Musing on a Home Office

Like many people, I’ve been working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is definitely foreign to me. I am a navigator at Community Action Duluth, which is a job that requires intensive, one-on-one work with people. Skills acquired when sitting next to someone have a new level of complexity via telephone. I definitely had to hone in my listening skills to know if I was hearing my letters correctly (b, d, t, s, and f). It is much easier to relate to someone face to face. I now realize the importance of visual cues in communication, and the ways I watch and listen for understanding and clarity. Navigators are now explaining complex issues without the normal go-to tools.

Health insurance information I normally would be able to visually show and describe requires a deeper level of explanation over the phone. I check frequently if the content I am relaying is being understood as intended. Thankfully I am able to scan printable material and email it to my participants. For those participants without technical devices, I am still using the postal service. My local post office is only a half block from my home. In the future I hope to meet the individuals and families I have assisted remotely, in person. I miss the one-on-one contact.

Part of our guest bedroom became my remote office. A lock was placed on the door for privacy, with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in mind. As the pandemic wore on, the small corner I utilized when I first moved my office home grew to the full room to accommodate office amenities. In addition to my “desk” (a folding table complete with two TV tray tables), my home office now features a new printer with scanning capability, a new desk chair (after the folding chair was giving me a whole new level of discomfort), a floor pad for the new chair, a shredder, a phone charger, and a desk lamp. I continually ask myself, “where did all this ‘stuff’ come from?!” I have been utilizing the top of a dresser and floor space for the myriad of informational paperwork I have.

Working from home has its perks! I am saving money on gas, office attire, and those lunches out. It was novel to wear my pajamas, not put on makeup, not do my hair, and sometimes not even shower or brush my teeth until my lunch break! In a home office, I do not have to share a bathroom. I can eat my own cooking for lunch. I can do laundry on my breaks. I can water my flowers. I shaved 40 minutes of driving time per day from my life. I can easily transition from home to work and work to home. Our dog has only interrupted phone conversations and zoom meetings on occasion, usually when her “dad” arrives home and she acts like he has been gone forever, even if it was, you know, five minutes. My husband has cut my hair three times; I have dyed it twice. My son cut my husband’s hair, finally! He really was going for his 1970s college hair-to-the-shoulders look until his family held an intervention.

I did learn I am a creature of habit. I have not had to set an alarm since moving home. I automatically wake up at 6 a.m. After the unique experience of working at home wore off, I self-disciplined myself to shower and dress upon waking. It just felt right for me and set the tone of the day.

The world has taken on a different pace during the pandemic. A calendar reminds me of the month and day I moved my office home: March 19. The day seems so far away and from another world. A world where we easily took for granted our freedom of movement, and our blasé attitude of ever experiencing a pandemic in our lifetime. Yes, a calendar helps keep me in touch with the month and day. Time is going by so swiftly. So many changes are taking place in our society. Changes we can hope are for the health and safety of all.

What I value most took on a higher level of importance. The very life and well-being of not only my family and friends, but my co-workers, my neighbors, and my community. Certainly, the people I serve. There is a greater level of understanding of the fluidity of our lives. The importance of health care for all. Most importantly, of equity and justice for all.

It is surreal to realize a whole other world exists beyond my remote office door. What I do matters. It matters knowing I am making a difference in the lives of those I serve. Knowing if one of my participants or their family members get sick, they can seek help. Knowing I might be their link to life-saving medicine, to their mental health care, to pre-natal care, to well-care checkups. Navigators and MNsure might also be the health-insurance link between early retirement and Medicare, as well as coverage during job layoffs, end of jobs, or major and unexpected diagnosis.

I am a MNsure navigator. I am still here to ask, “How can I help?”

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