From the corner of my eye, I noticed our five-year-old daughter tippy-toeing down to the kitchen with my wife.
‘Seems like it’s time for Tam’s snack… or maybe she felt like munching something cause she got bored’, I whispered to myself while double-checking that my mic was on mute.
I soon got the sense (a sense I’ve become so familiar with by now) that Sandra, my wife, was attempting to make eye contact with me. My head lifted towards her effortlessly.
‘ Are you on mute? ‘ she asked gently, the first item in the checklist she seeks to tick off whenever she sees me participating in a video meeting.
‘ Yeah ‘. Now confident about the mic, I didn’t have to whisper back.
With that response, the tense look on her face eased; she opened the fridge, grabbed something and they both quickly disappeared back to the bedroom upstairs.
Ever since late March in 2020, I’ve been working from our kitchen. I purposely chose the kitchen for multiple reasons. First, I wanted to work at a location away from my home office, which I use for my personal work. I didn’t like sitting at the same place for my official as well as my personal work. Second, when my wife needed to use the kitchen after 5:30 as part of her evening routine, I would be forced to pack up my laptop and end my working day. It seemed like the best way for me to draw a line between my work and my personal life, a logical point where I would stop being a delivery lead and a coach and start being a husband and a father again. Third, the kitchen had more natural light coming in thanks to the large French windows on the West end — Melbourne can get extremely gloomy during its winter months. And finally, the bench was at the right height to allow me to stand up from time to time and stretch my legs.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, to be more scientific, turned the year 2020 upside down across the world. It changed people’s personal and professional lives more than most of us could even imagine until it really happened. The family trip we took to New Zealand during the summer of 2020 turned out to be extra special, not just because we adore New Zealand and its natural beauty but also because it was the last time we would travel outside Australia together for a long time to come. To be frank, it was the last time we all got to leave the house together until restrictions were eased just before Christmas.
The Last Day at the Office
They say trauma makes our memories vivid and rigid — well, it must be true. I can still recall the last day I was at the office, Thursday, 19th March 2020, in great detail.
The main event of the day was bringing an offshore team and their local counterpart together and establish a working agreement to deliver a major uplift to the mobile application they were responsible for. We discussed the end-to-end delivery model — who could do what and when — the risks and the challenges we anticipated and the guardrails we needed to put in place to facilitate the decision-making processes before arriving at a workflow we were all happy to adopt.
I also remember patting and cuddling Lucky, a guide dog loved by everyone in the office and the eyes for one of my colleagues, Sam. During the day, whenever he was off his collar, Lucky looked eagerly at anyone who went past, anticipating a cuddle or a spontaneous romp around the office.
After finishing up the work I had planned for the day, I cleared up my desk and dropped everything into a storage box as per the instructions given to us by the bank. I then packed up my office laptop and a few other items and left the office with the anticipation of returning in a few weeks’ time (I hoped to do so, at least!).
The First Few Weeks at Home
Life at home became far more complicated as Sandra and I started to work from home together and our son began learning from home. As with any change, it was mayhem at first. The usual morning routine that everyone was so used to, no longer applied. We had to pause and think — Who is going to work in which room? If someone’s going to work in the kitchen, how can we use it for its intended purpose? How can we carry out our usual home tasks without disturbing the people who are working or studying? Who is going to prepare food? Who is going to look after the kids and attend to their needs? Who is going to order the groceries and takeaway? Who is going to clean the house and do the dishes? And that was just the beginning…
Then came logistical challenges. Everyone started competing for internet bandwidth, leading to choppy audio and video quality during online meetings. I felt like the office IT support guy, drowning in support requests from left, right and centre. I had to find extra power points, organise long power cables, sort out suitable charging adaptors, resolve network connectivity issues and attend to those audio/video problems. It didn’t take long for me to feel the pain of all the IT support guys I’ve worked with who still had the courage to wear a smile after running from pillar to post, meeting our never-ending demands every day.
Preparing and serving food for four family members while navigating around the plethora of meetings and other work activities became a critical new skill. Giving each other the space to have conversations with our respective office colleagues, classmates or teachers became one of our main challenges in a house that was originally designed for family living and laughter.
And remember Lucky? Well, I did not realise the significance Lucky played in my working day until I started working from home and missing him so badly.
The Time that Followed
Sandra and I soon recognised the demands of our respective jobs after seeing each other in action firsthand. Although we had spoken frequently about challenges we faced at work, this was the first time we had the opportunity to see it all playing out in front of our eyes. We eventually learned to adapt our daily schedules in order to scatter the pressure points throughout the day and strike a balance between the times we got slammed with work and the times we could attend to the kids and matters at home.
Sandra retreated to our main bedroom, leaving me the space I needed to mingle with my teams during the day. I could run meetings as long as they needed to be, talk as loud as the situation demanded, crack as many jokes as I fancied and basically keep my teams engaged, motivated and focused on our customers, who were looking for new ways to transact with the bank in response to the pandemic. Sandra took her work easy during the day, taking charge of food and snacks and attending to the kids’ demands, while leaving me to take the lead at night after I finished my work. She then continued her official duties into the night with less or no interruptions.
One of the biggest surprises at home was the rapid transition my 13-year-old son underwent to extend an additional pair of helping hands. He started out with common household chores, such as washing the car, taking the bins out to the kerbside and bringing them back, tidying up his own bedroom and helping out his little sister with a snack or even keeping her entertained when needed. He then went on to become a very steady helper that we could rely on whenever the situation at home became chaotic. In short, he fast-tracked to become the eldest child any parent would wish for during a lockdown.
Even our five-year-old daughter became aware of the virus that was out there, and how it made her mummy, daddy, brother, friends and everyone else around the world do things differently. In spite of her enthusiasm for going to the park or the shopping centre, we were amazed by the compromises she was ready to make in the name of ‘being safe’ and ‘not getting sick’. She soon learnt to keep herself occupied with writing, reading, painting and making Lego® structures during the day. And of course, she enjoyed her screen time, where she got to watch movies and other kid’s programs on ABC for Kids.
We’re all in this Together
I remember my mamma saying, ‘ Everything that happens, happens to humans ‘ whenever we encountered a challenging situation at home or discussed something bad that had happened to someone while I was growing up. Back then, I did not understand the deep meaning behind it. However, 2020 gave me the best opportunity yet not only to appreciate this saying but also to reflect on many disasters around the world from a different perspective.
The pandemic made me realise that, whatever challenge comes our way, we as humans are required to take it on in stride and find a way to get through it — as individuals and as a community. ‘ We’re in this together ‘, a phrase our politicians uttered every time they stood in front of a podium in 2020, reminded me of all the challenges that humanity has faced since the beginning of time, and how no one might have survived without the parts played in some form or other by each individual. In fact, as the most intelligent species on this planet, I feel we have a moral obligation not only to our own kind, but also to all living beings.
The fact of the matter is, whether we are reminded of it or not, whether we accept it or not, whether we put effort into it or not, we are and will always be in it together. This pandemic is not the first and definitely not the last time that the human race will have to come together to come out stronger in the face of disaster.
The fast-moving, awfully dramatic and painfully devastating effects of COVID-19 we saw in 2020 are a slap on the face to remind ourselves of the intricate nature of our interdependency with humans and the rest of the ecosystem. Rich or poor, educated or uneducated, privileged or forgotten, left-leaning progressive or right-leaning conservative, latte-sipping city dweller or meat-pie munching rural denizen, we all saw how the tiny COVID-19 virus dished out misery without discriminating, differentiating or discerning.
It was a desperate call for humanity to blow away the dark clouds that keep us blindfolded and enact moral traits such as empiricism — follow tested and proven science, learning — identify where things went wrong and improve continuously, collaborating — work together and support each other without political, socio-economic or religious segregation and empathising — see the situation through another person’s eyes, be kind, do the right thing and simply have common decency.
The actions, initiatives and behaviours I saw taking place around me filled my heart with positivity, warmth and hope in a period that began with negativity, disappointment and despair.
Politicians of all colours and shapes (except for a very few) started showing genuine leadership by ceasing to ‘spin’ the response and answering the questions put to them by journalists with direct and straight facts. More importantly, they resisted caving in to an agenda imposed by a few elite business pundits and listened to the scientists and medical experts in order to decide what was right in the long term, not what would be popular in the short term.
Frontline heroes such as hospital healthcare workers who worked around the clock, pop-up testing centre personnel who served mile-long lines, aged care workers who looked after our vulnerable elderly, contact tracers who followed potential leads, police and military personnel who educated the public and enforced health measures, supermarket staffers who replenished the shelves for anxious shoppers and delivery workers who brought everything from takeaway food to mail-order items — these people were the beating heart and constantly flowing bloodstream that kept us safe and sane.
People who dedicated their time to looking after others were angels from heaven come down to save those less fortunate than they. They delivered food and other essentials to those who were in quarantine or were too fragile to go to the supermarket, sang outside aged care facilities to lift the mood of the helpless and lonely inmates stuck inside or shared a home-cooked meal or fresh produce from their backyard with someone who had lost their job and livelihood.
2020 proved us that we still have the resilience, the passion, the perseverance, the patience, the commitment, the kindness, the wackiness and the empathy to look after and support each other and to get through this extremely challenging period as one.
I am Grateful
The jewels on the top of my crown and the cherries on the icing of my cake were my family, my friends and my team.
They were the backbone of the resilience I showed every day, the passion I managed to maintain in my life, the perseverance I demonstrated towards challenges at work and the commitment I had for everything I value.
Food kept appearing on the table because of my wife’s uncompromising care for the family. I didn’t have to plan breakfast, lunch, dinner or even a cuppa to quench my thirst after running a long workshop. My little angel brought me warm cuddles in between lengthy and demanding video meetings, and my son showed unwavering empathy by going to extreme lengths to ensure that I wasn’t interrupted when he was playing video games or even opening a food container. Friends took the time and effort to call and check in on me, and we had refreshing conversations that stretched my facial muscles with a good laugh. My team members worked tirelessly to ensure that we had an operating and productive working environment by resolving any issues that popped up. They cracked jokes during long and sometimes dry meetings, shared photos or took us through virtual tours of their homes, shared recipes or suggestions for weekend activities. They were the reasons I not only survived but also thrived during this pandemic.
They gave me hope when I was about to give up, strength when I had run out of energy and inspiration to keep going.
Yes, 2020 was full of disruptions and devastation. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the humanity that was kindled across society, the courage we sparked in each other and the lessons we learnt together along the way.
That’s enough to make me grateful for 2020.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.