The New Normal

It was Day-1 of my new job.

The year 2020 was just ending and we were exactly in the middle of December. People all over the world were eagerly waiting for the ominous year to end. The general feeling was that something magical would happen on January 1st, 2021 and everything would become just like it how was before the pandemic. Around the same time, I stepped into my new job.

The last time I had changed my job was in 2012. I clearly remember that day, just as I clearly remember the first day of all the other jobs before that one. By and large, they have had a similar pattern. You dress up well, arrive at a particular time in the office lobby, exchange greetings with other new joiners, sign a pile of documents, get your laptop and other office accessories, have an induction/orientation session, meet your manager and your team, get to know the office campus, and things like that.

But today everything was different. A lot of it felt strange and weird. To start with I wasn’t dressed in my best clothes. I did shower, combed my hair, and wore something decent but I surely could have dressed better. Certainly, my attire wasn’t one that I would have worn on a Day-1 to any office. Since about a fortnight ago a ton of emails had been steadily arriving in my mailbox with a lot of paperwork and with directions about how to get going on Day-1. Even then, naively enough, I was under the impression that I would have to be physically present at the office for Day-1. Two days before Day-1, the recruiter called up to inform she was available over phone, if I needed something. It was only then I got to know that I don’t need to go to office at all.

The day started with a meeting with my manager who tried his best to make me feel comfortable and took me through a ton of slides that talked about the Business Unit I was joining. My mind couldn’t register most of it at that time. And, the fact that I was using my precarious 12-year-old personal laptop didn’t help much.  A 2-hour long orientation session followed a little while later. Once again, my aged laptop and I struggled to keep each other afloat. Here I saw other new joiners of the day. I read some of the names, not even one I recall today. A few, like me, were on camera but I don’t recall a single face. In all my previous jobs, I distinctly remember the meaningful connections I would make on Day-1. None of that happened today.

In the afternoon a chauffeur-driven car arrived at my apartment gate to hand-over the company laptop and the Company Identity Card. He even clicked a picture of me holding the laptop – proof that the laptop was delivered. The laptop didn’t work and had to be returned and reissued – not getting into the details. I also heard that a bag of Day-1 goodies is on the way and I should receive them soon.

I am more than 3 months old in the company now and quite settled in but I haven’t met any of the people I work with. Well, that’s only partially correct as I keep meeting my immediate team through our regular video calls. They are all in the US and I am the only one who connects from India, so that isn’t odd. That’s how it would anyway be. Working virtually isn’t something new to me. The rest of the larger team are in India, and in Bangalore for that matter. Of course, we haven’t met and don’t know when/if we ever will.

But I must admit that I haven’t felt alone or left out even once. Grateful to have joined a team of some of the most genuinely authentic and immensely helpful people. Perhaps, the virtual connections are working afterall!

Will I have workplace friends like I did in my previous company? Will have to wait and watch!

Staying @Home

Busy as busy can be, I still have no time – like it always has been!

We are on the 14th day of a nation-wide lockdown in India in our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown was announced suddenly, there was hardly any time to plan and think. It was a desperate situation. We didn’t have a choice. The virus wouldn’t wait, and we had to slow down its spread. It’s been the world’s largest lockdown, where the 1.3 billion of us have been asked to stay home for 21 days, that took off from March 24. While this was the need of the hour, it has led to several complicated situations. Not surprising though, in the world’s second most populous country and it’s complex and varied demography.

It’s a Tuesday. A weekday like this would usually revolve around office for people like me. Whether we like it or not, office takes up a large chunk of our day and thereby what we do for a living defines a large part of our lives. Most of the people in my circle have suddenly found themselves in a work-from-home situation, especially those from the corporate sector. While some are used to that culture, many aren’t. Then, there are some others, especially those working in the government sector, who are grounded at home with no work at all. Both these groups are grappling with their newfound and unusual situations. Initially, there was a sense of excitement of being at home, even with the Covid-19 gloom hanging in the air. That is now slowly giving way to boredom and restlessness.

Many are struggling hard as they juggle their office work, house work, children, and family. This isn’t easy, being used to the assistance of maids and cooks. Drawing the boundary between work and home while being at home is a difficult task. Then, there are others who are making good use of their free time by investing on things that nourish their souls. Some are sketching and painting; some singing and playing musical instruments; some designing creative videos and so on. A couple of them even displayed hidden talents that I that we never knew existed.

Amid all of this I am pretty much where I always was – lockdown or no lockdown. There aren’t any drastic changes in my life.

When I am in Bangalore, I am mostly holed up in my home. I have been working from home for nearly 4 years now. I am not required to go to office. Though, I did go once or twice a week but even that was at my discretion and sometimes I wouldn’t step out for an entire week. Neither my manager nor my team bothers about my whereabouts, as long as work gets done. So, my weekdays haven’t changed at all.

On weekends, the crowd and the traffic were deterrent enough to contain me in my little nest, except those occasional meeting with friends. However, I used to have people visiting me, which would happen quite often than less. I would also step out for grocery and other essential household items as I always preferred buying from the local market rather than online markets. Since I live alone, such outings were not in plenty. It wasn’t required.

There’s only thing that is significantly different now. There’s no travel, no outing, no planning for the same. Ironically, I am not missing them at all. Not just yet.

And, as always, I still struggle to keep pace with time. I just have no clue where all the time goes! Or maybe I do. The social butterfly that I am, even though I stay at home most of the time. No, not social media but connecting with friends and family over phone calls and WhatsApp messaging. And that does eat up a lot of my time.

Rambling Mind & Office Meetings

There are these office meetings where you have nothing much to do, many of you would surely know what I am talking about. You suppress your yawns that invariably appear as your eyes water, you fidget with your pen/pencil, or doddle away on a paper pretending that it’s your way of concentrating.

And, if you have ever been part of such meetings virtually, you know how that feels like. It only gets worse. Though you may argue that it is perhaps better as nobody’s watching and you are free to yawn or do whatever you wish. But remember, you are in isolation, limited by your laptop screen. Boredom strikes, your mind wanders, and if your name is suddenly called out when you aren’t paying attention, well then……embarrassing it is…

Now, if you happen to be in India working with a global team, it’s as torturous as it can be as most of these meetings will happen late in the evenings. A good lullaby to your half-asleep self.

Last week, during one such boring office meeting, I opened a Word doc and started scribbling. I didn’t pay much attention to what I was writing as half my mind was listening to the meeting conversations. I read what I had written later and it was yet another dark poem. Not again – I told myself. Why does this happen? I am not particularly unhappy or depressed. Rather, I’d like to believe that I am a very positive person. Sometimes, my enthusiasm about certain things in life drives my family and friends up the wall. Hence, strange that these poems become dark.

Here’s what I had written:

Rambling Mind

Into the never-ending dark abyss

The mind twists and turns

Worries and doubts and uncertainties abound

I had shut the gates, didn’t I?

Creepy creatures that they are

Ugly monsters that dwell in the dark

The mind, restless and edgy

One tiny slim ray of light, powerful and strong

Shimmers, gleams, and pierces through

They melt and dissolve, those creatures of the dark

The light was here, right here, just yesterday

I had seen it, didn’t I?

Vanished today, out of sight

The bright and powerful light, could it still be here?

Stuck with the nasty and the noxious

The mind that sometimes refuses to try!

Around the World but Together

The five of us are catching up with each other after the long holiday while we wait for our boss, who has just informed that he would be a little delayed. Huddled in the meeting room, we share with each other how we spent the long Christmas and New Year holidays.

In the two years, we have grown very fond of each other and the miles of distance between us didn’t matter anymore. We were perfectly at ease in our virtual meeting room smiling, nodding, laughing, and teasing each other through the square little window located in the corner of our laptop screens where we could clearly see each other. The week long break has surely been good to all of us. Everyone was bright and cheerful.

Work on beach_medium
We always visualise our colleague from the island like this. [P.C. Executives Global ]
It was almost bedtime for me, while someone else had just started their day, again someone was having their usual shot of evening coffee, and someone had just woken up. Being from all four corners of the world, this wasn’t surprising. While I worked out of Bangalore, someone worked out of Paris, someone else worked out of Toronto, someone was from North Carolina, someone from Charlotte, and all of us envied the one who worked out of a picturesque island in the Pacific Ocean.

About 3 years back, I found myself in the middle of some churnings and reorgs in the company. As a result, all of a sudden I found myself in a team where I was the only one working out of India, rather Asia. Though working with people across the globe wasn’t new to me but being part of a completely virtual team certainly was.

After the initial teething problems, I discovered that working virtually with globally dispersed colleagues has more advantages than disadvantages. The greatest advantage for me is that it gives me the flexibility of work timings. I can effectively blend in my personal life with work life. I have the flexibility to go into office or work out of home.

Also, interacting with people from other countries gives me the unique opportunity to get insights into their cultures, something that always fascinates me.

The greatest challenge of virtual work for me however, is being disciplined and drawing the line between work life and personal life.

Neither of this is me but you will almost always find me either sitting on the floor or leaning on the couch [P.C. – Global News and GoodStock Photos ]
Technology enables us to work flawlessly despite being scattered all around the world. I find working around different time zones highly effective. My worktime starts while it ends in another part of the world. This provides me a specific window of focused time to complete my work.

All of us have adjusted our work routines in order to ensure at least 2-3 hours of being together. All our meetings and dependencies need to happen in that window.

At the same time, we are cautious not to fall into the trap of all work and no play. Though we do assemble once a year at some place to meet in person, for other times, we devise unique and innovative ways of having fun times together as a team.

Once we decided that everybody is going to cook cauliflower in their own way. We then presented our recipes through pictures and stories during our team meeting. Another time, we were all given some amount of money to spend in whichever way we want during the weekend. We then presented what we did to the rest of the team. Somebody went for a spa, someone took their friends out for dinner, someone surprised his wife with a gift, and so on.

Sometimes, we also plan virtual coffee breaks with one another, where we share our work frustrations and even small things from our personal lives. My colleague from Paris shares my love for travel and on relatively lighter days our work meetings invariably start or end with discussing places of interest in our respective countries and even sharing google pictures and YouTube videos. All such things has served to bring us close to each other.

All said and done, I do miss having co-located work mates because technology cannot substitute the feeling of physical presence. However awesome technology may be, it cannot replicate the feeling of a warm hug or a gentle handshake. It cannot reproduce the camaraderie of sitting across a table and sharing a coffee or lunch together.

Luckily for me, there is another team in Bangalore office whose work is almost similar as mine. I go to office at intervals just to be with them and also attend most of their team events. This alleviates the need of co-located work mates for now. And, I get to enjoy best of the two worlds – virtual and real – as long as it lasts.

Post in response to Day-4 prompt'Four Corners of the World' for Bar-A-Thon: The Blogging Marathon