May 2020: Q and A with Nina Benjamin, Project Leader: Gender Programme at Labour Research Service (LRS), South Africa
Where are you working at the moment?
From home, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Has your work been strongly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic?
There’s been about 35% impact on all the face-to-face training and work that involves travel, which had to be cancelled.
How have you managed these changes?
Death by ZOOM!!!
What are the challenges?
We need to communicate by telephone with many people who form part of the constituency we work with. The telephone calls are expensive – but often people have little access to data, so my fall-back communication strategy is the telephone. I spend long hours on Zoom, as it is not just a back-up but my main form of communication. Long Zoom meetings are exhausting, and also subject to reliable internet connectivity.
Does this change the way you operate and plan, and how? What are you doing differently?
We are starting to plan more online forms of education and communication.
Can you give us some examples of positive aspects of your work at the moment? Are there good things that have happened?
There is more focused intellectual work between team members.
What advice and support do you have for others?
To exercise a great deal of patience – as people might be exhausted, traumatised, anxious, overwhelmed, forced to be multi-tasking, fearful of running out of data, etc. To treat preparation for online communication in the same way (or perhaps with even more intensity) as face-to-face engagements. With online communication one needs one to be conscious that it is a different form of communication, with different issues. For example: when do you put on your camera, what does it mean to speak into a void, how do you know who is listening, how do you read or understand how what you are saying is being received? It is important to share experiences with others, not only about the content but also the form of communication.