Wayne State employees are getting accustomed to “social distancing” and working remotely in a variety of ways. It’s uncharted territory, though, with everyone adjusting differently to their new work environments.
Heather Marks, marketing coordinator for the Dean of Students Office, has found a secluded spot in her house that she’s arranged in a similar fashion to her office workspace. The only difference is her two new coworkers, Gizmo and Nyota.
“They are enjoying me being home and are currently in a battle over who gets to claim my lap,” Marks said. “Being cats, they also demand attention by sitting directly in front of my computer screen, or walking across the keyboard and typing their own messages.”
Other perks to working from home include “comfy clothes, not having to fight traffic, and my kitchen is right upstairs when I need a snack,” she said. Aside from the accommodating surroundings and playful interruptions, Marks said she feels very productive. She and her colleagues are choosing to use Microsoft Teams to stay connected.
“We’ve set up multiple channels for different areas/project teams within the office and have joined other Teams to participate with groups around campus,” Marks said. “Our office is also using the chat and video chat features to ‘meet’ and discuss projects.”
Dellashon Di Cresce, event specialist in WSU’s Office of Special Events and Services, is thankful that no one in her household has been infected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but her family has certainly been affected by the outbreak.
With three children in college, including a daughter who attends school in New York state, Di Cresce has had to split time between working from home and her efforts to round up her kids under one roof at the family’s home in Detroit.
“Thankfully, my daughter who attends school in New York is home right now, along with the rest of my kids,” Di Cresce said. “But we just found out that she has to be out of her dorm room there by the end of this week, so she has to get to New York, get her stuff and get back home in the next few days. We’re trying to figure all that out and trying to make sure we’re staying safe.”
Despite the looming viral scare and the tumult of helping her family adjust to the resulting changes, Di Cresce has found plenty to enjoy about spending time at home. She is especially happy to be able to work so much closer to her husband of 24 years, Nick, who is recovering from Stage 4 brain cancer.
“It’s nice to be able to be near him, care for him and still be able to get my files from work on my laptop,” she said. “And it’s great for both of us to be able to spend time together with the kids.”
She said they haven’t been overly concerned about the coronavirus itself, but they’ve been alarmed by the hoarding that’s occurred.
“We know to behave with caution, but we aren’t overly fearful of this virus,” she said. “But now, with people doing what they’re doing with the stores, we’re trying to make sure we take care of our basic needs — especially with the medicine my husband needs for his care. We’re good for now, but the way these people are clowning in the stores doesn’t make any sense. Now they’ve got my husband out here running around trying to buy things to make sure we don’t run out.”
Di Cresce said her family is planning to head north soon, to a rural plot of land they own, hoping to put greater distance between them and large clusters of people.
“We’ve got a cabin,” she said. “Since the kids can take their classes online now, and I can work remotely, we want to just go up there and get away from all of this as long as we can. I don’t have any reason to stay here. If I’m going to be quarantined, I’d rather be on my land there. That’s my yard right now — up north.”
But cabin fever has gotten to Truman Hudson, Ed.D., instructor/outreach specialist in the College of Education — before any ailment could.
And so, even as others lock themselves in their homes over fears about the current coronavirus outbreak, Hudson decided that it would be better for him to head into his office at the College of Education than to sit around in his loft near Tech Town.
“I had to get out,” he said. “It’s hard to work at home. I enjoy the socialization that comes with being in the office, even if I have to practice social distancing. We don’t have to get in each other’s faces to enjoy the camaraderie of working together in the office. So I came in along with some of my other colleagues. We’re here because we like the connection.”
Hudson said he and his officemates have been careful to avoid close contact, but they’ve still had the chance to converse, exchange ideas about work and continue with as close to a normal workflow as possible.
And while the outbreak has impacted his lifestyle, too — an asthmatic, Hudson said he has taken to wearing a mask when outdoors — he said his life would be dictated by caution, but not overrun by fear.
“Frazzled,” is how communications specialist Amy Skimin described her current mental state, as she typed responses to emails and Slack messages on her iPhone, currently smeared with macaroni and cheese, in between making lunch, finding specific episodes of PJ Masks and helping her older son with distance-learning assignments.
Her work is getting done, but she’s worried about burnout, with a full-time job, plus two young children, 7 and 3, at home with her.
“I don’t know how sustainable this is,” she said. “I feel like I’m on the go constantly, and my kids are definitely watching more than a healthy amount of television.”
Outdoor playtime in the backyard each afternoon seemed like a good solution, until Skimin realized her WiFi didn’t work out there.
“It was great on Monday — I took my laptop and the boys and the dogs ran around ... and then I came inside to a bunch of missed messages and emails — oops.”
But more than anything, the experience has made Skimin appreciate her sons’ teachers.
“I mean, I come from a family of teachers, so I’ve always appreciated what they do,” she said. “But I just feel like financial compensation isn’t enough — can we give them a national holiday or something?”