Tools for Working During COVID-19

Working during a pandemic: it’s an unsettling time for all of us. Travel advisories, scary stories about the stock market, cancellations of virtually every event with an audience, outages at stores… everyone is worried. So, what’s next? The best way to deal with uncertainty is to be armed with accurate information and to take advantage of the opportunities that this current moment presents.

There are at least three things you can do to take control of the situation:

  1. You can take precautions when handling your current, regular daily routine.
  2. You can prepare yourself to work remotely as and when that opportunity presents itself.
  3. If you experience any downtime due to quarantine, you can take advantage of that time!

Precautions for your current, normal daily routine:

  • When you meet the parties you’ll be working with, don’t shake hands: wave a hello, or give a slight bow to acknowledge people. Instead of sitting as close as possible to the witness to be able to hear clearly, give yourself six feet of space.
  • If you don’t need to monitor your Luminex’s screen, set it flat and place your writer under the table (to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to sneeze or cough onto it). When you need to clean your writer, be aware that alcohol wipes can damage the finish of your writer. Use the cleaner and microfiber cloth that came with the writer.
  • If you are providing iPads or other devices for viewing a realtime job, those should be wiped down with an alcohol wipe before and after the proceedings. Bring disposable gloves to handle the viewing devices; wear them while cleaning them after the proceedings, and then dispose of them. (And don’t touch your face while wearing them!)
  • The experts believe that surface contact is far less likely to be problematic than being coughed or sneezed on, so it shouldn’t be necessary to worry about handling exhibits (unless they have been coughed or sneezed on). If and when possible, it would be best if all exhibits be pre-marked and scanned, vs. being physically marked during proceedings. Not only is this more efficient in terms of time, it is safer to the health of all parties.
  • If you’ve been quiet or shy about having a microphone at proceedings, it’s time to let that go! Feel free to get a big, obvious one and place it in a convenient central location. Connect the microphone and headphones to your writer and explain that this will allow you to keep a safer distance but still hear everyone. On the Diamante or Luminex, make sure that Record During Job and Monitor Live Audio are set to On. You can access these settings before you begin writing by pressing Setup, and then Audio.

Prepare to work remotely

Reporters who currently work remotely agree that the biggest challenge for remote reporting is the quality of sound. Unfortunately, it’s an element you typically cannot control, unless your court or agency has set up the space and/or equipment that will be used to ensure the best possible quality; and even then, variations in internet/network connection may affect quality. They recommend the following:

  • Determine whether you can swear in the witness remotely or whether another party (notary) will need to do so in person. It is possible that during this health emergency, states may temporarily suspend rules regarding in-person oaths: check with your courts or association to find out what accommodations may be made.
  • The parties in the proceeding will need to know how a remote proceeding will work as much as you do, until it becomes a common way of working. Provide them with instructions that will let them know what you need to be able to successfully work remotely. For example, before going on the record, it would be helpful for each party to identify themselves, and spell their names, not only so that you have that information on the record, but also so that you can recognize their voices and identify who is whom without necessarily having to see them. You may need to tell them if there are two voices that are very similar and difficult to distinguish and work out a plan to address this, whether it’s interrupting for clarification on who is speaking, or being available to clarify post-proceedings.
  • Use realtime translation and make sure all parties have a device that can access a web browser during the proceedings. If you don’t already have one, contact Stenograph ASAP and purchase a Session Code so that all parties can use CaseViewNet Browser to view what you are writing and translating in realtime, regardless of their location. This enables all participants to view the translation as it occurs and see what you are getting, and (if they’re paying attention) see when difficulties occur.
  • Reporter Patrick Heard suggested: “After doing a few depositions with my cell phone and dealing with soft voices and echo effects, to make things easier for me, I did some research online and purchased the Plantronics Calisto 7200 Bluetooth conference speaker, and let me tell you: It’s been a game changer. I connect my cell phone via Bluetooth and the speaker makes the call. The audio quality is crisp, clear, loud. The speaker has echo and noise cancellation built into it, which does exactly as it implies. I wholeheartedly endorse purchasing this product or something akin to it, and I believe it’s crucial for any reporter who thinks he or she might be doing phone depositions. The speaker has a 360 degree microphone with a 200-foot range. I’ve been told I come through super loud and clear for the others on the phone.”
  • Reporters who work remotely also agree that one of the difficulties in not being present at the proceedings is not being able to see anyone’s faces, which means you miss visual cues you’d pick up while present, such as when someone is about to object. When possible, it can be very helpful to use a meeting application such as Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Skype, WebEx, etc. with web cams to enable you to see as well as hear the participants. If the meeting application is being used for audio, using the telephone connection rather than computer audio tends to have better sound quality.
  • Define steno as (Speaker off microphone.) and use it whenever you cannot hear what is being said.

Take advantage of downtime

If you have had close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus and/or are diagnosed with the virus, the likely consequences is that you will be quarantined or isolated from others. This doesn’t mean you will necessarily be ill: if you are feeling well and don’t require rest, you can still get quite a bit accomplished, even if you are unable to work.

  • If you don’t currently have a team of scopists and/or proofreaders that you regularly use for RealTeam™ jobs, this is an excellent time to build one! Contact scopists and schedule interviews. Get to know potential team members. If you have any backlog, this is a great time to provide a sample of your work and see how it is edited and then decide whether you want to continue that relationship or find someone else. The worst time to try to find a scopist or proofer is when you already have an urgent job! Downtime is a perfect time to find people who can be partners you would like to work with on urgent jobs.
  • Remote CATalyst training is an excellent way to take advantage of downtime! There are 21 Certified Independent Training Agents listed at https://www.stenograph.com/cat-training-agent-list, available to help you learn anything you need to learn about CATalyst, CATalyst BCS or CATalyst VP. This would be a great time to finally get going on Automatic Indexing; to figure out how to use macros and AccelerWriters, to resolve all those pesky number conversion issues; to get advice about file and dictionary organization and get answers for any nagging questions that you’ve put aside because you were too busy.

In my 30+ years with Stenograph, I’ve learned that adversity is always a great teacher and a terrific opportunity. Being required to be more careful about greetings and handling of potentially infected objects may keep us all healthier from other viruses (cold, flu, etc.) in the future. Educating attorneys about remote proceedings may result in fewer long drives to cover distant/rural proceedings. Becoming more comfortable with always providing realtime may push you to improve accuracy and perhaps pursue certifications that may result in higher wages. Developing a team to work with you may give you time to take more jobs or enjoy more time off. Knowing more about your software will definitely pay you back in productivity, comfort and confidence. A lot of positive effects can result from these uncertain times.

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