The lockdown diaries

This has been a weird week. Scary. Unpredictable. Where we see the best in people, and the worst. It’s definitely a time to stay in touch with one another, as we begin to practice social distancing. And in that spirit, we’ve asked Wordtree friends and clients all over the world to share their experiences of this week with us…

Fannie Debussche is a Marketeer at Vlerick Business School in Belgium. She works from the school’s Ghent campus. This has been her week so far…

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Fannie, working at home with the help of Lola.

We are honouring the words of the school’s founder, André Vlerick that ‘the show must go on’ and we have joined forces to limit the impact on our customers as much as possible. Wherever we can, we have converted on-campus programmes and modules into online learning. If this hasn’t been possible, we’ve postponed programmes to Fall 2020, or offered refunds.

And of course, the entire staff – front office and back office – is working from home. Faculty members are organising webinars from home and meetings are held through Skype or Teams. We’re all making extra efforts to make sure this happens.

WFH – challenges and opportunities

We normally work from home 1-2 days a week, so we have all the technical tools and support to make it work well. But things are far from normal. We are not used, for example, to having lengthy meetings/meetings with many participants online, because it’s very tiring and it requires strict discipline. Now we have to.

We have organised daily 30-minute virtual coffee breaks… with no talk of work.

Fannie Debussche

And we like to see each other on campus throughout the day. This has been the hardest part: missing the small talk during coffee breaks, lunch, etc. So we have organised daily 30-minute virtual coffee breaks to catch up with our team. And we do not talk about work then 😊. And it helps, it’s very pleasant.

On top of that we have added intermediary team meetings, because one every two weeks will not now be enough to discuss projects. We also have more flexibility to organise the hours we work, as school kids are at home as well.

Maintaining team spirit under lockdown

Today at noon we had a staff meeting organised by our Dean. A total of 209 staff members joined the meeting, headed by Marion from her home. After a short introduction on the way the School is dealing with the crisis, there was plenty of room for Q&A. Questions were to be asked through the chat function and then the appropriate person (e.g. HR Manager, IT manager, general director) answered or promised an answer on a personal basis by email. 

A funny note: Marion asked every employee to take a selfie at their home offices which will be added to a mosaic and shared with the entire staff. 😊

The campus is empty – we are forbidden to go unless we make an appointment with Operations (for example, to get IT equipment to do our work). As to the city of Ghent, it’s empty as well. Here are some pictures of the most visited and busy places.

Sam Moore is the Global Marketing Director of LIFX. The smart bulb company is based in San Francisco and Sam lives in Melbourne, Australia. This has been his week so far…

WFH FTW, whilst thinking WTF! and feeling FOMO remembering YOLO so… WYH! (Wash Your Hands – can that be a new one?)

As the heading suggests, I’m already going a little bit mad. I have been working from home here in Melbourne for a week now. But the red “I’m on a call, don’t come in” smart light that I have outside the spare bedroom office isn’t stopping my four-year-old boy crashing my Zoom calls. Presenting a brand architecture proposal to the C-suite of the business whilst holding a half-naked toddler gave me a real edge this morning.

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Sam’s new standing desk.

But I am lucky. I work for a small tech business who have satellites all over the world, so conference calls are a daily occurrence. And being small and young (founded in 2012), our culture is about flexibility and performance in equal measure.

Working from home was something I would do once a fortnight or so already. In fact, this has pushed me to do what I’ve been meaning to for months and create a working space at home. I am now the proud owner of an electric standing desk. My wife’s first comment: “Oh I bet you think you’re in a San Fran startup.” (I do).

What we’ve found at LIFX is our meetings – a big problem for almost any ambitious business at some point – have become shorter. There is less tendency to chat for longer than necessary on a Zoom. They say 70% of communication is non-verbal – well we haven’t scaled back 70%, but I’d say most meetings finish 10-20% sooner. Much welcome time recouped.

The commute is one thing we’re all missing… said no-one ever.

Sam Moore

The commute is another one I’m sure we’re all missing, said no one ever. The extra 1.5 hours a day is great but I haven’t – yet – done what I need to do and use that time to get some exercise. I used to ride a bike to and from work. I actually feel guilty leaving my wife Katie to look after the kids between 8-9am, which would have been the time I was riding/commuting. To say: “Oi wife, you deal with the screaming, pooey baby and toddler ripping up the potplants, I’m off for a refreshing bike ride,” doesn’t quite feel right. Once I can figure out a way to return the favour, I will get onto this. 

But right now, with Katie likely to have to work from home and the kids’ childcare likely to close, we are figuring out a plan to manage this. Likely requesting a very flexible approach to working hours. 

I walk up the street and back once per day and it’s a little bit quiet. We have the same supermarket hoarding and elbow bumping that most of the world has, but a bit more sun than most. 

Sonja Berghman is based in Belgium as Head of Group Enterprise Networking Propositions at Damovo, a worldwide ICT provider. The company consults on, creates, maintains and strengthens company-wide networks, digital working, communication and collaboration – and is currently making it possible for thousands of companies and their employees  across the world to work from home. These are her experiences this week…

I’m writing this on the first day of “lockdown” in Belgium – which according to our government shouldn’t be named lockdown. Yes, marketing is always key – even in severe pandemic times.

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 Sonja is used to working from home.

I boot up my PC early in the morning. Today of course, my coffee is home-made, and there is no traffic to get through. Instead of the podcasts I normally listen to while I’m driving, it’s tempting to look at newspaper websites. In the last few days I’ve learned that a lot can change overnight.

The news is never boring now. These are scary, stressy, unimaginable times. But in a way, they are also revealing, especially when they show us how people react to all these unexpected changes. Management books claim that people struggle to adapt to change, but I see the opposite happening. It’s more like, When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going.

Belgian people are getting creative

People’s reactions have been creative. On the downside, there have been much frowned-upon lockdown parties. On the upside, people have built volunteering platforms to connect parents and elderly people with support. And many people are responding to calls to sew mouth masks – including prisoners, who want to do something positive for society.

There has been a successful call to collect all mouth masks still available at private companies – like construction companies – to supply our healthcare system. Even our king Filip personally arranged to import half million mouth masks through his personal relationship with Alibaba founder, Jack Ma. Anyone still questioning the value of our royal house? J Radio silence.

So far there are no huge changes in my personal daily life, although it generally feels less comfortable. When times were still normal – so three weeks ago – I worked often from home. That’s the advantage of working for an ICT integrator. It’s called drink your own champagne or eat your own dogfood (I prefer the first).

Everyone is going online

As you can imagine, our company is now being contacted continuously to provide teleworker solutions. We’re glad to help. We believe our services are highly valuable and we’re glad to share tips, tricks and best practice about communication, collaboration, enterprise networks and related topics like security.

There is now no need to persuade our customers of the pros and cons of teleworking. Instead, we’re using our time to actually help and deploy.

The main difference in my personal life now though is that I’m sharing my ‘home office’ and my internet bandwidth with my family.

A decent working internet connection is almost as valuable as food or toilet paper. I’m glad it can’t be hoarded.

Sonja Berghman

Technology holds us together

I’m thinking that today a decent working internet connection is almost as valuable as food or toilet paper. I’m glad it can’t be hoarded like the latter. It’s definitely your window to the world. For my teenage boy, a lockdown would only be a lockdown if the internet were locked down.

The morning goes fast, lots of conference calls as usual, only the calls start differently, asking about each other’s health, what the measures are in your specific country, making lots of assumptions about what will happen next while really nobody – even the experts – actually knows.

But it feels good to have a chat. A colleague of mine said talking to other people made him feel less like the ceiling would fall on his head. It shows we are social human beings, and technology is definitely helping today in this life need.

Taking a break

Noon, sun is shining, I take the time to have a quick 30-minute walk. This is the best alternative now that all sport centres are closed. At least the weather is on our side. It appears like a big thank you from Mother Nature for the drop of CO2 emissions that this lockdown has brought.

Dragging my teenager outside for a walk is challenging. He wouldn’t mind being locked down in front of his PC playing Fortnite 24/7 now that the schools are closed. The good thing is that his school announced they’re digital… Wow! Fantastic! A giant leap for Belgian education!

More people have the same lunchbreak idea. I see lots of people passing my window having a walk. Normally this happens only on a Sunday when there is like a walking rally. Neighbours are friendly, asking how you’re doing, respecting the “social distancing” of one metre. 

Although these are unforeseen, uncertain times, I see that most people are making good decisions, which is hopeful. Less individual thinking, lots of creativity, lots of mutual support – with family and friends strengthening contacts virtually. Stay healthy!!

Sophie Parissi is the co-founder of the Greek wedding and events company, Olive Hearts. She and her partner Helena Strani had been gearing up for peak business time. Since the crisis set in, they’ve been renegotiating arrangements with suppliers to make sure their clients still have fantastic celebrations when restrictions are lifted. Sophie describes her week here…

 Working from home in Athens.

Hello Wordtree from Athens! In Greece, as in all European countries, there are incidents of the virus. And although the number is still rather low, the normal hustle and bustle of Athens has slowed down greatly – due to strict measures government has taken to control the virus spread.

Up to now, homeworking has not been popular in Greece, so many of us are not used to it.

Sophie Parissi

Everyone is advised to stay at home, with a huge campaign reminding us all the time. Nearly everything is closed. Only supermarkets and pharmacies are open, and most businesses are working remotely or trying to find ways for people to work from their homes. Up to now, home working has not been very popular in Greece, so many of us are not used to it.

On the other hand, spring is here to stay, we have beautiful sunny days with nice breezes coming in our homes.

Olive Hearts is a wedding and events agency specialising in destination weddings and as you can probably understand, our business is one of the most affected by the virus crisis. 

The wedding period in Greece usually starts in April-May, and we have already worked for many months to organise events, make necessary bookings and be ready to go. Our customers – most of them from Europe – don’t know what to do. But we are offering reassurance.

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 Sophie’s home office.

There is no doubt, we are in a middle of a crisis, but we stay active and optimistic.

We continue working on projects as usual, with a few adjustments. We have negotiated with all our vendors to protect our customers’ interests. And we have reassured customers that their events will still take place when the restrictions are lifted. We have set dates to make a new assessment and be ready either to go on with their event, or to move it on a later date.

And of course, we stay at home and work from there. The silver lining from this whole mess is what it will teach us and make us stronger and more humane. So for now, stay at home and stay safe. And when this is all over, come and relax and celebrate in Greece.

If you’d like to share your lockdown experiences with us, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.