Life at a distance 1

 
 

A week ago, as I left the metro at Itäkeskus and sat down on a 97V to wait for the driver to arrive, I checked my mail and discovered that Arcada will shut from Monday. The next day I drove there to collect my laptop and some books.

On Monday I found out that I could still go to collect anything I needed, and could indeed continue to work from the office if I wanted. I went in to collect a charger and some more books. I met Monica and we went to lunch together. The kitchen staff seemed delighted to see us since hardly anyone had turned up.

I went home and prepared to work from a distance, Arcada’s official policy now in the period of coronavirus. Later all universities of applied science would decide to completely close their buildings.

This week I worked four days online. Irma continued to have access to her office in Stoa, although the library restaurant and performance spaces all shut down to the public. I decided that I needed to deal with three main issues.

Space

I spent a couple of hours on Tuesday morning setting up a working space. I wanted a practical space where I can sit down and start working, and at the same time we did not want to turn the house into something that felt like an office with space for us to sleep in the corner.

Fortunately I finally bought myself a desktop computer just less than a month ago: an all-in-one Asus Vivo V2411C, fact fans. Also fortunately, all my work lives on Dropbox, so I had almost access to it.

I stored my Arcada laptop under the work table and concentrated on making sure I had immediate local access to all my work folders. This took almost twenty four hours as Dropbox transferred files from somewhere-in-the-cloud to my hard disk.

By Wednesday morning I had a tidy wireless work space that looked scarcely any different from the way it looked a week ago.

Time

Time proved a trickier problem to solve.

We worked out a home routine that would enable us to tell whether we had our work hats on or not. I feared that I might slowly slide into treating every day like a vacation; getting up later and finding myself wandering around the house at 10:00 in my dressing gown.

We decided to stop this before it began.

In our newly minted routine I get up at 7:20, the same time as usual, eat breakfast, and then go for a strenuous thirty minute walk. Not only does this provide a necessary break between washing and working, it also ensures that I get dressed. I bear in mind what Karl Lagerfeld allegedly said: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life, so you bought some sweatpants.”

I come back, sit down, and start working. At 16:30 I close down the computer, whatever I find myself doing, stand up, and go for a thirty minute walk. I come back, sit down, and start doing whatever people start doing at home in the evenings.

During the day I stop for five or ten minutes every hour and walk round the garden, or walk down the road to check the mailbox: anything that involves moving around, preferably outdoors, and definitely away from digital devices.

This routine proved to have one unfortunate flaw. It worked fine on the days when the sun came out, and failed miserably on the one day when it poured with rain. I can’t imagine what might happen if we get a week of non-stop storms while locked inside.

Systems

The third major aspect of this new way of working concerned communicating successfully with other people. Jutta, Mirko and I therefore started the week by jointly experimenting with different ways of using different applications. We took it in turn to act as users of each others’ experiments.

At the end of this process I decided that I would teach using a combination of Zoom for live synchronous communication and Teams for all the asynchronous communication. For the real-time distance course I will abandon Its Learning altogether.

I learned a lot more about the subtleties of Zoom and explored Teams in depth for the first time. For better or worse, this led me to install the whole suite of Microsoft applications on my iPad and on my desktop.

OneNote has the worst interface I can remember seeing in years, and the way all the applications slot together in Teams (or sometimes don’t) has proved far from intuitive, but I think I have got a usable system working now.

Conclusion

This first week has felt a bit like living through the phoney war that novels tell us often precedes the real thing. An air of excited trepidation has hung in the air as people have battled with unfamiliar systems (architecturally, socially, technically) and improvised with various degrees of glee.

The end of the week felt very different from the beginning. Things started to feel as though they had settled down into a new sort of normal. On Friday Jutta, Mirko and I spoke a great deal less than on Tuesday, because we had already discovered a lot of the new knowledge we needed. And because we no longer felt excited about the fact that we could sit in our own living rooms talking to each other.

On Friday Irma and I promised ourselves that we would have a weekend. And we managed to keep our promise.

 
 
Posted on March 20, 2020