Cut yourself some slack as you work from home


#WorkInQuarantine can be tough
#WorkInQuarantine can be tough

Just as your office can never be your home, similarly your home can never be your office. It shouldn't

By Shalini Verma

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Published: Thu 23 Apr 2020, 8:19 AM

Last updated: Thu 23 Apr 2020, 10:34 AM

A doctor puts on some makeup and a professional looking blouse, while still in her pajamas. She sets up a video session. On her screen appears her patient whom she teaches how to self-examine so that the doctor may diagnose the health condition. The Covid-19 pandemic is changing how we work. 
An assortment of mature technologies is helping us work remotely. Team meetings have moved to video and web conferencing, complete with white boards. This is truly unprecedented, especially for industries like banking and government. The likes of investment bankers, lawyers, bureaucrats who thrived on face-to-face meetings are learning this new way of working. 
Forced into quarantine, organisations from highly regulated industries are providing remote workspaces that allow workers to access a virtual desktop hosted in a datacentre and a secure VPN (virtual private network). If you call up a call centre and the virtual assistant is unable to handle your query, chances are that your call is redirected to the mobile phone of an agent, whose bed is his new desk. 
Technology is sometimes coming to our rescue and at times falling short of expectations. Voice call and broadband capacities in residential areas are being stretched to their limit, while employees are scrambling to find the best Wi-Fi spot in the house for conference calls. Many have found that haloed spot in the comforts of their toilet. A recent poll shows that nearly a third of the respondents working from home are taking calls from their toilet. 
Just as your office can never be your home, similarly your home can never be your office. It shouldn't. When you work from home, it becomes an entirely different workspace, where your child or your pet could occasionally gate crash your video conference. Teams are learning to accommodate a quick hello to the curious child. I was on a conference call in which someone's rooster was occasionally chiming in. And that was alright. 
When Covid-19 sent workers home, they thought that absence of commute time would give them time to focus on self-development. If you spend hours in the crawling traffic of Buenos Aires or Bangalore, work from home is inimitably liberating. But the reality is starkly different for many others.
#WorkInQuarantine can be tough. While businesses have hit the pause button during this Covid-19 lockdown, employees are not pausing. Many managers set up conference calls to keep their teams busy throughout the day. An executive in the financial industry confessed that he was sitting on team calls for three hours at a stretch and feared becoming a virtual fossil. This would have been bearable had the sessions been productive. 
If you are seated in conference calls from 9am to 6pm, there is something wrong with how your organisation is operating during this lockdown. Organisations need to adapt to the quarantine work environment by becoming outcome-oriented, to ensure that their employees do not fall into the show-you-are-working trap. If there is less work, they should use the sessions for training, as some prudent organisations are doing. 
Workers have become master jugglers by taking calls while cooking, folding laundry, or overseeing their kids' homework. They are struggling to strike a balance, to rest, to regenerate. Yet, the biggest challenge is the inability to draw a line between home and office. Personal and professional lives are losing a clear distinction, making it impossible to switch off work. This state of being 'always on' is causing a new pandemic of mental exhaustion. Not surprisingly our nearby supermarket ran out of baking powder. We found a workaround to join the ranks of comfort-seeking quarantine bakers. A friend is buying a digital piano to start playing after three decades. We are realising our own personal rhythm. 
For social sustenance, we are now creatively using the apps that were largely associated with work - like conference calls to cut birthday cakes or just catch up. In the UAE, people can legally marry by following guidelines of UAE's online marriage service. They can invite a religious leader via a video conference to facilitate the exchange of vows. A UAE-based couple had a surprise wedding celebration that was virtually attended by family members from all over the world.
We should try to have some semblance of routine on weekdays. But we can cut ourselves some slack when we are in the midst of uncertainties of job losses and pay cuts, not to forget the fears of the pandemic. Our pyjamas are rising to the occasion even as we wonder what to wear while working. A colleague who routinely worked from home used the doorbell rule. Dressing appropriately to be able to answer the doorbell is a good guideline to follow, lest your video is inadvertently switched on. 
This is not the time for unrealistic expectations like making 10 client calls a day to chase that elusive sales deal that no longer exists. No technology can solve this problem. But we can make our team sessions more fun by playing music from the team playlist or sharing daily anecdotes. We must embrace work from home in its new avatar.
Shalini Verma is CEO of PIVOT technologies

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