SINGAPORE — COVID-19 has been unprecedented and a unique challenge for humanity as a whole and each of us individually. The pandemic has revealed some of the frailties of human society and shown us a mirror to ourselves. Are we truly one species? How well do we put aside geographic and past differences to overcome a common unseen enemy? Do we have a trust deficit?
On a personal level, it also made us look within ourselves and ask questions about who we are. What is important in our life? Who are the important people in our lives? How real are the hundreds, even thousands, of friends that we have on our social networks?
This internal reflection, both individually and as a society, will shape how we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are already seeing systemic changes to how we operate business, engage within our societal framework, and reconnect with people who matter and prioritize time and tasks. Who knew that in 2020, the whole world will be speaking phrases like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve?” That “work from home” would become the norm as offices, classrooms, restaurants and streets suddenly become empty.
While some of these changes are temporary, many will inevitably leave a more permanent mark. Like many, COVID-19 has challenged and changed me both on personal and professional fronts.
Pandemic life through my lens
Professionally, I am truly fortunate to be working at an incredible company like Twitter where people have, and will always, come first. Twitter was one of the first organizations to close its offices globally and will probably be one of the last ones to open up.
Southeast Asia was one of the early regions to get impacted by COVID-19 after China, which made it incumbent on us as leaders to set an example for our counterparts in the West and the rest of the world. As working from home became a norm, I found that my biggest challenge was managing time.
All of us lead multiple lives at the same time. It’s basically existing — concurrently — in multiple parallel universes where there is an Arvinder Gujral, managing director of Twitter at work, alongside Arvinder Gujral, father, husband and friend to the people around me.
COVID-19 brought about an unprecedented work-from-home and live-at-home cocktail, which, when you combine it with study-from-home for my children, resulted in a time warp phenomenon and a heady hangover. This resulted in all the Arvinder Gujral’s colliding and existing in the same place at the same time.
“ Unfortunately, it took a pandemic for us to realize the importance of friends and family amongst the thousands of people we know through our social networks. ”
No matter how much we love each other, having four people at home — including two boys aged six and 13 — can eventually drive each other up the wall.
To address this, we created family time like weekly movie nights, board games, baking with mom, among others. We also found ourselves organizing virtual catch-ups with old friends and family with whom we had not connected for years. This to me was the biggest personal positive that came out of the lockdown.
Unfortunately, it took a pandemic for us to realize the importance of friends and family amongst the thousands of people we know through our social networks.
Twitter at home
It was somehow surprising at first when I discovered that I am not the only one who was having difficulty with time management. But as I realized, all of us share the same experience and shock with the abrupt transition and change in our daily lives.
Everyone in my team was feeling the same: time management is indeed the single biggest concern for all of us. At the early onset of the lockdown, we did a survey at Twitter asking employees on their work from home condition and the challenges they faced.
The early feedback cycle proved immensely beneficial as we course-corrected our policies such as giving generous work-from-home allowance; giving mandate to leaders to encourage teams to take paid time off, block calendars for personal time and send e-mails or Slack messages only within reasonable work hours; giving people the authority to decline meeting requests that do not have an agenda attached, and creating fun group activities that bring some of the office levity into our virtual schedules.
Being the lead of our Singapore office also meant that I had to ensure that the different functions — from finance to human resources to engineering and sales — continue to remain connected despite the virtual setup. We try to continue that atmosphere we had back in the office, such as doing monthly #SGTeamTime or setting up quizzes around topics like history of the office or food from various parts of the world.
It really makes me #LoveWhereYouWork given that what I do makes a real impact on Twitter’s stakeholders in the region.
“ The most clarifying thing for me was that the invisible virus brought to fore the invisibility of time. We operate in a mode that we will live forever, but the pandemic showed us the vulnerability of life. ”
Danger vs. opportunity
COVID-19 has really helped clarify a lot of things for me personally. We usually take our relationships casually, and the pandemic exposed the strength of bond between every relationship I have made over my life personally and over the course of 20+ years of my professional career.
The most clarifying thing for me was that the invisible virus brought to fore the invisibility of time. We operate in a mode that we will live forever, but the pandemic showed us the vulnerability of life.
The clock is ticking backwards for all of us. Life is too fragile and time is too precious to waste on things we did pre-COVID-19. It's incumbent to each of us to prioritize our personal and professional lives so we optimize it to whatever purpose we hold ourselves accountable for. If we do not correct our courses now, I fear we never will.
On a professional level, my biggest takeaway as a leader has been to talk more with my team and colleagues than ever before. The power of serendipity has vanished from our lives as everything needs to be scheduled or else it will not happen. On a personal level, what I miss most is the me-time. Do not hesitate to block that time for yourselves for your own sanity and personal growth.
Finally, I leave you with an inspiring quote from John F. Kennedy: “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger — but recognize the opportunity.”
Edited by Janvic Mateo