International Lockdown Experiences from Vario
By Rhys Davies, Britta Spachtholz and Paul Garth
Rhys Davies, Vario Senior Account Executive, based in Hong Kong/UK:
I was living in Hong Kong on secondment at the outset of the pandemic and it will come as no surprise to say life has been very different ever since!
Hong Kong was one of the first places outside of Mainland China to be impacted by the pandemic with offices and schools closing and supermarkets being stripped of essentials in the third and fourth weeks of January 2020. I later returned to my native UK in April 2020 which by that stage was enduring its first national lockdown. I’ll never forget departing a hauntingly-empty Hong Kong International Airport for London aboard a Boeing 777 with just six other passengers!
After arriving in the UK, I decided to live and work from my family home in Worcestershire to be with family during the lockdown and have remained here ever since. Whilst it’s not been easy, my parents still hold busy careers too, we’ve camped in separate corners of the house and somehow we and the Wi-Fi (just about!) have managed to endure thus far. And, whilst I do miss family and friends as well as city-life, I’m fortunate to have secluded trails and a lake nearby to run and hike around most days.
Covid-19 has affected my family like all families; my friends and colleagues too. However, notwithstanding the tragic impact the virus has had on physical and mental health as well as livelihoods, I remain optimistic for the future because the pandemic has largely been a catalyst for positive change already underway, shone a light on inequities or changed mindsets. For instance, in the early days of the pandemic when parts of Asia were battling the virus’ spread and sounding the alarm bells, life in many parts of the world continued as normal. I realised then that I/we often overestimate the impact an event affecting ourselves is having on the rest of the world whilst simultaneously underestimating the impact an event elsewhere may have on us. I think the pandemic has challenged this mindset and provides cause for optimism as we look to tackle other international challenges like climate change on a global-level.
I often ask others what long-term effects the pandemic may have on them, their organisations and the world. Often cited is flexible working with people choosing how much/little time they spend working from an office or home. I agree with this and will probably look to split my time evenly between home and the office when restrictions ease. Another is recognising what is and isn’t important, what to do more and less of etc. This feeds into a much bigger thing which is purpose. It’s not just organisations and teams which will evolve to become purpose-led; I believe all of us will do so too.
Living in times of a pandemic for almost one year surely changes a lot in everybody´s lives. The New Year is always a point to look back, to reflect and also to adjust for the future. So how am I looking back? My own personal review of 2020 is thoroughly positive.
Britta Spachtholz, Vario Account Manager, based in Germany:
The summer months of 2020 were only slightly different from any other summer. On my hiking tours in the Bavarian Alps I had a feeling though that in 2020 half of the German population had chosen to come to Bavaria for a domestic vacation. Trails were packed more than ever and I spotted people who obviously had never been in the mountains before – their flip-flops and missing hiking gear betrayed them. All in all, it seemed that the pandemic was not really preventing people from travelling. Another pandemic effect was triggering of craftsmanship. Throughout the whole year of 2020, all over the country people finally got down to do all the refurbishing projects that usually are postponed forever during normal times. Alternatively clearing out basements and giving away clothes and furniture to charities became really popular.
Who would have envisioned this only a few months earlier in spring? When Germany went into hard lock-down in March 2020, the world suddenly turned silent over night; I realized how loud and hectic my life used to be. Now suddenly appointments, business travels, private meetings, festivities and celebrations were cancelled in a split second…. and I was free. Free from the chains of obligations, be it business or private. Working became more efficient because I no longer had to worry about scheduling personal appointments and travel. No need to catch a train or plane; no worries about traffic jams which put you in danger of being late. I met clients and candidates in virtual rooms and I realized that everybody was pretty laid-back. The general atmosphere in these meetings had changed too and had become rather open and informal (which could also be seen in the casual dress code). When everybody escapes the vicious circle of imposed obligations it seems that the inner tension ceases and allows discussions and negotiations on a completely different level.
The same effect was perceptible in my private life. I love meeting people and even more so my friends which usually results in a pretty packed schedule for my weekends. Add some of the invitations or festivities one gets through the course of one year (and where more often than not, one wishes to be struck with last minute flu just to have an excuse not to go) you get a pretty good picture of self-imposed leisure time stress. All gone in an instant. What a relief!
Of course I too had to adapt to the new rules, the new do’s and don’ts, not being able to go wherever and whenever I wanted to and dealing with home schooling and its challenges. But I also realised that it is absolutely sufficient to do the grocery shopping only once per week. Actually by doing so, I again won more freedom. In my newly won spare time I loved sitting in the garden, doing nothing but watching the clear blue sky. I also realised how wonderful and how loud the birds are really singing – undisturbed by the sound of cars and trucks. Suddenly there was no need to go anywhere anymore. Just being in that very moment end enjoying it. This experience deeply touched me and I still wish that life permanently would be more like that – more quiet, more peaceful, more natural.
One science article I read states that we all have inherited a so called “cave competence” from our paleolithic forefathers, which can help us to get through this pandemic when we figuratively are able to go inside our cave end endure the situation. Being forced to go inside due to the challenging circumstances can also trigger creativity. Scientists believe that this was the reason why cave paintings were made. My “cave creativity” came in the form of knitting; from socks to scarves to legwarmers – I love to play with colours and patterns and I am still surprised to see what I can do with my hands.
Regarding cave competence, I obviously have inherited an extra share of it. I had never been aware of how self-sufficient I really am. It needed a pandemic to show me that character-trait of mine and explore it. And I know it is just the beginning of my own new self-exploring journey.
Paul Garth, Vario Account Director, based in Australia:
As I type this parts of Western Australia are in hard lockdown. In response to bushfires the ‘Authorities’ have just released a statement stating people should do whatever they need to do to get themselves to safety despite restrictions on movement. When under threat of catching on fire I don’t think I would need to be told to move, lockdown or not! But looking at it from the safe distance of – so far- bushfire free Victoria, I guess you never can tell your reaction.
It is a good summary of 2020 for me. I did what I had to do to get through and by and large, avoided catching on fire. My pre-Covid vision of doing what had to be done to survive involved sacrificing a limb, jumping canyons on a motorbike, running for ages despite the stitch. Heroic stuff. The reality involved watching a lot of Netflix. Not so heroic, but survive I did. It was quite comforting to realise that my family did not tear each other apart despite the close quarters. I am sure that’s the outcome we all would have predicted had we been told of a 9 month lockdown looming. Like bushfires taking precedent over virus spreading I guess we all assessed our priorities and did what we needed to make it out the other side. Thankfully that was choosing to get along. Well done family.
As far as work goes, I am grateful for surviving with that intact also. 2020 started at a cracking pace and I was really looking forward to ramping up the growth as the calendar slipped by. When the lockdown hit in March I mourned the loss of momentum. It was frustrating and isolating. But I learned to love the phone again (much better for conversations than Zoom) and actually enjoyed the creativity and challenge involved in keeping the wheels turning.
On a more personal level I was determined to not come out the other end of lockdown feeling like it was a ‘lost year’. By some measures it was (travel plans, family catch ups). However by setting some goals (unusual in itself for me) at the start of the pandemic and I managed to get to now with having achieved a couple. My favourite is that I lost 22kg. No I don’t feel ‘great’ but it is a nice achievement and I don’t huff and puff as much as I used to. Result.