Beware of the 168-Hour COVID-19 Work Week
Adapting to Working From Home/Intense Shifts at LindsayPosted on: August 13th, 2020
Sheltering-in-Place Blog Entry #18
It is 4 a.m. I woke up thinking that I forgot to complete a place-holder section on my most recent report to the board of directors. And I had already sent the report to all board members. Argh! I told myself that it could wait. I’d fix it later and send it again.
“But…” my brain responded. “You look bad when you make mistakes and have to repeat things.”
Well, yes, probably right. Might as well fix it now.
And thus starts my workday. Did I mention it was Sunday? Sitting in a T-shirt, shorts, and slippers, typing quietly to avoid waking up my wife, I made the corrections but held off sending the document. People would notice the time stamp of the message.
COVID-19 had created a new challenge for Lindsay workers. Wednesdays, when Shift A (we call it Shift Albatross) finishes work, we wish each other a lovely weekend. And we smile, knowing there’s still a lot of work to be done and the weekend is not really coming. By Sunday, Shift Albatross starts again. TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) turns into WDII (What day is it?) Wednesday? Saturday? It’s Blursday, the new fuzzy day of the week, making its rounds in workplaces worldwide.
The 168-hour week title was inspired by a recent Forbes article by Joseph Coughlin, a journalist that writes about retirement and other work-related topics. In the piece, he interviewed several people, including retired workers, that are struggling with the blurring of the workday and the loss of the home/work boundaries that defined our “normal” worker’s life. In the last four and a half months, we have had online meetings at all hours of the day and even into the evening. These meetings have often included cameo appearances by cats, dogs, children, and various other creatures (Hello, our Raven, has been present at some Lead Team meetings), and spouses. Our workspaces at home have also been varied and unique. Kitchen counters, dining room tables, bedrooms, and even cars, to name a few, have become meeting and office spaces for Google Meets or Zoom hangouts. Spouses compete for space and bandwidth, while kids also demand their share of attention and care. Homeschooling and online entertainment have become proxies for schools and neighborhood parties. On the positive side, many people spend more time outdoors, hiking, and connecting with nature. However, we’ve all seen photos of crowded beaches and packed groups at parks and events. Larkey Park has had its share of outdoor gatherings where masks and social distancing have mostly been absent. Most mornings, I walk a trail to get to the office. About two-thirds of the people I encounter on the trail walking, jogging, or biking are not wearing masks. Some carry it on their wrists or below their chin. Even nature and the outdoors can feel unsafe and put you at risk if people don’t understand the implications of an airborne virus that doesn’t have a cure and doesn’t discriminate.
About half of our staff currently live a double work-life. Our onsite work couldn’t stop. Wildlife patients arrive every day at the hospital and require immediate attention. Since the shelter-in-place order on March 13, we have received over 3,000 patients at the wildlife hospital. Our animal ambassadors need daily care, food, medicine (some of our ambassadors are venerable old creatures), and exercise, all lovingly provided by their keepers. We defined two shifts for onsite work, Team Albatross mentioned above, working Sunday through Wednesday, and Team Bushtit, working Thursday through Saturday. Most people in each shift work from home at least one or more days, logging animal care data and reports, answering emails, attending meetings, writing proposals, managing our growing online presence, preparing programs and activities, and catching up on lagging work. The lines blur, and the hours get longer. The onsite staff has logged an enormous amount of overtime hours, and the fact that most volunteers have not been able to rejoin the work teams adds to the stress. We also have staff working exclusively from home, looking for that precarious and hard-to-reach balance between private life and work life. They spend long hours in front of a screen, in meetings that would usually be done in person, only to go back to the screen to do homeschool lessons or for the necessary reprieve of entertainment. No wonder Netflix is making a killing. Living life through a screen takes its toll. We crave the human touch, the personal visit, and the immediacy of conversation without the delays, echoes, and stuttering of overloaded internet connections.
Fact is, work from home is here to stay, for some time and in some cases permanently. It has its advantages too. Not having to commute—think of all the hours you used to spend in the car in traffic or on the BART train—will save hundreds of hours in a year and a lot of fuel too, reducing our carbon footprint. But if those saved hours are all put into getting more work done, not much benefit would be gained. Our new work modalities will take some time to stabilize and become less stressful. Becoming successful at working from home and on split schedules means we need to watch out for each other and learn to recognize signs of stress and burnout in our coworkers, our partners, children, and ourselves. We must keep an eye on those work hours and encourage shutting off, disconnecting, and taking time to deal with the myriad issues and stressors that the pandemic has brought into our personal lives.
Lindsay is bringing back a suite of programs redesigned for the challenges of the pandemic. We launched a very small number of outdoor programs exclusively for members. The response to these pilot public programs has so far been successful. The programs were fully booked within hours of being advertised, and are being conducted with strict and careful attention for the safety of children, parents, staff, and volunteers. We’re rolling out additional in-person programs as we speak. Our “Turning Lindsay Inside Out” plan has meant designing programs that can be delivered online and outdoors, which will become a natural way to work. Our interior spaces, exhibits, animal enclosures, and offices will be remodeled and improved for visitors’ eventual return. With all its challenges (weather, people flow, safety measures), working outdoors will allow us to design, build, and install new spaces and exhibits for a grand reopening in the future.
We are fortunate that our lead team, staff, volunteers, and our Board of Directors pooled together to face the pandemic challenges head-on. They have all demonstrated vision and purpose, generosity of time and resources, and an enormous amount of energy, creativity, and empathy. And we’re also thankful that our community of donors and supporters responded generously and timely to our requests for help. Lindsay feels the love and will continue to work hard to give back to the community. Lindsay started with people who loved wildlife and nature; it now continues with people caring for each other so we can continue our mission or improve our relationship with nature and with ourselves.
Carlos L. de la Rosa