The purpose of this article is to share some of the challenges, opportunities and “skills” that ILO staff in Europe and the Arab States have experienced and acquired while resisting the COVID-19 pandemic and enduring its associated lockdown and confinement measures since mid-March 2020.
Generally speaking and despite the difficult circumstances the overall world is facing, ILO staff members in the above-mentioned offices have succeeded in staying safe and well, and have sustained a reliable and consistent productivity with a majority expressing their accommodation and total adoption of ‘teleworking’. To be more accurate, most staff appreciated teleworking although it was initially difficult to get the required buy-in to this new work modality. It is important to note here that fortunately colleagues had the necessary IT equipment and needed internet connection to allow them to operate effectively and efficiently. Some, mostly staff without children, even reported being more productive and efficient at home due to the absence of interruptions and the ability to concentrate for longer spans of time.
All offices conducted meetings using WebEx, Skype and Zoom to the extent that some colleagues had to keep updating their calendars and were difficult to reach given the “big traffic of meetings online”. It is not difficult to imagine, that while these online meetings ensured continuous and timely communication, they also unfortunately contributed to the near total disappearance of “work-life balance”. In the absence of a “working schedule”, staff found themselves, most of the times, unable to self-pace their work and impose a time to disconnect.
If work and productivity were seamlessly ongoing, so were the spontaneous talents and anecdotes!
For colleagues with families and children, the quality time spent as a family unit was very valuable and allowed stronger bonding among family members. True there were quarrels over sharing the internet connection but with time even that issue was organized and time was allocated based on urgency and priority. Some parents even had to walk down memory lane back to their old school days and remember their school programmes to take on the role of teachers for their children: a responsibility equally shared by ILO mums and dads who, we are assured, have been implementing a gender sensitive approach to home duties throughout the confinement.
There are also a few other untapped potentials that were unleashed during this confinement and that ILO colleagues shared. For some, spending approximately 2 months at home allowed them to discover ‘the kitchen’ and develop the skills needed to cook and survive in the absence of food delivery. It has, in certain cases, even become a passion they nurture regularly by connecting to Instagram to follow world-renowned chefs cooking on line. Needless to say that cooking competitions became a trend and with the level of creativity and innovation displayed it might be a good idea to review the staff’s BoCs to reflect this learning under the “Development Objective”.
Other trends were also shared namely:
- acquiring and bonding with domestic animals that enjoyed extensive attention and care becoming the only ones happy to coexist with ILO staff for such a long period with no absences to travel on countless missions;
- learning languages on-line and waiting excitedly for the lockdown to be lifted in order to practice and show off among colleagues before the busy work schedule erases the few words, sentences and numbers learned;
- exercising alone with the help of YouTube and making the effort to persevere making it a daily routine to control the weight gains and ensure sanity of mind, a quasi-impossible routine to keep in normal times;
- last but not least, ‘Netflixing’ has been taken up by a large number of staff who found an escape from hearing the sad news of increasing numbers of infected people worldwide and all the related social and economic consequences we would need to tackle urgently as we return to our ‘new normal’.
Offices in Europe and the Arab States started working and preparing the staff’s gradual return to the office with all the necessary precautions for the health and safety of all. The lockdown has been an unusual experience putting the staff’s resilience, patience and flexibility to the test. While we managed and adjusted, we all missed going to the office and interacting with colleagues. We hope this disturbing situation ends soon for us to get back to work together and embark on evaluating and drawing the lessons learned!