“This virus reaches into every nook and cranny”

We've all worked from home once in a while, by choice or necessity. But how can you give structure to your work or study now that we are collectively confined to our homes for a prolonged period of time? How do you stay focused, how do you hold a team together, what are the tips, tricks and pitfalls? Every day Cursor will be calling up someone who is in this proverbial boat with us. Today a couple: SG director Lucas Asselbergs and CEC staffer Jeanette Schoumacher. Together responsible for organizing no small number of essential TU/e events, including Intro Week and the Luna Festival.

photo Bart van Overbeeke

While enjoying a breath of fresh air on a footpath beside the Dommel, this Cursor reporter happened to see them sitting on a boardwalk in their own backyard. The couple Lucas Asselbergs and Jeanette Schoumacher, drinking coffee by their newly installed barrel-shaped sauna. They both say they try to keep their work and personal lives strictly separate, but they echo the sentiment that these are ‘highly unusual circumstances’. This has made them keen to discuss how they find working from home and the huge impact corona is having on their work. “At TU/e we have colleagues who have no idea that we've been married for twenty-four years and we don't mind that at all.” 

Fun breaks

The first week of working from home, Lucas and Jeanette spent on their own; their children have already left home. “It's a familiar set-up for us because we've often worked together, and spent many hours working from home, for example when preparing for Dutch Design Week and the Lustrum,” says Lucas. “Our youngest daughter and her boyfriend, who are both studying psychology in Amsterdam, recently joined us in Eindhoven, and it's nice having them around. They were finding it rather intense having to spend the entire week together in a 12 m2 room. It's going well with four people working from home. For Skype meetings we have to move to the kitchen or garden a little more often, but it's perfectly manageable. We enjoy our breaks, we pop out into the garden to catch the spring sunshine.”

And don't be fooled into thinking that only means drinking coffee. Here is a clip of a rigorous workout.

Corona work-out Asselbergs family

No annoyances, then. Wearing headphones they can seal themselves off and the house is big enough for them to each find a space of their own. “Our home is fairly large and there's a sauna in the garden. It's used often, all in the name of battling corona and getting some good relaxation.” The couple is aware how lucky they are to have the space they need, the facilities and distractions, and that they are already used to working from home.

Lucas picks up an instrument now and then: “It is a very satisfying way of clearing your mind of thoughts. One time it'll be a ukulele, another time a guitar or an accordion. And late at night it's usually the grand piano, which is my instrument.”

Seeking digital creativity

Studium Generale, it's hard to imagine anything less digital. What is a performance without an audience? Where Lucas's work is concerned, the digital challenge is “huge”. Of course, a lecture can be offered online, “but what added value does that have over a TED Talk?” he wonders. For the time being, SG is offering no films, lectures, discussions, concerts, theater and exhibitions. “We are working on digital versions, you'll come across them soon,” says Lucas. “It's a big adjustment, but I have to say it has also forced us to be creative. What's important is that our digital offering must truly add something to what is already in digital existence. Personally speaking, I've always been very pleased with the old school nature of our programs, that you can look your audience in the eye and experience the atmosphere in the auditorium, that you can really involve people. In a sense, this is also possible in the digital world, but it is a very different process and so we are having to quickly develop our expertise.” Last weekend the Luna Festival was supposed to take place, some of it ironically in the Corona room in Luna. The Lustrum -TU/e is celebrating 65years- will probably be held in a pared-down form.

Intro 2020-2021

Jeanette is already busy working on the Intro to the next academic year. “As long as the risk of infection is still present, it won't be possible to organize the Intro on its usual scale. You can't have four thousand people standing together in a field, that's too many people to guarantee social distancing. So other formats will have to be devised,” says Jeanette. For April 2nd she is organizing Famelab, a competition for young scientists who will make a three-minute pitch. “We had booked the Kazerne, the former military barracks, on Grote Berg street in Eindhoven, but now we plan to make it a digital event. It will be a challenge to broadcast an event such as this, with a moderator, jury and audience.” But, optimistic as she is, Jeanette also spots an advantage: “Now we can reach more people.”

A major concern is Dutch Design Week. Jeanette: “DDW will be a big problem,. We have put out a call to dozens of employees and as yet had no responses at all. It's a dead duck, people have got other things to worry about. But the reality is that we need to have a good idea of most of the exhibits before the summer, otherwise it isn't feasible. It is highly debatable whether DDW can go ahead at all, given that all the companies and designers on whose shoulders the week rests are going through a crisis right now. However, they might also be keen to seize DDW as an opportunity to show they are back in business, alive and kicking. Let's hope for the latter and prepare for the former.”

World in ruins

Lucas’ greatest worry is that the world lies in ruins and we're not out of the woods yet. “I have always wondered whether in my lifetime I would ever experience anything like the impact my parents experienced during WWII. Okay, this is not a world war but it is a genuine global crisis with consequences that we can't yet fully appreciate. I think they will be much larger than many of us now realize.” Jeanette takes a somewhat lighter view: “I think in a crisis people often come up with new ideas and recognize opportunities and possibilities for the first time. Look at the rapid realization of online education at TU/e. It brings out the best in people and that is wonderful to see.” Lucas agrees that many people are well-meaning and surprise you with their creativity. “This view is largely in line with what Rutger Bregman describes in his book ‘Humankind’, the Dutch title of which translates roughly as 'Most people are good souls'. But if at some point Trump throws open the borders again because the lockdown is strangling the economy, then I'd be forced to think: some people are good for nothing!”

Learned anything yet from all this?

While sighing that he's still making no headway with his plan to finally start reading all the books waiting for him, Lucas says, “In a crazy way it is very busy and always busy. Working from home means you never really have the sense that you are not at work. I can easily be sending off mails in the middle of the night. Not really necessary but it's hard not to. It's something I'll really have to learn. What's more, I'm now noticing that having a large network means that among the people with whom you have a good business relationship, and often a personal relationship, there are many who are dealing with questions and problems, issues that you want to - or have to - get involved with. Then again, the impact on us is relatively light compared with all kinds of self-employed people and services that have ground to a complete halt. This virus reaches into every nook and cranny and it we won't be rid of it anytime soon. I notice that Jeanette is less focused on the problems than I am; she probably has better survival genes.”

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