Day 1: 23rd March 2020
6:00 -8.30 a.m.
Yesterday, after contributing to the national collaborative effort of 'let’s get rid of this virus with a sound wave' everyone went to bed with their chests swollen with pride and ears still clanging with gratitude.
Today, dawn breaks with the deafening sound of silence. In moments, comes the realisation that we are under lock-down.
At some point last night, convinced that most sane citizens can stay indoors for prescribed lengths of time, officials have decided to confine them there till the end of the month (and now beyond). This is in the hope that we can somehow find the discipline required to combat Covid-19 through isolation and social distancing.
Clearly, this piece of sound logic hasn’t managed to pierce through the still ringing eardrums of the morning walkers.
News trickles in that the condominium complex has banned the entry of drivers, cooks, household help and all external personnel. Or is seriously considering doing so.
No one is sure this ban extends to deliveries of food, groceries or medicines yet. Or newspapers. Or milk.
Even the condominium WhatsApp group has been caught off guard. Several residents, who were otherwise busy ‘unofficially’ snitching on which of their neighbours ‘may have’ sneaked back in from an overseas trip are now in the midst of frantic negotiations to at least allow maids to enter the complex.
Except my wife. Who has bade goodbye to all the household help the previous evening, ensured salaries have been paid in advance, armed all of them with cash, essential groceries, and issued stern warnings for everyone to stay indoors and isolated till we get in touch with them again sometime in the year 2030.
This, unfortunately, includes our son’s nanny. Our son is six. And currently, the sanest member of our household.
9 -9.30 a.m.
Breakfast done. After many frantic intercom calls and checking of news sites and gossip groups for information, it’s time to get down to the first day of officially working from home.
Over a week ago, our organisation had made contingency plans for this sort of eventuality. Over the weekend, all desktops (essential for art people) and laptops were dispatched to homes (after being sanitised). Protocols, guidelines and processes to work from home were sent out and clients were informed. Online conferencing groups were formed, and the best conferencing applications were identified. There was confirmation from everyone that they had decent internet connections and what to do in case it was patchy.
The home Wi-Fi is switched on. I wear a shirt. Skip the trousers.
Some of my colleagues had earlier posted pictures of their work from home spaces. I haven’t. Mine is anywhere quiet. Usually the bathroom. Today, I settle for a little space that doesn’t have toys piled on it. I find a crayon-free white wall to use as a backdrop, a spot where the light is just enough to be identified in and select a distance from the screen that will not unnerve anybody unaccustomed to HD video calls.
Let the work begin.
I am at work on time. Anyone who knows me well is probably rolling on the floor, laughing into their N95 masks right now. Phone calls are made. WhatsApp groups and sub-groups are formed. Seniors are already handing out assignments and following up with their teams. My contribution is to make everyone admin. We are almost ready for the first group call of the day – The Monday Morning Meeting (senior management).
We join in one by one. Some of us are already there. A few of us pop in and out of the call, trying to figure out the correct buttons to press.
Clearly, a lot of us don’t understand the importance of lighting for video calls and resemble sinister warlords issuing dangerous threats from shadowy surroundings.
The chatter of ‘good mornings’ and ‘hi guys’ as we wait to commence, draws the attention of my son – a two-week veteran of conference calls in Kindergarten.
“Is this your class?”, he asks.
“Which one is the teacher?”
I decide to use headphones.
The updates from the team are over, we are about to wind down the call. A quick discussion of the merits and demerits of each call application/software – since different clients want to connect on different ones. “This one is free”, “That one needs a corporate account”, “yeah, but this one shows 15 people at one time on screen” etc. We have a second round pitch presentation in the afternoon. We decide to use a different application. The one which takes 15 people on call, since there are going to be that many of us. I anticipate much pain.
11.16 a.m.- 2.30 p.m.
The actual reality of work from home sets in. Work also has to be done for home.
Lunch. Jhadoo -pocha. Dishes. Dusting. The kid has to be fed. We have to eat. Luckily my wife is on spring break from school. So, we collaborate. She cuts and chops. I cook. I do the dishes. She feeds the kid. I take calls and answer emails. “We’ll figure out cleaning tomorrow”, I beg.
She wearily agrees. We have a late lunch. Yellow Dal Fry, Roti, last night’s sabzi. While eating, we agree that: 1) we can survive this, and 2) I will make dinner.
2.30 p.m. -3.25 p.m.
I discover that I haven’t received the invite or password for the upcoming group call and realise it had been sent via another application.
I connect via this fancy app, which I last used two years ago, and check if the client has joined. Since some screens are blank and only our team is visible, I ask if everyone is wearing pants. I hear one of the client’s team laughing from a blacked-out screen. I mute my audio and video.
In the ensuing pandemonium that has 15 active users over 1 audio-video call we discover that:
1) Not everyone has subscribed to broadband
2) Good internet connectivity should be decreed by law
3) You should not use your phone to join in
4) If most people shut off their video, then we won’t have to wonder if and how Stephen Hawking has joined this call.
We get this presentation done pretty well. The work looks great and despite the senior client communicating through chat on this video call, we have understood each other and agree on almost everything.
I think, I’ll go home early. Oh, wait…
(The author is COO, Hakuhodo.Lync)