Coronavirus: Letter from Tim States


If you are like me, you sometimes have to orient yourself like this:

Today is Monday, April 13, 2020. I am working remotely due to a novel virus that is spreading across the earth at an alarming rate. People are doing their best to social distance, make good choices, adjust to a new reality, and do good work in a place (home) that is familiar yet feels a bit awkward.

For most of us we are off script, remote, and recalibrating. Working remotely is the most obvious daily disruption to our work routine, but it is only one. Packed around it is a changing social structure. We are no longer engaging daily with the social institutions that provide stability. Our world naturally evolves, but that evolution just escalated at a disorienting speed, and we are working to make the adjustment (some in creative ways like this, but come back to that later).

For what it’s worth, recalibrating is a normal response. We have spent years building a culture of separating work and home. That evolution took time, with incremental advances in technology, policy, and workplace culture. Although remote work has come in recent years, society has successfully constructed two separate spaces over time to work and live. How did we get there (please overlook my skipping all the way to 1950):

1950’s: Workplaces were designed like a factory. Desks in crowded rows, filled increasingly by women entering the workforce. Offices were dominated by the sounds of manual typewriters and adding machines.

1960’s: The cubicle was born. Herman Miller and Robert Propst introduced an evolutionary way to work without distraction, a unit that was easy to assemble with vertical partitions. IBM added the electric typewriter and the System/360, that allowed use of interchangeable software and peripheral equipment.

1970’s: The fax machine, laser printer, and floppy disk added functionality and further equipped the workplace toward productivity. Large conglomerates began to arise.

1980’s: The 9 to 5. Work-life balance, wellness, and culture began to enter the conversation. The World Wide Web went online in 1989 preceded by the first dot com address (1985) and the Apple Macintosh (1984). Technology is exploding in the workplace, but now it begins to move into the home.

1990’s: Yahoo, Netscape, Amazon, and eBay were on the scene driven by a reshaping of how we buy and communicate. Cell phones, email, and personal digital assistants (PDA’s) further blend the line between work and home. The first commercial webcam “QuickCam” is born with 16 shades of gray and no color for under $100.

2000’s: Death to the cubicle (thank God) and the birth of Skype (2003), Google (2004), Gmail (2004), Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006), YouTube (2006), and the iPhone (2007). Wow.

2010’s: Data moves increasingly to the Cloud. Google Docs, Slack, and Microsoft Teams build a virtual sharing network, mobile apps, and artificial intelligence.

2020: A massive shift from decades operating within the workplace to remote work (home) due to COVID-19 outbreak.

The slow, evolutionary move toward outfitting a productive workspace shifted toward access to personal consumer electronics. It has allowed us to work remotely for certain positions within the organization, but our delivery models (face-to-face), routines, habits, and technology tilt heavily toward a separate workspace; until now, when we have no choice. Why is it so disorienting? It turns out we like routine. Our brains even create shortcuts and connections that help us maintain the routine. A great demonstration of this is riding a bike. Watch what happens when you suddenly change the way we’ve always done it:

This speaks to the power of our brains to adapt. Some say the neuroplasticity of our brains is our greatest superpower. In response to new challenges and change, the brain compensates throughout our lives. You really can teach an old dog new tricks! We are all adapting right now. As Brene Brown references in her Podcast, Unlocking Us, we are learning to “settle the ball”. It is that time when a child goes from being afraid of the soccer ball to learning how to receive it, control it, and be productive with it. It takes grace, community, and time to find our new way forward. Thank you, to all that are working hard to do good work, support one another, and build a new reality. Remember to orient yourself each day. It is also important to remember our humanness through this and find ways to connect. Take a minute to watch this video from our own, Mary Beth Coolidge, on how to take a moment virtually to connect with students, and each other.

At the end of the day, take a moment to sit with your feet on the floor, close your eyes, and work through this meditation at whatever speed you choose, and however many times you choose, and remember to breathe:
Be still and know that I am God;
Be still and know I am;
Be still and know;
Be still;

Together ahead,
Tim States