Sunday, March 28, 2021

Corona Chronicles – WFH/Office Edition

It has been over a year since that fateful day in March of 2020, when the office issued a “temporary” Work From Home orders. It was extended by a fortnight, then another fortnight and then sine die. Over a year of working from home has been an interesting experience. 

The biggest realization has been that what is referred to as "work" comprises of sending emails, checking calendars, arranging and attending meetings and finally preparing documents (excel, powerpoint, word and then transforming them to pdfs). In short almost wholly dependent on the power of Microsoft Office and Microsoft Teams! 

The commute disappeared (not a bad thing given the Mumbai traffic) but with it also went away the buffer zone between office and home. Earlier we used to get ready for office, travel to office, settle in and start “work”. Now we switch on the laptop, connect the internet and the vpn and then maybe “get ready” while simultaneously cleaning up, preparing meals and entertaining the kid. 

Office attire has changed to Polo T-shirts & pajamas/shorts. As for the usual work clothes – the shoes are gathering dust in the shoe rack, socks have gone into the deepest recesses of the cupboards and the shirts & trousers are lying neatly ironed and folded. All of them wondering if their wearer has vanished altogether! 

And office meetings & calls keep getting interrupted. Because the little one likes to make their presence felt. Meanwhile the office colleagues actually welcome this interruption. 

Meanwhile meetings have developed their own idiosyncrasies. 

One can join multiple meetings simultaneously – one from laptop, one from phone; maybe take another call while being “present” in one meeting. Sometimes “move” from one meeting to the other and find almost the same group present there as well. It has also resulted in meetings mostly starting on time, because you don’t have to physically move. 

Speaking up and making a point and then wondering why no has responded, and realizing you forgot to "unmute" yourself. Then repeating the same point after unmuting (with lesser effect) while the the opportunity has already sailed away. 

Using backgrounds when you switch on the camera and realizing multiple people in the meeting are in the same setting. After all not everyone has the luxury of a well-stocked cupboard filled with photogenic books in the background! 

Multi-tasking in meetings is something we have become adept at – working on another document or reading something else or watching the game on TV or maybe chopping vegetables.  

The golden words oft heard during the past year – “Am I audible?”, “Is my screen visible?”, “I am sorry I was on mute”, “Are you there? You seem to be on mute”. “Can those who are not speaking mute themselves”. See, getting the hang of the mute button is the skill!

Meanwhile the responsibility of the HR team has increased as they have to now organize virtual Fun sessions as well! 

While these are the fun aspects, there are a few on the flip side as well. 

Somehow the meetings have just multiplied. And more meetings leading to more fatigue. The number of visitors to the ophthalmologists would have seen a drastic jump given the increased time spent staring at a screen. 

Then there has been an exponential growth in Webinars (a parallel pandemic in itself). Can’t even give the excuse of having a meeting in another city these days! Attended more conferences and industry meets – without leaving the chair/desk/floor/bed. Yet what we got was just the boring part of the meet – listening to presenters & not the fun part – going somewhere! And all this while still being in the regular day job environment. Overall, making things more tedious. 

Increased hours and disappearing holidays. How to take a leave is becoming a challenge in itself? And there is the lack of informal connects, in the absence of face-to-face interaction it takes more effort to ping/call someone than just corridor talk. 

Then there is that MS Teams ringtone – tun tung tun tung tun tung! Sometimes coming from multiple devices simultaneously. There is simply no escape! 

And finally no coffee and snacks! If you want to have a hot beverage go and prepare it yourself, a process which starts with cleaning the bartan! 

Not for nothing is this being referred to as the “New Normal”. Wondering how it would feel when we return to office and actually see the same people face to face!

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