Robin de Voh
writer, developer, nerd


By Robin de Voh on 2020-04-21

"I feel like I'm slow compared to others, like I'm not working hard enough, or that I'm behind on everything," Jeremiah said.

He was in a conference call with Kay, a more experienced team member than him, who he had asked to stick around after the morning stand-up meeting, to talk about something personal that was weighing on his mind.

"I dunno, when we talk about what we've done, I always feel like I've got the least to say."

They had been working from home for about a month now, and he had gone through the first few stages of the 5 stages of quarantine grief. He had denied it, 'It'll be over soon'. He had been angry at it, 'This is bullshit! How can they expect us...'. He had bargained, 'I'll have more time for other things now, like reading, or sport. It's not so bad...'.

He was now at the depression stage.

Kay laughed, and then she nodded.

"You do realize we all feel that way, right?"
"...No?" Jeremiah stammered, looking confused.
"Oh boy, do we," Kay said, still smiling.

"We're all way less productive than we normally are. Separation of work and life is based on what, where you're sitting in your house? 'This couch is for weekends' and 'this chair is for work'?"
"Well, maybe, I do work some weekends..."
"Okay, so first off you're going to stop doing that. More time won't make you more productive if you're already stressed about your productivity."

Kay grabbed her coffee mug and took a sip.

"So you feel the same way?" he asked.
"Sure!" Kay said, raising an eye brow as if to emphasize how utterly logical that was. "I have days where I say I'll deep dive into an issue, but really I deep dive into the couch cushions for an hour."
"Huh, so you're not really working all the time?"
"Of course not, my chair here sucks, my neck and shoulders hurt all the time. I take breaks, I play a game, watch a video, something to take my mind off of things. Normally I'd have a chat near the coffee machine, but that's gone."

She looked over her shoulder, towards what Jeremiah assumed was the kitchen.

"Nope, nobody there," she said as she turned back towards the camera.

Jeremiah looked at his couch, which he had used less than he probably could or should have. He'd set up his desk to work from home almost identical to his work setup, and had laid out his days to be as similar to a day in the office as possible.

He hadn't known Kay for very long, but when he looked back to the screen, something he had suspected was confirmed. When Kay was dealing with something she didn't like, he had thought she had a tell. A signal that showed her discontent. Her left eyelid would twitch a little.

He hadn't really seen Kay be uncomfortable during all of this. She'd seemed like the person who kept her head cool and just got shit done, always.

"Guess being stuck in your home the whole time isn't all that fun for you either, huh?" he eventually said, daring a guess.
"No shit, Jeremiah. The only real face I see every day is in the mirror and by now I'd punch it if I wasn't so afraid of pain."

Kay sighed, shook her head, and her smile returned.

"But we're in this situation for the right reasons, that helps keep me focused on staying positive," she said. "And you should also remember, we're the lucky ones, because we can still work, and we don't have to put ourselves at risk to do so."

Jeremiah nodded, a little somberly as well, thinking of those working in the hospitals and supermarkets. But she was right. He still had a job, and even if things weren't perfect, he should consider himself lucky.

"The one thing I had to accept, and I think you do too," Kay said, pausing for another sip of coffee, "is that this is not a day at the office at home. It is different, and it will stay different, at least while it lasts. Why would you try to keep everything the same in a situation that can't be the same? That's just asking for frustration."
"Hm. I also heard keeping your daily routine similar would be helpful."
"Similar, yes, for a sense of normalcy. But there's a limit to everything, and that's a balance you'll have to find."

Jeremiah sighed, realizing that she was probably right.

"Okay, so you and I have this. How do you know others do?"
"You're not the first to talk to me about this, buddy."

Kay looked straight into the camera with a playful grin.

"Now that we're online, how do you think we all act? We all know only one way to act online with nobody being able to figure out what's really happening beyond what we share."
"I... I'm not sure what you mean."
"Try. What do we all do online, and only online, which skews people's perceptions of each other?"

Jeremiah thought for a second and then he knew.

"Social media," he said, grinning as he did.

Kay nodded enthusiastically. In the meantime, thoughts about the link between social media and the online working from home situation were rapidly making connections in Jeremiah's head.

"People don't show how they spent their Friday night eating pizza alone. They don't show how they looked at high school pictures that one Sunday afternoon and realized how many of their dreams they never achieved."
"Right, they only really share the good, or at least, the things that can look good."

Kay laughed.

"We all have our low points. We all suck at our jobs sometimes. It's just easier to share the highs than it is to share the lows. You're not special in that sense, Jeremiah."

Jeremiah laughed.

"I guess so," he said. "I guess I'll try to worry less and focus on just trying to do the best I can, then."
"Exactly. That's all anyone's asking for now."
"Alright, thanks."
"No problem. If you ever worry about things like this again, just come talk to me, alright?"
"Will do, this really helped. Thanks again."

He almost clicked the disconnect button on the call but stopped himself.

"Those examples of the low points we don't share on social media? The Friday night pizza and stuff?"

Kay took another sip of her coffee.

"Were those examples from your life?"

Kay nearly choked on her coffee and coughed.

"Jeremiah, we don't need to talk about that, okay?"
"Right, got it," he said quickly, waved bye to Kay, and hit disconnect.

He sighed and looked at the clock.

Maybe he should take a short break.

I've had these kind of conversations with coworkers, but also with friends, and in some instances it was me asking for help, and sometimes it was me offering help. We're all learning new things currently, and that's kind of the point. We need to be there for each other, spread the knowledge we're gathering and try to keep everyone as motivated and connected as possible.

Stromae has a song about the aspect of social media I refer to, that shows well how distorted the illusion of social media can be, don't let it get you: Stromae - Carmen.