COVID-19 & Working From Home

Lessons Learnt; More than just how much commute time I saved

Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

It is June 2021, a few months after the “1 year anniversary” of Singapore’s first circuit breaker. At the start of the pandemic, our lives were met with sudden waves of panic, confusion and fear, cue memory flashbacks to the long queues at supermarkets and furious hogging of toilet papers. But eventually, we adapted to the various policies rolled out by the government. A new normal emerged for most of us. The mandatory wearing of masks, social distancing, and how can we forget: working from home!

Working from home is not a new arrangement, but its increased prevalence is. I would never have thought that office or white-collar jobs would ever be able to get out of (read: escape) the office environment, confined to the 9 to 5 schedule for 5 days a week. COVID-19 was truly a turning point. To contain the spread of a deadly virus, working from home became the default, except for essential services. Workplaces are no longer central common locations. I had embarked on my first software engineering internship back in summer 2020 and the working arrangement was work from home from the get go. With close to a year of work from home experience till date, I would like to share how my perspectives on work (from home) life have changed.

At first, I was very mindful of replying work messages promptly, to show that I was “present” at work. However, the act of constantly checking work-related chats was distracting and caused me to lose focus and attention from more important primary tasks. Yet, this could be a case of procrastination, regardless of the pandemic. At times, there were numerous messages swarming into multiple conversations. To read and even attempt to understand the context and content is another way to deplete my already very limited attention span and willpower. Luckily, I realised that unless your work is extremely time-sensitive, you do not have reply that promptly. So, I learn to draw a line by muting some group chats and checking messaging apps less often. This is still a work in progress for me because apps can be very luring in general. Also, the number of unread messages for other chats can make me feel unsettled if I do not remove the badge counter. That said, every day is a chance for me to practice being clear on what I should focus on, as well as my intention behind a discussion with someone.

Besides that, working from home has allowed us to embrace more flexibility in working hours. Some employees may start work earlier and end work earlier. Some may start work earlier and take a longer lunch break. Some may start work later and end work later. Lunch breaks are no longer fixed from 12pm to 1pm. Employees are able to take charge of their working style and therefore more empowered to juggle work alongside other responsibilities such as taking care of their children. In my opinion, this increased autonomy results in greater accountability because employees can make changes to their working patterns that best suits them and “the end justifies the means”. That said, it is easy to just keep working for the whole day since the work and rest environment seems to be the same. Healthy boundaries need to be set. I learn to switch off “work mode” when it is time to. If you have a work laptop, this could simply be shutting down that laptop until the next working day. If your work laptop is also your personal laptop, closing the work-related apps or project folders would do the trick. This helps to reduce work fatigue in the long run and we can better strive for work life harmony.

Which do you prefer? Working from home or working in office?

Personally, I prefer working from home because I find it more conducive for deep work. Most offices follow an open concept where everyone is within sight of most of their colleagues. Sometimes, I do get conscious of whether I am being watched and that is an uneasy feeling. Besides that, colleagues can easily approach you and the conversations may bring you off tangent from your main course of work. But, I do think that a healthy amount of social interaction is good for our mental wellbeing! Compared to work from home, I feel that one has less control of when to interact with another. Other than that, group discussions can cause a lot of noise in the office and that makes it difficult for one to remain focused. This situation is made better with the presence of meetings rooms, but even so, not all walls are soundproof. However, I am speaking from the point of view of a software developer role. There is a multitude of roles which greatly benefits from the constant physical presence of team members and collaboration is key to achieving greater heights. Different settings are optimal for different roles.

Through work from home arrangements, I believe (and hope) that employers learnt to be less concerned with the start time, end time or duration of their employees’ “active” status online and instead trust their employees more when it comes to managing their time and responsibilities. After all, we are now more aware that factors such as productivity, growth and alignment with goals take precedence over the number of working hours one puts in. Unlike the pandemic, I wish that working from home would stay, perhaps not as a default, but to make way for hybrid working arrangements that best fits each employee.

Thank you for reading! Stay safe as always.