Credit: 123rf

Since the Covid-19 pandemic and DORSCON Orange alert in Singapore, many Singaporeans have started to work from home. Gone were the daily commute and physical meetings—everything is now online.

During circuit breaker in Singapore when WFH clashed with Home Based Learning or HBL — another new acronym that sprouted during CB — complaints were definitely heard from parents, myself included.

For some others, the rare opportunity of working from home and not having to step into office was a breath of fresh air.

Though initially there was lots of adjustment required, gradually, the sense is that people have gotten accustomed to working from home. And as WFH continues on, I’m beginning to question if we really need to work in an office in order to be productive.

A strong reason for continuing the WFH arrangement, at least for myself, is the time and money saved on transport.

The time saved gives me an extra hour of sleep, or even the chance to have a leisurely breakfast to kickstart my day without having to rush through the morning.

According to Adam Cox, founder of Work from Home Week, “reductions in commuting time can help improve worker mental health, reduce tiredness, and increase overall productivity by giving people greater flexibility”.

Being in the comfort of your own home also means more flexibility and freedom in terms of how you want to “show up” for work.

Here’s what I mean: I enjoy being able to work wherever I choose at home, bare-faced and in my pyjamas if I wanted to.

I’m lucky that lunch is always readily available (since I currently live with my parents) so it’s one less thing to think about. Lunch can be taken in parts as well — a half hour here and there, eating while typing, any way you like. 

And best of all, I get to welcome my son when he returns home from childcare — always a bright spot in my day and something I am not able to do otherwise when working in the office.

I could also squeeze in a quick workout during my break if I wanted to, and take a quick shower in the middle of the day when it gets too hot or after my hypothetical workout. And there’s also no one to judge you if you spend too long doing your business in your own (clean) toilet.

These are all very personal reasons of, course, and reasons that may very well work only for me.

But in order to have a comfortable work from home experience, it is important to have the trust of your bosses to not skive on the job.

WFH also works better if you have a fixed work output and schedule so you and your bosses know exactly what you’ve got to get done for the day.

Without constant movement around me, I find myself less distracted by my surroundings (and colleagues) and therefore more productive when working from home.

There are benefits to working together in an office, of course. Face-to-face interactions make it easier to work with colleagues and fewer misunderstandings may occur if subtle facial and bodily cues could be perceived.

A colleague hit the nail on the head when she said: “You just get less frustrated with people when you can see them.”

A mixed arrangement might be the way to go

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Credit: 123rf

Of course, WFH is not without its cons.

In an informal poll of about 10 colleagues and friends, most of them were not as steadfastly pro-WFH as I thought they would be.

I was surprised that a few found themselves overworked and feeling burnt out.

While she appreciates not having to waste time with the daily commute, business manager Tan Yinhui, 39, is not 100 per cent behind a totally WFH arrangement, “because the line between work and rest has blurred”.

One Bloomberg article stated that the pandemic workday has “obliterated work-life balance“, and people are on average working three hours longer than usual. 

Personally and perhaps for many, there is the pressure to “perform” when we’re not physically present to show face, and this stress may lead to burnout.

But some companies are helping employees to cope. At Starbucks Corp., employees get 20 free therapy sessions, while Salesforce runs virtual meditation sessions and workouts as employees WFH. 

Still, despite the stresses of WFH, not everyone is looking to run back to office at the first chance they get. So then, what’s the best in-between arrangement?

Most of those I asked would like the flexibility to choose between working in an office or at home, and even a mandatory few days in office “now and then” would be nice.

The reasons are partly for the social interaction, and also to utilise all the facilities an office has to offer, including the free air-conditioning.

Before you think it’s just your typical Singaporean mentality at play, we have to admit that stuff like printing of forms and getting documents signed are just easier when you’re in the office. 

But working from home may be the norm, given the times.

Fujitsu has announced it will halve its office space in Japan by the end of 2022, with its 80,000 office workers encouraged to primarily work remotely. It will also switch completely to a hotdesking system.

Facebook also said that it expects at least half of its 48,000 staff to be working remotely within a decade. But there’s a catch in that employees may need to take a pay cut based on cost of living in their locale.

And for those who’d still love to continue the WFH situation when the pandemic is over, there are ways you can negotiate for that arrangement.

But remember that it’s not just about meeting your personal needs; your reasons have to be justified and beneficial for the company, too. 

As for myself, I’m still holding out for WFH to continue, and doing up that negotiation list at the same time.

This article was first published in AsiaOne.