Surviving Whatsapp, Lockdown and Germ-free Remote Working

Ben Dillon
9 min readApr 17, 2020

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It used to be so wonderful. People would ask what I did for a living and I’d inevitably tell them that I worked from home. They’d say something like “you’re so lucky” or “that’s so cool”. For a fleeting moment they might have visions of me living a Parisian carefree life, sans fluorescent lights and office politics. They’d picture me as Hemingway-esque, drinking wine at my desk, making art with words. I’m afraid that coronavirus is changing this perception somewhat.

I’ve heard the suggestion that this lockdown is the ultimate way to decide if remote working works. This is insane to me. It’s like using a demolition derby to decide if driving cars should be a thing. But still, every remote working enthusiast seems to understand that there’s a lot on the line and have been quick to offer tips. I’m enjoying the holistic approach. ‘How to eat right when working from home’, ‘How to look after your well-being when remote working’, ‘How to stop yourself from going insane’.

But for a remote working guide to be true to today, and to provide the answers for passing this “ultimate litmus test”, it has to include mentions of germs, social isolation and all that good stuff. I believe that there should be a guide to remote working, nay living, in this new social distancing age. This is an excerpt.

My credentials..

I’ve been working remotely for a total of seven years. This basically makes me an expert. In fact, the only thing that’s stopping me from adding this distinction to my LinkedIn profile is that I can’t decide between ‘Remote Working Guru’, ‘Remote Working Extraordinaire’ or ‘Social Distancing Wunderkind’. I also quite like the word ‘phenom’. I’ve reached an impasse.

Remote working mastery aside, there’s my social isolation pedigree. There was a period in 2018 where I was working from home, training at home and had barely any friends. Little did I know I was actually preparing myself for the post apocalyptic world of 2020.

As for living by coronavirus restrictions, I can’t be more than a month behind anyone on the planet. While I won’t claim to be a phenom just yet, I reckon I’m in the top 5 percentile for sure. And on to the sage advice.

Dealing with germs..

Has anyone seen the movie ‘As Good as It Gets’ recently? It’s the one where Jack Nicholson plays the hygiene obsessed novelist. His whole shtick is that he’s cripplingly OCD and emotionally distant. He won’t touch anything without a napkin, he avoids cracks on the sidewalk and self isolates. For 23 years, the intrigue of this character was his peculiar and unorthodox ways. In 2020, he’s possibly the most relatable character of all time.

Jack Nicholson’s character is hated for his arrogance. I’m even starting to empathise with him on that count. One of the biggest challenges of the coronavirus has been trying to control my own snootiness. I clip, clop around on my high horse, guffawing at those neanderthals that are acting like it’s January 2020. You know the ones. They cough into their palm instead of their sleeve. They even practice normadistancing. I’m talking less than one metre away from one another, practically swallowing each other’s phlegm. I’ve seen people gather in parks, drinking cans in groups like it’s Woodstock. No masks, no gloves, smiles on their inconsiderate, disobedient faces. In this day and age? It beggars belief.

In a guide to remote working in a Covid-19 age germs must be mentioned. I could give the rudimentary advice of washing your hands, social distancing and not licking your phone. Instead, I will give the catchall recommendation to watch As Good as It Gets and learn from the maestro.

Dealing with the Whatsapp onslaught..

Has anyone else daydreamed about how a zombie apocalypse would unfold? What parts of normal life would fall first and in what order? I assume law and order would collapse. Jobs would crumble as people take to living a hunter-gatherer existence. Morals would eventually go. Once that goes, killing each other becomes fair game so hopefully that will be the last to topple. But what would be the first to dissolve? It seems that the coronavirus has given us our answer.

Photo and video sharing etiquette was the first code to crumble and it happened all too quickly. The pubs had barely shut their doors when I received my first generic funny video. Then a few funny memes followed. It wasn’t long before it had become difficult to wade through the sea of nonsense. People’s barometer for forwarding a funny video had dropped significantly. The qualifying question had changed from “is this gut-wrenchingly hilarious, not to be missed essential forwarding?” to “did this make me exhale sharply out my nostril?”

I’ve seen it all. The gummy bear singing Adele to a crowd of jellies, the man who crafted a treadmill using fairy liquid and all the videos of Donald Trump being Donald Trump. I have friends and family whose video-forwarding threshold has dropped to pre internet days, when the novelty wasn’t that a video was funny but that it was possible.

Sadly, I don’t have much advice on this unfortunate fallout. The last hope is a piece of software I’m working on that reviews content and sends a suitable reply. The only necessary settings are crying-laughing emojis if a video is funny and “fab, too cute” to family baby pics. Work is ongoing.

Dealing with exercise..

One of my favourite things to do is make wild claims about how great I’d be in scenarios that will probably never happen. You basically have free rein to gloat, knowing you can never be called on it. If I won the lotto, I would divide the money equally between family. Yes, I’m that generous. If someone ever slipped on the train platform, I would dive selflessly, grab the person and tuck and roll to safety. That’s just my way, I’m fearless. If I lived in Spain for a year I would mix with the locals, refuse to speak English and become fluent in six months. What can I say, me encanta hablar español.

One of life’s cruel jokes is when a turn of events forces you to follow through. Jail time has always been something that I’d hypothetically crush. If I was in solitary confinement with nothing to do but read and exercise, then all I’d do is read and exercise. I’d read all the classics — Crime and Punishment, Pride and Prejudice, Ulysses. And fit? Are you kidding me? I’d perform push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups on the hour, every hour. I’d become so ripped people would actually think I was in pain.

Covid-19 has made solitary confinement a reality. Now, unfortunately, I have to step up to the plate. We are around two weeks into quarantine, which in Covid years is around five months. So far, I’ve done approximately 100 press-ups, 100 pull-ups, 100 sit-ups, drank seven bottles of gin, four bottles of wine, and developed an insatiable sweet tooth. The good news is that I’ve gone for more walks during lockdown than I would in nine lives. I’m even starting to salute people that I know only through walking.

Advice: Keep active by any means possible. Try not to drink alcohol before lunch.

Fitness update: Not yet mind-bendingly ripped. Almost out of gin.

Dealing with the outdoors..

I often wonder how I survived life when it was my younger, more ignorant and reckless self at the wheel? How did I make it through those years when I thought I was invincible, when I acted with a complete disregard for my own health. It makes me shudder to think of all the crazy things I got up to, flirting with danger, never too far from death’s cold grip.

I remember when I used to shake people’s hands, having no idea where that hand had just been. I opened doors, pressed pedestrian crossing buttons, handled coins and called lifts, not with my elbows or through ppe but with my bare hands. A rogue cough in my direction wouldn’t phase me, I’d practically bathe in it. I used to stand in the middle of large groups for hours on end, rubbing shoulders with God knows who. In a cesspit of germs, we’d dance and sweat, oblivious to the game of Russian roulette we were playing with a loaded gun of viral infections. What shocks me most is that there are some people still acting like this today.

One of the biggest challenges of remote working today is falling prey to what I call Boo Radley syndrome — Boo Radley being the enigmatic hermit from To Kill a Mockingbird. You work at home, you eat at home, now the government is telling you to stay at home. This whole scenario lends itself to becoming a social recluse. So how do you prevent this from happening? The answer — you don’t. I believe walks and fresh air is important but social interaction, forget it.

The younger me I described earlier? You can pretty much guarantee that most youths live like this. Then the parents interact with them. Others haven’t yet conformed to the new normal. This could mean that 50% of people are walking contaminants. So, my advice is to stay away. If you are out for a stroll, keep your head down and cross the road if you see someone coming. If there are people on either side, walk in the middle. When I see children, I usually break into a light jog. If someone smiles and salutes, I ignore them. They are unsafe. It seems that many people have already heeded this advice. To you, I tip my protective mask.

Dealing with remote work..

There is not much to say that hasn’t already been said. Don’t roll your eyes when on a conference call. Don’t bring your laptop to the toilet while in a meeting. For those that are inclined to slack off, don’t. For those that want to be ‘in the office’ all the time, carrying a laptop from room to room and reading monthly report lullabies to your children in bed, don’t.

When it comes down to it, success in remote working is being able to prove that you are in fact working. For this, I point to a lesson learned from Leonardo Dicapro in ‘Catch Me if You Can’. For those that haven’t seen it, the protagonist is a con artist who goes from being a fake pilot to fake doctor to fake lawyer, all in the name of cashing paychecks. He doesn’t actually fly a plane or perform operations, he simply creates the illusion of work with his words. When he is a pilot, he learns the lingo and becomes a non-working ‘deadhead’. When he’s a doctor, he liberally uses the phrase “I concur”. It seems agreeing with people is a surefire way to workplace progression.

It’s a bold tactic but perfect for remote working. After a conference call, send your superior a message to say that you totally and utterly concur with what they said. If there is an email thread and your boss says something insightful, you best concur. If it’s two in the afternoon and you are seven episodes deep into a Friends marathon, send your boss a quick email to tell them that you concur with everything they’ve done this week. Your boss will be miles away and probably unsure if you are adding any value to the company. But they’ll know you concur, and that means something. Maybe don’t actually use the word ‘concur’. People might have seen the movie.

As a remote working guru, I considered writing my top tips on working from home. The truth is, it’s all been covered and when it comes to it, remote working is no different to office work. You get used to being alone. You fall in love with the freedom, flexibility and sense of responsibility. Of course, there will be some people that say you can’t do this. You can’t write an essay about remote working and barely mention remote working. There will be others that say that Covid-19 is a serious matter, to not treat it with Sunday-church-sobriety is blasphemous. Others will say that in these challenging times, we humans need to remember that everything in life is unpredictable, ridiculous and nonsensical.

To all parties, I concur.

I wholeheartedly concur.

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Ben Dillon

Everything I write is half nonsense. The other half is pure gold. Not on InstaTwitBook but please connect on LinkedIn — /dillon-ben