A series of (un)fortunate events: Life in London under lockdown

A cyclist wearing a face mask rides across a near-deserted Westminster Bridge in London, England, on April 8, 2020. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Image, taken from Time.com

The covid-19 pandemic is changing lives the world over. Our London-based contributor Sarah Teja is now on her fifth week of working from home. Despite some hiccups in the beginning, she is slowly getting used to the new social-distancing lifestyle. Read more about her story living in a city right at the heart of chaos and crisis.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued an official letter urging people to stay at home to curb the spread of coronavirus
Official letter from the UK government, urging people to stay at home

To come or not to come to the office? That was the question I asked myself around four weeks ago. At that time, our team was supposed to have a face-to-face working session, which generally occurs once a month. Our team leader values such meeting because some members are not London-based and would only travel to London if there are in-person trainings or important meetings. So, by default, remote working is not a strange concept to us, especially since the company offers flexibility to work from home (WFH) to those who are not based on client sites.

Despite this, I enjoy working at the office as it allows me to meet new people. For example, as way to save office space, my office adopts a “hot-desking” policy. According to this policy, workers are not assigned their own desk and only given one when they need it. Therefore, if you forget to sign in to your reserved space, desk vultures are close by with watchful eyes. Though unconventional, it is one way to start conversations. There are also interesting events or talks I can attend during lunchtime or afterwork. With these perks in mind, going to the office is a second nature to me.

The danger of coronavirus was becoming more imminent, however, when official safety posters from the UK government started to be displayed in almost all office corners and toilet cubicles. The building management began installing hand sanitizer stations by every entrance. People seemed to start taking caution as I saw the office floor grew emptier by days. For the first time, one could actually secure a desk without the need to book in advance, which is unheard of.

One day, I realized that I was one of the few brave souls who still come to office when a person commented ‘I see that you are still coming to the office?’ during a video call. Indeed, in the week commencing 9 March, most people had started working remotely to avoid being crammed in the London underground, packed like sardines. Since walking is my daily commute, I had no reason to stop going.

However, I made the decision to start working from home on Thursday, 12 March, as working in the office had become distracting. From making countless trips to the bathroom to wash my hands (at one point, hand cream became a best friend as cracked knuckles are the corollary of cold temperature and constant sanitation) to having to hold my breath every time someone had the audacity to cough without covering their mouth.

Of course, working from home was not smooth sailing from the get go. On the first weekend of staying at home, my flatmate felt unwell. To my horror, her tutor whom she met on campus a few days prior was apparently in bed with high temperature after a visit to Italy, which at that time was already seeing a high number of cases. To make things worse, securing online delivery slots was becoming more impossible, as stocks at supermarket shelves were depleted and stockpiling continued.

As WFH became mandatory for most workplaces in Europe, the firm underwent a drastic change. Everyone had to chase their clients’ approval of working from home instead of on their sites to ensure safety. As this became a global priority, I got pulled into a task force to manage reports from European hubs’ perspective to global leadership. Suddenly, work became highly stressful as everything was urgent. To top it all off, doing tedious Excel work on a miniscule laptop screen was getting unbearable. I was desperate for a monitor. Somehow, I lucked out and managed to get one speedily.

Despite the doom and gloom, I must admit that after weeks of staying at home, things are not as bad as I initially thought. With lockdown in place, I realize:

There is suddenly plenty of time

With no agenda on the weekends, my flatmate (who turned out to had gotten a normal cold and recovered within one week of resting) and I did a major spring cleaning to the flat. Decluttering helped us both to work better at home.

Also, with no time wasted for commuting, I can now easily squeeze in a morning workout which leave me feeling more motivated throughout the day. It is hard to believe but I feel more active now than before, because exercising was more of a weekend luxury before. I have also been cooking and trying out more recipes, which in itself is my way of de-stressing.

Indonesian Sarah Teja orders fresh produce online during lockdown in London due to coronavirus
Fresh produce from local business, ready for cooking

People are more empathetic

When the world seems to be at a total disconnect, strangely I feel more connected to others. Three weeks ago, my team at work was forced to do a quarterly meeting online with the global head of our practice. I initially thought this would be a recipe for disaster due to his dislike to virtual meetings. To my surprise, he liked the presentation and even put some efforts to check on us before it began. It is also heart-warming to see some old friends reaching out to you and making sure that all is well.

Little things spark joy these days

I might have taken some things for granted before, such as walking around town, eating out, going to my favourite café, or even enjoying the rare sunny days. Now that we are only permitted to go out for ‘essentials’ and exercise once a day, I have started to savour these moments more. Even better, now the air feels cleaner, birds are chirping throughout the day, and the sky is brighter. I am enjoying all of the above while they last.

Indonesian Sarah Teja buys an indoor plant to brighten up her living space during lockdown in London due to coronavirus
Buying an indoor plant to brighten up the living space

To conclude, despite the difficulty of adjusting to the new normal, I have gained a few valuable lessons out of this by looking on the bright side. I, too, encourage you to do the same. Stay safe 🙂



Photos are provided by author.


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