Yesterday at noon France moved into the strictest phase of citizen restrictions to date to combat the existenial menace of the novel coronavirus. While certain people continue to work and supermarkets and pharmacies are still open, the majority of citizens are to stay home except for critical outings to buy food or go to work. Since the schools closed on Monday, many of us with kids have been at home anyway on double duty: work from home while parenting at home.
I am part of one third of the French workforce that can work from home. Managing digital strategies can be done anywhere, and there is nothing tangible about my job other than the products that we ultimately sell. But my two young boys (aged 4 and almost 1) are extremely tangible beings that cling to my back and legs constantly throughout the day. And the realities of the economy right now necessitate constant calls with different teams as we reroute investment and update plans with each new bit of information coming from the different fronts. Everyone and everything needs attention.
The coronavirus is rapidly becoming the primary challenge to face our generation, the most severe global crisis since the World Wars. I am lucky enough to be part of a generation that has never had to sacrifice anything. The mere idea that I can’t go where I want and buy what I want is so foreign that I’m still trying to get a handle on it. We are wholly unprepared from the necessary sacrifices that stemming the tide will entail. But we are getting used to it.
On the surface, it’s really not that bad. Being stuck at home for an undetermined period of time while having access to pretty much all food and the Internet is not the same thing as hiding in bunkers while bombs rained down or attics while Nazis searched homes. The sickness is real – and dangerous to some – but the quarantine is an adaptation of our freedoms that is fortunately absent from terror. Of course I worry about people in my family who are older and may be more at risk, but for the residents of my apartment, the challenge is in the adaptation and occupation of our kids while continuing to contribute to the business for which I work.
But the reality is that it is fucking hard. The kids are happy to stay home with no school, pajamas, cartoons every day, the ability to jump on papa or maman at any moment. The idea of being locked up with them in a small space for 45 days or more is more terrifying than the disease. And there are some facts that we are discovering:
- Nothing attracts a toddler like a keyboard, or headphones, or a mouse, or a work notebook…
- Turtlenecks help to keep earphones in ears during calls. It’s impossible to use headphones that are attached to a computer with kids around since they will just pull them out. I have switched to skype calls with my phone and the earbuds cable under my shirt and turtleneck so I can still semi-interact with the kids (on mute of course).
- You need a room dedicated to work. We outfitted our workshop so that it can be used as an office, which allows at least one of us to be in a place that is (sort of) free of distractions. It’s got a bit of a stylish bunker vibe so it fits with the times.
- Snacking is a bitch. Since we stocked up on food there is a ton of it laying around. Cookies, biscuits, chips… Resisting snacking is incredibly hard. I’ve started to make meals that are much smaller than usual to compensate, those dinosaur cookies are irresistable.
I like seeing all of these companies with everyone working remotely and the screenshots on Linkedin of teams that are spread out but working together. It’s inspiring, but there are some other facts that are going to become reality. First of all, many projects are going to fall by the wayside. This is not a bad thing, of course, I have often said that we are weighed down by nagging commitments that don’t necessarily contribute to the core business but we are engaged to complete them. The crisis and the cuts that we are making to the business is a chance to shed off this extra weight. It’s a chance to prioritize.
But the other side of working from home is that the separation of work and home is crumbling. For the people who often work from home they usual do so when the kids are at school and the business is functioning normally. The limits that you could normally cannot apply in this case. I said that I was going to work in the evening after the kids went to bed, but the demands of constant parenting led to ample day drinking and by the time the kids were asleep I was too drunk to get anything done.
Today is a new day, and already one of the kids is having a morning nap. I used the time between 8am and 9am to send critical emails. As we cut more and more media there will be less and less things to do, so there is solace in that. There is also solace in the fact that everyone is facing the same situation, so it’s not us against the world, it’s the world against a virus.
Humans – even entitled millenials – are experts in adaptation. But no one said that adaptation wasn’t painful.
Hang in there, humanity.