As Dr. Jyotsna Agarwal jogs around her hospital campus, a colleague she bumps into asks her, “Time kaise kat raha hai?” ( How are you passing time?). Laughing, she replies, “Time hai hi kaha, katne ko?” ( Where is the time to pass?”).
While many of us struggle to get out of bed or remember to put on our pants during the lockdown, these women are having to work harder than ever in their career roles. Some of their jobs have become more demanding, while others are voluntarily taking up an increased workload to meet their goals.
Work has slowed down considerably, or even come to a halt for some, during the lockdown.
Work, and access to it from home right now, is a privilege; work that you’re passionate about, or helps make the world a better place, is a blessing.
These women refuse to take their privilege for granted. They are equal parts impressive and inspiring – unstoppable even during a nation-wide lockdown!
Diagnosing The Problem
Dr. Jyotsna Agarwal heads the department of microbiology at Dr Ram Manohar Lohia hospital in Lucknow.
She says that back in March, the hospital just had a run-of-the mill diagnostics lab. Their work primarily included diagnosing bacteria outbreaks, antibiotic resistance, HIV, malaria, dengue, etc.
Post the COVID-19 outbreak however, the department has almost only been involved in diagnosing the virus.
To be allowed to test for coronavirus, the laboratory needed to meet a minimum standard of biosafety – Biosafety Level 2. Dr. Agarwal and her staff stretched themselves thin in the first few weeks of lockdown, meeting the safety guidelines and getting the laboratory ready to diagnose COVID-19.
Not only did she have to identify an appropriate space in the hospital for it as quickly as possible, she also had to identify technical staff and train them. The handpicked team of doctors and staff had to be extensively trained in the technique of diagnosis and methods of ensuring personal safety.
She thinks of the safety and health of her staff as her responsibility.
“The worst thing that could happen is my staff getting infected with the virus. I would feel really bad. We even have a Whatsapp group chat of the department, where I’m constantly sending guidelines and messages to keep them aware and remind them to use their protective gear correctly,” she says.
Before beginning operations, they were also required to share their research and adherence to the guidelines with ICMR in New Delhi. They had to film their laboratory and send the video, so that the authorities could confirm that everything was in place and approve it.
Finally, on the 10th of April, they received the green signal to test their first sample in the lab.
After that, she says, “There has been no end of samples coming in.”
What started with just 15 samples in the first week, has become a grand total of 17000 samples that have been tested till date by her department.
“The lab has to operate 24/7. There are samples coming in at 2 AM and 4 AM,” she says.
They’ve managed to perfect the process to the point that they now report results of the samples in less than 24 hours. Ensuring that there are no delays in reports, while also ensuring that quality is maintained and her staff is safe, has required round-the-clock, hands-on work.
Even when the process has been exhausting, however, the results have been rewarding.
Flexibility, Proactive Vision, And Sustainability Are Key
Filmmaker Vaani Arora understands the importance of being agile and flexible in your work, especially during these tumultuous transitional times.
When the lockdown was announced, Vaani realised that a strategy repositioning was called for.
This was no time to engage in risks, try to acquire new clients, or insist on engaging in solely high-budget films.
She proactively got in touch with existing clients, tried to assess what they needed, and pitched solutions.
NGOs and organisations like UNICEF have been working harder than ever during the crisis. Vaani – knowing that films held the potential to help these organisations catch people’s attention and spread awareness – actively reached out to them to pitch her ideas.
Her crew also makes animated films for younger audiences. This has helped ensure work through the lockdown, as animation can easily be done remotely without necessitating a big crew to be sent out into the field.
Through this foresight, agility, and proactive work, Vaani has ensured her team’s safety while also ensuring stability in their volume of work.
However, she asserts that while she and her team have learned to adjust and adapt, it is imperative that the clients adjust their expectations as well.
A project that would have required two weeks, now takes three. The new conditions of work need to be considered and taken into account.
Short bursts of immediate solutions cannot be people’s focus. Vaani believes that stability, in any field during this unstable period, is possible only if we focus on a sustainable vision, and redefine the requirements and standards of excellence in work.
There’s More Work, But I Can Manage It More Efficiently
A brand consultant who finds great joy in merging her passion for writing, strategy, and design, Lasya has managed to turn her significantly increased workload during the lockdown into shorter work hours.
Her work primarily involves helping brands find an idea or aesthetic they love, and that could potentially help solve their business problems. She’s involved in multiple roles from copy-writing and strategy research to brand communication and design.
The economically fraught times have resulted in a lack of organisational budget to hire new people. High workload but not enough manpower has resulted in everyone having to take on greater and more diverse work.
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Lasya’s workload has increased dramatically, but she finds that she still has more time to devote to things outside of work.
Her work-days before the lockdown involved exceedingly long discussions on minute creative and strategic details, and thereby, exceedingly long office hours.
“While my workload has definitely increased objectively, I manage to get more done in less time than before,” Lasya muses.
Working from home has given Lasya the option to set her own boundaries, stick to a routine that is healthy for her, and work at the speed she prefers.
Building Things From Scratch
Shreya Ganesh works as a research analyst at an organisation involved in genomics and predictive analysis for wellness.Through her research, client samples can be processed to analyse past disease, as well as any future likelihood of it.
Her work day before the lockdown had a familiar rhythm to it. The client’s saliva samples had to be processed and the reports generated. The mornings were engaged in processing the samples, and the evenings in analysing what to make out of them.
The lockdown, however, has significantly disrupted this rhythm.
Sample collection has come to a grinding halt.
More importantly, post the coronavirus outbreak, laboratories have permanently stopped collecting or accepting saliva samples. So, the organisation has had to shift to processing and extracting information from blood samples.
Shreya and her team have been working non-stop since the lockdown was announced, to devise practical and safe ways of collecting blood samples from the clients, drying them out, and sending them to the laboratories.
They’ve had to unexpectedly, and without losing any time, adapt to a new way of thinking, analysing and processing.
“We’ve had to build completely new tools and frameworks from scratch. It’s been a lot of groundwork,” Shreya says.
Her work nights are late, and weekends rare, but Shreya wouldn’t have it any other way. She prefers being occupied in her work to not knowing what to do with her time during the lockdown.
“Even if I had more free time right now, I would probably still dedicate it to work,” she laughs.
The Workflow Doesn’t Stop Anymore, And Neither Do I
RajLakshmee has been working as Chief Operating Officer at Kool Kanya for over a year now. While it was difficult for her to adapt to working remotely without the physical presence of her co-workers initially, she’s now found a routine that works.
With her expertise lying in design and product, RajLakshmee has never hesitated to take on work outside her job description when needed – now more than ever.
With a majority of her organisation’s audience at home, she’s helped Kool Kanya continue to meet user needs and maintain user empathy, during this turbulent lockdown period.
In addition to her regular daily tasks, she’s constantly engaged in research, understanding user experience, building strategy plans, brainstorming or problem-solving in virtual meetings, and organising virtual events for the users.
Despite long travel hours being cut down, her workload has increased significantly and so have her work hours.
“For instance, we’ve been organising a free hiring event for our users. It’s our first hiring event and we’ve been working round the clock to ensure the companies and users have a good experience. If calls need to be made, emails responded to, or problems addressed – no matter how late in the night – it needs to be done,” she asserts.
Work that could have been done in a few minutes by walking up to someone’s desk now requires you to set up a time to call. There are more things to be executed, more plans to be made, and more meetings needed to discuss them.
The workflow is continuous, but so is RajLakshmee’s perseverance, and passion for her work.
Live Your Own Story
Don’t let friends’ stories on Instagram, or social media influencers fool you into believing you’re alone. If you feel like you’re the only one having to work hard during the lockdown, maybe even harder than you did before, without any time to “practice your hobby”, “do something creative everyday”, or “learn a new skill” like everyone else on the Internet seems to be doing – you’re not alone.
If you find yourself having barely any work to do, without a job, or with ample time on your hands – you’re not alone there either.
Don’t let your takeaway from these women’s stories be intimidation, but inspiration to live your own story exactly the way you want to.
You’re invited! Join the Kool Kanya women-only career Community where you can network, ask questions, share your opinions, collaborate on projects, and discover new opportunities. Join now.