When work becomes your saviour during 14 days of mandatory isolation in a lonely hotel room

Marianne Kjaer is confined to mandatory isolation in a Sydney hotel as part of Australia’s strict 14-day quarantine rules for all people arriving from overseas. She is unable to open a window or leave her room, even to exercise in the hallway. What’s keeping Marianne sane, and giving her focus, is the ability to continue working thanks to a suite of online collaboration tools, including video meetings on Microsoft Teams. 

This is Marianne’s story.  

At 79 years of age, my mother decided it was time to sell the family home and move into something smaller.  

Me on the left with my mum, in Copenhagen.

It’s been 20 years since I left my native country of Denmark to move to the sunshine and beaches in Australia but I always promised mum I’d come home whenever she needed me. 

She faced the task of packing up a lifetime of memories and possessions and I was ready to help.  

COVID-19 had just been declared a pandemic as I was preparing to leave for Denmark in mid-March. I was a little nervous about leaving behind my family in Australia but while there was some talk of travel restrictions, nothing was in place and my mum needed me. So I caught my flight to Denmark. 

Eight hours after I landed in Copenhagen, Denmark shut its borders. The national airline, where my brother worked, was virtually grounded and within days stricter social distancing rules came into effect, including limiting social outings to two people. 

Despite the uncertainty enveloping us, Mum and I got to work packing up a lifetime of possessions and readying our family home for its new owners. 

With flights out of Copenhagen almost an impossibility, my brother was able to organise a flight on Qatar Airways to get me back to Sydney, via Doha. 

I had been following Australia’s ever-increasing tightening of restrictions for anyone arriving from overseas and I had prepared to self-isolate in my own home, but away from my family, for 14 days upon my return. 

I was due to land in Sydney on Saturday, March 28. 

Two days before I was due to leave Copenhagen, my flight was cancelled. 

I managed to get another flight which would land in Sydney on Monday, March 30. 

Hours before I was due to leave Denmark, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced every person arriving into the country would be taken to a hotel for a mandatory 14 days isolation.  

That meant me. 

When I landed at Sydney Airport last Monday morning, following a 30-hour flight, I was greeted by police and military. I felt like a criminal.  

I, and the other arrivals, were repeatedly told we would face jail time if we didn’t cooperate. A guard of police and military stayed with us constantly. 

We were taken by bus to our hotel. I was given a room in the Parkroyal hotel at Darling Harbour. In normal circumstances, it would be a lovely place to stay. A four-star hotel in the heart of Sydney. 

But these were far from normal circumstances. I was jet lagged and, to be honest, scared by what I had just experienced. Now I faced the prospect of not leaving this room for 14 days. Police patrol the hallways outside our rooms and we were told we could only open the door to receive our food drops three times a day. Someone asked if they could exercise in the hallway. The answer was a firm; “No”. 

When I got to my room, I went to open the window to get some much needed fresh air. Like most hotel rooms, the window doesn’t open. Two full weeks ahead without a breath of fresh air… 

By this time, I was hungry. Nothing was open at the usually bustling Sydney Airport and it had been at least seven hours since I’d last eaten on the plane. 

So when I heard the knock on the door at 11.30am I got a bit excited…but not for long. This is what arrived. 

Day One breakfast. The only time I'm allowed to open my door is when my meals arrive.
Day One breakfast. The only time I’m allowed to open my door is when my meals arrive.

I have no say in what I am served to eat and I have to wash my plate and cutlery in the bathroom sink after each meal.  

I knew then it was going to be a long two weeks, in a small hotel room, completely on my own with no other face to face human interaction and no fresh air. 

My hotel “office”, looking out a window that doesn’t open.

I pulled out my computer and logged onto my work Yammer and Microsoft Teams networks. 

Waiting for me were messages of support from my colleagues, photos of what was happening in their lives. I began to message back, soon we were sharing photos and stories and I felt a connection to the outside world. 

Early the next morning we had our first world-wide business video meeting on Teams. My colleagues from the UK, US and across Australia were there for me to see and talk with.  

Usually we’re straight into business in these meetings. Not today. We spent the time connecting and reassuring ourselves in this new world. We’re all used to working from home, but not from mandatory isolation in a hotel room. 

My husband and daughter have waved to me from outside my hotel room. I’m in one of the small windows on the left.

For me, my ability to be able to connect and work has been my saving grace. The fact I receive video calls from colleagues and can see their faces, my connection to the outside world, keeps me sane. 

Thanks to Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Workplace from Facebook I can carry on my work as usual, my highlight in an otherwise pretty miserable existence. 

Work is my saviour during this difficult time, and I’m still only half-way through my isolation stay. 

I have written to the New South Wales Police Commissioner Michael Fuller and my local state Member of Parliament Rob Stokes pointing out that the United Nations’ Human Rights Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners says prisoners are; “allowed the entrance of fresh air whether or not there is artificial ventilation”. We are not offered a COVID-19 test, so I also have to live with that uncertainty. 

My husband and daughter took this photo of me yesterday, decorating my hotel room.

I find my mind wandering, I guess it’s the strain of the whole situation. 

Thankfully, I can get to work and escape my reality, instead focusing on looking after our customers and business. I can connect with colleagues and customers and achieve productive work. 

I would just love to be Working From Home and not Working From Hotel.  

One of my colleagues entertained me by showing me how to put filters on my Teams video. This is telling of how I feel at the moment.

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