Working (From or Forever) Home!

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With the unexpected shock of Coronavirus in 2020, the world went into lockdown and quarantine mode. And with it, many offices, businesses also went online or as it popularly called ‘Working from home’ or just WFH. Now, it will be almost a year since lockdowns and working from home started. And it seems its going to stay for a while.

There are many reasons WFH might be staying for sometime. Initially, it seems that WFH is convenient for employees only. It not only avoids the daily commute to office, but also gives ample space and time for employees to stay near to their family or loved ones. Employees can manage to give sometime to their personal life amidst all the busy work schedule. Besides the money savings are piling up with gas/petrol savings, living away from city in outskirts to skip the high rent, avoiding eating outside or even visiting starbucks/coffee shops for many of us. Not only that, we dont even need to follow the office protocol anymore, which used to be a big list which included washing and ironing clothes, shaving for men, makeup for women, packing food in lunch boxes, polishing shoes, and even a bit of extra efforts to impress the boss, or someone whom we have a secret crush in office, isnt it? But all this has been like a part of history now. Many don’t even shave for months, and wear shorts during online meetings. So, in a way, this has changed our life quite a lot.

Also, many have been able to even pursue some hobbies or learning new skills like cooking, reading books, blogging. Infact I started this blog last year during the lockdown, and so far, I have re-discovered myself that I really enjoy writing. I always had plans to start my own blog, but never could find the motivation or even time due to my work, and frequent business trips. But only when I started working from home, I could find a renewed inspiration to write. Similarly, many people with this flexibility have found new hobbies and interests worth pursuing.

But, this is not just good for employees. Rather it is even better for companies for many reasons. Like basic reasons include they dont need to take risk by allowing employees to come and work in office, which could lead to mass spread of the virus. As the offices are closed, so are the savings in maintenance cost, utility bills and security personnel. A lot of company money which used to get spent in everyday cleaning & maintenance is reduced drastically as hardly anyone enters the company building now. But even more better, is the fact that now due to WFH, it has become easier for the companies to make their employees to work harder and compel them to spend long hours at work! How? The answer is Digitization. With all the video conferencing apps like Zoom, Teams and Cisco Webex, messaging apps like Teams, Whatsapp and Signal, Outlook and Gmails, it has become like a 24×7 work schedule. Because earlier the office was considered more than a work place. It was also a place to network with colleagues and managers, share ideas and thoughts, brainstorm and solve problems, drink a lot of coffee during frequent coffee breaks, and thereby try to get away for sometime from the boring work, or manager!

But now, its just work, work and work! The employees cannot do any of the activities mentioned above. Of course, they can still drink coffee at their leisure, and even talk during meetings or calls with colleagues. But the real life human factor is missing. Using the company secured VPN, and assuming the possibility of meetings being recorded, there is almost no way for the employees to gossip or talk about his/her manager behind their back. I usually do not endorse such gossips or talks, but afterall we all are social human beings. Infact, many happily married couples in this world have known each other for the first time in the office. So, I feel this WFH has removed the human factor and actually made us machines. We work day and night by sitting in front of computer. And this Digitization has even made our analog life, (which used to have all the natural human elements ) into a digital life, of 1’s and 0’s. I guess the software coders or IT folks can easily identify themselves in this dire situation.

And the worse part is many companies and tech firms might keep this WFH policy for a while. Even though it is good for safety and well being of employees from the virus, but what about the mental well being of the employees? I can say that many employees are already bored while WFH, including me. Because wise people had advised to maintain a work-life balance. It is necessary to keep work and home separate. To have a good health, mental well being and family happiness, it is good habit to keep work at work, and never bring at home. But with this WFH, this is impossible as we have made our home itself as a workplace. Thats why it is inevitable that our social and family life is mired with all the deadlines and work pressures. Not only do we all get bored sitting all day working from home, but also it affects the relations with our family members. Infact, during the meetings, I have heard so many background crosstalk from family members etc. This is expected when WFH, but isn’t it affecting our ability to concentrate at work? Also, WFH affects our productivity and discipline. Because earlier we used to only work 9 to 5 in office, and complete the work before leaving for the day. But now, there is no such schedule. I can work even late at night and finish the work, to give the update next day. This is affecting our normal work-life balance.

But companies are happy and they won’t give up on this WFH culture soon. That’s why many people like me are fearing if this is Working from Home, or Forever from Home! I hope the latter never comes true!

Welcome 2021!

Never before has the world so eagerly awaited for a new year to commence!

Today, while writing this post on Dec 31st, 2020, I am contemplating all the events that have happened in 2020. And there is no denial of the fact that the world got changed in 2020. It looks like after Steve Job’s legendary launch of Iphone in 2007 which changed the world, Covid-19 became the next thing which turned our life upside down. And today, we all are eagerly awaiting for 2021 to usher in. We are sincerely praying that 2021 turns out to be a better year,which will restore peace, happiness and stability back in our life. I do hope the same!

But at the same time, as Gurudev Ravishankar said in his talk today, that this pandemic showed the other side of life. We all crave for good, and happy times. We forget the difficulties and problems in life when everything is stable, and under our control. But this pandemic showed us how things can go out of human control rapidly. This year showed us how important and short life is. It made us realize the simple joys of life such as staying with family, having a stable job, and even going out for a walk. The world saw how difficult it is to live under lockdown. We all usually read or watch movies of the soldiers and freedom fighters who suffered enormous hardships in fighting against the enemy, be it against the Nazis in Europe, or against British rule in India. Only when we all underwent the hardships of living under lockdown, we came to value the importance of true freedom. Until the pandemic occurred, we all had taken the freedom imparted to us lightly, but now we atleast have got a glimpse of life without freedom. That is why, people have even started thinking about the cruelty to deprive poor animals of their freedom by keeping them in zoos and amusement parks for our entertainment!

Having suffered the dark side of life after pandemic, we have started realizing how few things we really need to live a good life. We understood that we can live without eating outside or even buying expensive clothes or gadgets. Because these fancy clothes, makeup or gadgets won’t save our life, but our good health, good food, calm mind and having loved ones staying together will save us. Due to this pandemic having engulfed the whole mother earth, never in history did it happen that we all (humans) became united. Until 2020, we had always biased each other, and made every attempt to separate each others by building either physical walls ( be it Berlin Wall or Trump’s wall), or virtual walls ( made of racism, casteism, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation bias etc). But 2020 made us realize that events like pandemic does not differentiate between us on any artificial grounds. So, in a way, we can also say that 2020 brought humanity together, atleast for fighting against pandemic!

Besides, in 2020, many of us saw how beautiful this earth is! This is because one of the sideeffects of pandemic turned out to be fresh air, with zero air pollution. For ex: This led to viewing of Himalayas from hundreds of miles in India, which was not seen due to high pollution in air for the last several decades. Hence, even though 2020 was a dreaded year for most of us, however this year turned out to be very special for nature observers and climate watchers, due to huge change in climate and nature pattern which had been severely altered for all these years due to human activity.

Himalayas visible from India as nature 'heals' during coronavirus shutdown  - National | Globalnews.ca
Ref

Similarly, due to no traffic and thereby zero sound pollution, it made wild animals curious to sneek in the cities to find out where did 7 billion people disappear? Here are some pictures which captured this once in a century nature’s phenomenon.

A civet cat has been spotted roaming on the streets of Kozhikode in the State of Kerala, India on 27 March, 2020.
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A kangaroo hops through empty streets during the lockdown restrictions in Adelaide, Australia, April 19, 2020. South Australia Police/via REUTERS
Kangaroo running on the streets in Australia
A fox is seen in Downing Street, London, April 29, 2020.  
 REUTERS/Toby Melville
A fox seen walking on the streets in London https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/nature-reclaims-public-spaces-during-loc-idUSRTX7EJ1H

Hence, finally, as I complete this post, 2020 ended and 2021 has begun. Many of us are praying for 2021 to bring happiness and stability in life. Indeed, 2020 was a rough year, which will never be forgotten by my generation. Historians love to find patterns in historic events, and I being a history buff, consider 2020 to be a year which changed our way of living, just like the historic years of 1989 ( when Berlin Wall fell which marked the beginning of the end of communism), or 1945 ( when WW2 was won after the fall of Nazi and Imperial Japanese). As US President elect Joe Biden said in his victory speech, “This is a time to heal in America”. I feel this is a time to heal for the entire world. May 2021 give us enough room for us to heal, come together for humanity, collaborate for just causes, break the barriers of racism, gender bias etc, and work towards achieving global peace. I know this might sound grandiose, but atleast we can start taking one step ahead….

I am ending this post with this realization, that afterall, we did won(successfully survive) in 2020, and have entered a new year, with new hopes and new surprises as well……

Travel during corona times!

Finally, the day came for which I had been contemplating. I started my journey from US to India on Aug 18th, and landed in Mumbai on Aug 19th. Traveling during corona times is indeed dreaded by most of us. And so did I. But I had taken the decision to return back and so I kept my decision firm. It wasn’t an easy move, but some changes are never easy and also, I believe that sometimes, it becomes necessary to bite the bullet.

The travel by Vande Bharat mission was not the best one, but still considering the pandemic situation, I would say the airline authorities did a very good job. I had been quite used to air travels for business in the last 2 years, but this air travel during pandemic was unprecedented in itself. Earlier, the only three things we need to do at the airport were check in, baggage dropoff and security inspection ( with immigration as another for international travels), that’s it. But now the list has few more add-ons such as temperature checking, 6 ft social distancing, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, and thermal screening. This is like the new normal for air travels now.

Even inside the flight, the job of cabin attendant has been reduced to just escorting the travelers to their respective seats, and keep the food/water on the seat beforehand. The always cherished hospitality by the cabin attendants and air hostess ( in particular) has become a part of history now. No longer are any drinks served, not even hot tea/coffee. Known for their elegant uniform, hospitality and courtesy, today, the stewardess have to wear the nurse uniform with dress, apron and cap. Ofcourse, this is the need of the hour, and in no way, does this demote the role of flight attendants. But the charm and sophistication which used to associated with air travel has been replaced by seriousness and fear of safeguarding ourselves. I hate to write this but nowadays flight journey feels like a flying ambulance!

The Vande Bharat mission has been doing an incredible job of bringing back Indians who are stranded abroad, or want to return back to their country. After my registration and booking on the website, I was told to sign an undertaking which stated that the decision to fly is my responsibility. When I reached the New York airport ( which was quite empty), I underwent temperature check, and they noted down my temperature on the undertaking document. After the usual formalities, I was again thermal screened at the gate before boarding the flight. Inside the flight, as I mentioned before, we were already provided food, water, masks, hand sanitizer and face shield. Everyone was seated with alternating seating inside the flight. The flight was non-stop due to the restriction to not land in any other country. Hence, the journey was long – 14 hours and hence everyone knew that it was not going to be very comfortable. Moreever, no in-flight entertainment was provided which made the journey somewhat monotonous.

Thus, after 14 hours of arduous journey, I landed in Mumbai. Again, we were thermal screened and then began a long and slow process to reach home. It took me 8 days to reach home after I landed at the airport. Meanwhile, a lot of things had to be taken care of, which included successful exiting of airport after immigration, travel arrangements and quarantine accommodation details to be given to the officials. Even at the airport, all the airport authorities and govt officials were inspecting and watching us so that we do not leave the airport before competing all the required formalities. I had to book a taxi/cab to go to Pune ( my hometown, which is 3 hours drive from Mumbai) after I got an e-pass with the police verification completed. Luckily, my father had already acquired the permit for this travel, and so this saved me some time of hassle at the airport. But at the exit gate of the airport, I was again asked about the taxi details, and the officer requested me not to exit the airport until the taxi driver arrives. Then, he took the taxi driver details from me, and contacted him over the phone. When the taxi arrived, he personally escorted me till the taxi, to ensure I did not meet anyone apart from the designated driver.

It was raining, and the monsoon season had ushered in. While traveling to Pune, I saw some of the most beautiful scenic beauty in the Ghats, especially in the Lonavala-Khandala region. Then after reaching Pune, I had to meet the Govt officials again to check the availability of hotels for my 7 day quarantine stay, which were designated as isolation centers. I selected one of the good hotels in Pune, and stayed there for the next 7 days. I had to carry all the bags with me to the hotel as I was not even allowed to drop my bags at home, which was not faraway from the hotel. The most important thing is that I was not tested for Covid during or after my 7 days stay. When I inquired about the Covid test, I was told that it was optional and I had to pay out of my own pocket. Even the isolation centers were quite expensive, and the bill was charged to my name. I wish they allowed Covid testing at the isolation centers ( as they were supposed to be meant for). No wonder why India is seeing the highest Covid infection rates in the world, and the nexus between govt officials and hotel/isolation center authorities cannot be hidden!

Finally, after this once in a lifetime pandemic overseas evacuation travel experience, I came back home. I was nervous about a lot of things as I had witnessed during and after the travel, but on the other side, I was delighted to be at home, in my country, with my family. Fortunately, I was not showing any symptoms related to Covid and after completing another 7 days home quarantine restriction, I was free. I did learn a lot during this travel. After seeing two countries which are equally affected by this virus, and seeing the troubles people are taking to reach and stay close to their family, or loved ones, I started realizing with mixed emotions, that however this pandemic might have changed our life, but the virus is a lot weaker in front of human strength, determination and courage. Kudos to the brave, hardworking pilots who are working so hard to fly tirelessly day and night to reach us safely to our destinations. Hats off to the flight attendants, airport authorities, taxi/lyft/ola drivers who inspite of the risk of virus infection, are working hard to keep the daily operations running smoothly.

The virus might have locked us down in our homes, but it hasn’t locked down the humanity within us. We will surely overcome this pandemic, and we can hope again, that the travel in future won’t be driven by fear or for evacuation purposes, but with happiness, joy and leisure. Good times are not faraway!