Tips for Working from Home during the Pandemic

The social distancing requirements came suddenly prompting swift action to start working from home. For a lot of businesses, this probably posed challenges for employees who were not accustomed to working from home, logging in through a secure VPN, or accessing files from a shared, networked repository. Based on my experience, a lot of employees probably resorted to emailing themselves documents to make sure they were available rather than exploring, or learning about, alternative options. Or using email attachments to work collaboratively.

If this sounds like your unexpected working from home experience, you’re not alone. As an information professional, here are some tips for having a better experience working remotely with regards to accessing your documents and information.

Tips for Working Remotely

  1. Learn about options available from your workplace about how to store documents in a centralized and/or networked repository for accessing remotely. This will save you a lot of time and effort in locating things, plus it will help to keep your email inbox from overflowing.
  2. Contact the records and information or information governance department in your workplace and get tips from them.
  3. Use naming conventions and versioning. Document the strategy and share with your work team.
  4. Contact your IT department, or whoever does training, and get tutorials on how to use the available technology to work work effectively remotely.

As a consultant, I’ve been working from home for years. An internet search will yield lots of tips and advice, but here’s a short list of what’s worked well for me. These tips promote productivity and maintaining a work-life balance.

Tips for Working from Home

  1. Be comfortable. If working from home is going to be a long-term solution for you, invest in proper furniture (e.g., desk, chair, second monitor, ergonomic mouse, etc.).
  2. Get dressed everyday. You definitely don’t need to wear office attire, but at least change out of your pajamas.
  3. Separate personal from professional. This can be difficult when working from home, especially if you feel like procrastinating and there’s laundry to be done, kids running around, etc. However, make an effort to take real and designated breaks for meals, coffees, housework, time with kids, etc. (Definitely easier said than done with daycares and schools still closed!)
  4. Enjoy the perks! Non-existent commute means time/money saved. I used to love taking a 15-20 minute power nap as part of my lunch break or in the afternoon.

How to Host a Successful Live Virtual Event

Last week my partner and I hosted a ceremony. We wanted to broadcast it virtually so our guests could watch and comment, but not talk during it. This is a key difference between an event and a meeting.

The biggest benefit of the virtual event was guests attending from all over the world, even though finding an optimal time was tricky with so many time zones represented. Another bonus, as one guest remarked, was that everyone got a front-row seat.

The event was lovely with a few funny moments trying to get everything figured out live.

Here are some tips for hosting a successful live event virtually based on my lessons learned.

Figure out what you need (e.g., recording, presenting only, calendar invitations, etc.). Then pick your app. Skype, Zoom, and Google Meet, etc., will all offer slightly different capabilities. We needed to record the event for about an hour so we picked Google Meet even though it was a little harder to use than Zoom.

Practice the event. Set up the space in advance so you can figure out where to place your device. Practice with a friend so you know what it will be like during the event. For example, I had to adjust the settings to enable Google Meet to record.

Plan extra time for your guests who may have problems using technology or with the app. Offer practice sessions ahead of time and “open” the event 15 minutes early. I had a few guests with whom I set up Google Meet test meetings in advance to make sure they knew how to use it. This is how we discovered two of our most important guests couldn’t use Google Meet!

Determine how many devices you will need. We wanted background music and we knew that some guests couldn’t use Google Meet. Plus Google Meet will only record with a computer, not a handheld device. This meant we needed at least 3 devices, plus a way to prop them all.

Appoint a guest to monitor sound and video quality. I had no idea that only half my head was showing until my mom unmuted her microphone to point this out. It’s better to hear about problems from only one person.

Be kind to your guests and yourself. Every app works a little bit differently. Make sure guests know the basics, like how to access the event and mute microphones.

The Power of Sousveillance

Most people are familiar with the term “surveillance,” essentially being watched over by someone or something, e.g., cameras. These days it’s quite common for organizations, shops, services, or even residents to have cameras for monitoring, tracking, or enhanced security. No matter where you go, it’s likely that you’ve been caught on camera someplace. It’s also now likely that the captured image of you can be identified with facial recognition.

People may be less familiar with the term “sousveillance.” I’m not sure where or when I first heard the term, but I found a definition for it in an article in The New York Times Magazine by Jascha Hoffman, “Sousveillance.” In this article “sousveillance” is defined as “the monitoring of authorities.

As most people now carry around a smartphone, it’s become increasingly popular for these “sousveillance” videos to be posted. The most recent one to gain attention was the video depicting an act of police brutality in Minneapolis that resulted in the death of George Floyd.

Even though I’m not an authority, I often feel uncomfortable with the idea that I’m being watched, either by surveillance cameras or how anybody could be recording me surreptitiously. However, in certain circumstances it could prove beneficial to have so many devices available to record to so many different viewpoints. The challenge is that you can’t pick and choose when this happens so you have to accept that it is going on all the time.

In the right context, the act of sousveillance can be a powerful means to offer a different perspective. Sometimes through these videos, it provides the impetus needed to impact real change, though they can often be difficult to watch.

The first time I saw one of these videos was in 2007, when RCMP officers tasered Robert Djiekanski to death in the Vancouver International Airport. Each time one of these videos is posted, showing overly aggressive and often deadly actions of police officers, it makes me wonder how many other times this happened when it wasn’t caught on video from a bystander.

It’s sad to think that we need sousveillance to monitor our authorities to make sure they’re not abusing their power and people. Each time an act of police brutality is captured, especially those ending in fatalities, is one of those circumstances when sousveillance is serving a valuable purpose.

The State of Privacy Post-COVID-19

It’s interesting to speculate what the state of privacy could be as we transition from a state of action to one of management in the pandemic.

Different countries have taken various approaches to control the disease. Some countries, like China, have employed rigid restrictions by shutting down entire provinces and forcibly quarantining people. Another part of their strategy relies on using artificial intelligence (AI), technology, and surveillance to both track people and assist with contact tracing.

Other countries, like Sweden, have put some restrictions in place but have largely relied on the honor system for compliance.

At this stage, it’s hard to know for sure which path is the right one to take. The question of using technology to assist with contact tracing is a big one for more democratic countries, particularly around the management of the collected private, sensitive information.

When it comes to technology, we often sacrifice privacy for convenience. Sometimes we may perceive the risk of giving up our information as minimal to use a new app. Other times, we may opt out, or accept less functionality to preserve some of our privacy.

However, when our health and livelihoods are challenged, this brings a new perspective to the privacy issue. Many people are scared of getting Covid-19, or of unwittingly spreading it. Fear is a powerful motivator that could sway people to think differently about privacy.

In pre-pandemic times, people might find something like contact tracing through smartphones, such as the techniques used in China, to be invasive, especially when combined with AI and other high-tech surveillance measures. But in the middle of a pandemic, the perspective and context changes. Some people may re-evaluate their stances on privacy, or be willing to sacrifice some of their privacy for the greater good of preventing the spread of Covid-19.

Decisions surrounding our personal privacy and how much of it we’re willing (or required) to share should always be taken seriously, even during a pandemic when we’re all eager to get back to some kind of normalcy. It’s at times like these we may be tempted to give up too much without a way to get it back later because we’re scared or desperate or any other number of emotions. Going forward, will we only be able to move around “freely” if we decide to share our Covid-19 test results and allow ourselves to be tracked through smartphones?

Test Your DIY Skills During the Pandemic

The pandemic is a trying time for most, if not all, of us. Many of us are finding ourselves pushed, pulled, and forced to do things out of our comfort zones. I’ve always been resourceful and willing to make (some) things from scratch, but the pandemic is requiring me to experiment in new areas.

Getting groceries, including household cleaners, has been challenging. Grocery store queues are long, so we prefer to order online and do a pickup. Although this seems like the faster, safer option, I find that shopping online takes longer than I ever spent in a grocery store. Remember those days?

After our last order, where the particular store was out of eco-friendly household cleaners, I decided it was time to make my own. I’ve had success making non-toxic (and very effective) window cleaner before so I felt confident about making a hardwood floor cleaner.

I did a few searches looking for things like “DIY floor cleaner” and “how-to make hardwood floor cleaner.” Similar to grocery shopping online, I thought this would be a quick and easy search with a quick and easy recipe. I was bombarded with different tips, recipes, methods, etc. This abundance of information is what makes the internet so amazing and so daunting, all at the same time. The searching was turning out to be a longer activity than cleaning the floors. After skimming a few options, I finally mixed one up and got the job done.

Next on the DIY list, which had been there since before the pandemic, was making a new bar of soap out of all those annoying, tiny, dried soap slivers. I always feel guilty and wasteful tossing them in the garbage, even more so now that I know soap is such a powerful foe for Covid-19.

Once again, I did a few searches and skimmed some options. I was delighted to see there were so many options available, including ones to turn it into liquid soap, or fancy colored soap balls.

Feeling like I had the gist of the whole process, I started cutting up the soap bits. Using a makeshift double boiler, I melted all the bits together. A short time later, I glopped the new soap into some greased muffin tins to dry out for a few days. I’m not sure about the results, but it’s soap, made from soap. What could go wrong with that?

New soap in some greased muffin tins

Lullaby

I never considered myself to be much of a singer, but all that changed the first time I heard my baby cry (and cry and cry). Without thinking or any hesitation, my mouth opened and I started singing. At first it was whatever tune popped into my head, in some kind of desperation to stop the crying. At times even making up lyrics to instrumental music. Other times I sang the same song over and over again.

Gradually, from some deep, primal part of my memory, I started to resurrect the songs that I remembered my father singing to me. I was a little surprised, but not completely, to discover that I manipulate all the songs the same way my father used to. I change lyrics, add verses, replace names, and jazz up the rhythms.

Like songbirds, we pass down songs to our young. Patiently sitting with the new generation, teaching them the melodies, rhythms, and rhymes that we inherited from our parents and close loved ones. And with each exchange, something new is added, enriching the experience for all involved.

Some years ago in my orchestra, we played a piece of music composed by ICOT, a group of Iranian composers in Toronto. At first, we were challenged to play the unfamiliar rhythms and pacing of the pieces because they were so different from what we were used to. I spoke with one of the composers about his piece. He explained that in his culture they are taught these rhythms and patterns from a young age, the kind of thing that is passed down from teacher to student.

There’s a reason why lullabies are universal (or nearly universal) in every culture around the world. It’s an accepted tradition to sing to babies as a way to comfort and soothe them. Music combines so many powerful elements like the use of calming tones, vibrations, and all the deep breathing required to carry a tune.

In addition to being soothing, lullabies are a way to form bonds, strengthen connections, and create new memories, or just have fun making up silly lyrics. The best part about singing to babies is that they are very forgiving when you’re out of tune or can’t quite remember all the words.

Happy Mothers’ Day!