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Risk Mgmt and Ins Higher Education Scene

Musings of a Socially Distanced Professor: New Habits

Brenda Wells | May 8, 2020

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Man teleworking with laptop, briefcase, and papers

Here I sit at my house. Thanks to COVID-19, my town is pretty much locked down. Most places are closed, including the campus where I work. I am working from home for the rest of the semester. That doesn't really bother me.

That said, I do see some problems looming ahead that I think we better address.

Bulking Up

First, there's the simple problem of getting fat(ter). No walking to the office from the car every day means less exercise. No walking around the classroom while I teach also means less exercise. Less exercise means weight gain. I'm not looking forward to that; it's bad enough being over 50 and dealing with that declining metabolism, and it's going to be even harder to manage now.

New "Bad" Habits

People are going to develop some new and potentially bad habits during this time. If you're working from home, wearing what you want, eating what you want, talking on the phone to your friends periodically during the day because you can—are you going to stop doing those things when it's time to go back to the office? Probably not (and if you are, prepare for withdrawals!).

Don't mothball those suits and nice business casual outfits. I anticipate that the rules about appropriate business casual attire will have to be reiterated and enforced once we all go back to the office, at least for some people. If you're a boss, you may find yourself saying things like, "Joe, it's nice to have you back at work, but please stop wearing your Spiderman pajamas to the office." Then again, after months of wearing those pajamas at home, you may look forward to putting on some decent clothes again.

I expect that day drinking will become a more commonplace occurrence. Yes, folks, the days of the "two martini lunches" could theoretically be back if there's no boss looking over your shoulder to say otherwise. For most people, this will be a novel occurrence that will disappear when life returns to normal. Admit it—it's fun to have a margarita while you work! Just don't make it an everyday occurrence or you'll have withdrawals when it's time to go back to work! (But, if you or someone you know is having difficulty with this, I recently learned there are online sobriety resources available. Who knew?)

Another habit that's going to be hard to break is having constant access to your phone. It's already hard for people to stay off their phones during classes and meetings. And you know you're using it during those Webex meetings the boss is having for you every week now. Why not? She can't see you doing it, and it helps to ease the pain of another meeting that should have been an email.

Imagine how much harder it's going to be to give up your phone after spending months at home with constant access to it! I struggle now with getting students to leave phones out of the classroom as it is. It's going to be tough when we go back to live classes to get people to put those phones away!

I work with a woman who puts on her makeup every day for Webex meetings. Me? No way. I'm embracing my natural appearance. (Probably no one else around me appreciates it, but I am certainly enjoying it.) It's going to be hard to go back to wearing makeup every day. For the men, I'm sure getting back to shaving every day is going to be somewhat of a chore, too. I predict a lot of them will return to work sporting a new beard they discovered during the shelter-in-place order.

New and Returning Customs

Some less-troublesome things are also going to happen. I first predict that we will have a change in business greetings that stems from this time in history. People are realizing how easy it is to spread disease and move away from the handshake as a greeting. I just hope—seriously and sincerely hope—that the "elbow bump" maneuver, which looks somewhat like a chicken impersonation, will not take hold as an acceptable greeting in business. Please, don't let it come to that. A little "namaste"-type bow is perfectly fine and avoids direct physical contact with others. It looks formal enough, and it has the added bonus of not looking like you're imitating a barnyard animal.

The downside of this new greeting is that it's going to really mess with people like me who like to hug dear friends. If you're an old friend of mine, when I see you, you're getting a hug! (If you don't get a hug, well, there's information in that.) Will I still be able to do that, or will I be viewed as a social pariah?

I also predict that people are going to start embracing happy hours on Fridays again. I can't tell you the last time my office had a happy hour where everyone participated, but our dean is holding online happy hours now on Friday afternoons, and people are flocking to them. The privilege of seeing each other, of hearing each other's voices, and of fellowship is one that I think we forget when we're working 50-hour workweeks and trying to meet deadlines. I do hope our happy hours continue when we return to work, but in a face-to-face format. I have truly enjoyed seeing my colleagues in their natural habitats. Seeing their spouses. Seeing their dogs. Getting to know them "outside" the office is enjoyable!

Finally, I predict that the new custom of online interviews is going to either be completely embraced or completely rejected, depending on outcomes. Employers who have great experiences with hiring online are going to stop paying for on-site interviews. Employers who have bad experiences are going to swear off hiring anyone they've never met in person. I will be interested to see how this goes a year from now.

Discovering the Dead Wood

Remember the people who waste a lot of time bouncing up and down the halls, chitchatting at the water cooler and otherwise not working? They're about to be found out. There's no hiding a lack of output anymore. I'm seeing this in my students. I'm seeing who is taking responsibilities seriously and who isn't. It's as plain as the screen in front of my face.

The downside of that is for some people, online learning is a challenge, and they may not be getting the help they need because either I can't see the problem, or they are afraid to ask for help, or both. This is going to possibly make it more difficult for people with learning disabilities to get the help they need. I'm not sure how to solve that, other than to continue my open "online door" policy: "Call me, text me, or write me. I'm here to help."

Well, these are just a few of my predictions about life post-COVID-19. What predictions do you have? Write to me at [email protected]. I'd love to hear what you think!

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