UN Staff under COVID-19 quarantine
9 Apr 2020

Since 16 mars all UNOG staff have been requested to work from home. Here are their views and thoughts on full-time telecommute.

A couple weeks ago our lives changed overnight. As Italy was experiencing ever-growing death toll our management decided it was safer for everyone in our Organization to work from home. The biggest problem for most was that people were unprepared for the drastic change, had to hastily go back to the office to collect equipment, data and personal effects and never had the time to adapt to the new situation. Luckily for some of us telecommuting has been a part of our lives for a while and transition was not as difficult. I have been telecommuting over a year, I have the right to do so twice a week under normal circumstances, however, despite the comfort of working from home, on most weeks, I choose to come to the office full-time. Current situation we are in, forcibly working from home now, often makes me think about the full-time telecommute.

As we inexorably head towards changes in how we live and work globally, due to many reasons in addition to the current outbreak, telecommuting is being considered an integral part of the new way. Heading along, however, we are in danger of forgetting the importance of Office community spirit and forfeiting our ability to ‘read between the lines’, picking up the nuances in social dynamics that enable us to serve our clients better and work with our colleagues more efficiently. For those reasons I believe going hundred percent virtual would be absolutely catastrophic for our people-centred Mission. As appealing as working from home full-time is, we mustn’t forget our Organization is a living and breathing entity and not a virtual room where clicks count more than words. As an ex-gamer I have an idea of how the latter works.

In addition to the benefits of social distancing, so obvious in view of the imminent danger we are all facing, we must consider the downsides, the lack of social accountability, inevitable ease of completely misunderstanding each other while being unable to read the ever-important non-verbal language and the fact that we may unavoidably grow apart as a community, which I firmly believe is a key strength of our Office and the Organization at large.

I believe, in the months and years to come, change is inevitable, however, we must do the absolute necessary to let staff come and contribute to our work on-site as much as we can and let the community spirit continue. Palais des Nations is our home and we must make every effort to keep it.

Matija Potocnik (UNOG)

Une journée de travail à domicile

J’avais souvent ramené du travail à la maison le week-end. Mais là, c’est ma toute première expérience de travailler depuis la maison à plein temps. Il m’a fallu définir mon cadre de travail et donc réaménager un espace professionnel. C’est une chance d’être avec de grands enfants en termes de dérangement. C’était mon espace.

J’ai également défini mes horaires de travail, et j’avoue qu’au début je pensais que cela allait être facile. Mais avec le temps, j’ai découvert qu’il fallait aussi une certaine discipline. Cela dit, je ne voulais pas non plus être dans la contrainte. Pas facile tout ça. Alors on est dans le rituel, d’abord le café du matin. Face à mon ordinateur, je commence à scruter le courriel, échanger par téléphone avec les collègues en cas de besoin, répondre par ordre prioritaire au courriel (montrer qu’on est bien présente au poste de travail. Je réponds aux messages des collègues, je n’hésite pas à appeler par téléphone pour m’assurer que la chaine de coordination est bien maintenue et que l’information circule. Tout en guettant l’arrivée de nouveaux messages, je profite pour trouver une nouvelle réorganisation professionnelle, mettre à jour ma boite d’archivage électronique.

Arrive midi, heure de pause. Ensuite la reprise ! Les nouveaux courriels, les nouvelles demandes. L’après-midi est rythmé par ces échanges entre collègues. Je m’octroie mon « Tea-time », une pause entre cuisine et espace de travail et un passage au balcon ! Et hop, on se remet au travail. Ce qui me manque : le bruit matinal du milieu professionnel, les pas dans les couloirs, direction la cafétéria, ces interminables salutations du matin, les petits incidents du matin qu’on se raconte entre collègues …etc. Il me tarde d’arriver à 18 heures, l’heure de la libération (rires).

Working from home – the concept versus the reality!

For years, I always thought working from home must be so relaxing.  I have in the past availed myself to the possibility of working from home one day a week and found it really beneficial.  I could accomplish so much, it was quiet, no interruptions, no commute etc. plus if I needed to have someone like a plumber  to come, I could arrange for them to come on that day – what a luxury 😊  Kids were in school all day, they came home around 16.45 and I could give them my full attention, so much more relaxing than the normal: dash home during rush hour, start making dinner, help with homework etc…   But now finding myself thrown into a situation where I am at home all day, every day- trying to work, home-school kids – whose motivation is becoming less by each day that passes, dealing with the sibling squabbles as they are starting to become bored being ‘locked in’ is  such a completely different situation.  This morning I had to look at my agenda – I couldn’t remember if it was Tuesday or Wednesday, every day is the same.  I miss my colleagues discussing issues, virtual conversations are really not the same.  In conclusion, I am looking forward to life getting back to normal.  This is really not what I imagined working from home would be like.

Experience of working from home

I have always tried to keep my work away from home, so it was very unsettling at first. As children began their online schooling, schoolteachers sent clear instructions not to leave the children unattended in front of their computers, which meant additional responsibility for parents. Telecommuting has been widely promoted within the organization, and despite calls for flexibility in expectations of outputs from staff in the current situation, my concern is that the current situation may be increasingly considered as an opportunity for its full enforcement. The sudden upsurge in email exchanges and virtual meetings should be carefully weighed against the situational stress, uncertainty and anxiety staff members are currently facing. Staff are already struggling to complete their ongoing tasks, in addition to new tasks in developing and implementing the organization’s response to the pandemic. Senior managers should exercise compassionate leadership and not introduce new programming processes, in view of the extraordinary environment we are in.

Only now I appreciate.

Every now and then, I saw a colleague of mine greeting his office when he comes in in the morning. He also pays careful attention to the plants he set up in his office.

There is nothing excessive in his gestures by any mean, but it always struck me as a genuine acknowledgment of appreciation of his space which, I presume, he considers an integral factor of his job delivery. I have always considered each person has his/her own method to optimal job delivery which is more or less contingent on the workspace and that there are as many methods as there are human beings.

Well, teleworking did away with my delusion. Although the nature of my work technically lends itself to be self-reliant and not dependent on a location, provided of course a virtual private network connection, I find myself in dire need of a proper workspace instead of a makeshift one. I now appreciate the fact that a proper office space provides me not only with the needed logistical tools to deliver my job but also secures for me a natural psychological disposition to perform that I don’t need to manufacture elsewhere.

I am one of those essential staff. I use it to come to my office while exercising all the needed precautions and responsibilities.

So, hello my office and hello my plant. I hope you did not miss me much and you won’t miss me for longer.

* This article is brought to you by UN Today.
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Study for a British university degree in Geneva