On Taking Care of Each Other (and the flu!)

Last week, I was threatened, bribed, menaced, ushered, and merrily shoved out of the office. This was because I wasn’t, in fact, sporting a 1920s songstress making-it-big-on-Broadway rasp, but probably sick with the flu and therefore (1) not supposed to be at work and (2) not supposed to be thinking about work.
People offered to drive me home.
I was given multiple recipes to feel to make me feel better.
And when I asked to finish work, that request was blockaded by our CEO.
“Go home, get some rest, and feel better,” was the general advice given by everyone from Richard to the designer behind me, who couldn’t resist talking back to me in a really good imitation of what someone would sound like if they gargled with gravel every morning and washed it down with sandpaper.
Anyway, I went home. There’s not much you can do when the office is hellbent on you getting better, whether they have to drag you out and make you better by the sheer force of will.

Open Offices and the Flu

The open office model works great for us, but let’s face it: there’s a reason zombie apocalypse movies start with that one panning shot of an office worker coughing into their hands and them promptly infecting half the office. The CDC says that office workers can transfer their diseases up to six feet away, which – if it isn’t the biggest pile of ‘yikes’ you have ever heard – kind of explains why people tend to cycle in and cycle out of work when they’re sporting a cold.
The Gurus of Office Health have a lot of tips about how you can minimise getting sick: 

  • wash your hands
  • avoid handshakes
  • barricade yourself in a bubble-wrapped cardboard box from a supermarket delivery
  • listen to classical music to tune out the relentless coughing of the grimly-refusing-to-be-sick

In pretty practical terms, there’s nothing you can do. Office environments are hotbeds for a vicious stop and start loop of getting sick, getting better, getting sick. And short of not going into work – and potentially missing out on delicious homemade brownies – or getting sequestered into a corner of the office, the options are to go in, and hope the eldritch being sleeping under Mriehel has dire plans for you and therefore looks after your health.

However, in the case of getting sick, the Switch team is Very, Very Supportive.

Switch and the Flu

Let me break it down further.
The Maltese culture is built on three facets:
(1) being impossible to shift from a given location [see Great Siege of 1565]
(2) being fastidiously concerned with What Other People Are Doing [see Eurovision 1958-present], and
(3) never letting anyone forget the time they made a mistake [see Teri Camilleri’s ‘Tyrannical misspelling, Switch Instagram 2018].
The fourth dark timeline facet of the Maltese culture is that We Are All Like Our Mothers, Always, and that means every time someone hints at being sick, under the weather, sad, has gotten a ticket, misses their dog, forgot lunch, or missed out on a team event, the team comes together to bombard that person with goodness.

How Do You Solve a Problem like Switch?

The process of shooing a sick Switch member out into their own bed occurs in the following steps:

  1. Melissa offers her world-famous flu-busting medication because ‘it works wonders, it really clears me up’.
  2. Vanessa finger-waggles you into guilt with small insistences that ‘you shouldn’t be here you’re sick’.
  3. Teri recommends a Spotify playlist for you to feel better, and also why are you still here, and also no, you can’t work from home, you’re sick.
  4. Thomas appears, stage left, from a direction that you could’ve sworn was just a wall a second ago. (The two ways to summon Thomas are “Switch people not feeling at their best” and “improper recycling techniques”, so you just go with it.) He offers a ride home. He offers a ride to the doctor. Thomas, in general, offers to take you wherever you need to because he is everyone’s big brother.
  5. Naomi makes fun of your voice while also simultaneously recommending rest and tea.
  6. Rik makes fun of your voice while also simultaneously telling you to get out.
  7. You are ushered to the door in your coat and summarily removed from the premises.

Actual footage of sick Switchers getting chased out of the office:


Remedies and the Flu

There are variations, of course; everyone has their own way of getting that one coworker who came in when they shouldn’t out of the office. Nella looms, Danika shoos, Matt — well, Matt is never actually in the office. Recipes and remedies range from ‘get drunk, it’ll kill the germs, seriously’ to Nanna’s recipe for all-inclusive flu buster, floor cleaner, and oven-shiner which will clear your sinuses out.
People care about you – and want you to take care of yourself. For people who came from a completely different background – read, me – it’s really strange to get used to. Your boss, actively telling you to go home, and not to worry about work, and have you got any soothers because they’ll go buy some–it’s an adjustment to make. People are invested, both in making sure you’re up and going before the weekend, and making sure that it doesn’t spread.

The Care and Feeding of Sick Switchers

It’s hard being sick during March. The weather’s designed to kick you when you’re down. Getting from the house to the office is a trek in darkness, intermittently lit by someone’s insane road manoeuvre into Mriehel. It’s hard focusing. Sitting down is difficult. It’s hard knowing you have to work when your head is stuffed full of cotton wool and the keyboard keeps changing to Cyrillic naval flag signals when you’re not looking. Judgement gets impaired when the workload’s piling up and all the little white blood cells in your body are waging a Somme against the flu – so it’s nice to know that when you go into the office, there are people looking out for you, people making sure you’re fit to be there, people who’ll help you get home, and make sure you’re safe, and make sure you only come in when you feel better.
People take care of each other. Part of it is culture – the Maltese are invasive, inquisitive, invested – and part of it is kindness.
Most of it is that at Switch, you’re never really left to fight your battles alone.
Even if all that battle is is the flu.

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