Covid Considerations: Sharing our realities
This is the latest blog in our ‘Covid Considerations’ series exploring what opportunities for change there might be, told from the personal perspectives of people working alongside communities, no holds barred. This blog is written by Anna Eaton, a Director of the Ideas Alliance.
One upside of the pandemic is it has forced us to be kinder to one another, to care about each other and to try to understand the upheaval each of us is facing in our day to day lives. By collectively affecting everyone in one way or another, Covid-19 has provided us all with a common ground to relate to each other on. We are asking and sharing how the pandemic has impacted us in different ways – explaining our realities. And the most important thing is we are learning to listen to each other’s stories. We need to keep doing this as we come out of lockdown and beyond.
My reality is that my son is turning one this month. It’s been a turbulent first year of becoming a parent and whilst I was pregnant I flippantly decided I wanted to get back to work relatively quickly. I like working and we needed the money, so I’d planned to do a day here or there after Christmas and then be back part-time from March, when my baby was 9 months old. Little did I know how long the sleep deprivation lasts, how there’s rarely a moment to switch off and how expensive and complicated childcare can be.
I like to think of myself as a pretty confident person but the transformation of parenthood had really knocked me for six and I felt like I was piecing myself back together – trying to remember how to think beyond feeding times, nap times and keeping this new wonderful, terrifying baby alive. And then, just as my maternity leave ended, Covid-19 hit and lockdown began.
Getting back to work was nothing like I had imagined. It already felt like a huge leap and now it was in the context of a global pandemic. I couldn’t help but feel frustrated at the social media posts from people who had the time to do things like online courses, exercise, sunbath, learn to cook or speak a new language. I felt jealous as I tried to snatch an hour or two in the evenings to work after a long day of looking after my son and trying to navigate working at home with his Dad whilst we both worried about our futures, our family and friends and holding on to our jobs.
But then I realised something was happening at work, Covid-19 was compelling us to share our realities in ways we never had before.
In her blog for this series, Rajwinder Kaur Cheema wrote about how the pandemic has led her to have conversations with friends and family that she’d never had. People were opening up about topics like money and death. I realised this was happening with my colleagues too and across my network.
Covid-19 has forced us to share our worlds and more of our human selves. We are asking each other about our loved ones, our health. These are new things for the world of work. I am catching glimpses of colleagues’ homes and lives I never knew about, or perhaps didn’t take time to ask or consider. Often kids are crashing our calls, partners offer a wave from the background and pets streak past the camera.
When asking ‘how are you’ in calls and emails it feels like we are providing spaces for longer answers and really listening. People have been able to get upset about things they are experiencing, horrific situations and losses and they are not ignored or considered ‘unprofessional’. These moments are bringing us closer and revealing more of the whole person we are, helping us to go beyond job titles and connect in a deeper and long-lasting way.
For me, this has meant being upfront with colleagues and clients about how hard it is to work and plan having no formal childcare and potentially not having any for some time. It has made me become very upfront about juggling family life and the struggle of transitioning back into work during this crisis which has often left me feeling fragile. I cannot hide it and I realise now that I shouldn’t. And for the first time it has felt like there really is space for all these stories to be told, acknowledged and valued – not just dismissed as an excuse or irrelevant in the face of a deadline.
My only fear is that as we are adapting to this ‘new normal’ some of the more open and friendlier approaches are slipping away as some people revert to old ways of working. With lockdown starting to ease I’ve noticed people asking each other how they are doing at the beginning of work calls and the answers are back to ‘oh fine’ and people only seem to mention some of the benefits of lockdown.
I on the other hand want to battle past the usual ‘oh fine’ and say people can still be open about the pressures and fears we are all still managing in different ways. For many people the lockdown easing doesn’t apply to them and only now some of the economic effects are being felt.
We cannot pretend this isn’t an evolving issue that will continually affect us. Please keep sharing your realities with each other, because we need to know there is more behind the screen, the email address and the job title to truly connect to each other and understand what others are thinking and feeling in order to work together in better ways.
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood