The Business Standard was just 36 days old when the first case of Covid-19 infection in Bangladesh was reported on 8 March 2020. Soon we had to decide to close the TBS offices because the infection rate escalated quickly. We decided to work from home.
Despite the difficult situation in the country and the whole world, and also despite the fact that newspapers became the untouchables overnight out of the fear that they might be spreading the deadly virus, we didn't want to suspend the publication of our newborn TBS. Special delivery measures were arranged for TBS so that our readers didn't have to worry about any health risk.
None of us had actually worked from home before – staying at home always meant leave. But now, a new reality emerged where everyone had to make some arrangements to turn their homes into their workplace.
A number of tools quickly occupied our digital lives – dare I say permanently? Zoom for the meetings, Google Drive for keeping all the stories and photos, Skype for staying in constant call with the graphics team in the evening when the next day's news pages are being prepared.
Numerous chat groups popped up across different sections – on Messenger and WhatsApp. And getting a few notification alerts every minute gradually became the norm of this life in the pandemic!
Reporting is a tedious outside job. The mobile phone has only been a major communication tool very recently. But now, during this pandemic shutdown, it became the most useful tool for the reporters. Only on a few occasions, TBS reporters went out to collect information for their stories. The office, of course, equipped them with PPE gears before they went.
The entire news operation went online. Submission of reports and editing them became email-based. Very soon some of us realised that keeping tracks of all those news emails – receiving some 40-50 reports every day, sending them to sub-editors, getting them back from them and sending for revision and receiving back, and then sending those to the graphics team for putting them in their designated places – could be more than daunting.
The hardest part was bringing out the paper the next morning, though.
The entire graphics team – the people who prepare the artworks and infographics, lay the pages out and ready them for the press – had to be on a call throughout the whole evening.
Although load-shedding didn't happen much, someone would still often call or send SMS to inform they had a power cut – or worse, their Internet was down. That meant waiting for who-knows-how-long before they could be back online and resume their work – causing that tremendous pressure on the newsroom leaders whose one constant thought in the corner of the mind is to meet the press deadline.
And then there was the family co-living with us in our "home offices".
Leave the rest of the world, the very family members of most journalists don't truly understand the nature of our work. So, just when you are in the middle of an important piece editing or revising or understanding it there comes the lady of the house with some "urgent" grocery list – simply because you are home! The kid is always looking for the first opportunity to grab possession of the PC the moment you left for the toilet maybe. The mother and the daughter will always find the time when you are on a call the best moment to engage in a loud conversation.
Days went by. Confusion as to when things will be normal again tormented us like everybody else every day. Being confined to one's house day after day can rattle the mental state even of the most domesticated. And people all over the country – all over the world – had to be in homes for almost a year.
After long five months, we returned to the office – not all of us at once but in phases. We started to see each other again in real life – not the virtual one we so started to dislike. This was a lesson for us. Also, a realisation that home office, in fact, cannot replace the physical office where we all work together, at least in a newspaper house.
The work from home during these few months was especially crucial for us as a new newspaper in the market. But all the difficulties and confusions of the time taught us as a team one thing: hard work pays off. TBS thrived by serving up the most important happenings in the country and around the world with timely and credible news reports and features, analyses by revered veteran economists and thinkers – even amid the harsh reality of shutdown. The readers liked us. The readers chose us.
And The Business Standard survived a tumultuous time that was actually about survival.
The writer is Chief News Editor of The Business Standard