We asked engineers how they were getting work done while observing the mandate for social distancing. Here’s what they said.
Engineers working at home and looking at the walls of their house all day may wonder how others in their situation are faring. We posted this question on the popular engineering forum sites Edaboard.com and Electro-tech-online.com. Here are a few of the more notable responses.
Of course, engineers whose work involves test equipment and development hardware often have no choice but to go into the lab. A few in this boat explained how they improvised. Says one, I dedicated different portions of my sweatshirt sleeves to different functions. The very ends I would use to open doors if no paper towels were available. The center (elbow) portion would be used to cover sneezes or coughs. the upper (shoulder) portion would be used to rub or scratch my face if I had an itch or something of that sort. When possible, I would open swinging doors by turning my back to them and pushing them open. This also worked for outward-swinging doors with a push-bar latch.
The idea of disinfecting instrumentation brings its own challenges. Notes one engineer, Don’t know if anyone is wiping down test equipment, but that is something that should be done. I think I’ll suggest that management have engineers wipe test equipment down. Would be easier to have the cleaning service do it, but I doubt we could get them to ensure they don’t change instrument settings, e.g. would hate to see a board get fried due to the bench supply having it’s output changed from 5 V to 30 V after being cleaned.
Of course, engineering has the reputation of being a somewhat solitary profession, and some comments bear this out. Collaboration over a test bench is usually not required, says one engineer. If we must confer, the labs we have are quire large so keeping 6ft+ distance is quite easy to do. Mostly I load an FPGA image on a board (remotely) and let the software engineer know I loaded and tested the image. They remote into the same system and run their tests. Neither of us would even be in the lab except to hook things up. We also us an IM service which allows us to chat or we can easily call each others cell phones if necessary.
And one of the first casualties of the virus: doughnut day. No communal snacks (such as donuts) allowed in the break rooms. ..Hot liquids were a staple. The virus is said to begin in the throat, so keeping it moist using hot liquids help protect your throat from becoming a breeding ground for the virus.
From another engineer still working in the UK, split shifts from next week and disinfecting between shifts to minimize contact. While we have the test facilities running, I am required there in person. We sort out breakdowns / modifications constantly during the day. I strongly suspect we will be closing for a while soon. Then I go into design mode and work from home.
Engineers working outside the defense industry have flexibility unavailable to those with security clearances: They can bring material home during the crisis without running afoul of national security concerns. Says one, As we support the Water Industry, supplying goods and services to them, we’re presumably in the category of ‘key workers’ so shouldn’t need to shut down unless things get really desperate…. I’ve stuck some boards and components in the back of the car, so I can assemble those at home if need be….. and I’ve already uploaded a load of documents, source code etc. that I can access from home.
Engineers still in their offices also are implementing various routes strategies for social distancing. Explains one, There’s only two of us where I work anyway, so it’s pretty isolated – but the ‘boss’ decided this morning that we should split to different shifts. So I’m working until 14:00, and he comes in a bit later than that (he lives fairly close, walking distance) and works until he feels like going home.
Says another, To reduce contact and satisfy social distancing, only two of us may be in the office at any one time, and we’re not supposed to be in the same section of the building. This can work because our branch of the giant multi-national consists of 6 people. We’re supposed to wipe down anything we touch. The thing that’s still missing for me is access to the company server so that puts a crimp in getting things done at home.
Finally, engineers bummed out by recent events may consider these comments from China: I’m an IC designer from China and I have worked at home after Spring Festival via VNC tools. I returned to Beijing on February 7. At that time, there were few people in the subway or trains, and most of the stores were close, so you can only buy food and vegetable through APP like meituan and duodian (Chinese shopping app. But the situation in Beijing is much better now. Many stores are open. I also had a haircut yesterday. My company allowed half of the people to go to work, but keep the distance between everyone while wearing a mask since last week.