The world woke up to the news of a new pandemic called COVID-19. COVID-19 was like an eruption of a volcano where one feels the heat and impacts but cannot individually avert its spread and effects. It infected many people and killed several, and still does.
Ghana was not left out of this wave. On the 12th of March 2020, the country recorded its first case, followed with a partial lockdown by the Government, as part of measures to contain the spread. Other measures such as limiting of human contacts, closure of schools, restrictions on church activities/ social gatherings, wearing of face mask, washing of hands, and use of sanitizers were introduced. These measures brought some anxiety and discomfort to many, but it was necessary.
Lingering questions were flooding the mind. How was life ahead going to be managed? Was it going to have grievous effects on our lifestyles, economic and religious/ social activities? News of the impact of the pandemic in other countries such as Italy, United States of America and South Africa were worrying.
The United Nations (UN) in Ghana activated the teleworking modality for all staff to contain the spread in line with its business continuity plan. I woke up on the Friday, 13 March 2020 in the morning to be greeted with this teleworking news as a staff member of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). At first, I thought it was a simulation exercise. Truly, this arrangement has become part of our work life and one year on, one can count the benefits and the challenges.
Teleworking is helpful in so many ways such as avoiding both the morning and evening hours of traffic hassles on the roads and the benefits of being in a self-managed environment. Despite these benefits, it came with its own associated challenges.
I believe most staff like me have had to adapt to multi-tasking, from managing the regular eight hours with more workloads, to performing household duties, taking care of children as well as staying productive amidst distractions. This means being the corporate worker, teacher for kids, a medical assistant (as it becomes more dangerous going to the hospital for fear of exposure), 24-hour parent, spouse, and keep-fit supervisor for the family (as some in the family were putting on weight and had to be checked). It was indeed challenging times since one had to manage all these effectively and, in most cases, forego bedtime to be able to meet deadlines. There was no distinction between working hours and non-working hours, and personal well-being was mostly out of the daily equation. This therefore created the impression of being a workhorse, sometimes resulting in family conflicts. Appreciatively, this has consequently led to being more time-conscious, managing time well to avoid time wastage.
This new normal of teleworking birthed what is called “test of time”. It was really a period of testing one’s time management skills; when, where and how to execute what, to avoid being overloaded and stressed, whiles meeting delivery timelines to efficiently produce results.
In addition, the new normal was indeed a new way of life as one has to embrace more digital skills. The usual face to face meetings, physical interactions with colleagues as well as normal paperwork had to be quickly and smoothly replaced with online tools such as zoom, skype, teams, docusign, etc. to ensure the continuity of business. Here one had to learn how to use all these tools within the shortest possible time to be able to execute tasks.
Although colleagues were phone calls or emails away, one was not always assured of getting quick support anytime needed; as telephone lines could be busy, not available or even bad connectivity. Unlike previously, where one could just take few steps to seek advice and guidance from colleagues when needed, the only available help was to refer to UNDP programme and operations policies and procedures (POPP). Sometimes, one has to dig through the “thinking cup” or “experience bag” to solve pending issues. This is what I call the test of competence, as you need to exhibit your competence prowess, and be digitally savvy to handle pressing urgent issues.
This new normal also required a high level of proper management of resources provided for work. It is a test of resource management, as we needed to judiciously manage data and airtime provided by the Country Office.
With great leadership from senior management and supervisors who provided re-assuring and encouraging messages, and support from colleagues, this one-year teleworking period has been smooth. As the motto “we are in it together and we shall surely overcome together”.
Through all the changing scenes, I will say, as staff, we stood through the test of time, test of exhibiting competence and test of efficient resource management to support Ghana’s development ambitions towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).