So close yet so far: COVID-19 isolation
Rosalind Rossouw of the IFoA’s Diversity Advisory Group reflects on different experiences of lockdown during the global coronavirus crisis.
I have been reflecting on the diversity of experiences over lockdown recently. My own situation is unusual in that I have been working from home since mid-January due to a sporting injury.
Working from home
One of the biggest challenges I have observed from conversations with colleagues and others in my network is how they have adapted their working lives to home. Our understanding of ‘home’ has been complicated: do we now work where we live or live where we work?
This ambiguity has made it difficult to strike a balance between the personal and the professional. For many with children, the lockdown has meant that home schooling, parenting, and conference calling have all had to take place on the same kitchen table, often at the same time.
I have also seen examples on social media of students making the most of their single room flat by repurposing their ironing board as a desk.
For me, it has not been as difficult, because my injury required me to become accustomed to working from home long before the lockdown was put in place. At the same time, the lockdown coincided with the start of my planned return to the office, so having only just shifted my mindset back to ‘normality’, I had to return to isolation.
Closer in isolation
Isolation has promoted relationships to the top of my personal and professional priority lists.
My friendship circle is spread across the globe – I grew up in South Africa and some of my friends have migrated while others have stayed. More recently, we have spent time reconnecting online – something that would not have happened were it not for the lockdown. Although they are on the other side of the world, we have never felt as close as we do today.
I never expected that I would make new connections during lockdown, but I have found that conversations, even sometimes with a delivery driver, are more authentic than before. The greeting ‘how are you?’ is no longer pro forma, but is asked sincerely.
I have also observed that people with common interests are connecting on a grander scale. Examples of the great value people place on the connections they have with others can be seen in those who have adapted their social routines to now participate online in virtual pub quizzes, choirs, and exercise classes.
At the same time, this extended period of forced household-isolation has resulted in many who are closest physically being pushed further apart emotionally. The lockdown has precipitated a spike in domestic violence and abuse, and posed unique challenges for those who suffer with addiction and mental illness.
An opportunity or a challenge
Through sharing my thoughts with others, I have noticed how different things matter to different people. Some have revelled in their time off work by improving their homes, pursuing new hobbies, or sculpting their physique so they will be ‘beach-ready’ when the time comes.
By contrast, many others are preoccupied with securing life’s necessities, navigating the daily challenge of working on the front line, or in mourning following the loss of a loved one. While the predicament of lockdown has been shared, the experience has been decidedly personal.
I believe that empathy for colleagues and peers has to be prioritised at this time.
I would like to encourage people managers to reflect carefully on the necessity during this period of performance reviews, difficult conversations, and feedback. If they could be deferred until a more opportune time, they should be.
The same goes for deadlines.
Finally, we should ask our staff whether there is anything we can do to support them beyond the narrow confines of work.
This is an unusual time for everyone, and it has never been more important to ensure that morale remains high.