Work From Home during Corona Virus: Challenge or Opportunity?

Working from home

It is 9 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, March of 2020. I am sitting at the dining table in my house. The laptop and internet are switched on, and I have documents and notes spread across the dining table. This is will be my office, for the next few weeks!

Right now, a lot of working mothers across Islamabad are in the same boat as I am. Availing the options of work from home or flexible timings as schools, colleges and universities have closed for at least 3 weeks. To mitigate the spreading of the corona virus in Islamabad, the city administration issued another notice for closing down parks, gyms and other religious gatherings. Most of us are used to schools closing for a day or two due to strikes or a political sit in. However, at such times, daycares usually step up and accommodate children of working mothers like yours truly. Not this time.

Once the school and day care closure notice came last weekend it was a wakeup call. We as a family had to rethink many things, like not being able to visit grandparents or putting summer vacation plans on hold.

I just received an email from my 8-year-old son’s school that online classes will commence in about two weeks’ time. Until the online classes actually materialize, I have to ensure that I not only work on my own tasks but also monitor his activities throughout the day.

Undoubtedly, it is a challenging task. I seem to have developed an efficient mechanism, nevertheless: following a strict routine. A timetable similar to the one which my child adheres to at school. Each lesson lasting forty minutes and a break of twenty minutes after four lessons. This forces me to micromanage my work as well. I have divided my tasks into micro-tasks and work in sprints. I then take a ten-minute break to check on emails, messages, and my son’s progress with his assignments. Right now, it is his arts class and he is drawing an artistic rendition of the Corona virus.

This schedule continues until 2 p.m. then it is screen time for him and meeting time on phones for me. At half past five, I switch off my laptop and wrap-up work. Then it is either a game of football or some board games like monopoly until dinnertime.

In two weeks’ time, once his online classes commence, we will be sharing the internet between ourselves. This reminds me, I might have to increase the data limit of my internet service.

Last but not least I have realized that work from home helped me reclaim two hours, one in the morning and one in the evening which were usually spent commuting to and from work. These two hours are now spent relaxing with my family or reading a book.

What I miss is my interaction with colleagues, the challenging debates on the merits of slogans from the recent “Aurat Azadi March” (Women’s Freedom March on 8th March 2020), the regular announcement of treat because it’s raining (We eat ‘pakoras’ when it rains). We spend almost half of our 24 hours with our office colleagues, the rest we are either commuting, eating or sleeping. So our colleagues and work comprise a major part of our life, way more than our friends and family. The same applies to my son. His friends from school and daycare are contacting over phone more frequently, as they miss each other.

The extraordinary circumstances surrounding the spread of the Covid-19 is disrupting the existing work models at unprecedented level. We are not alone in this situation; the world being a “global village” is sharing information and assessing the healthcare facilities at each level with fresh eyes. Therefore, even though we are sitting alone in our homes, and practicing social distancing, it is a challenge and an opportunity. Challenge because we have to isolate ourselves and brace for economic downturn, and opportunity because we now can have (I hope!) a clarity of thought as to what is more important.

For me this clarity came with the opportunity of working from home. Firstly if commuting is reduced due to better infrastructure then a lot of stress is reduced. Secondly, keeping a balance between work and family life is always a challenge. Lastly, work that inspires you will have no boundaries. It is inspirations that free your mind, motivate you to be disciplined and enable you to think and be creative anywhere, may it be your dining table at home or office desk.