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Image Credit: Seyyed Llata/Gulf News

Dubai: Most of us have been couped indoors for the best part of a month now, and while that has allowed some the freedom to breathe and put things in perspective others are feeling trapped. We ran through an array of our staff’s experiences and got tips from a psychologist on how to get the best out of this ordeal...

Solitude on a dial-up connection

Anupa Kurian-Murshed, Senior Digital Content Planner

Solitude and self-isolation because of coronavirus are not the same. One you seek, the other is a forced need of the current global circumstance.

As a person who deals with readers daily in my newsroom role, I’ve encountered a range of reactions to the enforced social distancing. A reader wrote in: “I’m going crazy. I need to be outdoors.”

Another called and said: “As a mother, it is a great time - my family is around me all the time.”

I guess, every reaction is unique to the person.

For me, it was an immense learning curve. The first was just finding a place to work from, initial days were a bit nomadic and then creativity set in. Cookbooks became the laptop stand, homemade whipped coffee a staple and natural light filtering in through bright Allamanda flowers offered sanity.

- Anupa Kurian-Murshed, Senior Digital Planning Editor

I did miss my newsroom desk and the access badly, even sulked a bit about it to my colleague, but then realised perhaps I was handed a luxury. You see, I remembered my reporting days, the ultra-slow dial-up connection for laptops, and the limited connectivity. And we did this for years and did just fine, too.

Yes, communicating with multiple people regularly via phone, whatsapp and video calls is a bit cumbersome, but a small price to pay for safety, is what I have concluded.

And I have learnt another important lesson - working from home has taught me to cherish my down time more. You see people seem to forget that I need to log off at some point in the night. Emails, calls and whatsapp messages initiated with a perfunctory, “sorry to disturb”, post 10pm, on issues that can wait for daylight are really not kind. It has riled me enough to take up meditation and delve into the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi.

Is it because they think that since I am working from home, I’m having a more relaxed existence? Or just because they cannot see, they do not take into account the other person?

Not sure, but that is a courtesy we need to extend to each other - to our family, friends and colleagues. Let them enjoy some much-needed solitude to reboot in these chaotic times.

Personally thriving but working longer hours

Yousra Zaki, Senior Features Editor

Most people who know me, would think that I’d be struggling big-time with staying at home for days on end. But if you don’t know me, let me just give you a quick low down of what my days used to be like. On weekends, from the moment I opened my eyes until I went to sleep at night my average day encompassed a morning workout, smoothie with my gym buddy, brunch with my friends, followed by family time, then dinner with my other friends and maybe a club or lounge at night with plenty of outfit changes throughout the day. No rest. Weekdays on the other hand involved 9 hours of work followed by dinner with my family or maybe a work out, and then an event with my friends. What it never involved was staying home, reading a book, resting, chilling or relaxing.

I had the perfect work-life balance. Finished work on time almost every day and just went on to live my life. Now, I definitely lack that balance. Working in the newsroom was hectic too, don’t get me wrong. But there was always something to go home for. Whether it was family, a work out class or a friend coming over.

- Yousra Zaki, Assistant Editor Features

Today, I wake up, log on and stay glued to my computer for a good 8 to 9 hours. Even breakfast and lunch are across from the screen. At first I tried to use my commute time to relax and wind up for the day, but that disappeared too. So yeah, work is now more intense than it was before the pandemic.

But, I surprised myself personally. I also never thought I would last this long and remain this calm and happy. Not to rub it in anyone’s face, but I’ve achieved a bunch of little goals during this quarantine that have made me very happy. I made my first puzzle ever. My hair has no split ends anymore and has never been healthier. I don’t wear makeup anymore, so now I feel beautiful with nothing on my face. I spend more time with my parents, something I was too selfish to do with a busy social life. I cook all my meals from scratch and I feel content for the first time in a long time without social pressure making me more anxious. Everything happens for a reason and maybe this was something we all needed but just didn’t know about it.

‘When life gives you lemons …’

Sanjib Kumar Das, Senior Pages Editor

‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’

That’s precisely the way I feel right now.

After the first ten days of movement restrictions in Dubai and the news feeds going berserk with an ever-mounting death toll across the world, it was a surreal feeling. Staring out at the simmering lights of the Palm Jumeirah islands late in the evening, from the balcony on the 71st floor of my apartment in Dubai Marina, it sometimes felt like living out an existentialist crisis – almost literally. ‘Is this real, this pandemic stalking the earth?’ ‘Will I suffer -- if not in medical terms then maybe professionally, financially, socially …?’ And most of all: ‘How long will it be, until I board the next flight home and get to see the people who matter most in my life?’ Questions, questions, and still more questions.

However, after little more than a month of stay-home time and a work-from-home regimen, I cannot but admit that even this sombre somnolence of a self-quarantine of sorts has found its own rhythm – an ‘iambic pentameter’ that kind of lulls one into stoic resignation.

- Sanjib Kumar Das, Assistant Editor

Having never quite been an outdoors person, one of my biggest worries at the beginning of the pandemic, apart from the obvious health-related spooky feelings that came with it, was ‘what if I finally get bored by the sameness of life within the four walls?’ After about a month of social distancing and the concomitant safe-practices, I’m glad that it’s ‘as good as it gets’. Well, almost.

The cake that I had ordered for my mother never arrived due to the lockdown across India. As I get used to a ‘new normal’, I feel a bit twitchy that for the first time in many years, the birthday cake didn’t reach mum. I feel a bit twitchy when I wonder whether the world will be back to normal in about a year’s time if and when my son braves the challenges of his academic pursuits in some far off land. And I also feel twitchy when the Teams meeting with workmates over ethernet keeps me from turning the chops on the cooktop. But the upside is, I’ve just caught a glimpse of the aquamarine waters of the Arabian Gulf take on an almost golden hue at sunset – all from the balcony on the 71st floor. An epiphany, or so I thought. But is ‘epiphany’ the word? Let me fix my lemonade and ponder over ‘what’s the good word’.

Time has slowed down for me while working from home

Ashfaq Ahmed, Assistant Editor

Now I realised why Albert Einstein had said more than 100 years ago that time is a relative concept. I have been working from home for over a month now and it feels like forever. Going by Einstein’s theory of time dilation, my time has slowed down and days have become much longer for me. I have lost the concept of ‘office time’ and ‘home time.’

I am obliged to work all the time since I started my ‘home office’ for I always have a kind of guilt that my colleagues or my boss may think that I am slacking at home. My screen time on my laptop and my phone has multiplied (google confirmed it) as I am afraid of missing an important message on any of half a dozen office WhatsApp groups and constantly checking my office email and Twitter for fear of missing breaking news.

Being a journalist, it has never been easy for me to stay at home. Probably, I have not spent as much time at home during the last decade as I did during the last one month.

I now miss all this: Getting ready to start my day around 9am, driving to office through heavy traffic for about an hour, attending the morning meeting and then starting to work on my assignments and generate content to feed the web and the print.

I also miss going out of the office to chase stories, having lunch with colleagues with some office gossip for a refreshing break. I do miss going for a cup of coffee or dinner with non-work friends and discussing politics back home and all about ‘joys of living in the UAE’. I normally would do it to beat the rush hour traffic and then drive home from Dubai to Sharjah after 10pm. That was the usual routine on a normal working day. I miss all of this.

- Ashfaq Ahmed, Senior Assistant Editor

Those days, relativistic effects of time was different, as weeks and months were passing so fast as if I were sitting in a spaceship orbiting the earth at a speed of thousands of kilometres per hour.

Another fear is that sometime I feel out of the loop. It is hard to replicate the office practice of impromptu brainstorming session with colleagues and pick their brains for story ideas. I miss it big time.

I was never comfortable with the idea of working for home. During the first few days, it was a struggle to manage time and deadlines due to various issues including the Wi-Fi connectivity and getting used to the environment.

My wife always loves to walk in to my home office and ask: "Do you need anything? What should I cook today? Can you please check the boys’ distance learning progress? When will you go to the supermarket to get groceries? Would you ever finish your work?" And the last one is always painful and amusing at the same time: “When will you start working from office?"

Staying focused is another challenge while working alone from home. I am also now in the habit of procrastination. Well, it is not always about story ideas or COVID-19. I am no more watching the clock for office timing even during Ramadan and just open the office in the morning and continue to work as long as I can.

I must say that being present in the office and having presence are completely different things. And you cannot simulate that through Zoom meetings.

Work has never been so intense

Jay Hilotin, Assistant Editor

Last night (Sunday, May 3), I ventured outside for the first time in weeks. The drive was rather short. I was teleported to what felt like strange place, my favorite pre- hypermart. It’s the same place; but now, everyone is different – everyone wearing a face mask.

It’s great to see the city coming back to life again, though.

The first week under quarantine felt weird: No more flights, COVID-19 cases/deaths spiking. What if a loved one who is ill passes away at this time?

The second was tough, news out of every country show things are just getting worse. It felt like a guillotine is about to fall on me. As an antidote, I stuffed myself silly with all the familiar dishes from home. I’ve never cooked as much as now. I also discovered Kuboos (pita bread) can stay fresh for a long time in the freezer, just shove a piece into the bread toaster as needed.

In the battle against coronavirus, the toaster became quickly my best friend. The rice cooker too. My main weapon, of course, is a full-size keyboard. Official uniform: pyjamas. The battlefield: a 27-inch Mac screen my brother had loaned to me.

Here’s a few short takes about the 30-day remote work.

One: work is more intense, with utmost focus is needed. Work becomes an extension of bedtime, and vice versa. Vigilance is key. No excuses for not breaking news the second it breaks. A few minutes off and you’re in big trouble.

- Jay Hilotin, Senior Assistant Editor

Two: You get more things done, and there’s less distraction. Response time to work group chat reflects your alertness. The lag can easily tell when you’re asleep or your mind wanders elsewhere.

Three: Virtual team meetings are more productive, more efficient use of time. You’re updating while meeting is in progress.

Four: The 30-45 minute daily drive to work is gone, those precious minutes are put to good use to do actual work at home.

Five: Being out of sight of your boss does not mean you can do as you wish. Sleeping on the job? Dream on: It’s just not possible.

Six: Clarity of roles is key. Half the job is done when, at the start of a shift, it’s made simply clear who’s is doing what.

On a personal note, there’s still the fear of contracting the contagion. It raises life to a higher pitch, and I’m still trying to make sense of it. So this feels like the new normal.

Experience has made me appreciate the important things in life

Ashley Hammond, UAE Editor

Being closer to family has never been better, but being so at the expense of not actually getting to devote my whole time to them is painful. I associate home to family time, but e-learning and working from home has transformed our usual retreat into a living nightmare.

It’s a situation only slightly alleviated by the fact I can make tea with my own teabags and milk, while being supplied with slices of last night’s takeaway pizza, as and when I need.

Apart from that, I can wear T-Shirt and shorts, but otherwise it’s a treacherous ordeal, whereby work and e-learning demands have compounded the feeling of stress and anxiety.

Work is now a 12-hour plus ordeal, partly because I’m not physically disconnecting from the office with the usual drive home that creates boundaries within which to start and end my day, and partly because people know you’ve nowhere else to be and can just boot up at any hour remotely.

During this 12-hour plus ordeal I’m also moving corner to corner in the house trying to find the best Wifi and comfiest, quietest position away from the kids – newsbreak, that corner doesn’t exist. I’m also jealous of my wife who has been given some days a week as holiday with which she has used to rekindle her passion for art and painting.

- Ashley Hammond, UAE Editor

At the beginning there was an air of novelty and excitement with not having to go to work and people banging pans on their balcony.

But now, that has well and truly worn off and I am stuck in an endless cycle of waking up, working, sleeping and doing it all again day after day within the same four walls. The only mercy is that the weekends come quick, but they disappear even quicker in a blur of more e-learning and grocery shopping. When will this monotony end?

Of course, I’m also thanking my stars, I have a roof over my head and I am with my loved ones and they are safe. There are people in a lot worse situation than me, and for that I feel immense guilt. Glimmers of hope are returning, but this has been a real slog for me, and it’s made me appreciate the important things going forward.

Six revelations of working from home

By Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor

As I spend day number 45 of working from home, here are a few revelations I have made along the way.

Boundaries, boundaries: At what point do we punch out and call it a day when we are working from home? The hours, the days and even the weekends somehow cease to exist when there’s a story breaking and an update is the call of the hour, at any hour. Somehow, the daily act of heading into work and pulling in a 10-hour shift gave us the authority to draw a line and switch off when we sat in our cars and left the trials and tribulations of the work day behind us during the long commute home.

How are we possibly working more: Raise your hand if you feel the same. The days seem to start even as the first rays hit the bed, while the dwindling light at dusk just reassures us that we still have a while to go before the work day will grind to a halt.

Work-life balance: What is that, exactly? The physical act of heading into work and coming home somehow sets a precedent of a relatively healthier work-life balance. That ideal is shot to pieces when the work life is your average home life.

- Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor

Working in pyjamas: I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a certain appeal of wearing my royal cat pyjamas while conducting meeting number seven of the day over Zoom. Don’t fall for cynics and party poopers who tell you otherwise. If we can’t find little joys during a pandemic then what’s the point of it all?

Less distractions: Yes, I do miss the afternoon coffee break with my colleagues or the scourging through the neighbouring stockpile for a tea time snack. But the fact still remains that with a slightly grumpy husband for company, the distractions at home are few and far between, making it a lot more smoother and easier to meet deadlines and then some.

Zero commuting: Anyone who spends more than 20 minutes during the infamous Dubai rush hour would vouch for this and say that perhaps the best part of working from home is the lack of commute, not if you are counting the walk from the bed to the home office. I definitely do not miss the 7pm rush hour on Sheikh Zayed Road, especially when there’s rumble in the tummy and dinner is still a twinkle in the eye of its chef, aka, yours truly.

Psychologist's advice - speak to one friend or family member a day
Devika Singh-Mankani, a psychologist at Fortes Education and The Hundred Wellness Centre, said that in order to cope with these changes, “You need to know yourself and where you are at, and there are three possible places; FAD, which is fear, anxiety and dread, HAH, hopeless and and helplessness, and denial, which is refusing to acknowledge the harm.
“Once you’ve figured out where you are you can make empowering decisions based on your acceptance of this new norm. Part of this can be the realisation that there’s only so much you can do during this period, parents can’t be teachers, and so expectations upon yourself must be alleviated to relieve yourself of some anxiety.
“Another way to deal with the new norm is to connect with family and friends at least once a day, through zoom or social media to talk about stuff other than working from home – epidemiologists call it social distancing but it should be called physical distancing, as we all still need eachother to connect with even if it’s just online.
“Connectiveness and regaining that face to face feel with the world and making decision on what you do and don’t consume in terms of news and rumours is empowering.
“Through this you can find hope in this new norm and keep faith for the future. For some it is creating a deepening crisis, while for others it is leading to a complete shift and they don’t want to go back to where things were before. A shift has happened and people have realised what little they actually need. It could be good to go back to basics and value relationships with people over material things, so it’s best to view this as an opportunity rather than an ordeal.”