Remote working fails during lockdown

Apr 29, 2020

8 mins

Remote working fails during lockdown
Elise Assibat

Journaliste - Welcome to the Jungle

Once no more than a weekend bolthole, my parents’ cottage near the Devon coast has been transformed into a lockdown lodge. The ocean breeze is fresher than the air in London, but an open-ended stay was never part of my plan.

It all happened so quickly. My family and I were enjoying each other’s company one warm spring weekend when news of the lockdown hit. My parents could have driven me back to London, but my flatmate was showing signs of illness so they convinced me to stay put. My flatmate has since recovered from what was just a bout of bronchitis. In Devon, however, my parents, my brother, and I are getting to know each other all over again. Our new life reminds me of that time we spent in an escape room game for dad’s birthday, except this time we don’t know when we will get out. It’s been weeks now. At first, we had the best of intentions when it came to staying sane. Mum rediscovered her love of DIY, my brother brushed the cobwebs off his acoustic guitar and dad honed his Candy Crush skills. I didn’t tell them, but I felt lucky because I’m able to work remotely. However, I would soon find the situation challenging, to say the least. Here’s my journal of a ‘Struggling Telecommuter’.

Day 1: My cat from hell

We were having our first remote team meeting to ensure the week got off to a good start. My cat Poppy, who has never grasped the idea of personal space, jumped onto my lap. This small intrusion seemed innocent enough, but things quickly got out of hand. Poppy became tangled up in my headphone cables, emitted an ear-piercing yowl, and dug her claws into my thigh. My mug full of coffee tipped over into my keyboard. Stifling a cry of pain, I grabbed my dripping laptop and tried to shake out the coffee. Meanwhile, my mother, who has a keen sense of hearing and a tendency to eavesdrop, came in and tried to loosen the cat’s grip on my legs. This all happened under the baffled gazes of my colleagues, who was connected to the call and trying their best not to laugh. At the end of the meeting, there was what felt like an interminably long and awkward silence, followed by a torrent of bemused good wishes to me from the team. It didn’t bode well for the rest of my time in lockdown.

Day 5: PowerPoint faux pas

Today I was supposed to make a presentation to the team about the project I’ve been working on during the lockdown. I’m normally a bit nervous presenting and today was no exception. At the same time, my PowerPoint was in pretty good shape, as were my mental faculties. Or so I thought. Once we had all connected to the meeting, I went through my project in detail, sharing my screen so that everyone could follow along. It was going really well and I even felt like I had overcome my nerves. Suddenly, I saw a look of surprise wash over the faces of my audience. I decided to soldier on until one colleague uttered a single “Ahem.” By the time I saw the notification, it was too late as everyone else had seen it too. Hovering on my screen was a message from my boyfriend telling me to “stay strong” in my dealings with “those clowns” that I was stuck with. If the lockdown didn’t end until Christmas, that would be fine with me, I thought. How could I face my colleagues in person after this?

Hovering on my screen was a message from my boyfriend telling me to “stay strong” in my dealings with “those clowns” that I was stuck with.

Day 7: The ties that bind – Part 1

Kind parents are a blessing, especially when they enjoy waiting on you hand and foot. They can also be a bit of a nuisance. For a whole week, mum and dad have been eagerly following me around and watching my every move, ready to pounce on any spare time I have. It’s safe to say that they’re bored—and when they’re bored, they get a bit weird. The worst is mum, who began by finding an excuse to interrupt me in the middle of a video meeting. She then shamelessly moved on to get a good look at who was on the other end of the call, going so far as to say “hello” and introduce herself. That’s how she ended up joining the meeting and, since that day, the team has asked her to make an appearance each time. To this day, I’m convinced they like her better. After the PowerPoint disaster, things haven’t been the same.

Day 9: Social distancing is (not) for the birds

This afternoon my parents drove off to a supermarket that was miles away to pick up some groceries taking my stir-crazy brother along for the ride. For the first time in what felt like forever, I had the whole place to myself. I made the most of it by setting up in a cozy corner of the living room where I’d be able to get some serious work done. Within half an hour, however, I was disturbed by the sound of dull thudding. I paid little notice at first, thinking it was just the wind. But it kept going. So I jumped up, almost dropping my laptop, and went to see what was going on. To my horror, I discovered that a bird had flown into the house and was trapped in a skylight. After some dangerous maneuvering on a rickety ladder, I finally got it to fly out and I went back to enjoying my time alone. Despite the setback, I was sure that I would be able to get lots of work done. But it wasn’t to be. My parents had overestimated the time it would take to get to the supermarket along the empty roads—and the whole family was back in under an hour. I skulked back to my poky bedroom and wondered where it had all gone wrong.

Day 10: Off the grid

Today, my ambitions were high and I looked forward to a day full of exciting challenges. As I opened my eyes, ready to brave the realities of remote working, I noticed that my phone battery had died. I wasn’t too worried, though, because I always set my alarm to get me up earlier than necessary. So I was sure I still had plenty of time to log in and that my colleagues wouldn’t suspect a thing. I got dressed and began to make coffee before starting work. That was when I noticed my entire family at the kitchen table eating lunch. “Hey, sleepyhead! Working hard or hardly working?” said Dad, with a smile on his face. I was in such a state of confusion that I could barely make out the clock on the wall. It was almost 2 PM. I was six hours behind the strict schedule that my manager had set for me as a way to catch up. I rubbed my eyes, looked them all squarely in the face, and asked why no one had thought to wake me. The three of them announced in unison that they were under orders never to disturb me. My brother added that if he’d known I was slacking off, he’d have made an exception to the rule. I ignored them and tried in vain to connect to my inbox. “By the way, the power went off last night, so the internet isn’t working. But I have paper and pencils,” Mum said proudly. I almost fell to the floor. No internet? No internal messaging? No remote meetings? Was I still asleep and having a nightmare? Dad came over, consoled me as best he could, and handed me a pencil. Thanks for nothing!

“By the way, the power went off last night, so the internet isn’t working. But I have paper and pencils,” Mum said proudly. I almost fell to the floor.

Day 14: The ties that bind – Part 2

Two days without internet access had nearly plunged me into despair, but today I felt more motivated than ever. We’d started going to bed earlier too, so I felt refreshed. I was back in business. My desk was tidy and organized. Though it wasn’t even 9 AM, I was showered and ready for anything. I even went so far as to leave my door open—the ultimate proof that I was in full control of my surroundings. I was answering the first of my emails when I heard a loud crash behind me and the sound of glass breaking. I looked around to see what had happened. The one light in my room had been smashed, plunging the space into semi-darkness. My brother was standing near the socket where the lamp was plugged into the wall holding his phone charger. “Oops,” he said. I was so furious I wanted to wrap that charging cable around his neck. Instead, I called out for dad, who admitted that he’d told my brother to charge his phone in my room because he needed to use the outlet in the living room so he could keep playing Candy Crush. “I’m coming!” Mum yelled from the kitchen, stomping into the room with an extension cord. No one has replaced my light. Deflated, I sat working at the computer in my dimly lit room.

Day 15: The joke’s on me (again)

Since this lockdown began, I’ve avoided answering colleagues’ questions about my situation for one simple reason: I’ve started to enjoy it. When things aren’t breaking and the internet is working, it feels a bit like a holiday. What’s more, we have a garden and the weather has been amazing. But I have to keep this to myself. Most of my colleagues are stuck in tiny London flats. Part of my work now involves making my situation look less idyllic than it really is. I do this by turning the camera off during meetings. When a video conference is requested, I place an old lamp from my parent’s bedroom next to the computer, because it’s very effective at making me look like a zombie. However, today I forgot to be careful. It was a particularly lovely afternoon and I thought it wouldn’t hurt if I worked from a sun lounger in the garden. With my camera off and microphone muted, no one would be any the wiser. Unfortunately, I hadn’t counted on Poppy making one of her dramatic appearances: out of nowhere, she leaped onto my keyboard and activated the camera long enough to reveal my dirty little secret. There I was for all to see sitting in the garden, sunglasses perched on top of my head, with a Pimm’s in my hand. After all the remote working mishaps I’d been through since lockdown began, you wouldn’t have thought I could sink any lower.

After all the remote working mishaps I’d been through since lockdown began, you wouldn’t have thought I could sink any lower.

But everything that happened has turned out for the best. Once I explained to my colleagues that my boyfriend’s message did not refer to them but to my family, our relationship have gone back to normal. We are all in this together. The awkward attempts to speak during remote meetings, forgetting to mute the microphone before telling off your cat, and the myriad distractions are all part of the lockdown lifestyle. Working remotely, especially when you are taken out of your element, doesn’t come naturally to everyone. My experience is that it takes time to get the hang of it. Once I realized this, I was able to learn a lot from the experiences of others in these challenging times. Ultimately, it helped me to put things in perspective, especially when it comes to those essential workers on the front line of the crisis who have to work outside the home every day. So, when I start to feel sorry for myself, I close my eyes and I think of them.

Translated by Andrea Schwam

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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