"Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, our team has been working non-stop" (March 2020)
The camera switches on and an upbeat Floor van der Heijden appears on the screen, with TU/e's Atlas building prominently in view behind her. No, she is not at work on the campus, but she is happy to add a hint of make-believe - enabled by the selection of backgrounds offered in MS Teams.
After all, there's no denying it, she does miss campus life, the energy of the students, the education and research, she tells us, recalling with mild nostalgia the short period that she was able to work on site one day a week. “We do this when we hold online job interviews as well,” explains Van der Heijden, program director of Integrated Safety at TU/e, referring to her background photo. “It helps us give some hint of a campus tour to someone sitting in their living room.”
Even though eight months have now passed since Cursor's first homeworking interview with her at the end of March (“Isn't that strange?”), Van der Heijden feels as if she has taken up something resembling a homeworking routine only recently. During the initial months of the corona pandemic, as a member of TU/e's Central Crisis Team, she was up to her ears in work and fully occupied with the crisis, “while my two children were with me at home full time”.
Shortly before the summer vacation, when her boys were allowed back at school and the peaks in the crisis were slowly starting to level off, she brought her work gradually under control, Van der Heijden tells us. “September was when a different balance really started to emerge, and there was finally some structure to my working day. That's why I feel as if I have only just joined the legions working from home, though I know that for many people it feels very different.”
"We are all so much involved that we are unable to let go" (March 2020)
Her spot at the kitchen table has now been swapped for the storeroom - which had been earmarked as a lounge space for her children, but the family's plans changed and in the spring it was converted into mom's office. Truth be told, working at the kitchen table was not all that ergonomic. “At some point you realize: this is gonna go on too long. That's when I bought a desk and went to Atlas to collect an office chair and a monitor.”
She continues, “In the beginning, things were muddled, overlapping. I found it difficult to draw a line firmly under my working day, after all I could see my work desk from the couch. Now that I have my own office, at the end of the day I can really close the door behind me.”
There are no longer any weekly press conferences, a road map has been drawn up and another version of it geared to education at TU/e is close to being finalized, Van der Heijden tells us. “This will help us better predict what is going to happen.” And now when changes occur or more rigorous measures are introduced, the university, which at the start of the year had no ready-made pandemic plan to hand, can draw on earlier scenarios and experiences.
She recalls “feeling hugely proud” of how the university weathered the storm, especially in the initial months of the corona crisis when the situation was so intense, all the while focusing on the future. “There's something magnificent about that. Especially that as TU/e we were capable in such a short space of time, and with everything that was happening to us, of switching up so quickly, from a short full closure to online education - that, I think, is unparalleled.”
She praises too the engagement within the community, right up the highest level. “‘Pulling together, we are going to get this job done,’ that sense. It gave so much energy. If something's come up, I'll get an app from Frank (Baaijens, ed.) and I'll app him back. Apping with the Rector Magnificus, just like that! And people are attentive towards each other. They'll ask, ‘How are you doing now?’ At other institutions there are typically many more hierarchical steps to negotiate.”
The central crisis team still meets weekly. “We can sometimes skip a meeting, if the current situation allows.” This gives Van der Heijden more time to resume her tasks as program manager of Integrated Safety; the project calendar for this coming year, for example, and the budget. “These things have to be done too.”
"I hope my children will also remember the positive things" (March 2020)
In her private life too, she now has more space, not least for herself. Her effort to find some desperately wanted ‘Floor time’- let's face it, she acknowledges with good humor, right up to the summer vacation that was a massive fail. Now her first priority, as soon as she has closed her laptop for the day, is mindful enjoyment, both alone and with her family. This might take the form of a trip to the park, a walk, a picnic or a games evening with girlfriends, all at 1m50.
Another source of enjoyment is the family's completely renovated outdoor space, both front and back, the Band-Aid on a wound after a carefully conceived trip to Indonesia, long in the planning, could not go ahead this summer. “I love travelling, that's something I really do miss.” Instead the family went to a French campsite, mindful of the latest developments and measures, in search of some “peace and quiet that all of us, as it turned out, were in need of. Even with all the corona rules we were able to have a great vacation. By nature, I am the type of person whose eyes are fixed on what is possible.”
This doesn't alter the fact that on the day of this second interview, ‘the eleventh of the eleventh’, she is looking with a twinge of nostalgia at photos of Carnival in past years. “When it comes to Carnival, I'm a real Oeteldonker.” While much may be possible in these corona days, especially online, Van der Heijden agrees with the general consensus: virtual Carnival festivities are no substitute.
"We have never experienced anything with such great consequences for every individual" (March 2020)
How long will the present corona situation last? “Easter is currently as far ahead as I'm looking. I hope that by then we'll be able to perform a lot of rapid testing in a short space of time, or that we have a good vaccine. Because that would be the point at which we get more room to maneuver, both for The Netherlands PLC and for us as TU/e.”
Meanwhile the nights are drawing in. December with its customary festive days is just around the corner, “How are we going to get through them? I can see it's something a lot of people are struggling with.” Fortunately, there's an increased helping of togetherness on the other side of the scales, observes Van der Heijden. Also within her own TU/e Service, she is trying to keep up people's spirits. With regular bilaterals, online activities, creative alternatives for the traditional Christmas meal with colleagues at the end of the year, for example. But also by paying conscious attention to, say, jubilarians and those celebrating a birthday, she tells us. “It's how we are trying to keep that feeling of togetherness alive.”