Tuesday, September 29th officially marked 200 days of lockdown. Crazy, I know! Unlike most countries, Ireland didn’t go into lockdown, then unlocked everything with proper social distancing measures. Instead, there was a 5 phases re-opening plan spanning from the end of May to August.
So how have 200 days of lockdown affected me personally and professionally?
I now have a collection of pandemic themed hoodies, although the one with a dragon wearing a facemask and holding hand sanitizer is my favourite. Prior to the lockdown, I owned 1 hoodie – SWAG from my time at Indeed.
I have finally bought that computer monitor that I’ve had my eye on for the past 3 years but that I couldn’t justify buying just to watch Netflix. That was a lockdown week 1 purchase as trying to do reporting on a laptop screen was pure hell.
I made my home office more ergonomic than my desk in the office. Unlike a lot of people, I’ve had a desk set up in my living room for years. Not that I was used to working from home, but that really helps to play Diablo III on PC. Still, I swapped my mini-desk for a €30 table from Ikea to be able to accommodate my second screen, my SAD lamp, my keyboard and the occasional cat.
My mental health has been steadily degrading through the 1st part of lockdown. The steady body count, the isolation, dressing up like you’re going out in space to do your weekly shop (yes, I was an early mask adopter, before it became fashionable), the guilt for still having a job when so many people had lost theirs, the worry about keeping said job (we all know that internal recruitment, HR and L&D are the 1st out the door in a recession context, and I do all of that), my cat getting sick and dying within 2 months and a close friend of mine being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
On the 1st of August, when gyms re-opened, I was able to go back to Krav Maga (wearing a mask for training). And when there are so many things you have no control over, the control and precision necessary for any martial art was absolute relief for my mental health. Unfortunately, with Dublin moving to Level 3+ of the new “Living with Covid plan”, organised sport is gone. We tried doing a no-contact outdoor socially distant session, but let’s face it: Ireland… weather.
As part of my job, I’m responsible for HR, L&D, Internal Recruitment, Data Protection and… systems and technologies, so managing the change that was brought in by the lockdown for our employees, largely fell on me.
Thankfully, in early 2019, Microsoft had announced that they would stop supporting Windows 7 in January 2020, and that was my queue to replace our antique desktop computers. Because I still had in mind Storm Ophelia and Storm Emma, (we close the office without a real option to continue working) as well as our goal to be a paperless company (less data protection work for me to do), I decided we needed laptops. So, we got them… in December 2019.
Then early in February, Wuhan was quarantined. On February 14th, when I was updating the company’s contingency plan, I googled how many people lived in Wuhan. 11.08 million was the answer. To put it in context, that’s almost twice as much as the whole island of Ireland. So, on this Valentine day, I decided to go the pessimistic route and include a country-wide quarantine. Our MD thought it was a bit over the top, told me it was very comprehensive and signed off on it (it can’t harm to be prepared).
On March 12th, the government announced around 11:30AM that all schools would be closing from 6pm that day and workers should work from home as much as possible. You think it’s short notice? Well, since then all the new restrictions have been announced at 6:30pm, preferably on Friday evenings, to be enforced from midnight the same day. I do think that the government is trying to have all HR people and business owners have a meltdown trying to implement all the measures overnight or over the weekend.
I personally have adapted really well to working from home. I think I just let my inner hermit come out to play and without the constant distraction of a sales floor, I’ve been able to focus more deeply – which is not a bad thing considering all the stuff that are going through my mind. However, that’s not been the case for all of my colleagues, most of whom are the gregarious type. Since I’m a certified Mental Health 1st Aider, I’ve been trying to help them as much as possible in terms of coping with the new way of working, the pressure and all that came with the pandemic and the lockdown, but let’s face it, if we don’t all end up with some sort of PTSD when the pandemic is over, that will be a miracle.
Throughout July, August and September, we’ve been able to re-open the office, with a limited number of people and loads of distance and hand sanitizers. We added face masks when the government advised to work from home as much as possible. And we closed the office again when Dublin moved to Level 3+.
So for me, that meant a lot of scheduling, a lot of tracking (face to face meetings, who was coming back from holidays or from abroad and needed to isolate), trying to make the schedules match the requests from my colleagues, adapting the working weeks to accommodate their needs. When you’re in such a situation as the one we’re currently in, if something can be facilitated from a work perspective then by all means, we HR and managers should really bend over backwards to make it happen for our staff.
The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that working from home during a lockdown has 0 similarities to working from home or working remotely in “normal times”. If you were a remote worker full-time or part-time before, chances are, you had your own office set up at home, you were renting a desk in a shared space (or you were drinking a lot of coffee to justify using the coffee shop’s table and wifi).
While it took me very little to turn my Gaming/Netflix station into a nice workstation, my colleagues and my friends have had a much rougher deal. Working off your kitchen table or your bedroom, managing your kids all day long and sharing the broadband so everyone in the house can do video calls for months at a time is not “the new normal”. So, I surveyed my colleagues: “Pandemic permitting, how many days per week would you like to work from the office?” Not a single person replied 5 days a week back in the office. The bare minimum people want is 1 day remote per week. Personally, given the choice, I would go to the office whenever I feel like it (who enjoys cycling in the lashing rain to get to work?) and when I’m physically needed (onboarding, training sessions, etc.).
Will it become a deal-breaker for employees if their company doesn’t keep that flexibility once the pandemic danger has passed? Most definitely. In the last 200 days, we have proven that we are able to work and to function as an organisation while being fully remote or while being in a hybrid environment. The only thing that this pandemic has brought us (aside from better hand hygiene) is a taste for flexible working. Since the lockdown started, I’ve started working earlier: no commute, no make-up, but also, I’m more productive earlier in the day. I tend to stretch my mornings from 8am to 1pm, sometimes 1:30pm, but from 4pm, it really has to be basic level tasks. Working remotely enables me to do that without having to get up at stupid o’clock. Fun fact: I get up at the exact same time I did pre-pandemic, but now I throw in 20 min of Pilates before I start working.
So, onward and upward for another 100 days of lockdown! And as they say:
“What doesn’t kill you gives you a set of unhealthy coping mechanisms and a dark sense of humour.”