over a week of being at home

I’ve been working form home full time for a week and a half. And almost done with my first weekend of being at home. It’s been a tough week. And something that made it worse was that most people seemed to be ok. Or at least far better than I was.

Then yesterday (Saturday), I saw this tweet! It really helped because it was the first thing I had seen that made me not feel like an overwhelmed crybaby. And I was able to “admit” on Twitter that I cried too.

On Friday, I made a comment that I didn’t say anything on a call because I didn’t want to “admit” I wasn’t fine on a call with 22 people. I’m realizing that is contributing to the problem. If anyone else on the call wasn’t fine, I contributed to the illusion that everyone is fine. Posting the tweet was scary. So is posting this blog entry. The internet has more than 22 people on it!

What’s been on my mind the past week

  • Having trouble concentrating/focusing
  • Frustrated that I was having trouble concentrating
  • Distractions (I normally get distracted at home. When I’m only telecommuting for a day that’s not a problem because I would just get more done the next day. That approach doesn’t work here)
  • My work setup is less than ideal. It’s better than when I ad-hoc telecommute as I’ve sacrificed living space to build a work area. Some of that came from getting rid of space I need when I have friends over and the like. All stuff I can eventually unroll.
  • Fear of leading a four hour meeting when I couldn’t even focus for short periods of time.
  • Fear of how I was going to be ok without seeing my friends for a long time
  • Fear of how I was going to be ok with being home almost all the time
  • Fear that we are going to lose the ability to go get takeout and/or go for a walk (like parts of Italy)
  • Worry for my immediate family (out of state so limited ability to help)
  • Plus the normal fear of the future/disease that everyone has, friends and family, etc

Triggers

Part of the problem was that I had pretty much no emotional resiliency. So things that normally wouldn’t have set me off turned me into a puddle. And just thinking about the things I was afraid of did the same.

It also meant I didn’t have the ability to mentally process. Normally, I’d be able to think about something rationally and determine if it was a problem and/or how big before panicking. Last week was not that week. Instead, turned into a puddle.

I cried 7.5 times during work hours in the 8 days I’ve worked at home so far. The half a time was the one I was able to hold in. (I didn’t count the # of times outside of work hours.) I think that metric will be lower next week

Why I feel better now that I did last week

  • I ran a one hour Toastmasters meeting on Thursday. I was one of the more comfortable with remote meetings of the people on the call so I was both teaching and being a good role model. I also felt like I was in “leader mode” so fine. Kind of like how I am our floor fire warden and know I can stay calm in actual emergency.
  • The four hour sprint planning meeting went fine. Two of my teammates brought their cats to the meeting which definitely helped!
  • On the weekend, I have had three video chats, a long call with my best friend and some emails/texts with other friends. I also got two offers two video chat whenever I need. So I don’t feel freaked out about being alone anymore. (Not the same as actual human contact, but seems like enough to keep me grounded)
  • Two of the three video chats involved my friends kids and pets. Also helped with virtual human contact.
  • NYC doesn’t appear to be moving towards banning the ability to go for a walk. I’ve always needed to walk for stress relief. The times I’ve hurt my leg/ankle have been really stressful without that release!
  • Friday was in the 70s after work. Walking was more enjoyable. And I was able to sit on my balcony and read for an hour. I like sitting outside. And since it is private space, it is allowed. (Conveniently my building has separate balconies that are more than 6 feet apart)
  • A friend sent me flowers to make me smile. I put them on the balcony where they should last longer and preserve that message.
  • I read about putting up a post-it happy face to give the neighbors something to smile about. Mine makes a cool shadow in the afternoon which makes me smile!

The coming week

There’s still plenty of things I’m worried about. I’m sure that’s true for everyone. But I think it is now below the level where it is impeding my ability to think. My hope is for a mildly frustrating week. That would be a huge upgrade from last week!

the last week before the NYC FRC regional postponement

I’m on the planning committee and co-volunteer coordinator for the NYC FRC regional. Like many members of the FIRST community, we were closely monitoring the situation. I mainly got my information from:

  • The NY Robotics Slack channel
  • A NYC planning committee mailing list.
  • Chief Delphi

In the Slack channel, one of the mentors on another team thanked me for my transparency. Now that I have time again :(, writing up a little more about the experience. This is a subset of what happened over the past week. I only shared things I feel comfortable nobody would have a problem with (without my having to ask for oks)

The timeline

Note: This is a very tri-state area view of the world. I’m well aware other events were cancelled.

  • March 6th – Central NY cancelled, a MAR event got cancelled during load in.
  • March 7th – Tech Valley cancelled
  • March 8th – Hofstra University (home of both Long Island regionals) announced first case
  • March 9th – Both Long Island regionals cancelled
  • March 11th – Hudson Valley suspended
  • March 12th – Entire season suspended – from FIRST HQ

The event

There was a lot of discussion about what to do – can we accommodate more teams, what if teams cancel, etc. While I heard about these a bit, they aren’t things I was responsible for.

Volunteer Coordinator

As volunteer coordinator, I had to be prepared in case we had the event with any number of volunteers dropping out at any time. I also wanted to be ready with an email to go out to the volunteers in case the event was cancelled. Highlights of this included:

  • Asked a CSA to cross train as a ref so we had an extra person who passed the test.
  • After the Long Island event was cancelled, emailed all their robot inspectors to see if anyone wanted to come to NYC instead. (I got two more robot inspectors from this)
  • With my co-volunteer coordinator, create a contingency/resiliency plan for every single key volunteer role. (It was helpful knowing where our areas of risk lie for next time regardless).
  • Came up with a plan for the expected smaller number of corporate volunteers and replacing non-key volunteers. [spoiler: part of it involved asking people in the stands to volunteer (or be drafted). If any team had more than 7 students in the stands, they were going to be helping!]
  • Wrote an email to our volunteers to send out if/when the regional got cancelled/suspended. FIRST HQ then came up with language so I wound up using mostly that and adding one sentence.

Safety glasses

The last number of years, I’ve been the supervisor of safety glasses and crowd control. This year, I was going to be one of the safety managers. So I was watching the safety glass situation as well. (My co-volunteer coordinator does most of the onsite/day of VC work). The problem being that we aren’t supposed to touch our faces so putting on safety glasses someone else wore (even after sanitizing) isn’t the safest of ideas. Kinda problematic for the safety glass station to cause a safety issue.

Options

  • No safety glasses lending at all. Teams bring their own or don’t come in the pits.
  • Give away free safety glasses. [I was worried if we went this route, we’d run out quickly because of the “free safety glasses” perception.
  • Ask Google to donate thousands of their promotional safety glasses.
  • Charge $1-$2 to buy safety glasses. Not a revenue based activity, but enough that people won’t ask unless they actually need them.

Communications

Early on, I wrote some text to send to any volunteers who asked about the event. My co-vc reviewed. I wanted to make sure it was a nice reply and didn’t accidentally make a statement on behalf of FIRST. I went with:

Good question. As of right now, we are planning on having the NYC FRC regional. As we see in the news, things are changing rapidly and we are actively monitoring the situation along with FIRST. As in past years, we will send all volunteers a reminder email 1-2 weeks before the event.

I was thinking that if I emailed this to anyone, it would get posted on Chief Delphi where everyone and their 8 friends would analyze it. The first person who asked me this did not post it. The second person who asked me actually asked on Chief Delphi. I replied with this text their so we cut out the middle man!

I was also active in communicating with any volunteers with concerns. Finally, I was active on the NY Robotics Slack. Back to that transparency thing, I think the key things I posted were:

  • It was the venues not the planning committees that were ending events. (Someone posted that they were expecting to hear something after the planning committees met)
  • We had a contingency plan for volunteers, especially if the corporate volunteers couldn’t attend.
  • That there are parties outside of FIRST that could have an effect. (The city banning large gatherings or the NYC school system banning clubs/field trips)

And finally, a note of appreciation for planning committees around the world

To those running FIRST robotics competitions, conferences or any large event, a big thank you. It’s really hard to make decisions:

  1. If you cancel early and didn’t need to -> people unhappy
  2. If you cancel the last minute/during -> people unhappy
  3. If you have the event and someone gets sick -> people really unhappy.
  4. If you have it and it isn’t smooth -> people unhappy.
  5. If you have it and it works out -> people happy.

There’s a lot of ways to fail here. And the only path to success if one that you don’t have a lot of control over!