Notes from the lockdowns: thriving in social distancing

Today is the second time in over two months that I went to the office. I wish I could instead dial in but when you have to work with members from senior management, physical attendance is a must.

Unlike some of my peers, I have it easy during the lockdowns. A phone conversation with a couple of colleagues has revealed that they have been looking forward to the end of the lockdowns and social distancing, so they could be in the middle of the commotions of office life once again. I wish there was a way to tell them it was alright that everyone worked from home without potentially sounding offensive, as I have found myself thriving during the lockdowns. And now that we are reaching the end of social distancing, I can’t say that my introverted self is thrilled at the prospect of turning up at the workplace even when I have my own literal corner office which sits at the end of a hallway.

I am not a morning person, so getting up two hours early, dressing up, and on some days taking the hour-long commute to work don’t make my idea of starting the day right. I am no slouch in the “making oneself presentable” department, so even when I’m spending the day indoors, I still make it a point to shower and put on clean clothes in case I have to go to the shops or get a takeaway. Moreover, random Skype video calls means I have to dab on minimal makeup at least.

However, I much rather prefer the comforts of having my morning coffee whilst reading or watching the news before checking in. By the second cup, I am prepared to answer queries and requests that are sitting in my Inbox. There really is a strong case for hygge as the driving force behind Denmark’s reported satisfaction with life.

As a result of previously working in consulting and customer service, I have learned to start my workday addressing enquiries from colleagues and I agree that coordinating projects also means giving others the attention and at least a semblance of presence especially when you’re working remotely. Still, I am most productive later in the day. Work that requires more focus and minimal distraction are saved for afternoons and often late into the night when I can type away with the lights at the ground floor, which has become my home office these past two months, are switched off except for a solitary floor lamp that stands right next to my desk.

Source: Brooke Anderson

Apart from not being able to do weekend shopping in-store or travel farther than the vicinities of Perth metro area, I don’t feel I missed out on anything. Instead, social distancing afforded me the work-life balance that I’ve often craved, as afternoon walks and runs around nearby neighbourhoods and parks, spending more time with my husband and the cat, and knocking off to watch my favourite TV series are often the highlights of my day.

That’s not easy to manage when things are normal, and I hope that the world doesn’t frown upon the rest of us introverts who have found that maintaining physical distance from everyone else was actually working in our favour.

Lonelineness versus time alone

The coronavirus pandemic has arrived on the heels of what some describe as a “loneliness epidemic”, but these headlines may be overblown. Again, part of what is missing in such descriptions is the fact that clouds for some are silver linings for others. 

A counterpoint to the so-called loneliness epidemic is the study of “aloneliness”, the negative emotions many experience as a result of insufficient time spent alone. As Anthony Storr wrote in Solitude: A return to the self, “solitude can be as therapeutic as emotional support”, and the capacity to be alone is as much a form of emotional maturity as the capacity to form close attachments.

Source: Personalities that thrive in isolation and what we can all learn from time alone

An office of one’s own

I could get used to having a few reasons to celebrate, which is what we have been doing in the past 5 weeks. There was the offer of a permanent job after a number of stints in contractual roles; then, the following day my Australian permanent residency was granted after years of waiting, spending roughly AU$10,000 in applications and professional fees, countless documents, anxiety, and keeping an eye on a Facebook group for tips and updates.

Life is starting to look up after years in limbo for both myself and my husband who himself was in the middle of a career shift when we got married.

It’s not the biggest office in the world, but it’s more than the confines of a cubicle.

Apart from the technical aspects of my new work, another perk is the literal corner office that I will be occupying which sits right at the end of the corridor and away from prying eyes of co-workers. It’s small, but it’s more than the confines of cubicles to which I had become very familiar over the years. I have my own lockers and the usual gadgets, two heaters, a fan, a view of the outside world, and I could close the door if I wanted to concentrate on a task.

I have been a week and half at the new job that not only requires me to manage documentation on operating procedures and policies, but also organise activities necessary to get/maintain an ISO accreditation. It’s a promising role and far less dead-end, to say the least, than the previous jobs I had held since moving to Perth. Of course, that is not to say that I am not thankful for every opportunity that came my way: a job is a job when you’re building a new life in another country and there are bills to pay.

After signing the employment offer with the new company, I submitted my resignation letter to my then-manager whom I wasn’t sure was happy or sad about having to find another person to fill my role. I couldn’t tell either if the timing was right, because the company had recently been acquired by a Japanese organisation. But as much as I loved the incredible work-life balance there that allowed me clock in at 11:00 every day, there was only so much I could do in that role, which was contractual in the first place, as organising online translations ate up too much of my time and did not allow me to do what I really wanted: technical documentation, creating learning content, things related to knowledge management and learning and development.

How my job evolved over the 11 months that I was there was a far cry from the expectations that we set at the start of my employment. I was still thankful for the opportunity, but we all knew that I was not allocated tasks that I wanted to accomplish and that also meant they were not getting good value out of my presence or the salary that they were paying me. If that was not enough to convince them that I needed to take the next opportunity that came my way, I didn’t know what would. I had the feeling my contract would be continued, but I didn’t want to be forever in limbo either.

I shall miss my powerful work gadgets, the assistance from some of the brainiest and friendliest people I’ve had the chance to work with, running around Herdsman, the shower rooms and lockers downstairs for when I needed to change into my running gear, and being comfortable, but I need to move on to new challenges.

My old work station

Here’s hoping that the new job will be a good one and that I would be able to meet the expectations laid out on my job description.