5×2: support your community, it’s hurting and scared and it needs your help

Right now the world is facing two new threats: the first is a global pandemic which is spreading rapidly and which might kill 3% or more of people infected, particularly if it hits suddenly enough that there aren’t enough ICU or hospital beds (as has happened in Italy) and many many people go on to die both of COVID-19 and of other things that a hospital would normally be able to treat.

The other is major recessions or depressions following on from the partial shutdown of global trade and the near total shutdown of enormous numbers of industries including airlines, large events, catering, tourism, and manufacturing, and knock-on effects for many industries. This will also lead to many deaths from the consequences of stress and poverty; I haven’t seen a guess at all-cause mortality changes from COVID-19, but it’s surely much higher than direct deaths from the illness. And those who survive will need major support to rebuild their lives and work.

I definitely understand that at a time like this, it makes sense to have savings and be prepared for the future yourself, and I’m planning to, but it’s also a time when all crisis services will be incredibly stressed trying to deal with increasingly sick, increasingly poor, and increasingly scared people, and there is no better time to make sure they have the cash they need, and help them get ready.

My family has decided this week to support 10 charities (over 5 days, 5×2) that we expect need extra funds to deal with what’s coming, and I’m going to share them throughout the week, less to encourage donations to these specific charities as to encourage you to think about where you can give.

My entire family is part of the decision to give, so not all of the charities will meet these critieria, but here’s some I suggest and will apply to my share of our choices:

  • small and nimble, works directly with vulnerable people: an organisation that can turn your cash into a motel room and food parcel or a week’s rent for a member of their community in need is one that needs your money today and can use it in the next month to make a real difference to a person
  • “nothing about us without us”: guided and run by the people it is designed to serve
  • donate cash, not goods: cash can be turned into what someone needs right now, not what a donor thought they might need six weeks ago
  • donate to the organisation’s general funds, not any COVID-19 (or other) specific campaigns of theirs: their other work hasn’t stopped, they need to pay their staff more than ever, etc, trust them to know what their community needs

If you can’t give, you can help by supporting and encouraging your government and large, wealthy employers to provide for:

  • ample sick and carer’s leave for people who might need many weeks off work as COVID-19 roars through their family and friends
  • ample carer’s leave for people whose care services (daycare, school, respite, etc) get shut down
  • crisis payments and systems for people at risk of not making (particularly) rent or mortgage payments or being able to buy food
  • strong engagement with representatives of vulnerable populations about their needs
  • a solid welfare system

Employees needing the most support during an abrupt telecommuting transition

With many employers suddenly transitioning their staff to work from home during the COVID-19 outbreaks, a lot of people are hoping that at least we might get a major transition to permanent support of telecommuting out of the whole thing, by demonstrating a large increase in productivity that it’s assumed follows from working from home.

But working from home is a major infrastructure problem at both a household and a societal level and this will turn out to be a pipe dream if we rely on employees to absorb the cost of long term work from home transitions.

Focusing on the household level, here’s the employee who is best suited to a short-notice work from home: they live in a quiet clean home, with a furnished private office. When they close the door, it stays closed. If they live with children, those children are cared for by another adult, who handles small and medium stresses by themselves. Their pets are quiet or cared for by someone else or both. They have access to a best-in-class business-grade broadband Internet connection. They can do their work with fairly standard office and computer equipment. If they have a disability, their home is already set up to accommodate it well. They enjoy their work well enough and are motivated by the work itself rather than by social connections with their colleagues or by close management. They have an established and sufficient set of social relationships outside the workplace.

And all this is on top of having a transportable profession such as software development, writing, some types of academic research, and some office support jobs.

That’s a lot of ducks to have lined up. Even leaving aside transportable professions, here’s some examples of employees who may be more at risk from work from home, especially from sudden transitions to it:

They share a home with someone who is abusing them, especially if that person is present in work hours. Abuse might include more violence or cruelty following from blaming the victim for stresses on the household, or simply from more access to them. It might also be financial abuse, such as interfering with the victim’s work in order to try and get them fired or get them to quit.

They can’t set up office-like conditions in their home because their home is too small, or they’re a tenant, or they don’t have enough rooms for an office, or they don’t have a private room at all, or they don’t have broadband cabling or their Internet service quality is variable or poor, or they don’t have the money for the required furnishings. Or they have all that but they live with someone who already works from home and claimed the available office space first.

Their home is physically unpleasant due to uncleanliness or bad maintenance (possibly in their control, but might be due to housemates, children, their landlord’s poor maintenance, etc), or nearby construction or traffic noise.

They have a lot of competing priorities at home that draw their attention: other adults are in the house during work hours and are bored or lonely, there’s errands to run, there’s a dog to walk, they get a lot of doorknocking, their family and friends are under the (common) impression that someone who works at home isn’t “really” working and is available for long lunches or drop by chats or can watch other people’s children all day on short notice, etc.

They require workplace accommodations that are difficult to access in their own home, eg an aide, or specialised equipment that needs professional installation, or they’ve been relying on the office for some accommodations such as hard to get foods or a fully accessible shower.

They have an office, but when they close the door, everyone else in the house knocks on it incessantly or issues ear-splitting screams or barks from the other side for hours.

They live with children and those children’s school or daycare is closed, and there’s no other adult in the house or that adult also has a job, so they have to full-time parent/homeschool them on top of having a job.

They live with children and there’s notionally another adult to care for them but that adult hands over everything except perfect behaviour and conditions to them. “The children don’t like the lunch I made! Can you make them one?” “The child has bruised their knee, they need your hugs!” “I don’t understand nappies!” “My video gaming commitments / meditation practice will consume the next three hours, can you watch the children?” (This is a highly gendered co-parenting pattern, your women employees co-parenting with men are more at risk.)

They don’t like their work and they struggle to do it without regular attention from managers or colleagues.

They do like their work OK, but they still rely on regular in-person human interaction, including in ways they may not realise themselves, in order to maintain a regular work cadence or prioritise their work or feel good about their work.

They don’t have sufficient adult social contact without a workplace because they have high social needs, or are a single parent, or live alone unwillingly, or are newly single, or recently relocated.

They’re conflict avoidant and they sometimes deal with conflict by deferring contact with the other person in the conflict. Work from home enables them to ignore chats, decline video meetings, etc in a way that would not be possible in an office. Small interpersonal problems become big ones quickly. (Spoiler: nearly everyone is sometimes conflict avoidant, and nearly everyone sometimes uses electronic communication to defer conflict.)

How do you adapt to these? Not easily, which is why a sudden and forced transition to work from home is in my opinion unlikely to lead to an emphatic demonstration of telecommuting’s superiority, but some provisions include:

  • acknowledge at least some of these concerns, and set aside some budget and manager discretion to expense better internet connections, office equipment furnishings, emergency childcare, ability to rent a small amount of personal private office space
  • initiate or strengthen your support around both mental health and around domestic violence situations and be sure they don’t need access to the office
  • seek advice on whether small gatherings of employees are safe (in the COVID-19 context) and if so, encourage optional cafe meetups and similar
  • actively review with employees who have workplace accommodations whether and how you can provide these in their homes
  • create additional leave plans (paid if possible) for people whose childcare and dependent care plans have fallen apart and cannot be reconstructed
  • consider how you will manage performance reviews and career planning for people who took a productivity hit

Thanks @hashoctothorpe and @leeflower for discussions leading up to this post and identifying some of the patterns listed here.

Lengthy closures of schools and childcare centres will end mothers’ careers

I have very little generally to add to the discussions of COVID-19 right now; if you want facts best to head to the Australian government info site, the US CDC info site, or the WHO info site.

However. one consideration I’ve seen little of: shutting down childcare centres and schools will disproportionately render the mothers* of children in those centres and schools unemployed in the short term and quite possibly un- or underemployed in the long term (gaps in resume during a likely recession, history of being terminated for absenteeism or of short notice resignations).

It’s possible although not certain (see likely recession) that larger and wealthier employers can extend their more valued workers at least some unpaid leave in this situation, but smaller or less well-funded businesses cannot, and less valued workers may not be able to negotiate them even from employers that might be able to afford them.

And unpaid leave is of course a massive strain on households, for many impossible, especially if the childcare centres (which, remember, are themselves often small and precariously funded businesses) keep charging fees.

Obviously the second-order effects of massively disrupting the global and local movement of people are coming for us all, but they’re coming for mothers pretty early on.

* Yes, fathers and other parents and carers too, but mostly mothers.

Cross-posted to Hoyden About Town.

Australia Burns: Bells Line of Road, 28 December 2019

Emergency information

Fires Near Me (NSW), Vic Emergency (Victoria)

Context

These photographs were taken on 28 December on Bells Line of Road, which runs between western Sydney and Lithgow. Bells Line of Road is the northernmost of two road crossings of the Blue Mountains between Sydney and western NSW.

Wildnerness and parts of towns were badly burned for a long stretch between Lithgow and Bilpin on Bells Line of Road in the days leading up to and including December 21 by the Gospers Mountain / Grose Valley fire complex. The road re-opened on December 25.

The December 31 2019 eastern bushfire catastrophes were concentrated far to the south east from where these pictures were taken; they were in the South Coast of NSW and East Gippsland in Victoria. These two areas are also currently considered most at risk in the upcoming January 4 heatwave, with tourists asked to leave the South Coast and the evacuation of Kosciuszko National Park (January 2), following the evacuation of East Gippsland (December 29).

Fires are expected to continue in Australia until there’s substantial rainfall.

Supporting firefighters and affected people

Donations are accepted by, among others:

Most affected areas rely heavily on the tourism industry for income, planning to visit after the fire period is also likely to be helpful, you can check NSW road closures and warnings at Live Traffic. Judging from Bilpin on December 28, take cash, phone lines and cell towers aren’t restored until long after power is.

Photos

Bare trees, near Bell Trees burned to the crown Burned rail embankment Blackened road sign One side of the road burned Melted road sign Completely burned Burned up

All photos.

Cross-posted to Hoyden About Town.

2019 in threes

End of year reflections.

Three moments of 2019

Tacking a sailboat towards Kurnell in pretty strong winds (for the size of boat) and successfully starboard rounding a mark. And many other sailing navigation moments that I did far worse at than that one.

Lying in an influenza fever dream in the middle of winter, dreaming that the illness was a dimly glowing grey sword about 3 metres in length. Waking long enough to ring the travel agent before dawn to cancel the next morning’s flight to the US.

Arriving halfway down the Ruined Castle ski run at Falls Creek, and surveying it, finding it rather steep, and doing it anyway. Also enjoyed the carpet required to speed me up to catch its chair lift after.

Three meals of 2019

We went back to Quay for a last minute 20th anniversary meal. We were thus in the “be out early” seating with the 6 course meal; they added the Poolish crumpets, which were the only thing missing, as a special surprise.

I wound down a team at work — transitioning our projects to another location — and had a farewell picnic for team members past and present. This involved my favourite caterer Sydney Picnic Co, the Grumpy Donuts I’ve been buying the team for a couple of years whenever there’s an outage, and the views from Ballaarat Park.

Chilli margaritas and veg wedges at Corner Bar; our days of sailing lessons wound up early enough to fit these in before school pickup.

Three photos of 2019

Frangipani Apples, Mayfarm Flowers I found the billionaires

Three pleasures of 2019

Walking. Because I twisted my ankle badly in April 2018, I spent most of last year with limited range and for much of the year outright pain when I exceeded it, and tearing a rotator cuff later in the year didn’t help.

Gently kayaking up Currambene Creek with my daughter in front desultorily adding to the paddling, sliding through the mangroves.

I loved the Apollo 11 documentary, which I saw on a badly needed short notice day off work — something I’ve had to do a couple of times this year, managing two teams and quite a few outages — at Dendy Circular Quay. I spent the first viewing uncertain how much if any of it was file footage versus re-creations. (One thing about the file footage; it’s unlikely that a re-creation would think to have so many people people waving and mugging at the much rarer cameras.) I rang Andrew immediately afterwards to debrief the whole thing over the phone, and took him to see it the following week.

Three news stories from 2019

Can’t go past the bushfires. Well, you can go past them or their aftermath, via almost any major road leaving Sydney. Merry Crisis!

Tracey Spicer, #MeToo, NOW Australia. See The Leaders Of Australia’s “Time’s Up” Movement Made Big Promises They Couldn’t Keep and Tracey Spicer accuses three women of defamation after ABC #MeToo documentary. You could do worse than following Nina Funnell and Nareen Young on Twitter.

Australians working with local councils to get climate emergencies declared. This could be anywhere on the spectrum of “completely for show” through to being a local part of global change. There’s a lot of power in local.

Three sensations from 2019

Rotting seaweed slick and sticky on my feet approaching the beach during our January holiday. This was otherwise an excellent holiday with only a few minutes of disgust, worse because of having to coach children over it.

Hot and seemingly-still air surrounding me as I sailed downwind. Because we learned to tack first, I got used to sailing into the wind, breeze in my hair, triumphant balancing at the bow, and so on. Downwind — with the wind — feels very still and stifling.

Lethagy as I plodded 6 kilometres down the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail north of New York City, through the autumn leaves. I really wanted to mark a travelling Saturday some other way than huddling exhausted in my hotel room, and I don’t regret it, but the outdoors was hard won that day.

Three sadnesses of 2019

It’s a gentle sadness, but my entire family now lives in one town, and I live in a different city and I imagine I always will. I’m also emerging from the young-child chrysalis, and feeling keenly how long and hard I will need to work to rebuild a social circle.

In the same way that I spent much of 2013–15 dealing with bad stuff that happened to me in 2012, I’ve spent much of this year being sad about things that happened in 2015. The hardest half-decade of my adult life, and as a result the following years have been the saddest.

Noting that sadness and wanting pity aren’t the same thing, I’m sad the tech industry, which I’ve either been in or orbited for twenty years, is harming the world.

Three plans for 2020

I won’t count it as one of the three, but I’d love to have less plans. I’ve just spent the last month drowning in planning holidays, and holiday care, and work transitions, and child sporting commitments, and early departures to get ahead of bushfire risk, and packing, and unpacking.

I’m not sure if it’s a plan or the fates, but I feel like we’re even odds for finally taking our kids to Canada; V would like to see Japan as well, and they’re sort of near each other in no sense at all, so maybe we’ll do them in one giant trip.

We’re going on another (seaweed adjacent) beach holiday in a week, assuming the fire risk is acceptable (and this is a real question). I plan to find some good fiction to read; might be hard to top reading through the Imperial Radch triology on this year’s holiday.

It’s the year to get the payoff for the sailing lessons, which is a sailing holiday with the kids. I view it as camping, but without tents. Or sleeping on the ground. And with added water.

Three hopes for 2020

I feel oddly optimistic about the world this week, a gloomy week in a gloomy year in a gloomy decade. Profound sadness hasn’t done me a lot of good in terms of action, so I hope that continues.

Some form of career change: I don’t mean leaving tech for healthcare (I think about this all the time, but only to remind myself I’d be practicing independently long after my 50th birthday), but right now I’m mostly challenged in a “there aren’t enough hours in a day” way rather than the “have to learn a new way of thinking/doing” way and I much prefer the latter.

Rain. Lots and lots of rain.