Updated: Jun 19, 2020
When I first heard about the Covid-19, I, like many of us, dismissed it as another health pandemic that would pass within a few weeks or fall into obscurity.
Little did I know that Covid-19 was going to literally change the way we lived our lives.
I'm sure the COVID-19 virus' reaction (if it had a face) would have been exactly like below GIF, as we all underestimated it and thought it will disappear within a few weeks.
We all followed the news with trepidation, morbid fascination, confusion and bewilderment. Wondering, what is really going on?
My organisation, one of the last organisations to do so, asked us to work from home. I was quite relieved and ecstatic. Finally! Work from Home! No Commute! Little did I know that changing my work-routine to work from home was going to be very difficult for me.
Now, for a bit of context, I had previously worked from home, once a week. I usually avoided scheduling meetings where I needed to contribute or lead, on my work from home days. Due to my hearing, it was quite challenging doing teleconference calls. As a lot of people are not very clear with their diction. This sometimes makes it difficult to hear them over the phone. What makes it worse, is if a group of people are speaking into a speaker-phone from a distance (as opposed to using individual phones). Following the conversation is a herculean task, unless I have a "champion" in the room. I promise you my face a lot of times, my facial reaction is like Tom Cruise's below.
Anytime I had a meeting that required me to lead or participate and could not be scheduled on any other day, I usually forfeited that work from home day, and went into the office. (My commute is about an hour) I just considered it tough luck. I had a job and I had to deliver. This was the most important thing.
Now I'm working from home. Everyday. All my meetings would be telephone / audio meetings.
I didn't realise how challenging things would be, until my first Monday meeting with the team and we had circa 30 people on the call. Listen, I was shook. My Director then mandated (for good reasons) daily morning meetings and daily touch-points. This would mean 2-3 meetings every morning and another meeting at the end of the day (this was, thankfully later scrapped)
I don't think I can adequately express how I felt at the beginning stages. I can however, tell you one thing. I was afraid.
I have this fear (which i'm working on getting over) of making people repeat themselves several times so I can hear them and also the fear of hearing the frustration that starts to seep into their tones and voices because they're repeating themselves several times. Trust me even in the office I had seen this happen several times in the office from some individuals (who were understandably frustrated) and it was not very pleasant. (they were aware I had hearing impairment)
What was I going to do?.. What do I do? Well. Initially I thought, Just power on, turn my laptop volumes to the loudest and power on. Big mistake.
For some reason, I think my team may have forgotten about my hearing impairment and we were under a lot of pressure to deliver in these new circumstances, so there was a lot of miscommunication and issues. It was really frustrating. In the early days, due to the fact that the telecom companies were still dealing with bandwidth issues as all of a sudden thousands of people were making phone calls - telephone lines were not clear at all. It was difficult hearing and following conversations. At the end of those days I had a significant "listening fatigues" and I was usually exhausted.
My breaking point was a particular meeting I was leading, the network was particularly bad and the stakeholders were frustrated. I could not follow the meeting or the conversation and I felt like I had lost control of the conversation. After that meeting I cried. In hindsight, all the frustrations I was experiencing had built up to that point.
Then I decided something needed to be done.
I spoke to my performance manager, expressed all my frustrations, how I had been feeling and the challenges I was having. I have to give her credit, she really swung into action to get the issues resolved. Also, hearing someone tell me that the way I was felt was incredibly valid, was a huge relief.
She encouraged me to speak to my team and remind them, and look to moving all calls to our vendor calls from teleconference to MS Teams (the call quality was much better). She got in touch with the accessibility department and we all worked together to resolve the issues I was facing.
I then spoke to my director about how I felt and the challenges I faced. I was assured of his full support. He also spoke to the team and reminded them to provide their support and ensured we put in place measures that would minimise the challenges. We tried (unsuccessfully) to move all our calls to video calls, which would help me with lip-reading, but this took up way too much bandwidth and made for incredibly poor connection.
I also spoke to my mentor about the challenges I was facing and she sent me resources to leverage. (She's hearing impaired too, top of her field and is incredibly amazing!!!!) In these resources I discovered that MS Teams had Live Captions.
My dear people, the Live captions feature on MS Teams was LIFE CHANGING!!!!!!!
It felt like someone had given me a pair of glasses and I could see much better.
Oh my word, I cannot express how relieved and better I felt once I started using the live feature on MS Teams. Basically it live captions (sort of like subtitles) what is being said during meetings, as it happens. It made my working life so much easier, I cannot express in words how relieved I felt.
To anyone at Microsoft Teams, if you're reading this, you have my eternal gratitude for including the Live captioning feature.
As to how I'm doing now, I'm definitely coping much better. My brain has adjusted to putting more effort into hearing without visual cues (lip reading, body language etc) I am definitely able to make valuable contributions to meetings now and as one of my colleagues said, keep people on their toes!
In an upcoming post, I will talk about how being COVID has affected my life personally (outside of work)
Thank you so much for reading!