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COVID World - 7-ish months in

It is day 225 or 7 months and 11 days since the COVID-19 pandemic sent us home to work.

At first, it was new. Exciting. Different. S**t just got real and we were going to hunker and bunker down to power through and keep going despite the pandemic. As we scattered to the winds, we were more together than ever. 

We spun up Slack channels that were dedicated to our remote work setups and our pets. We shared where we were, where we were working and how we were working. We shared how our pets helped us, hindered us, or just were. We all shared the memes, jokes, and laughs about not knowing what day it actually was, how long since we’ve worn shoes, and the differences between our day and night pajamas.

We were not just a company’s employees; we were a community. 

Time moves inexorably and things change. There are fewer and fewer reactions to posts in the various “working together apart” channels. As the malaise sets in, many start to leave the more socially focused channels at work. We stay in the ones we “must” be in but few, if any, extra. Some of the more gregarious humans continue to reach out to friends and colleagues to “socialize” but start to notice that fewer and fewer are reaching the other way so they start to not reach out themselves. Eventually communications just to say “hi” are all but extinct leaving only terse work-related conversations in their wake. 

The community, for many, is no longer. We have tasks to do and we do them. Some of them are our own list of “things to do” and others are handed to us but... we do tasks. We do not talk.  

Exacerbating this narrowing of life is the rest of the world around us.

For many who had been working from home for years ahead of this, they thought they finally would be vindicated. Now all would see the joys and panacea of life that remote work gives. Remote workers loved working remotely because time wasn’t lost getting to and from a “place” and productivity wasn’t lost to superfluous meetings/conversation for all that the social construct was tighter. It left more time for the business of life and not just the business of work. Sadly, however, that panacea succumbed to the pandemic and there isn't a panacea, currently, to be enjoyed. 

What is left is a small world where one cannot remember the last time they left home or what they did as the sheer sameness of what is left available (whether safely or by statute) is extremely limited. We start to feel like the characters in dark science fiction movies where the protagonist moves through a tiny little life with little to no variation and addresses things on a list that arrive namelessly or are “just things you do”. 

  1. Get up  
  2. Do stuff  
  3. Eat stuff  
  4. Go to sleep  
  5. Repeat  

While this cycle is difficult enough, for others it may be worse, even in an office populated largely by socially conscious and caring people. The “quiet ones” typically were kept in the fold by being physically around others and, as such, in people’s social worlds. Perhaps a person is an outlier older person in a company largely populated by younger humans and included where they otherwise would be ignored due to “being there”. The physical proximity nature is now gone and, with it, the implicit connections that occurred organically are gone. Even now, one of those humans might be looking at each of the communication methods they still have available hoping for someone to have reached out, seeing nothing, and won’t themselves reach out for fear of being seen as a pest.  

When all this started, many took umbrage at the term “social distancing”. “No!” we cried. “We are physically distancing and the wonders of the modern age are keeping us socially together!”. Unfortunately, however, many of the “outlier” groups, as exampled above, have already seen true “social” distancing in action and are “outside”. Some others might even now be seeing cracks in the social construct. Some luckier ones to whom humans gravitate to like moths to light may be fine. 

Adding insult to injury is... 2020. As a colleague very succinctly put it, “2020 has been largely devoid of good memories; just losses.” With a news cycle that is one slap in the face after another, those now socially distanced to the outside are carrying the burden alone or perhaps in the process of socially digging a hole to jump into and pull it in after them as protection. They might find themselves brought to tears over small things or even nothing. It could even be guilt tears from being sent home to work as opposed to just being sent home and... “good luck to you”. Maybe they were, stupidly, listening to Pandora station “New Age Instrumental Radio” and, even more stupidly, didn’t immediately hit stop, change station, or rip the earbuds out of their ears when “Beauty of Grace” played. Who knows. 

After 225 days, for many with no breaks in a tiny routine and with none visible, if one might be outside a social construct of some sort, it is a grinding, mean little existence. These humans might be getting by OK but could do with a “Hi, how you doin’” break. It is probably time to do the next thing past the manic little pet and remote workspace channels or awkward Zoom happy hours and be social again just to be... social. 

Find a human. Talk to that human. Preferably about something silly. It’s time. 

19 comments

Thanks for sharing your thoughts @Mike Rathwell - thoughts shared by many but not so eloquently communicated.

Mike Rathwell Community Leader Oct 27, 2020

Thank you @Kat Warner _TechTime_ . I am glad to hear that I am not, in fact, the only one feeling this way. 

Like FUN MAN ANDY likes this
Jimmy Seddon Community Leader Oct 27, 2020

@Mike Rathwell this was such an awesome read!  Please continue to write more articles, we will definitely benefit from them.

Like FUN MAN ANDY likes this
Mike Rathwell Community Leader Oct 28, 2020

Thanks @Jimmy Seddon . I am glad the maundering of my tiny brain was meaningful to you. Now that I have made the proverbial toe dip to the mythical water, I may well be back with more at some point.

Esther Strom Community Leader Oct 29, 2020

@Mike Rathwell Thank you so much for writing this. I'm one of those introverts who used to get my fill of social interaction by being in an office, where off-topic conversation occurred organically at the water cooler or coffee maker. There was a lot of joking at the start of the pandemic that people like me should be fine with being socially isolated because it's in our nature anyways, but I sometimes feel like we're in a worse place than extroverts. People who have always needed human contact are the ones who are keeping active with the Zoom happy hours, Zoom baby showers, etc. Those of us who used to enjoy being alone after a day at work are now just alone, period. 

You've encouraged me to try to start reaching out more, even though scheduled chats are awkward. 

Like # people like this

@Esther Strom I am glad I could help in some tiny way. I am only a hair's breadth different; I am a gregarious introvert if that makes any sense at all.

Whilst at the office, I didn't tend to have to go "looking" for a conversation; they either pointedly stopped by on their way past or, like you, they happened organically. Some commented they found my cheerfully optimistic deep dark cynicism to be entertainingly refreshing.

The days now are often quite... quiet. 

Like Esther Strom likes this
nina_schmidt Community Leader Oct 29, 2020

Thanks for sharing that with us, @Mike Rathwell ! 💙
I am pretty sure many feel and think like you - I am! It really feels like everybody is thinking only about himself / herself thesedays. 
 

Thank you @nina_schmidt . I am no longer just "pretty sure" but "certain" that many feel like this based on comments both here and on LinkedIn as well as many DMs from a broad cross-section of readers. As I have mentioned to others, I am always happy to talk about something, talk about nothing, or have a brilliant exchange of utter nonsense as the need arises :)

Like nina_schmidt likes this

Thank you for this, not only does it resonate with me, I've sent this url to a few people today and they've said that while it's bad to hear people are feeling this way, it's actually good to know people working in totally different circumstances and fields are with you.  We're not alone.

Like Esther Strom likes this
Mike Rathwell Community Leader Oct 29, 2020

Thanks @Nic Brough _Adaptavist_ . I am glad my tiny maunderings are helpful to you and that you find them good enough to share with other humans.

Between this posting and the same article on LinkedIn, I think that this is rather more endemic than first thought.

Like Nic Brough _Adaptavist_ likes this

It was very helpful.  It was not "tiny maunderings", it was "a good view on the way another human is feeling and thinking" andI wanted to tell you that it's appreciated by people outside the Atlassian ecosystem as well as us inside it!

Like Mike Rathwell likes this

It is so good and clear. It looks like you are describing all of us!

Like # people like this
Mike Rathwell Community Leader Oct 30, 2020

The comments and thoughts about this article shared here and many other places are both an honor and humbling.

As I alluded to in the article, I am indeed "OK" as, I think, are all of us but we do find the general suckage of the situation to be rather large. Reflecting on the responses I've gotten with the article and privately, I hope two things:

  1. This is a sad situation we find ourselves in and feel rather... bad/sad/mad about it but we are OK and it's also OK to feel all those things about our world today.
  2. While it may be a sisyphean task, look for those humans to talk to and find some ways to laugh. While it very definitely dates me (best before date is long in the rear view mirror), Reader's Digest had a whole section, "Laughter is the Best Medicine".
Like Esther Strom likes this
Esther Strom Community Leader Oct 30, 2020

I'm picturing General Suckage as the military officer who planned all of the events of 2020 without listening to any of the negative feedback from his underlings 😣

(I remember Reader's Digest, too, so I'm joining you in my rocking chair.)

Like Mike Rathwell likes this
Mike Rathwell Community Leader Oct 30, 2020

@Esther Strom, I have not seen the dumpster fire with extra hobos that 2020 is expressed simultaneously so colorfully and succinctly before.

That should be a meme.

Like Nic Brough _Adaptavist_ likes this

I'm liking the description "dumpster fire with extra hobos", but I'd like to add a bit more.  Not sure what, but things like "being the subject of a hacked drone strike" and "nuked by an idiotic or evil leader of a big country in order to make themselves more popular" spring to mind.  (It's even more scary that my list of those leaders is now almost 10, when for most of my life, it's never gone over 3)

Like Mike Rathwell likes this
Mike Rathwell Community Leader Oct 30, 2020

OR, @Nic Brough _Adaptavist_ watching things unfold in horror that used to only be in countries we heard of as being monstrously corrupt regimes and then realizing we are living in one... 

@Mike RathwellI cannot find a way to agree with you more.

Like Mike Rathwell likes this
Liam Green Community Leader Nov 02, 2020

As England is about to enter another lockdown, all of this seems more relevant than ever.

I wouldn't say I was introverted as such, just quite anti-social in most situations.  I'm not really one for video calls, or scheduled conversation in general - but I recognise how lucky I am to live with people and work with a 'Teams-active' team, so when I think about friends, family and co-workers who might not I do try and reach to them.  Sometimes I do it using something else as an 'in' (e.g. start off as a work conversation), but if I can turn it into something social then I will.

@Mike Rathwell - keep writing your thoughts, it was really in depth and a welcome break on what is a rather dull Monday afternoon!

Like Flavien Gache likes this

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