Home Office in Quarantine

Up to now, some of my colleagues have worked from home because they wanted to do it themselves (and sometimes their managers had to be convinced). Those who received management blessing then took special care to appear just as professional from home as from the office – or even more professional. The webcam background was checked for telltale elements that could allow conclusions to be drawn about private life, and any acoustic disturbances were also eliminated. It is better to sweat with the window closed than to risk the noise of the nearby carnival penetrating through the phone.

And all this is – at least in my experience – suddenly quite different…

The company I work for has more than 10,000 employees worldwide, and the vast majority have been working at home for a few weeks – as have most of their customers and partner companies. Everywhere this had to be done quickly and without long preparation times, and in families where the children also have to stay at home, the organizational challenges are already so great that there is hardly any energy left to think about the photo of grandpa or the collection of Coldplay concert tickets on the wall, which can now be seen at every conference call.

In the last few weeks I have noticed that contact with colleagues and also with customers has become more personal as a result. With some clients I’ve known for years, I now know the names of the children (“Brenda, I saw that! That is already your third Coke today! What did I tell you?”), that their mother lives in the household or similar details. And those who are blessed with a good memory for details can score points by asking at the next call whether the cast on the son’s arm has come off again…

Pets often call in too. The dog barks, the cats are loudly offended because their human staff has other interests, or the budgie warbles happily to accompany the conversation. And when the customer with the dreaded temperament is repeatedly screeched at by his parrot during his tirade of insults (“I love you! I love you!”), I really have to wipe the grin off my face.

A colleague of mine said: “I never wanted to work at home, because I know that the cats will make a fuss and can be heard on the phone. Now I think to myself: it wasn’t my idea, I follow the instructions of the government and companies, and if the cats riot, they riot…” Apparently, it makes people more relaxed about small everyday mishaps if they themselves are not responsible for the home office situation. In addition, many people have enough to think about and deal with the new challenges of the pandemic situation. The willingness to get upset about “little things” is clearly decreasing. 

I myself do not have any pets, but I do have a husband who has the tendency to whistle at himself while thinking without noticing. Among the colleagues I talk to on the phone very often, “the whistler” has already become a permanent fixture – they are always very curious whether this time the whistling is in the background or not (- and which song).

Despite all the misery that the Corona crisis is causing for so many people – this one little aspect of communication from home office to home office really appeals to me. Then at least there will be something positive about it when we think back to this time afterwards.

German original text: BBR
English translation: BCO


Author: bbr

Hello, I am Beate Brinkman, the bbr.harlekin. I am editor and author for Harlekin.Blog e.V. and my “main job” is support coordinator in an international IT company. So far I have worked in German, Dutch, American and Indian companies and have acquired a great deal of experience of multicultural cooperation. I have been living in the Netherlands as a German for many years and have discovered that the cultural differences between Germans and Dutch alone could fill entire books. For professional and private reasons, I am particularly interested in multicultural (mis)understanding. Whether it’s about food, language, official conference calls or the organisation of funerals – when the cultures of several countries collide, things get lively. And that leads to sometimes unpleasant, often very funny, but always instructive situations.

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