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Green Shield Canada

Episode 23: Life in the time of COVID-19

In episode 23, host David Willows and producer Sarah Murphy bring back GSC writer Carley Parekh to discuss her latest edition of g(sc) TALK, which offers some practical (and evidence-based) advice on how to best adjust to pandemic life.
And now for something completely indifferent

And now for something completely indifferent

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Episode 23 Transcript


[00:00:15] DW: Hi, Sarah.

[00:00:15] SM: Hello, David.

[00:00:16] DW: Were still allowed to call this a podcast even though it's a video thing, right?

[00:00:20] SM: Yes, we are and were not in our studio. We dont have our normal equipment, our fancy equipment. But, yes, still we can call it a podcast. Yes.

[00:00:27] DW: Okay. This is a from-home edition, our first from-home addition of the podcast. I believe that you have to read something to us before we go any further. Our lawyers require it, so why dont you do that thing you do?

[00:00:40] SM: Our declaimers. Okay. Yeah, this has taken all the mystery out of everything. Here we go with some intro disclaimers, and then well get into the podcast.

Hello and welcome to another episode of GSCs podcast. Now, for something completely indifferent, where well be discussing the hottest topics and trends in Canadian health benefits. I am the producer and editor, Sarah Murphy. Before we get started with todays episode, wed like to remind our listeners that the views expressed in this podcast are those of the individuals speaking and not necessarily the views of GSC. We may talk about possibly controversial subjects, and therefore reserve the right to potentially offend some listeners, but we are apologizing for that up front.

You can download this podcast from our website at\podcast or subscribe to it from wherever you get your podcast. We also encourage you to read our publication, The Inside Story. Follow the script and the g(sc) TALK, which you can also download from our website. Please be sure to follow the conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn. Now, after thats done, we can get started.

Todays episode is hosted by David Willows, GSCs EVP of Innovation, Digital, and Brand Experience. Hello.

[00:01:45] DW: Hello, Sarah. Let me talk about that disclaimer reading, because I've seen you actually record that in our studio with no cameras present, and you read it with basically an emotionless expression on your face, and that was quite a friendly reading – It almost seemed like you were going to start giggling at times. Those words have never provoked such emotion and vitality in you, so congratulations on already becoming kind of fake in the video environment here.

Weve got a new g(sc) TALK that were going to put out, and the truth is this one's been sitting on the shelf for about a month, because the whole world changed. The moment it changed, we said we should write an article on how were all going to adapt to new reality and very specifically instead of going from a workplace to home. I think the three people that are going to be talking today, were all very lucky that we got to work from our homes, compared to other places where people are working right now. But this has been sitting there for a month, because weve had to communicate about things like travel insurance and premium deferrals. Weve talked to plan members about digital health things that they should be trying to get to and take care of their health, so weve sort of put this aside.

Its going to be an interesting exercise because its sort of aged a bit. We wrote this piece on life in the times of COVID-19, how were all going to adopt and try to work. I'm suspecting that the three of us, including Carley thats going to come on in a minute, are going to look more critically at that piece that we wrote a month ago when it was all theoretical and now try to figure out what's real and what's not real. So let's bring in Carley and have her tell us about her article and then sort of debate its merits a month on.

[00:03:21] SM: Yeah. I think those are good points. We had some quite serious things to communicate. Now, we can get at this one. Hello, Carley.

[00:03:28] CP: Hello.

[00:03:29] SM: Welcome to our live recording of the podcast.

[00:03:33] CP: Thank you.

[00:03:34] DW: Carley's been on the podcast a few times. Like Sarah, shes smiling a lot more than she usually does when were just not being filmed. So thank you both for having some sort of media training I wasn't aware of to bring more life to this.

[00:03:47] SM: Were both classy. Were both classy and professional.

[00:03:50] DW: For the first time maybe you wont be rolling your eyes at me if I ask questions and stuff like that. Well have to sort of fake your way through this.

[00:03:56] SM: We have little secrets. We can chat message you on the side.

[00:04:08] DW: So, Carley, we introduced this saying that you wrote this thing a month ago. It was our big first idea. Lets tackle this totally current topic. Then we really haven't had time editorially to get it out but were still going to push it out. We have to use all our material. But tell us about what you wrote. It was called Life in the Time of COVID-19. By the way, for people hat dont know, Carleys been on the podcast a few times. She is communications strategy consultant. We like to call her one of our best writers and she writes a lot of these cool g(sc) TALK things. But tell us about the article. Then I think were going to try to sort of dissect it a bit and say what our reaction is a month into this crisis compared to what you wrote from a set of theoretical best practices standpoint before we had to really live this.

[00:04:49] CP: Yes. I cant wait to get into that part. But, yeah, I guess to backtrack, so when you and I first started talking about writing this, it was actually from an internal perspective. Because like so many companies, we were faced with moving from – I cant remember what the number was. I think it was around 15% of our workforce that work from home every now and then to almost 100%. I mean, I think weve got, what, like five GSCers that are now in the office from around 1,000. So we were just grappling with like how can we support our colleagues in trying to navigate this huge shift in our work lives, our personal lives.

When it came to looking at the research that was out there, what people were saying about it, I found that the pieces that were the most salient, the trends that ran through everything really kind of broke down into three categories. The first one of those was how do you stay productive through this. Youve got kids at home and youre working from home. Whats the advice out there? Again, there was sort of like a few trends that I – Theres a ton of advice about how to stay productive at home, but it seemed like there were some pretty clear commonalities between what was being written about it.

The first one, and this was in almost every article that I read, was to try and maintain your schedule. Working in your pajama sounds really great and Id be lying if I said I havent done it a couple times. But the best thing to do is to try and maintain those routines that your brain really loves, right? Brains love routine. Especially in stressful times, you want to try and minimize the cognitive overload thats happening. So things like getting dressed, having your coffee, exercising, even just walking to work. Whatever your brain was used to doing before all of this, if you can try and maintain some of that, thats really helpful.

Another one was, of course, trying to carve out an office space in your house. Obviously, not all of us have a dedicated room that can serve as an office. So whether you do have an at-home office or maybe youre in a one-bedroom apartment and you don't really have much of an option, its less about the space that you have and more about like creating that separation between work and personal. Even if its a workstation at your dining room table that you set up every day, put it away at the end of the day, and then that sort of marks the shift to your personal time, so making sure that youre maintaining those barriers, having a very clear workspace, and then having a very clear not workspace.

Then the last one was around structure, so trying to maintain some structure in your day, just spending a little bit of time at the beginning of your day planning it out. But you dont have those usual markers of like walking to peoples offices, having in-person meetings, all of that kind of stuff. Whatever time you spend planning will pay off in productivity at the end, whatever that looks like for you. Theres a million different strategies for how to create sort of a schedule for yourself. On the flip side of that, having structure, also respect that you need unstructured time too, so take breaks. Its really easy, especially when youre working from home to just let your work like bleed into all. Try and work full out and have it bleed into all of your personal time. But those breaks for your brain actually help with productivity, rather than youre just trying to like push through it and push through it.

The second one – Sorry. Now going back to like those sort of three main things. The second one was around staying sane, which is pretty obvious. Were all kind of enforced isolation or else being forced to be cooped up with our loved ones, which is almost as bad.

[00:08:31] DW: Who here has loved ones? Okay, go on.

[00:08:38] CP: Right, exactly. So isolation. Uncertainty too. Our brains hate uncertainties., so how do you maintain your sanity through all of this and try and minimize the mental stress that comes along with this situation? Again, common trends were, number one, try and find ways to stay connected with people. For all the griping that we do about technology all the time, its really coming back to bite us now because technology has kind of been a saving grace for many of us where you can FaceTime with people. You can maintain through social channels those connections, whether youre commenting on people's posts or whatever it is. Those little things now are really important connections to the people that we care about. Get creative in the way that you do it.

Weve been – My son really loves playing Battleship, and so his cousins also have a Battleship set, so theyre actually doing battleship over FaceTime now, which is really fun. Ive done a few social distancing porch chats where my friend sits further down my walkway, and I sit on my front porch, and we just sit and chat. Get creative about how youre able to able to stay connected with your loved ones but make sure that you really spend time doing that, because its super important.

Another one was just to be news overload. Theres very little oxygen in the room right now for anything thats not COVID-19. Constantly ingesting news has not necessarily been – it hasnt been shown as being good for your mental health, even in normal time. In these times where there's a lot of uncertainty, its just really important to maybe try and maybe just reserve a time of the day. For me, anyway, Ive been checking it in the mornings. Whether or not thats good, whether thats a good way to set up my day, I dont know. But thats been the time that I reserve for it. So just try and like think of compartmentalizing that to a part of your day and then move on from it.

Then the last one is get serious about your self-care. Emotional burnout right now is definitely a risk. I'm sure we all feel very different now than we did even in that first week. In that first week, you're kind of – Me, I was baking all the time. I was trying to keep myself busy. Then as the weeks draw on, it gets a little harder. So just making sure that youre setting clear constantly having people demanding stuff of you, whether its energy or just literally like helping your kids with stuff Make sure that you set out time for yourself too where take a bath, read a book, whatever makes you happy, whatever feels good for you, exercise. That's really important to keep doing.

Then the last thing was just to stay healthy. This feels really obvious, but with a lot of misinformation out there I think its important to just keep reminding ourselves of the really simple things that we can be doing to help protect ourselves and protect others from this virus. It sounds like the stuff that your mother used to nag you about just like not washing your hands, not touching your face, all of that stuff. Those are going to do 90% of the weightlifting and trying to keep this virus at bay. Thats sort of a brief wrap up.

[00:11:36] DW: Thats a great summary of the article. There's 2,501 words in that article, so that was a great summary. I saw that this morning when I reread it. Carley, you wrote that all a month ago and it all seems perfectly sound. But if you could go back a month to that one month younger Carley, what would you say to her about what she was writing at that time and what is going to actually happen over the next month?

[00:11:57] CP: Yeah. I mean, she probably looked a lot younger than I do now. I feel like this month has aged me about five years and I think Ive expressed this to both of you. I would say in a sum I think its all still very good advice, but there was a little section in the article around being kind to yourself and doing the best that you can. I would say that thats probably a more important point than I realized it was. I think that theres a lot of different situations out there, whether you have kids or you don't have kid, whether you live by yourself or you don't, your age, how connected you are to other people. All these different things I think can really change your experience of the situation. I think that it is salient. I think its still very useful advice but its not always possible is I think. I guess to sum it up, its like you just have to do the best you can.

[00:12:52] DW: Yeah. Both of you have primary-school-aged kids, which I think has thrown some of the good counsel out the window to a degree. I'm lucky because Ive got a 21-year-old in her own apartment in downtown Toronto who just comes on Sundays and does her laundry and eats good meals and takes a lot of food home. Not a lot of management of that situation and not a lot of balancing with what I have to do during the day. So how are some of those very sound organizational suggestions faring amidst disruption?

[00:13:26] SM: Ill start. I mean, its interesting because Carley and I have – Each have two kids and we're sort of in that spectrum of teen, preteen, early elementary, to preschool, right? So all four, and I think they all bring a fair number of challenges. The older ones kind of understand whats going on. They do maybe miss their social face-to-face time but they are set up on social networks as well, so find ways to connect. My daughter does dance, and her dance studio is doing virtual dance classes, which is amazing. So shes having a better time.

The little ones, thats I think where I'm sure Carley will agree, weve talked offline about this a number of times, its a challenge. Yeah, its trying to follow all that good advice like your routine and your structure, and then you have children wandering around. So work-form-home is one thing but work-from-home with children who are supposed to be in school, who are used to structure and then trying to learn how to become a homeschooler at the same time. Its been a challenge. I too have aged.

[00:14:18] DW: How is that homeschooling going? Is that happening?

[00:14:21] SM: Again, I think that whole – It comes back to the message of just do your best and be kind  to yourself, right? Its happening.

[00:14:27] DW: It sounds like no. 

[00:14:30] SM: Again, I think for the older kids – I mean, my experience. My older daughter is – She runs it herself. She just goes on Google Classroom, knows her assignments, does it all, follows it all. No problem. Shes having a great time with it. The younger one again, theyre just not used to it. They need face-to-face time. They need their playmates. Their teachers are trained to deal with that and were not, even though my husbands a teacher. Hes struggling with it too, but I dont think its critical when you're that young. Were just doing the best that we can to keep entertained.

[00:14:56] DW: Carley, Im impressed that your soon-to-be four-year-old son is playing Battleship. That sounds like –

[00:15:00] SM: Yeah, I know.

[00:15:01] DW: Thats advanced I think. Is he gifted? I think thats gifted.

[00:15:05] CP: Yeah. I mean, playing Battleship is like –

[00:15:08] SM: He plays with the boats.

[00:15:10] CP: It doesnt have to be very generous. He is notorious for moving his boats like mid-way. If somebody else is sinking, hell be like, Thats not where it was.”

[00:15:19] SM: Which is smart. Thats actually advanced.

[00:15:20] DW: Three-year-olds cheat.

[00:15:22] CP: Yes, hes a very astute cheater. But, yeah, I mean – I think like to Sarahs point, we have to remember too that like our kids go through different moods every day too. So like our kids have good days and bad days, and I do find that whats really saved us is creating that – Its not a – I wouldnt even call it a schedule. Its basically just a list of things were going to do that day, and he gets some choice over like what he wants to do at a particular time. But at least he kind of knows what to expect, and theres some days where that works really well for us and there are some days where he just is not in the mood for it, and everything derails that we kind of have to think on our feet a little bit more.

Ive been, I mean, fortunate and unfortunate. My husband is not able to work right now. He works in film, and that is down to shut down right now, so he's been able to take on a brunt of it. But I also have to be respectful of the fact that like thats demanding on anyone to take care of a four-year-old full-time. So we do have to ta team a little bit or sometimes hell come in and be like, I just need a break.” Im like, Okay.”

Then we also – I also have a teenager at home who very similar like has actually been very self-sufficient. Shes been really great about staying organized. Shes even created he own schedule for herself, which has been really great. Weve been really lucky that way. Our challenge with her is prying her out of her room to just like take a breather, get off of the screens, go for a walk, that kind of stuff. But we definitely have good days. We have bad days and everything in-between. Its definitely that idea of like keeping your routine. Thats definitely been like do the best that you can, because routine is like a very generous word for what our day-to-day life looks like these days.

[00:17:05] DW: Fair enough. I urge anybody that's watching this or listening to this to read Carley's piece. As I said, its 2,501 words long. It wont take long. Thats about five pages.

After reading that, just remember what we said here and that some of these things certainly made a lot of sense at the time. They probably still make sense, but achieving them might be a true aspiration but maybe not the reality. So thank you both for coming on. Lets hope we can do the next one in the studio. If not, we can – Now that weve learned this teams technology, but we dont know yet that this is going to work. If this does reach the outside world, then perhaps we can do it again.

[00:17:45] SM: Well see.

[00:17:47] DW: Sarah, you have to do a close, right?

[00:17:49] SM: I do. I have to do another –

[00:17:50] DW: Is it interesting?

[00:17:51] SM: I would say no. You folks can disconnect if you like, and Ill just wrap this up.

00:17:55] DW: Were going to – So I don't make fun of you. Im just going to let you do this on your own and I wont mock the close, okay?

[00:17:58] SM: Thanks, guys. Okay. So youre dismissed. Thanks.

[00:18:04] DW: Go for it.

[00:18:04] CP: Bye.

[00:18:05] SM: Bye.

[00:18:05] CP: Stay healthy.

[00:18:06] SM: Thank you to our listeners tuning into another episode of And now for something completely indifferent,” a Canadian health benefits industry podcast. To be sure to get future episodes, please subscribe to this podcast wherever you get your podcasts or visit our website at\podcast to download. As a reminder, we talk about these issues consistently in our publications, which are available on our website, as well as on social media, so be sure to follow the conversation on Twitter and Facebook. For todays episode, be sure to check out our more recent issue of g(sc) TALK. Thanks for listening, and well talk again soon.