I’ve lost track and stopped counting the amount of days and months we’ve been going through this pandemic.
Zooms, Videoconfs on Microsoft Teams, Webinars on Bigmarker, Google Meets and Webex have become our everyday as we continue to let our office space invade our personal space. And to be clear, it is not the other way around. Even if you’ve been lucky enough to be able to establish one room in your house as a reserved “no entry allowed” office space where you can focus on work, it is still within the confines of your home.
Work schedules have gone out the window. No matter how many times you read an info-graphic telling you to compartmentalize your day and set work/personal time boundaries, you know that in this new reality, even the biggest, most structured control-freak has no way of fully isolating and ensuring that his/her office time is solely that. The guy delivering your goods from the supermarket does not respect office schedules… and your boss is still gonna want that Powerpoint presentation he asked for at 7 pm to be ready before 8 am of the next day.
Compartmentalizing at a 100% rate is a nice pipe dream and nothing else; any and all other percentages under that, are some form of reality we have to deal with… And if we’re honest with ourselves, we had to deal with this even before the pandemic. Remember when the school used to call you at the office in the middle of your quarterly meeting to let you know your kid barfed and they need you to bring him a clean set of clothes?
Last week, my kids returned from their summer break to a new reality in distance learning. Prior to this term, they did have distance learning (started in March) but it was in an asynchronous way. Specific tasks, tutorial videos and lessons were uploaded to an online platform and the kids had until 5 pm of that day to get through their daily obligations. Though this non-real time format certainly had its limitations (i.e. direct interaction with the teacher in order to ask questions) it DID allow for better time and equipment management in my home, where three kids and their two working parents are now not only struggling to share a network, electronic devices and overlapping schedules.
In the new format, my wife and I are constantly finding ourselves juggling around our work day of meetings and attempting to provide some sort of oversight to our kids’ education as the challenge to keep them engaged in real time Zoom sessions from 8:15 am to 1:00 PM becomes larger and larger. And yeah, shit happens. Like, all the time.
iPads run out of batteries because the kids forgot to plug them in or some charging cable is the mysterious victim of planned obsolescence and it has to be replaced; microphones stop working because “somebody clicked on something”; materials they are supposed to use during a class go missing and that school project which requires the use of a power tool isn’t gonna get done by itself. Plus, “I didn’t understand what I’m supposed to do and the teacher isn’t answering my question because she muted me” is now a part of our every day lives.
Oh yeah… and then there’s music class… that joyous moment when I have to find a way to concentrate and get actual work done while my kids blow on their recorders, so sure of themselves when supposedly playing Coldplay’s Viva la Vida but sounding more like one of Yoko Ono’s musical masterpieces.
Yesterday afternoon, I was hosting a Brand Strategy Map workshop and during some of the most critical content moments of that event, I was interrupted by my youngest, who wanted me to help her upload her homework. This morning we were getting a leak fixed in the house and the workers were banging hammers on a wall while I was connected on a call with our Bogotá colleagues. Last week I had to excuse myself from a sales pitch meeting in order to reestablish my eldest son’s zoom connection with his homeroom teacher.
During these (and many similar) instances, I found myself providing apologetic explanations to the people on the other side of calls and videoconferences. “I’m truly sorry, I just have to take care of this really quickly”, “My apologies, there’s a really loud truck outside of my home and I couldn’t hear that”, “Please excuse my kid who is not respecting my office space”… I’m sure you’ve done the same. We’ve ALL said that we’re sorry.
Well I say screw that! We have absolutely NOTHING to be sorry about. We are coping. We are adapting. We are diligently doing what we are able to do so our lives don’t stand still even though our world has to do just that in order to overcome the pandemic. We are allowing the sanctity of our homes overlap with all the necessities of our jobs and our kids’ schools. And since we are ALL in this together, we should also be completely emphatic when our colleagues tell US they have to interrupt work in order to tend to their kids or when their dog barks or when the trash collector honks his horn.
None of this is our fault. We didn’t choose to be thrown into this new work/life dynamic but I think we’re pretty good at figuring out ways to keep working through it. Technology has allowed us to have SOME form of continuance both in business and in our kids’ schools.
Imagine if this pandemic had hit during the 80s. No way would we have been able to effectively maintain businesses operating at a 100% work-from-home scheme. Kids in school outside of the classroom? Forget it! It would have been a completely lost year.
So I’ve decided to stop saying that I’m sorry. I’m not sorry at all. I’m DAMN proud of the fact that my kids are doing their best to learn via zoom meetings. I’m damn proud of the fact that I was able to upgrade my internet setup in a country where there are NO DECENT ISPs and we were resourceful enough to put up a mesh system at home which allows us to hold five simultaneous video-conferences without intermittence. And yeah, we paid for that with our own money and got it set up respecting social-distancing guidelines. We did it because it was a new need and because that’s what it takes to adapt.
While we could have been running around like headless chickens, we found a way to procure a screen for each kid to be able to connect to their classes (yes, we are lucky enough to be able to sort of afford it and I understand that most people in my country don’t have that luxury, but that does not demerit our willingness to further invest in things we didn’t need before Covid-19).
And I’m not just talking about these things to gloat about my wife and my resourcefulness. I am sure that we’ve ALL been going through some version of this transformation. We’ve had to transform our management models, revamp our strategic plans, developed new communication channels, streamline budgets, work on team morale and in many cases, take tough choices regarding people. Did I mention all of this has been done while kids all over the world continued to poorly play their damn high-pitched recorders in the room next door?
So no, I’m not sorry if in the middle of a status report meeting my little girl walks in to kiss me on the cheek and tell me she loves me. I’m not sorry for my son asking if I can clarify a math problem if that means stepping away from my computer for 10 minutes in the middle of reviewing a sales proposal. I’m not sorry for not meeting an arbitrary deadline on the delivery of a TV spot script if that delay meant I was able to schedule a zoom call with my marketing team with the sole purpose of sharing a beer with them and check up on their mental and emotional health and spirits.
I’m not sorry for opening up a window into my non-perfect, cluttered, disorganized, chaotic, noisy and very real home. I love my home and every member of it and anyone who is allowed in it is also welcome with warmth and a smile, so at the very least they should enjoy it… even if it does mean our conversation might be interrupted by a door-to-door salesman or dog barking once in a while.
Our work and personal lives are no longer compartmentalized. Personal privacy and divided schedules took a hit as a means to keep us going. No matter how great they are and especially with younger kids, school teachers are going to need us more involved than before in this new educational model (at least while kids get used to it and probably for as long as it lasts). These are just facts of life and we can sulk about them or we can keep going and be proud of how we’re been able to figure things out. This is one of those glass half empty/half full situations. It’s not a perfect time.
The way I see it and at least from where I stand, we’re not coasting or using Covid as an excuse to be lazy or underperform. We’re surviving and doing a damn good job at it. Can we do better? Sure. Are we going to continue trying to do better and further adapt? No question. Is it going to be messy? Quite enjoyably so.
Don’t be sorry. Be proud.