George is Operations Manager, Engineering & Operations Services (EPS, East) in Sharjah. He has an onshore team of engineers and supply chain colleagues, and an offshore team of engineers, technician divers and 14 vessels that has been effectively marooned out on the Al Basra oil terminal since lockdown. The natural order has been turned upside down, he says: “Who would have thought we’d all be caged at home while the animals roam the streets?”
What’s the most positive thing that has come out of your lockdown experience: for you personally, for your local community, for your working life?
I usually commute from home in Dubai to work in Sharjah, so we rarely sat down as a family to eat together. For me the most positive thing to come out of lockdown is spending quality time with my wife Sylvie and my daughters Joy (7), who showed that we can be happy through a crisis and Karly (5) – Karly means ‘little and mighty’ and I can see why now!
I used to think I’d got my work/life balance all sorted, thought I’d done it very well. But now I see what I’ve been missing. Yes, I do miss going out to a bar with the guys, play billiards and have a drink together, but that’s a small trade-off. We’ve had a strict lockdown here. You have to have a permit to go out to a specific shop that you name, and within specified hours. You can get one permit every three days, and the police will check your ID, track your movement by your mobile and have your car registration.
It’s ironic that despite social distancing, we’ve never been closer to each other as a community. Instead of being divided by race say or class, we are all united because we have the same enemy. We care more about each other, about family and community.
I used to be against working from home – but I’ve been proven wrong. Instead of efficiency dropping, it’s unexpectedly gone up. People are putting in more hours, and I have to force them to do less, not more. Covid-19 has driven digital adoption almost overnight.
Is there anything you unexpectedly miss from pre-lockdown life? And anything you thought you’d miss but actually don’t at all?
I miss going to work – didn’t expect that. When we do go back it will be 30% occupancy. We will probably divide the teams into Red, Yellow and Blue teams and each will take it in turns to go into the office. But we’ll never go back to how we were before.
I’m passionate about football. I support Bayern Munich, got all the shirts, and when that stopped you think it’s going to leave a big hole in your life. But you know what, I haven’t thought about it once, hasn’t even crossed my mind. That’s quite strange.
What one lesson/change will you take from this experience that will change you as a person – and change the way you think about and do your work?
Life goes on – the world changes and we change with it, we adapt. That’s an important lesson. Who would have thought we’d all be caged at home while the animals roam the streets? Or that hugging someone is bad and keeping your distance is good? It’s the flexible, adaptable people and companies that will come out of this strongest.
Have you felt supported by your colleagues and by your local community? How have you supported others?
People are risking themselves to protect others, by buying their groceries for example. My team offshore has shown me how to be strong. It takes a tough person to be isolated like they are for so long and to stay positive. They are true warriors, true heroes – they’ve taught me a lot. My onshore team have been inspirational too, in quickly getting welfare items on a boat to their colleagues by dipping into their own pockets.
What personal qualities have you found most helpful in getting through these times – and helping others do the same? How will you use those qualities more in your job from now on?
I’ve never been the calmest person. I don’t always handle stress well. But I’ve become calmer, for the sake of my family and my colleagues. They can’t see me stressed. I try to find the funny things, and not stress about the things you can’t change. I tell my family that we’re going to get the virus but we’re strong people, we’ll get through it. Things like this change you as a person, gives you maturity, makes you emotionally smarter. These changes are not temporary: you’re changed for good – in every sense.
What’s inspired you most over the last few weeks - one piece of music, one book or film, or one person perhaps?
I’ve become closer to the Bible. I’ve got it on my mobile as an app. There’s a verse in Luke: ‘And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven…’ You can see some of the prophesies coming true, but it gives me hope, it’s not negative at all. He says, ‘Don’t be terrified – for it will pass’.
“Life goes on – the world changes and we change with it, we adapt. That’s an important lesson.”
WORDS RICHARD LOMAX
PUBLISHED MAY 2020