I can still recall the day the government announced that the National Capital Region and the entire Luzon would be put under enhanced community quarantine starting on March 17, 2020. It was the biggest curveball thrown at us. The uncertainties marking those first few days of the lockdown were just too much to process. But in a way, I was excited for the opportunity to work from home. I surely would not miss being stuck in the horrendous Manila traffic four hours a day. Besides, I thought then, the quarantine could probably be over in a few weeks.
During the first month of the quarantine, there was a mixture of anxiety and excitement in our household. Anxiety because of the lingering uncertainty, and excitement because we were given a month to try this new setup. For most people I know, there was a general pre-pandemic clamor to allow people to work from home. A month later, some were enjoying the experience while others were missing their office environment. A few even got locked down away from their families. Our time was quickly consumed by what we previously considered as basic tasks. It took us more time to plan and buy our basic necessities. We began to realize how complicated grocery shopping had become. Hospital visits and dental checkups became risky. Religious activities, birthday parties and graduations were all canceled. We had to make significant adjustments on how we go through our daily lives. I am sure that for those involved in their organization’s business continuity plans, there was a gazillion calls made during this time, as everybody was trying to check on their people and make adjustments on the fly.
The lockdown was then extended to a second month. The hope of resuming normal activities soon was fading. As we continued to feel increasing pressure to make things work in this new setup, we realized we also lost certain activities that served as our coping mechanisms. Activities that seemed very ordinary were no longer possible for us. There were no more water-cooler chit-chats with our colleagues, no more ranting over coffee with our office besties, no more dinners with friends, no more looking at your left and seeing a friend who can listen to your frustrations. For those like me who were working from home, we were stuck indoors. Our residence now serves as both our battle arena and peace zone. It was difficult separating our work from other aspects of our lives. This is the ultimate work-life integration. Besides having to deal with the lack of physical separation of work from our personal space, the distinction between work hours and off-work ones became blurrier. Being “on” for work 24/7 was starting to take its toll.
Restrictions were eased when the lockdown entered its third month. More industries resumed their activities. By this time, stress levels probably increased already. Stress levels from work — if you still have one — probably increased as we continued to adjust to working remotely or at very limited capacity (I could just imagine the stress levels for those who lost their jobs or businesses). Also, there was the stress felt because of our own personal circumstances being affected by the pandemic. We were seriously becoming more concerned about the health of our family, about frontliners among our loved ones or even about the security of our jobs. By this time, my kids started to feel trapped inside the house. They have not been able to step out of our gates for almost three months. One of their requests during my commute to the office was to videocall them so they can see the “outside world.”
Over the last two months — during which “Sorry, my internet is bad” became the new “Sorry, traffic was bad” — as the number of Covid-19 cases in the Philippines continues to rise, we have come to feel the bleakness of the situation even more. We have been switching between different types of quarantines that I frankly could no longer tell what is allowed or not. I may not be as physically tired as before, but I am surely mentally and emotionally exhausted. We had a lot to reflect on these past months. We had to make some really painful decisions. We had a number of difficult conversations.
How we responded to the pandemic may be far from perfect. Hopefully, a lot of growing up happened during this time. I sure hope all of us now better understand who we are and what we truly value.
Five months and counting. Each one of us have experienced difficult circumstances during these past five months. Some have it worse than others. For most of us, this phase in our lives tested our patience. Hopefully, we are now more understanding of other people might be going through. It tested our contentment. Hopefully, we are now more grateful of what we continue to have. It tested our resolve. Hopefully, it made us more determined to do better.
Anton Ng is a partner of the Audit and Assurance Division of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is ons of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines with 24 partners and more than 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @GrantThorntonPH. “Like” us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton. Email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. For more information, visit www.grantthornton.com.ph.
As published in The Manila Times, dated 19 August 2020