5 Insights about Working From Home from Malaysians — And Its Impact on the Future

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As the world starts moving its gears and easing back into the regular day-to-day operations, people are sluggishly dragging themselves back to the office.

However, as more businesses switch to working from home (WFH) as the modus operandi, the line between work and personal time has been blurred.

[Image via Unsplash]

This begs the question: Is working from home a valid alternative from sticking to a 9-to-5? 

What was it like to work from home for two months?

“Working from home is surprisingly okay, and it’s certainly a lot cheaper, as I’m not constantly buying coffee or snacks, or queuing for ages to use the bathroom,” says Anjy, who works at an NGO. 

Johnathan, who was recently furloughed, says the MCO has led to decreased productivity for him, as work stress was more manageable with the structure of a 9-to-5 in place.

“I definitely prefer a structured environment. I tend to get more exercise and also sleep better when I have something to look forward to the next day,” he says.

Meanwhile, Adam says he has a built-in alarm clock that wakes him up without fail, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. 

“It’s thanks to my cats – they kick me out of bed at 5:30AM every day, because they want breakfast,” laughed Adam, who has a live-in girlfriend and two cats.

[Adam’s cat Rascal lying on his keyboard — and no work was done that day.]

What were the upsides & downsides of working from home?

“It’s given me more time to exercise as I don’t need to travel from work; I’m eating healthier since I don’t have access to office snacks,” says Shakti, a teacher.

Anjy noticed that she took less breaks, and would often work till dinnertime. But at the same time, her day would start later as well.

[Anjy used to go out to restaurants with her family as a way to bond. Pictured here in front of Italian restaurant Alto.] 

“I don’t start work until at least 11am, and take a long break to exercise, shower, cook and eat, so I feel like I do less work overall,” admits Anjy.

“Honestly, working from home has not been the problem. The problem has been not being able to go out, and do stuff,” says Adam.

But despite that inconvenience, he says he is still sitting tight in his apartment because of fears of a more deadly second wave.

“Even with the CMCO now in effect I still am not going out. Too many s***shows of what has happened in other countries that ended their lockdowns early,says Adam.

Are workers more likely to slack off when working from home?

“I believe that whatever habit they had at the office will carry over to WFH,” Adam shared. 

It’s not about whether they are in the office —  it’s about what kind of office and company culture existed before that.

“I have worked in places where people will voluntarily stay late to get things done. And are happy about it. I work in places where the clock chimes quitting time, and the office is empty one minute later,” he says.

When the MCO began, there was the fear from employers that employees will shirk their duties if they aren’t in the office.

But the reality is that people redoubled their efforts just to keep their jobs.

“Although my company hasn’t laid anyone off yet, they just canceled the graduate trainee programme,” says Esther, a HR executive.

Esther has been spending all her effort to work extra hard to ensure her job is secure. When I spoke to her, she barely had enough energy to talk or do anything after.

“I’m very new in the business, so if things get worse, I’ll most likely be next,” Esther replied anxiously.

What lessons did you learn from working from home?

“I thought it would be more relaxed since I didn’t have to travel to work. But in reality, there was no difference because the workload didn’t change,” Shakti says. “We still have our KPIs to meet.”  

[Shakti misses going out for a walk around her neighborhood. Pictured here before the MCO.]

For most of us, working from home means we are completely dependent on our internet connection and a working laptop to get any work done.

Adam says the biggest lesson he learnt is to be very grateful to the IT industry (from IT guys to internet service providers).

“Shoutout to my IT guy who was literally able to remote repair my work laptop so I could get things done,” says Adam.

Working in an office means that files are easily available through company intranet.  Losing that access is a game-changer for most.

“They wouldn’t let us take “sensitive information” home …But if we can’t take the data home, we’re not going to get any work done,” says Adam.

What tips do you have to get work done faster and more efficiently?

Adam share a few tips for a better and more conducive work environment:

Set up a dedicated work space — A room, table, space on the floor, etc. Make that the work space. 

“Tell yourself that work. Does. NOT. Leave that space,” says Adam.

Set up dedicated working hours — Ideally, match the hours to your pre-MCO office hours; it avoids mental disconnects and dissonance. 

“I have told my bosses to piss off (politely) when they message and call me outside those office hours. It is work from home, not work round the clock,” says Adam.

Pace yourself — Take breaks, use the toilet. But don’t go overboard. 

“A 20-minute match of MLBB (Mobile Legends Bang Bang) every hour is excessive. But a two-minute YouTube video is not,” says Adam.

Fill the silence This depends on you as a person. Can you work in silence? If not, find ASMR/background audio tracks to help fill that void of silence.  Find what works for you.

[Rascal pictured here with Adam’s other cat Slinky.] 

“My graphic designer uses something called Purli.com – its constant cat purring,” says Adam. “A programmer I know literally codes everything with the Canadian band Rush in the background. As for me? Silence works best.”

Don’t let personal hygiene slip — it’s tempting to go without a shower for 3 days, or keep an unshaven stubble to see if you can pull off the “Wizard’s beard” look. 

“Nothing different than tips on how to work faster in general. Create a game you can win — create a realistic work schedule,” he says.

If you manage people, use read notifications — it’s the best way to make colleagues and bosses accountable for everything.

“Because you can’t see them face to face, use the read notification function on your email. That way, you know when they have received something, and read it,” he explained.

“And if they don’t do their part, it’s easy to prove that they did get it. My bosses and colleagues both hate me for using that function,” says Adam.

The future of working from home

There is a trend for companies to move towards working contracts with less obligation to the employee.

“I foresee more commercial white collar jobs downsizing their in-office presence once they realise how much work can be done remotely,” says Li, a real estate agent. 

It is true that companies will be able to save a lot more by not renting large commercial spaces. 

[Image via Unsplash]

With such a fundamental change in attitudes in the workplace, will regular people want to work from home for the rest of their lives?

“Yes. Easily,” says Adam, “I would prefer a mix of both if I could.”

“Not at all,” said Anjy, who lives with a shouty neighbor who interrupts her workflow with daily phone calls with contractors. “I can’t wait to be able to leave my house regularly, even if it is just to go do work in a cafe.”

“Personally, I’m tired of working from home,” says Shakti, who has found her personal time being swamped by the need to prepare online lessons for her classes. “I miss being at school physically and walking into physical rooms.”

The shift to working from home has created opportunities for some, while inconveniencing others mildly. Still more had their livelihoods directly affected.

One thing’s for sure. The new normal is here to stay.

For more stories like this, read: Are We Overworked? Malaysians Share Their Stories and Working From Home: Ups And Downs Of Remote Working.

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