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WATCH NOW: Families in Martinsville, Henry County initiate and innovate to work from home

WATCH NOW: Families in Martinsville, Henry County initiate and innovate to work from home

From the Martinsville-region COVID-19/coronavirus daily update from state, nation and world: May 6 series

Workers across the region have learned to turn areas of their homes into offices to adapt to the stay-at-home orders of the coronavirus pandemic.

Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School math teacher Amy Ferguson leaped right in with online lessons, thanks to a system her husband set up for her.

Randy Ferguson, the marketing and media director for Patrick Henry Community College, created a video-recording system that he ended up sharing across PHCC and the entire Virginia Community College System.

Rubber bands hold a camera to a yardstick, which is held up high between stacked books to allow the phone to record from above a piece of paper on a table. The user can record video of any demonstration made on paper.

Another system he set up was to attach a GoPro camera to a yardstick and clamp that yardstick to a chair so the camera pointed down to a piece of paper on a table. With that his wife records herself explaining math problems, then shares the videos with students online.

Ferguson uses half of the dining room table as his office, and she gets the couch and coffee table as her virtual classroom. Before one engages the other in conversation, he or she checks to see if the other is on a work call first.

Virtual meetings work

Lisa Parham Smith is the program manager with the Community Recovery Program (a substance recovery program) with Piedmont Community Services.

“Believe it or not, now that I’ve gotten the hang of it, I can do about everything here,” she said. “I have all the employers’ emails and phone numbers, learned how to do this Zoom meeting thing,” and she goes to the office a couple of times a week to check for faxes.

She appreciates that PCS offers the work-from-home option, she said, and she’s glad to know it’s working well, in case it becomes needed in the future.

“I’m a cancer survivor,” she said. “When I was in the latter part of treatment, I still had to stay home but wasn’t sick. I would have loved to” have been able to work from home during that time.

Her clients are in recovery, such as from substance abuse, and an important part of that is attending support meetings. She has found that the virtual (over the internet) meeting format “works really well with our population, because so many do not have transportation, but everybody has a cell phone,” she said.

She wrote the book

New College Institute Interim Director Karen Jackson said working from home “is very easy for me, because I have spent a lot of time on the road. I’m basically a teleworker.”

Plus, Jackson, a resident of Richmond, actually helped to develop the state’s work-from-home policies. She was the director of the Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance for a few years starting in 2006.

“We wrote a lot of the policies that are still in use,” Jackson said. “We had to revamp them periodically to match technology and the updating of laws.

“I don’t have any problems with it because I’m an outcomes-based manager.”

Trust employees

Managers of employees at home should trust their workers to do what they are supposed to. “Set attainable outcomes and goals for the person to achieve; measure and react accordingly,” she added.

Employees should test out the technology to make sure their set-ups at home can handle the tasks required of them, she said.

Once the pandemic isolations have concluded, telework probably will remain a viable option for many employers and employees, she said.

Family adjustments

Jessica Brooks Minter works out of her dining room — and at the end of the workday, she has a lot more housework to do, caused by “kids being home all day entertaining themselves.”

She works on the computer from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day: “Conference calls, client calls, department meetings. Kids screaming in the background. On top of the 11-year-old having to do online meetings with his teachers/classmates during the day,” she said.

Dominique Hylton reported that he has gotten used to working from home “while also keeping my 4-year-old three days out of the week while me wife is at work.”

As an insurance agent, he solicits business, services existing customers, runs quotes, goes out to take pictures of properties, completes applications and sometimes takes paperwork to customers for signatures – “basically everything I did from the office,” he said.

Lanetta Byrd is a Bank Secrecy Act analyst with a local bank. She said that not only is she fortunate that her job can be done from home, but also, “I find that I have less stress and fewer headaches.”

Spencer-Penn Centre Executive Director Susan King Sabin and her husband, attorney Heath Sabin, find working from home to be “a big adjustment,” she said. He works out of the dining room, and she works out of the den. That makes the dining room useless for its normal purpose, she said – but the rest of the house is easier to keep organized.

“We are actually trying to adjust so we both aren’t on Zoom meetings or webinars at the same time, which has been interesting,” she said.

Another dining room out of commission is that of teacher Susan Chance Hatfield, who has turned hers into a classroom “with large Post-It charts hanging in the walls and a desk in the corner.” Meanwhile, her daughter “is finishing her senior year at the University of Lynchburg online from our basement, and uncertain about her first year as a teacher in Roanoke City Schools. My husband has become a TV preacher, and my son goes to work every day.”

Although Patrick Henry Elementary School STEM teacher Liz Lynch can handle lessons virtually, she said she misses the extracurricular activities. Her Odyssey of the Mind team had advanced to the state level, but that competition. She mentors two robotics teams that had worked hard all year, then lost the ability to showcase what they had done at events.

Real estate agent Brenda Martin Vaughn said she has found it interesting that she’s been having more out-of-town calls than usual for properties.

“I had two offers on same home from buyers in Raleigh and Florida who wish to move to a smaller area, prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They both said they’d feel safer in a smaller area, especially since the pandemic. Both made offers sight unseen on the house,” she said.

So residents are making do with what’s available, but there’s one aspect of going in to work that can’t be replicated at home.

“I miss that interaction with people,” Smith said.

Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.

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