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Working from home, the new norm!

“When the weather is good, I move my workstation outside”- Moreblessings Chidaushe-Norwegian Church Aid

South Africa has been in lockdown since March 26th, 2020 -except for specific essential services, everyone must strictly stay home and move only when necessary for example to buy essentials such as food. This has meant that we have had to adjust and adopt the working from home strategy – new to many of us.A lot of adjustments had to be made as we can no longer  take a few minutes break to walk to the next colleagues desk or office to ask a question or bounce an idea.

Lucky for digi nerds – digitalisation has leaped a hundred-fold overnight, even those of us once opposed to it. We have been left with no choice but to adapt or else the world leaves you behind- adapt or die is the new norm.

In my world of policy advocacy the world has suddenly gotten so much busier – way busier than when we used to meet face to face. All those conferences are reincarnating themselves in form of Zoom, bluejean, webinar and team meetings. Whoever invented zoom must be smiling all the way to the bank. I have lost count of the number of zoom meetings I have attended for the past month, it is impossible to count –  no one wants to be left behind and they must not be left behind, if you are not on this zoom and on that webinar, you are on the other one. No time to rest, the world is a busy place and we have to keep moving, its like we are on a marathon.  

COVID-19 has transformed our way of life, working from home is the new norm

Working hours have become much longer than before, there is no time to reflect or gather your thoughts while driving to work. I have established a routine where I start work at 0900hrs sharp each day. By the end of the day, between hoping from one Zoom meeting to another – responding to emails and working on reports and other urgent issues of the season, I realise I hardly take a break. By the time I end my day eight or nine hours later, am completely exhausted. And we cannot go out to exercise and get some fresh air  (in my defence, walking for exercise has never been a challenge for me)– it is hard on the mind, before you know it – it’s the next day and the same routine is waiting. Some of the meetings have been more formal than others, the other day, when everybody was connected and on screen, all formally dressed make up and all, I had to rush and comb my hair which I had not done for a while…. A friend from Malawi had us all laughing when he recently posted a photo of himself in a work webinar, crisp white shirt, jacket and tie …and …guess what – shorts and flip flops but to the world he was all formally dressed, jacket and tie for a very formal meeting with his colleagues dotted across the globe – the new norm.

In our office, we have been lucky that despite not being in the same space we have largely been able to maintain our style of work virtually, starting each week with our Monday weekly update meetings which can last up to two hours,  we start the meetings with a general discussion on how each one of sees the situation and how we are managing – our own critical analysis of the situation – what is going right and what is going wrong, in today’s meeting everyone was in fear of the possibility of a return to lockdown level 5, people have to stay at home we emphasise. On several occasions – meeting starting times have been delayed not because we want to but sometimes, one of us is struggling to connect or the network is bad and we have to hang-up and try to connect again. In the midst of the call, one of the colleagues lines drop, again we have to wait until they can reconnect so that we can start again. Today, teams wouldn’t work, so the whole 1hour 45 minutes meeting was through whatsapp and with patience we did get through the Monday weekly update meeting.  Over and above the poor connectivity, the major phone companies say they have reduced data prices to make internet more accessible to all but the rate at which my data has been running out, it’s hard for me to believe them!

We are approaching winter in South Africa and the weather is rather unpredictable, we have had some unusually cold days for this time of the year, and rain and then one has to haul themselves inside the house and find a heater, on other days it has been nice and pleasant, sun shining and warm temperatures. With me, when the weather is good, I move my workspace outside.

We have been lucky that our partners have been accessible although they have the same challenges as us, expensive data and poor network connections, in the middle of a call Mukasiri disappears and we have to try again several times before he can be connected again. A classic one, I’m on a skype call with a colleague in Zimbabwe and after a while the call drops, I patiently wait, as I know she will re-emerge – she comes back  and my first question is, Nyaradzo what happened to the call? My generator ran out of fuel and I had to fill it up is her response! We both break into a long laugh, funny right but it’s not fun!! Such is our new reality and we embrace it. We will get there one day. If anything, good will come out of this for many of us – it is the virtue of patience.

I have been most impressed with our partners and community members they work with; they have been most visible on whatsapp, twitter, blogs, zoom, radio and television programs and they have kept the fire burning. We are definitely not out of sight – digi came to our rescue. In zoom meetings, twitter and whatsapp conversation, they refuse to be silent, they do not complain, they do not relent. My heart breaks for the level of commitment knowing fully well what all that must be doing to their pockets at such a difficult time!

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