Employees Adjust to Life During Pandemic

Employees find new meaning and activities during pandemic isolation

Nurturing relationships, gardens and new skills are a few benefits to what has been a challenging time for anyone self-isolating during the past two months of the coronavirus pandemic. Employees at Arizona Generation and Transmission Cooperatives (AzGT) can attest that while many of them are adjusting to working remotely and to spending more time than usual around the people with whom they share a home, they also started doing things that they always meant to try but, up until now, life kept getting in the way.

Jillian Freeark, daughter of Michelle Freeark, executive director of regulatory affairs and corporate services, learns to use an axe and chop wood during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Two things we’d been talking about for a while are raising chickens and having a garden. We now have a raised bed garden with a variety of vegetables. So far, we’ve enjoyed some cherry tomatoes and tangy radishes,” said Diane Beyer, business and cost analyst. “We got a number of baby chicks mid April, and in a few months hope to have plenty of eggs and available meat.”

Michelle Freeark and her daughter, Jillian, exercise in the school parking lot in the evening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are trying to become more self-sufficient and have planted a very large garden with everything from tomatoes to potatoes to onions to garlic.  We also have several pots of herbs sitting around our backyard that we usually clip from each evening for dinner depending on the menu,” said Michelle Freeark, executive director of regulatory affairs and corporate services. “We have cooked more meals in these last eight weeks than I can remember!  Our goal is to try at least two new recipes each week.  We have even used our InstaPot for many meals during this.”

Michelle Freeark says that she and her family are eating and cooking much more at home during COVID-19, and shows their Friday night homemade pizza bar. They use homemade dough and each of them adds their own toppings.

Plenty of employees are finding their homes are now their offices, also. For families with multiple members now working from home and school children trying to finish classes, this has been an especially significant shift.

“Our family has had major adjustments during this time,” Freeark explained. “Both parents working from home, one primary school student who is required to work on Study Island and Google Classroom from home and one high school student who has classes online to finish up and will be starting summer school online for Physics in the coming weeks.”

Michelle Freeark’s daughter, Jillian, goes to school online through Google Classroom and meets with her teacher during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The confinement to home has driven her family and others to reach over the distances in ways they might not have explored before the pandemic. Since working from home still requires connecting to the office, employees are taking what they’ve learned by telecommuting and using it for virtual visits with friends and family on a regular basis.

How the Freeark family goes out when needed. Clockwise from top left are Justin, Grant, Michelle and Jillian Freeark.

“What’s nice is, instead of one or two people talking to one or two other people a month, the whole family gets together and it is literally 30-plus people,” said James Bujarski, graphic services manager, who set up a Zoom room for family members to connect from places ranging from California to Florida. “It’s just something that happened simply because of this pandemic. That brought it on, not that I couldn’t have done it a year ago.”

James Bujarski, graphics services manager, and his family members from across the country meet for “Sunday Dinner” via Zoom about twice a month.

Bujarski says they call it “Sunday Dinner” because it resembles the type of family gathering many people would have. They’ve met about twice a month for occasions such as Easter and his birthday, and he expects this will be the new norm for his family, even after social distancing requirements relax.

“The older ones, late 60s, the younger ones, 20, 30, they’re the ones now driving it. They want to do it at least every couple of weeks, just to touch base,” Bujarski said. “It’s actually made us all stop and think, ‘This is what it’s all about.’ It is about family, and being together, and it’s going to continue.”