Dr. Ratnakar Adhikari is the Executive Director of the Enhanced Integrated Framework Executive Secretariat at the World Trade Organisation where he leads a programme focused on economic empowerment of the world’s poorest countries. He was previously the Chief Executive Director of South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE), a Kathmandu-based regional think tank, and also served as a Senior Adviser to the National Planning Commission, Government of Nepal, and Trade Programme Specialist for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Asia Pacific Regional Centre in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Dr. Adhikari obtained his Masters of Commerce degree from University of Delhi, India in 1990, Masters of International Law and Economics degree from World Trade Institute, Switzerland in 2002 and PhD degree from University of Warwick, United Kingdom in 2011.
He has conducted extensive research in the areas of international trade, regional economic integration, development assistance, competition policy, and intellectual property rights, particularly from the perspective of least developed countries, and has co-authored and co-edited eight books and contributed several articles, chapters and columns in national and international media.
During the Covid-19 pandemic situation, Dr. Adhikari is working from his home based in Geneva, Switzerland. In this edition of B360, he shares with Dibesh Dangol the five work and social strategies he has adopted during the lockdown.
Mimicking office setting
Get up in the morning and prepare as if you are going to office – shave (regularly, if not every day), take a shower, change (comfortable casual clothing is fine unless you have a video-conference), have your breakfast and go to your home office (create one if you do not already have it), switch on your computer and start working from a set time which in my case it is 9 am.
First things first, check your calendar and plan for the day. Develop a habit of allocating time in your calendar for all the major activities you are going to perform during the day in the calendar which serves three purposes. First, it serves as your priority to do list with clear time allocated for each action, including virtual meetings. Second, it reminds you what you need to do next, depending on how you set reminders in your calendar. Third, it helps you to monitor the progress you are making and in terms of learning which could contribute to course correction if required in the future.
However, while populating the calendar, you need to remember the following:
• Prioritisation: You have only eight hours to work, and within that period you can only do so much, even though you may have many things to accomplish. Therefore, prioritisation is the key.
• Achievable: Include only those tasks that are achievable within the given constraints you face, including time, availability to technology and support services.
• Flexibility: Two types of flexibility is important here. First, keep at least 15 minutes time in between tasks so that you can use that time to get up, stretch your tense muscles, drink water, tea or coffee and go to the rest room, etc. If you are lucky and finish the previous task earlier, then you have time to respond to e-mails and do other things that may not be listed in your calendar.
Use of technology
Use of technology is limited at home compared to real office setting. However, with personal computer and mobile phone, it is possible to do many things, particularly if most of the works are online. To provide my own example, programme management including project approval is one of my key functions. Since I review all the projects online and provide suggestions to my colleagues for making further improvements, where required, this can be done effectively even while working from home.
When the final project is uploaded to our Management Information System after mandatory due diligence, I review the project for one final time and either approve or submit to the Board for approval depending on the threshold and/or nature of the project.
Video-enabled technologies such as MS Team, Zoom and Webex allow us to organise meetings virtually almost with same level of effectiveness as physical meetings. Even WhatsApp or Skype can be used for these purposes mainly in smaller groups.
While work life balance is very important, it becomes even more critical in a lockdown situation. Setting timetables for both the activities could help maintain some degree of work life balance for which some of the following measures can be applied:
• Switching off the computer when the real office hour ends. I make it a point to complete all my official tasks before 6 pm, with a maximum flexibility till 6:30 pm but not beyond.
• Proactively contributing to household chores during lunch break, before and after working hours.
• Enjoying time with family such as by making and having meals, watching news and movies together.
• Doing something creative such as surprise your family by cooking a new dish or making breakfast before anyone wakes up.
• Providing complete time and attention to the family during weekends.
• Celebrating festivals not only with your immediate family but virtually with your extended family members.
Since staying healthy is important not only to develop immunity to flight against virus, but also to maintain a good mental and physical health. A few issues are particularly important:
• Washing and cleaning hands regularly, especially each time you go out of the house, and not touching your mouth, ear and nose. This is doubly important if you are living in apartment setting where taking the lift is unavoidable.
• Maintaining at least two-meter distance while talking to neighbours, disposing garbage, or during unavoidable shopping (e.g., grocery, medicines) and using cashless mode of payment.
• Eating healthy and balanced diet, staying hydrated, avoiding overeating tendency.
• Keeping stress free and getting sufficient rest, entertainment as well as sleep.
• Doing some indoor exercise at home or just brisk walking at least 30 minutes on the garden for both exercise as well as to get some fresh air.
Staying connected professionally with your peers, staff, clients, etc. is important not only to continue to obtain and share necessary information and feedback but also to show how much you care about them. Regularly connecting with the clients is even more important for entrepreneurs and also to let them know that you all are in the same boat. Be honest, transparent and empathetic.
Socially, it is doubly more important to stay connected, because your relatives and friends are also a part of your support system during the period of crisis as much as you are part of theirs. Checking on them, sharing your feelings with them and listening to their perspectives assume even greater significance if some of them or their loved ones are suffering from COVID-19. Virtual gatherings, which used to be unthinkable during normal time, can be a great stress buster and means of entertainment during challenging times such as this.
In either case, one needs to be a bit creative to share positive vibes such as sharing positive news of how COVID-19 is plateauing, cracking a joke and more importantly keeping your smile alive.