Working from home during corona: Andrew Gawthorpe
We have been working from home for over 9 weeks. How are the staff members of the Institute for History doing? Andrew Gawthorpe shares his experience below.
The world seems to have shrunk over the past few months: if it is not quite contained in the four walls of our apartment, then it is definitely no bigger than our immediate neighborhood. I live in a quiet area of The Hague with my wife and daughter, and we have not left it since March.
In some ways it makes life simpler. As a historian I think about how the way I live my life now is closer to the way that my ancestors would have lived it, before mass transit and jet-speed connections (although they didn’t have Zoom – perhaps not a bad thing). We work, we read, we take care of our daughter. We take daily walks together through the local forest, the Landgoed Meer en Bos. It has been a time for focusing on the daily rhythm of our life together, without so many outside complications.
My daughter just celebrated her six-month birthday under lockdown. We kept her home from daycare over the past few months. Providing around the clock childcare while also trying to work has been exceptionally challenging, especially at first. There were plenty of tears, not all hers. But it has also been a joy to spend so much time with her. She has changed so much and we have been able to witness it. She learned to be fascinated by the rectangular box that daddy has on his lap so much of the time (see picture). But she also has not been able to see her grandparents or other family, and it makes us sad that they haven’t been able to see her grow, too (okay, so maybe Zoom has some good uses).
Despite the difficulties, we try to remember that we are the lucky ones. Many people do not have the luxury of easily working from home – they have to expose themselves to dangers either to protect the rest of us, or simply to avoid losing their livelihood. Any worries we have over lost productivity or the stress of childcare seem quite small when you compare them to that.
As teachers, we have to be more flexible with our students, too. They are sometimes struggling with difficult personal situations and will be entering a job market which will probably be even less forgiving than it was in the aftermath of the crash of 2008. They are having to deal with a lot of uncertainty and it’s important that they know that we are open and available to discuss their problems and fears. Sadly, teaching remotely via video puts up another barrier between us just when we really need to be taking barriers down. But in general, the students have dealt with that aspect of the situation well, and we can find other ways to communicate.
In my own research and writing, my productivity has of course suffered, but not completely collapsed – perhaps something to do with the world shrinking and life getting simpler, leaving fewer distractions. The distinction between weekday and weekend becomes blurred – you have more family time during the week, but you also work on the weekends. The time I spend looking after my daughter each day often leaves me feeling recharged, although I would be lying if I said that was always the case. I even thought perhaps she could help me write, but the result hasn’t been too promising so far. Let’s try it now:
Okay, so she’s not quite ready for tenure. But I know that the time we’ve spent together as a family watching her grow will fill our memories of these months, which makes it hard to look back on them with personal bitterness. At the same time, we can’t help but think of everyone who has suffered and is still to suffer, and wish for a speedy end to this crisis – for both the lucky and the unlucky.
Interested in other experiences from staff members of the Institute for History? Read the story of Marlou Schrover, Joost Augusteijn en Edurne de Wilde or visit the Facebook Page of Ancient History. Or find the previous article of Suze Zijlstra and Dirk Alkemade here (in Dutch).