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In UNDP Uzbekistan we build on our main strength – our team. We started with duty of care – safety and health of our people first, embrace IT tools for enhanced efficiency and listen to ourselves to better balance multiple responsibilities while working from home.

The saying goes Be careful what you wish for, it may come true…. I always wanted to spend more time home, and here I am, starting my fifth week confined into my living room! It is unusual and difficult, but the case of UNDP in Uzbekistan confirms that it can also accelerate the way we work and relate as team.

I than move into the online meeting with my team, and the sense of isolation is wiped out. Over 100 members of the UNDP team in Uzbekistan are there, physically divided but closer than ever! 

Strangely or unexpectedly – Covid-19 tied the team together, bonded us! There are probably many reasons for that, here are only few:

1.    Duty of Care

From day one, the message was clear and loud – staff safety is UNDP priority. We acted fast – closely monitored the situation, tested and activated the Business Continuity Plan, procured personal protective equipment for the team, equipped everyone ahead of time. This brought sense of comfort within the team.

2.    Listen and Be Flexible

I was at the beginning surprised that I started receiving more and more late-night e-mails. Later the team explained: Parents by day, Workers by night!

Our job descriptions today are much more complex than before. We are not only professionals and parents but also we become teachers. Some colleagues took additional responsibilities for extended family members unable to care from themselves during the strict lockdown. Working from home has become more of a challenge, than a luxury.

The dilemma our team is facing is around balancing between the need to continue hitting deadlines and fulfilling tasks, which have only increased due to the emergency response, but also to look after the children at home, and the new responsibilities.

The response was on few fronts, we have:

-       encouraged all supervisors to show flexibility, and to adjust the expectations of deliverables

-       ensured the teams is focused on a couple of key, priority tasks 

-       enabled use of digital tools to extent possible, so that everyone is equipped and has as internet access

-       and finally applied creative management tools that bring everyone on the same page.

There are hidden benefits from the new way we work. One silver lining is that we become much more efficient. Because individual schedules are becoming more irregular, teams are planning ahead and becoming more innovative in the way they operate, organise and streamline tasks – using SharePoint to a great degree. It has been impressive how fast our teams have adapted. 

We do meet regularly to be sure that everyone has the support and to feel our spirit. My direct calls with project managers and the broader team are the most revealing about the challenges they face, but also about the things to be proud of!

Still there is way to go – we have to find ways for better observance of work-life balance. Work at late evening hours, weekends have to be avoided – we are still working on better understanding and tools for that.

3.    Share and Have Fun

During our regular meetings, we addressed some common challenges, and found ways of dealing with them. For example, how to help children understand that their parents, despite being at home, have to work. How the colleagues are balancing that role with the care and education roles, and the role of just being a mum or dad. We noticed that every family has developed their own way to respond; so, the tips and tricks were exchanged! Tactics now are spread across – getting formally dressed, turning the living room into an office, buying pets, and so on. We now know better how to address the blending of work and home live.

We also have virtual morning coffees and lunchroom chats, we celebrate birthdays, or just talk so that everyone is able to cope better with quarantine’s difficulties.

4.    Do the Good Thing

In times of crisis we become even more proud of working for UNDP. The sense of responsibility and urge to do the good thing for the country, for the community, and to do it faster, makes UNDP even stronger. It brings motivation to the team, to invent ways of operating that were not thinkable before. All creativity and knowledge are centred around – what UNDP can do more to help Uzbekistan overcome the pandemic? We enter into new areas – health waste management, digital challenge, embrace experimentation and rethink how we do development in and for Uzbekistan.

This sense of proudness and belonging to UNDP is priceless. 

My may take away is that at times when the world is struggling from it, Covid-19 is also connecting and tying us together. We constantly try to figure out how to keep going as individuals, families, but also as organization. And we do much better! 

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