By Alan Resnick
On June 9, I walked toward the entrance of my office building. I hadn't been there for three months, since COVID-19 had been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The front door was plastered with multiple pieces of paper in various neon colors, as if the facility had been or was soon to be condemned. These were assorted warnings and restrictions for people before they entered:
EVERYONE MUST WEAR A MASK
VERBAL HEALTH SCREENINGS WILL BE CONDUCTED AND TEMPERATURES WILL BE TAKEN
ALL SOCIAL DISTANCING SIGNS AND PLACARDS MUST BE OBEYED
I was there to meet my supervisor, to discuss the possibility of returning to my job conducting vocational assessments. While I had a number of reservations about going back to work, boredom had gotten the best of me.
I slipped on my mask and went upstairs to check in. The lobby was dramatically different than the one I walked out of in March. There were no longer sofas and oversized chairs; instead, there were four folding chairs situated on “X” marks on the floor. The receptionist was seated behind a wall of Plexiglas shields and wore a clear protective shield over his face. He looked like he was ready to replace the muffler on my car.
The cautious receptionist proceeded to take out a clipboard and asked me a number of questions about my health. Had I been in contact with anyone known to have COVID-19 over the last 14 days? Had I been tested for COVID-19 over the last 14 days? Had I experienced difficulty breathing, fever, or loss of smell over the last 14 days? Had I experienced diarrhea over the last 14 days? (I thought he was simply curious, but I’ve since learned that this can be a symptom.) He then held a device up to my forehead which registered my temperature. It was normal, and I was buzzed in.
The corridor leading to my supervisor’s office at the back of the building was dimly lit, as if I had come in after hours or on a weekend. The drinking fountain had what looked like yellow crime scene tape on it with a sign indicating that it was not to be used. Everything about the corridor was cold and sterile, which I suppose was exactly the point.
I knocked on my supervisor’s door. He looked up and put on his mask (masks are not required if you are working alone in your own office). I sat down and shared my fears about coming back, the most significant being that my office was too small to permit social distancing, that I had to share my computer with clients, and that certain test materials had to be passed back and forth between the client and myself.
My supervisor suggested that we take a walk to a room that previously had been used to house a senior citizens program. Given the pandemic, the program had been suspended and will continue to be for the indefinite future. In contrast to my office, which is about 100 square feet, this room was cavernous, closer to 900 square feet. My supervisor asked if I thought this room could be used for vocational assessments.
It clearly had room for social distancing and for two computer stations. There were six rectangular tables that, when put together, allowed for ample room for background interviews And while the table width was not optimal, Plexiglas shields were set up for protection. I told my supervisor that I was comfortable working out of this room.
Even with all these changes, however, the fact remained that, given our current test battery, it was impossible to completely eliminate the need for materials to be handed back and forth. However, I had done my research: iPads could be used to administer certain tests, rather than pencil and paper. My supervisor agreed to purchase the necessary equipment, and I’ve been practicing a couple of times a week.
I’m now trying to schedule assessments for next week, and we’ll see how it goes. In many ways, I think I’ve traded one set of issues and concerns for another. I had been worried about not being able to read a client’s facial expressions if they were wearing a mask during background interviews. But given that I can sit 12 feet away from my client, the mask is not necessary. Now, I’m hoping that I can just see and hear them from that distance. And I’m still not wild about having a Plexiglas shield between the client and myself for test administration, although I’ve come to the realization that it’s a necessary evil. I just know that I’m going to feel like a clerk at a convenience store when asking test questions: “Who wrote Alice in Wonderland? And, by the way, would you like a couple of quick pick lottery tickets?”
Administering tests on iPads is both different and frustrating, as all the shortcuts I’ve developed over the years can’t be used. I used to be able to administer these tests in my sleep, but now it feels like I’m a beginner. But it’s nice to have a challenge. So, I’m approaching next week with an open mind. I’m also curious as to how clients will react to this new and Spartan environment. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Alan Resnick is an industrial psychologist with over 40 years of professional experience. He and his wife are sheltering at home in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He is passing the time by cooking, exercising, catching up on friends’ recommendations of must-see TV and writing.