Tales From the Field

Wow. It's amazing to consider how much the world has changed in the six short weeks since my last post! When I last wrote, most Americans were only just starting to hear about COVID-19. Most of them weren't thinking yet about how it might affect them. Now we're all hunkered down at home, fashioning DIY face masks, and grappling with the absurd reality of toilet paper as a precious commodity.

On a personal level, I went from commuting to an office in Research Triangle Park and racking up frequent flier miles, to telecommuting from the house and searching for local trails that are still open to keep myself from going stir-crazy. But I'm extremely lucky because at least I have a job!

For the time being.

In my last post, I talked about things that now seem quaint just six weeks later. Like the nifty travel bag I'd bought. It was killer for the lone trip I actually got to to use it on. But now that I'm languishing on house arrest and thinking about the longer-term outlook on business travel, I'm wondering if it will end up being a waste of money.

My company was pretty well-prepared for this because we already had all the infrastructure and policies in place for people to work from home. And we're a subscription business, so as long as we can retain our current customers we'll have a reliable, albeit flatter-growth, revenue stream. I was well-prepared because I've worked remotely quite a bit over my career. I already had a decent home office, good broadband service, and a protocol in place for me and the family for when I work from home. I did borrow a laptop stand and another display monitor from my work office to make things more productive and comfortable. But other than that, there wasn't much transition involved for me.

I wish I could say the same for my kids' schools! They've been slow to fully comprehend and then adjust to this new reality. Of course, they didn't have much to build on in the first place. Like most public schools, they were steadfastly facilities-based operations. They never imagined that they'd need to go online and only be given a couple of weeks to do so. Since all the technology is readily accessible, it was difficult for me to appreciate how hard this would be until I really started thinking about it from a project planning perspective. The technology is accessible, sure. But implementing all of it from scratch, in a compressed time frame, at scale, with very limited IT knowledge and resources, on a shoestring budget, when you can't even have face-to-face group meetings – that would be a bitch! As I told a teacher friend of mine, they're trying to build a rocketship while it's already in flight. So I've been trying to be patient.

But it isn't easy. They've punted for the current quarter by allowing the online migration for each class be "best effort" and making all the grades pass/fail. I won't be surprised if they do the same for the 4th quarter. It's clear that each teacher is having to figure out independently how to move his/her classroom online. So the current quality of my children's' education is varying wildly from subject to subject, depending on how motivated and tech-savvy the teacher is. Some of the teachers are doing a very admirable job. But others are making no discernible effort to keep their classes going. My wife and I have already decided that we'll be starting up formal home schooling if they haven't worked out more uniform standards and procedures by fall. It's my kids' education after all – my patience comes at their expense so there's a limit to it.

Meanwhile, we're dealing with all the other little shit that comes up when you have limited retail and personal services available. For instance my hair was looking really shaggy and I was forced to decide between growing it out long or buying some clippers and having the wife give me a homegrown buzz cut. I still have to do video web conferences with customers, so buzz cut it was.

We're all adjusting.