What I learnt in 60 days of staying at home

Coronavirus has changed the world completely. Death trackers on news channels seem to be as normal as showing the stock ticker. The images of suffering across the globe have left unforgettable impressions on the minds both young and old. Yet, amongst all the gloom and pain, there is a silver lining and a path to move forward and we are all hopeful that someday we will all emerge out of this global challenge and accept the realities of the new world that we will all live in.

As a resident of Seattle, we were amongst the first to witness the beginning of the pandemic in the US and I starkly remember the first weekend in March when the first US death occurred a few miles from us. Following that weekend, me and my family have stayed at home and it is now 60 days since then to help stop the spread of the virus. Isolation and breaking the normal routine has definitely been a challenge but adopting a growth mindset in this environment has helped me learn a lot.

Personal front

On a personal front, it started with the feeling of helplessness. Having family spread across the globe and realizing that you have no way of being physically there with them in this stressful time was difficult. At the same time, the unfortunate time also became a great unifying factor for everyone as we spent a lot of time talking to each other, doing video chats and celebrating virtual birthdays.

At home, the positives were certainly around the fact that we were always together as a family and I cherish every moment I could spend with my wife and son while doing simple things of having meals, going for walks in the neighborhood, watching movies and cooking ( https://www.trylearngrow.com/category/recipes/ ) . We also spend good quality time with friends whom we had not talked for a while and sharing our anxiety with each other certainly became a powerful bonding moment.

As you might know, I am quite passionate about fitness and I was able to keep it up using home workouts from BeachBody on demand (think Netflix of workouts). Both me and my wife kept up with our home fitness routine and was a great stress / anxiety buster for us. On weekends we used to tune into live workouts being streamed by the local gym on Facebook to add some variety.

The biggest negative on the personal side was having to cancel all our planned family vacations but we are hopeful those will get back to normal in a few months / years. In the grand scheme of things it is a very first world problem and something we are absolutely ok giving up. Health of our family and others always takes precedence and I am sure there will some “virtual vacation” companies starting up soon.

Work Front

On the work side, I felt a deep sense of gratitude. Seeing the hardships people around the world are facing due to the economic impact of the disease, I was really thankful and felt blessed with the jobs we have. Transitioning to working from home was frankly quite seamless. Having the power of Microsoft technology already setup for us was a blessing. It took a while to get used to being in front of a camera the whole day for video meetings but I found a new normal in those. Here are a few tips:

  1. Having a dedicated work area is critical, we are fortunate enough to have physical space for all of us within our home to work / study independently.
  2. Use a good quality headset so that it does not sound like you are in a freight train on a windy day
  3. Turn on video for 1:1 and smaller meetings. For larger meetings where you are not presenting, turn off video and walk around to keep the body energized.
  4. Don’t be embarrassed if your child / spouse / pet walks into the room during an important meeting. We are all human and all in this together.
  5. Stick to the same timings as if you were working in a “real office”, it is very tempting to use your regular commute time as extra work time
  6. Have empathy for the people you are working with. Everyone is going through their own set of personal challenges and sticking to normal work times, rhythms etc. is not practical at all

My work family at Microsoft feels more closer than ever. We have setup random chats where we post non work related stuff, had fun online events and Kahoot games, virtual happy hours where we all shared a drink with the same virtual background and many such activities. Intentionally creating these moment of connections is more important than regular work. Being an empathetic leader in this time of stress is even more critical as people need each other to lean on and move forward together.

An anxiety filled week

This last week was a challenging one. Out of the blue, I suddenly fell ill and felt very tired and feverish. At the start of it, I was scared of the worst and it was quite an anxiety filled week. I spoke to an online doctor who suggested that I should assume I have coronavirus and treat it as such by isolating myself at home and getting tested. I experienced first hand what a drive through coronavirus test looks like and you can take my word that it is not a comfortable test to take.

My symptoms were definitely not in line with the virus so I was not too worried but there was a lingering thought in my mind – “what if?” After a few days of resting and waiting for my test results I came to know that they were negative. That corroborated with how I felt as the resting was certainly helping. However, as I get better, it is quite unsettling to know that this can happen anytime, to anyone and at a moments notice and the worst part, you can’t really do much about it. Even a common and benign viral illness like the one I had, can result in a lot of anxiety!

It was great to have support from family, friends and my work family to allow me to take the time off, rest and recover. Hoping to back to 100% next week.

Random Musings

Here are some random things which I experienced in these 60 days of staying home, because if you are reading my blog you certainly have a lot of random time:

  1. My son is able to compress 7 hours of school work in 30 minutes, I wonder what happens in school for the rest of the time?
  2. Cleaning the house gives me a lot of joy, the Marie Kondo type of joy
  3. I had never watched all the star wars movies and am on a quest to complete the series during the stay home orders
  4. Looking for online grocery delivery spots has the potential to turn into a competitive sport
  5. Tiger King series on Netflix is a wonderful way to realize the extent of the bubble you live in, the world is a strange place
  6. Video chats are amazing with the easy of technology like Skype, Teams, Zoom, FaceTime and WhatsApp
  7. Someone built a website to estimate how long your current hoarding of toilet paper will last: https://howmuchtoiletpaper.com/
  8. Building dominoes are hard, check out my son’s work here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYM8YmL_kKq2CCIEhTqItXA
  9. Coffee and wine are equally important drinks and the Dalgona coffee hype is legit.
  10. Hair cutting is a skill I do not possess and should be left to professionals

Looking forward

Predicting the future is hard in general but looking forward in these uncertain times is even harder. I intend to listen to the science (http://www.healthdata.org/) and follow the guidance ( https://www.gatesnotes.com/Health/Pandemic-Innovation ) set by experts in the government and private sector. I am hopeful that the best minds of the world are working hard and will be able to find an effective vaccine against coronavirus soon. Till then please continue being positive, wash your hands and show your gratitude to all the health workers, first line workers, grocery delivery people and millions of others who are helping all of us get by every day.