When we think back on COVID-19, one word that will rise to the top of memories is “disruption.”
I don’t know anyone whose life hasn’t been disrupted by the pandemic and the measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus and reduce the strain on health care services.
Even though as “media” we’re considered essential and can still drive to our offices, we’ve sent many of our workers home to keep them safe, keep them healthy and be able to continue to produce our printed newspapers and digital offerings. Our local newspapers continue to gather and present information our communities need to know to keep functioning. Our staff puts the newspapers together and sends them to press.
I’m typing this in my normal workplace office, but I’ve spent many hours in my basement home office in the past few weeks filling production gaps, testing remote tech and troubleshooting … stuff. I’ve spent many hours in the “real” office adding software to our computers (wearing gloves and wiping down keyboards) so they can be taken home and our staff can function as normally as possible.
But it’s not normal. Shannon’s in Finneytown, Kevin’s in Eaton, Jon’s in Lebanon, Don’s in Oakwood, I’m in Milford (sometimes), I’m not sure where Belinda is, and Steven and Jason aren’t too far from here (here, today, being the office). Even though we don’t always talk every day when we’re all in the office, we see each other and share greetings, chat and frustrations about issues.
Now, with most of the staff untethered and working remotely, it’s quiet here. Really quiet. We’re not a boisterous bunch, but the sound of keyboards and offhand chatter is gone. It has the feel of overnight or weekend work, when things like furnace sounds become prominent.
I just finished doing assignments for the next several days, something I usually loathe, but in these days it’s a comforting routine. The assignment sheet is mostly normal, if you ignore the color-coded “remote” designations for the staff who are working from home. And the so-far one staffer who’s sick, hospitalized, diagnosed with pneumonia and (still) awaiting COVID-19 test results.
I’ve mocked a line in our HR’s work-from-home agreement that says “Dress as you would when you go to work, just to help keep you in the work frame of mind.” We have a pretty loose dress code here, and I don’t care at all what they wear at home. But we need a good foundation of the normal to cope with the abnormal times we’re in. For some it might be clothes, for me it’s the assignment sheet.
Working together in the office is a groove we’re comfortable in. Working remotely is a new groove we have to work out. It’s got some rough edges, but we’re adjusting. When COVID-19 has run its course, we’ll readjust to another new normal, and update our groove as we go along.
Along with everyone else.
Gary Presley is pagination director for AIM Media Midwest, publisher of The Times-Gazette. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.