

As I said, I’m not a medical expert but hopefully there was a useful tidbit in this column for you. I wish you and everyone a safe and healthy journey through this current pandemic.




John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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