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Community, Social Contract, Engagement, and Self-Quarantine

By Michael Torok posted 04-08-2020 09:00:00 AM


So I begin writing this when self-quarantine has just begun to not be optional. My company, with offices around the world, has closed its San Fran office; asked all other people from Redwood City to Basingstoke to Mountain View to Atlanta to work from home; and, embraced remote work. My children’s schools here in Omaha, NE have shut a day early for Spring break to explore and prepare for the possibility that they will not reopen after Spring break, but engage in distance learning for elementary through high school-aged children. One of my son’s and I had been looking forward to touring KU to visit their aerospace engineering facilities — this trip was cancelled. The college has cancelled all visits; the hotel generously refunded my prepaid room; and my one-on-one time with him in the car has been postponed indefinitely.

I work from home and have for years. I do not envy those of you who are being thrown into the experience as if you were a child pitched into the deep end of a pool and told to swim. It takes practice to fight off distraction. I am not talking about the desire to watch Netflix or Hulu or spend significantly more time on the treadmill. You will suddenly see all the things in your house or apartment that need to be done. The dishes from lunch, which you need to make sure you take time to eat, will haunt you until they are done. You will see an opportunity to start the laundry and take it. When the wash dings, it’s a Pavlovian response to put those clothes in the dryer. If you’ve set the dishwasher going, you will want to unload it. For some, it will start as a novel idea to possibly work from bed. I don’t really mean to be didactic or a pedant, but don’t do it. I’ve come to realize; I have to make my bed; dress like I am going to work; and find a room with a door I can work behind. Little things help, and we have to remember that we have a responsibility to take working from home seriously. If we don’t, either the company we work for will suffer, or we will not work for them long.

Halo, our Chinese Crested, working on blog and community posts with me…

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying you should not interact with people in your home. Of course you should, but children and other adults may need to be reminded that the job, the company, must still come first during the day-to-day time you would normally be there. Maybe this is not an issue for you, but I have found that accessibility is often seen as availability. This is where the social contract we have with our colleagues and our customers must remain a priority. We have a social contract with those we share our home with, also, including our furry friends. That said, however those individuals got along without you for 9 to 12 hours out of the day before, they can do so again.

  • Set up a virtual coffee or lunch date with your friends from work, over Zoom, Skype, Hangouts, or whatever online system you use. This was one of the first things my colleagues in San Francisco did. And, they did it spontaneously. It was mentioned on our slack channel and folks just took it in stride, figuring out how to create breakout groups and rejoin the larger conversation later. Brilliant.

  • Don’t lose contact with your larger social groups and communities. This is going to come across as self-serving, but remember that communities, like the one I run for Delphix, were and continue to be there for you. I have always seen these communities, first scoffed at as Facebook for work, to be much for valuable than Facebook or even Linkedin for professional people. We are a larger, more diverse community than even your work community. Online communities are available 24x7x365. There is always someone actively engaging or passively listening. You have an audience, and that audience understands what you do for 9 to 12 hours a day for your company. Can you say the same about all your friends or even your colleagues?
  • Embrace this moment, if things slow down for some reason (they may not), take the opportunity to sharpen and hone skills that have sat too long in your toolkit unexamined. Consider that many universities are moving to an online distance learning model for the time being. What is out there that you can find to do the same. It may have always been there, but now is the time to find it; embrace it; and dedicate yourself to the next step in your career. Do I personally think this is the way all things should be taught? No, I believe in physical interaction. I want to shake your hand. I want to embrace my friends. But, previously, right now and moving forward, I have and continue to believe distance learning, online training, and knowledge communities fill an ever-expanding need. This moment in time is providing a staging ground and an opportunity to engage in bettering and expanding our skills — possibly with less distraction.

Michael Torok
Director of Knowledge and Community Management

Poet, Potter, Brewer, and husband to the coolest illustrator around