We asked five of UIB‘s team members around the world to share their stories of caring for their parents, children, and, of course, themselves during the COVID-19 crisis, here are their stories.
Chief Marketing Officer Ken Herron
People say that they experience holidays differently through the eyes of their children. In my case, I am experiencing the pandemic differently through the eyes of my elderly parent.
My friends and I talk about the unprecedented changes that the Coronavirus has already caused — not just disrupting businesses but disrupting business models. But for my mom, who lives independently a few miles away from me and is very aware of her “status” of being in a high-risk group, it all hits differently.
Growing up, I don’t remember ever being told not to “talk to strangers” for the simple reason that my mom LOVES to talk to strangers. Because of this, the hardest (and hopefully not permanent) change in her life has been the physical distancing. For someone who’s extra-social (and more than a little hard of hearing…), being constantly told by your annoying son to “stay 6 feet (2 meters) away from people (and to “stay home!”) has clearly gotten old. For the handful of essential services that are open (the local senior center, the hub of her social life with all of its trips, activities, and always social fellow seniors, was the very first to shut down), she is told repeatedly to “stay outside” and to “use the drive-thru” (mom no longer drives, so she had to say good-bye to her beloved morning routine of popping in every morning to her local coffee shop, which we all know was just an excuse for her to talk to more people). Rightfully so, people will now only speak to her behind face masks and newly-installed barriers. You and I accept this as a practical necessity, she views it as cold and unfriendly (and she’s not wrong).
While by now I’m pretty sure that I’m not adopted, the tech geek part of my personality clearly did not come from my mom. She won’t use a computer (or tablet, I’ve tried) and barely uses her smartphone — which causes significant problems when her world up and decides without warning to stop accepting cash and checks because paper might transmit the virus. And her bank branch (the only one within walking distance) suddenly closed without notice, hanging up a sign that simply says “Use the ATM” (she’s never used a credit card, let alone an ATM card).
So as much as COVID-19 has changed my daily life (no more planes, no more [in-person] presentations, no more pants (okay, so there is a silver lining!)), what has had the greatest impact on me is seeing the forced, semi-permanent changes in my mom’s daily routines and how they have impacted her quality of life.
General Manager, Indonesia Azman Ilyas
In doing business in Indonesia, physical meetings are still the preferred way to ensure maximum impact, particularly when dealing with business owners and executives. Meetings are normally outside office premises, always involve food, end only after a long coffee session. There is a local saying that there are more contracts won from the four hours dining (yes, we do love our “kuliner”) than a whole day of corporate meetings and presentations.
All of these are no longer possible with the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
I was initially baffled on how to continue maintaining the relationships without the ability of a physical meeting. Without the opportunity to have the small talk which deepens business relationships. It was then that I turned to a communication channel for help. Specifically, using the ubiquitous WhatsApp which is THE de-facto communication application in Indonesia.
Achieving this requires tact, particularly on what and when you can send WhatsApp messages. On the “what” aspect, I learned to read the one thing I had always previously skipped, “Status.” The business owners may lack active social media accounts but in times like COVID-19 situation, seemed to be active in updating their WhatsApp statuses. It could be the launch of new business services or clips of their children playing guitar. All these are great sources of small talk. Properly structured, the small talk could greatly contribute to a positive relationship.
On the “when” aspect, it seems that with the absence of daily commute, the business owners are no longer responsive during the early morning. Previously the early morning while commuting (yes, all business owners in Indonesia have private drivers), the business owners utilized the “macet” or traffic congestion to browse and respond to messages and emails. Now it seems they are available right after lunchtime, between 1:30 – 3:00 p.m. No more working lunch or rushing back to the office for appointments.
With the above tactics (which is great to reduce my waistline), I am proud to say that COVID-19 or not, relationships can still be maintained and nurtured. Truly important here in Indonesia where who you are as a person is as important as your company is.
Board Member and Director of Operations Daisy Jiang
COVID-19 has turned all of our worlds upside down in short order, but we are now seeing particular and specific unanticipated effects on working moms that may affect their career trajectories for years to come.
It’s no secret that the professional or business world is not always friendly to working moms. Despite more families with two working parents, now than ever, the home front is less often shared equitably. Though the gap has narrowed considerably, high-achieving professional women at the peak of their careers still spend more time, labor and mental energy caring for their children, maintaining their households and family and friend relationships.
As a working mom living and starting a family in Hong Kong for 10 years before moving to a new life in Singapore at the beginning of the Coronavirus epidemic in January 2020, let me just say that my family and I have never been luckier in our timing. I say this even with the hindsight that Singapore is experiencing a rapid third wave spike of new cases that have brought the city to a virtual standstill except for the most essential businesses and services and of course healthcare.
Singapore and Hong Kong differed broadly in their handling of the initial phase of the epidemic. Focusing on just the schooling aspect, Hong Kong shut schools after the Chinese New Year holidays and students are still not back to physical school even in the last days of April, three months and counting. Singapore officially shut schools on April 8, coinciding with a broader “circuit breaker” when it became clear that new infections were climbing and that there were sustained community infections of COVID-19. Some international schools in Singapore had a late March term break that then extended directly into the school shutdown. Now we have 100% working from home and 100% schooling from home. As a mom, my days have never felt so unbearably incoherent!
Don’t get me wrong. I whole-heartedly support these measures and this is absolute without a doubt the right public health policy to squash virus transmission rates as quickly as possible. I am also in an enviable position where both my husband and I can work from home and still fully do our jobs, unlike the under-appreciated essential service workers and heroic healthcare workers fighting the virus. Still, I struggle with the extra burden that shutting schools bring to all moms, but especially my friends and I who work “outside the home” from inside the house.
As a group, these women are highly educated and high-achieving moms who work at meaningful corporate, business, academic or non-profit jobs. With the closing of the school doors, shutting down of businesses and borders and splintering of just-in-time supply chains, we have added new roles of teachers, therapists, counselors and referees, activity leaders, care providers, negotiators and Heads of Procurement, Risk Assessment, IT Support and Budgeting and Management to our already full plates. All this while trying to maintain job responsibilities (if we are lucky to keep it) and sanity while stuck at home with the kids every minute of the day. This is a fragile combination with far-reaching consequences that affect men and women differently.
Besides the more readily visible impacts to women in their daily attempts at maintaining a semblance of kids’ school schedules and household routines like meals and bedtimes, home learning assignments and the constant interruptions that it brings is largely incompatible with jobs requiring chunks of time spent in work conferences, focused concentration and creative discipline. While this theoretically impacts both parents, the moms can suffer productivity loss at their jobs despite accomplishing more overall across combined work and home responsibilities. Unfortunately, society mostly values the work contributions, and thus whoever can focus more on their jobs will reap the greater benefits.
To cope, my very clever friends in Hong Kong adapted to extended school shutdowns by getting together with small groups of neighbours or classmates and hiring in-home tutors for several hours and rotating homes a week at a time. As distance learning becomes more structured and time-consuming, it is harder to achieve a mini home-school unless the kids are in the same grade in the same school or at least with a similar curriculum. This solution, a delicate one at best, can quickly become unworkable when cross-household limitations are necessary as it is currently in Singapore.
While Singapore is in a more serious situation than Hong Kong in COVID-19 cases, Singapore’s working moms did get the “luxury” of two extra months of school normalcy. Only time will tell whether Hong Kong or Singapore kids will have more days at school physically. But one thing is clear, the faster we can all get the kids back to school safely, the more us moms can breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Business Development Manager Simone Dirschka
Earl Wilson famously said, “Science may never come up with a better office communication system than the coffee break.”
I would even extend that to communication in general (and of course tea works just as well). I am sure every country and culture has its traditional warm beverage to accompany exchanges between friends and family or business meetings. For me, it’s espresso. Or “caffè” as the Italians would say. Believe it or not, various experiments support the thesis that when enjoyed while communicating, a warm beverage works as a counselor, a mediator, and a problem-solver.
With COVID-19, it’s all different. I miss these personal and productive “espresso exchange meetings.” That is why I invented the “virtual espresso break” and offer it to my friends and family (preferably with video support). Group chats also count. And it is meant to be short. If you drink a coffee in an Italian bar, for example, you don’t usually sit at a table. It’s an “espresso-length” talk so to speak. It’s a short time to follow one’s mood, discuss a current topic, and get perspectives different from your own. I am now using virtual espresso breaks to keep myself safe, healthy, and happy!
Platform Evangelist Oluwatobi Oyinlola
After not seeing them for two years, I left Rwanda for Nigeria to visit my family for two weeks. My family was really excited to see me after such a long time. After being back just three days, everything got locked down, so there was no way for me to travel back to Rwanda. I had mixed feelings. While I was excited to see my family, I wanted to get back to Rwanda. My family welcomed me, they were so happy. I’ve been living with them now for over a month, eating everything.
I’m returning the favor to my family by repairing things in the house. I’ve rewired sockets, replaced bulbs, and fixed appliances. It’s been fun because it’s been a while since I’ve been the technician fixing things. They don’t have to call an engineer because I’m “the engineer” in the family. My daily activities have also changed. I used to just start my day and go to work but now I find that I need to teach myself something new every day. We’re all locked down and there’s no way I’m going anywhere, so I’m watching videos on the internet to help me in my job.
30 days ago the only thing in my head was to spend two weeks with my family and go back but now I’m working on something meaningful. How can we support and provide the most important thing for this community right now with COVID-19? I began working on a test and location chatbot using UIB’s Unified AI® and WhatsApp to help people get tested as quickly as possible. You simply open WhatsApp, share your location, and the chatbot will send you the directions to the nearest COVID-19 testing center.
It would have been so stressful for my friends and family members if they had had to call me every day to ask, “Are you safe?” Now they see me every day and know that I’m okay.
I’m thankful to be able to have this time to see all my family, fix a few things, learn some new things, and use UIB’s technology to make a real difference for the community.