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Remote working, social isolation, bad hair and the munchies



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A personal chronicle by Tanya Yates

The outbreak of COVID-19 is dramatically changing the way we live and work.  Following the recommendations made by the Spanish Ministry of Health to mitigate the spread of the disease, IRB Barcelona is one of the many companies that has embraced working from home or telework. So,for those of us whose jobs allow this flexibility, we now spend 8 hours a day in front of a pc at home. Great work everyone! But after our working day has ended, we are challenged by social lockdown, which implies that we should leave our homes only to buy food and medicine and receive medical treatment. Strangely, on day one of lockdown, in Spain you could also go to the hairdresser! Alas, that is no longer permitted so we can have bad hair days everyday!

But back to working from home. IRB Barcelona’s Health and Safety Service has drawn up a a set of recommendations regarding workstations and ergonomics with the idea to protect your health, so please read them. Meanwhile, in these unusual times, I would like to lighten the mood by making some reflections on three aspects of remote working and imposed isolation that I consider important, namely personal relationships and communication (serious reflection), and what you wear and the temptations in the kitchen (attempt at humorous reflection).

Work is a social activity, and the personal relations that take place in our workplace are crucial for our mental wellbeing. We are social animals by nature. As the days of remote working and self-isolation go by, we will start missing our colleagues (yes, you heard that right).  Technology can come to the rescue, offering us amazing possibilities to conduct group video chats and live messaging. Technology will get us through this isolation. Face time is important and those of us working from home should actively exploit the opportunity to chat with friends at work(in our break time obviously). Technology can ease the mental burden of remote working, imposed lockdown and isolation.

When we are finally given the green light to return to our pre-COVID-19 lives, many of us will have concluded that technology can’t replace face to face contact, where body language and direct eye contact are crucial components of our communication. Staring at a tiny dot, which is the camera in your computer, to make it seem that you’re looking someone in the eye will never be able to fully replicate the subtle nuances of in-person communication.

In this same context, it has been said that this pandemic will forge the foundations of a new regime of employment, in which working from home will become the norm. While many, including me, will embrace this flexibility and the time and cost-saving involved (for the individual and company alike), remote working should be implemented with great care.

Second on my “issues” list is “what you wear” when working from home. I spoke to a colleague the other day and she was sitting in a dressing gown. That’s fine as I have known her for years, but if her boss had rung for face time, she may have been more than a little embarrassed.  So be warned. Don’t kick about your house in PJs!

The final issue I have with working from home is the lure of the kitchen. Are you experiencing the same thing? At the office, we can distract ourselves from rumbling tummies by talking to co-workers, leaving the office to go to the toilet, etc. But at home, there is a magnetic attraction to the pantry (the cupboard where you keep junk food like crisps and biscuits). Have you noticed the lack of biscuits in supermarkets (and toilet rolls of course!)? Could this be indicative of the growing addiction of a stay at home workforce to foods high in sugar and carbohydrates? Who in their right mind goes to the kitchen in search of a tomato? I rest my case.

The coming weeks will be a test of our team spirit and self-discipline. Hang on in there everyone!

Tanya Yates

About IRB Barcelona

The Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) pursues a society free of disease. To this end, it conducts multidisciplinary research of excellence to cure cancer and other diseases linked to ageing. It establishes technology transfer agreements with the pharmaceutical industry and major hospitals to bring research results closer to society, and organises a range of science outreach activities to engage the public in an open dialogue. IRB Barcelona is an international centre that hosts 400 researchers and more than 30 nationalities. Recognised as a Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence since 2011, IRB Barcelona is a CERCA centre and member of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST).