Nature India | Indigenus

The silver linings: Working from home in a pandemic

When India announced a national lockdown on 24 March 2020 to fight the novel coronavirus, Vinu Valayil, a techie at Springer Nature Technology and Publishing Services, was on a holiday attending a family wedding in a picturesque Kerala village.

Read Vinu’s lighthearted take on what ensued when he had to ‘work from home’ stuck in his in-laws’ house. In his humorous, almost self-deprecating style, Vinu offers lessons in positivity for many of us struggling to work from home in these tough times.

I have mixed feelings about social distancing.

I totally understand why we have to do it but I am not sure if I like it (or not).

It feels like life threw a few sour lemons at me and now I’m basically sipping delicious lemonades while totally missing how it felt like to be working in the office.

I happened to be on a personal time off when the lockdown was declared in India. I am now stuck in a village in Kerala, hundreds of miles away from my work-city of Pune, working from what is essentially my father-in-law’s house. I was here to attend a supposedly big fat Indian wedding.

These days when you get on calls, the small talk has shifted from “How’s the weather” to “How are you coping?” or “How are you feeling?”.

I can possibly box my feelings in three specific categories (yes, being super nerdy is my super power):

The Box of Lemons

  • The People

People are lemons! People that are hoarding supplies from the local groceries, or still going to parties or gatherings, who are flouting the physical distancing principles.

And thank the good lord that this part of the world uses bidet showers, essentially eliminating the need to hoard toilet paper like the western world.

  • The Workplace 

There is a definite lack of a defined workplace. And there is an endless supply of distractions. My workplace is a chair, the end of a dining table, the hallway, the roof. This space is not my personal space. Gone are the days when I could put a “At work” sign on my door and expect to work without distractions.

  • Shared Video Conferences & Meetings

Once in a while, I’m frozen on my GotoMeeting. That isn’t the core problem.

The problem is I’m stuck in the weirdest pose ever. Why on earth can’t it find a decent, resting, smiling face to freeze on?

  • Workaholism

In Pune, I live about 24 kms away from my office. And the daily commute can go up to 3 hours. I now suddenly find myself flush with extra time. I have started taking less coffee breaks too. I feel exhausted at the end of the work day. I often forget the passage of time.

  • Mi Esposa

And then there’s my wife. Don’t get me wrong: I love her a lot. Unfortunately, she’s also undergoing these cabin-fever Work From Home (WFH) symptoms. Her creativity knows no bounds and she has taken it upon herself to paint my fingernails in the process.

The Crate of Lemonades

  • The People

My roots are in Kerala. Some of the oldest, cutest, most stubborn elders that I know, including my mother, reside in this place. A big part of my family tree. I am now being pampered with extra attention and I also feel blessed that I am around to be of assistance.

Being treated like a royal is absolutely a lemonade!

  • The Workplace

This place is ridiculously beautiful, calm and serene. To be in a workplace that is so close to nature is a privilege. To be able to step out into the untouched wilderness, to sit beside a pond to watch a heron hunt. I take some breaks during work just to recharge a bit. Breaks during work at this time are not optional, they are necessary.

  • Shared Video Conferences & Meetings

Regardless of how grainy and how terrible GoTo, Skype, Whatsapp Videos or Hangouts sometimes are, it is such a pleasure to see familiar faces. To see them laugh and share a virtual coffee with you. Isolation at work can be incredibly depressing. I heartily recommend getting on video calls or any sort of calls with your friends and co-workers from time to time. Bake that into your schedule!

  • Workaholism

Once in a while there is a side project that requires you to work extra hours. I had a lot of fun working on a holiday and partially through the weekend trying to help some colleagues get a report across that expressly talks about a curated section of recent Coronavirus research.

There is a joy in working beyond regular hours for a cause.

I also feel my other “work”, especially works of art and photography, have come back to my life.

  • Mi Esposa

We have been married for 5 years. She works and lives out of Mumbai. I work and live out of Pune. We meet on weekends & planned holidays.

This “living together” due to the lockdown is, by far, the longest we have ever been together together. We are rediscovering why we are each other’s favourite people.

Surely that’s a lemon martini, people!

And guess what, I love what she’s done with my nails.

The Uncategorised Box

  • I feel thankful for my support team at Springer Nature Technology and Publishing Solutions who have really gone above and beyond to help our colleagues transition to a WFH phase. Everything — from making policies remote friendly to actually shipping workstations to homes — demonstrates empathy and sensitivity.
  • I feel sorry for a lot of folks who have been affected badly by this lockdown. A lot of daily wage labourers in India are in the unregistered or unorganized workforce. These are tough times for them. Efforts are ongoing and all of us need to do our level best to support and donate. So if you feel like donating too, donate to your nearest government/private organisation to help them tide over this crisis.
  • The news has been depressing. While it is heartening to hear some countries have come back from complete lockdown, stories from other countries and their struggle to contain this pandemic are heart-breaking. I take it upon myself to be updated but it is really tough to not be affected.
  • I feel for my dog. My pet Oshie is stuck in a dog boarding facility in Mumbai. The good news is that we get insane videos of our dog chilling out, running around, eating heavily and making new friends. It looks like she’s not missing us. (Grrr).
  • Most of all I miss meeting people. I miss seeing familiar faces. I miss hugging my close friends, shaking the hands of those I don’t want to hug, having a real conversation face to face, dancing late night at Fly High. We spend so much time in the office; it has become a second family to all of us. This sudden change is of course hard to adjust to.

Physical distancing is a necessity and a harsh reality in these times. Yet, when all of this is over and we pick up the pieces and build our lives back, I am hoping it will give a new meaning to our bonds and to our shared experiences.

So I wish you are all safe and healthy and still in high spirits. To take a leaf out of my secret guilty pleasure and comfort series “Grey’s Anatomy”:

Every cloud has a silver lining. But it’s still a cloud. A cloud can mean a shower or a storm. So you take your good days where you can get them. Try to stay positive. You try to remember that, even in the bad news, there’s good news for someone.

If you are done reading this post, please wash your hands for 20 seconds.

[Vinu Valayil, is the Head of Development at SN Digital, Springer Nature Technology & Publishing Services, Pune. He can be reached at .]


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