The global spread of COVID-19 has resulted in widespread remote working. Our Singapore team have been working from home now for over two months; we asked OCS HR Consultant Chun Hian Bong to share his experiences so far and shed some light on what to expect for our other teams in Dubai and across Europe.
Bong’s insight into balancing work and family life provides nuggets of wisdom and a refreshingly positive perspective on the current challenging circumstances.
Q: When did you begin working from home and how long did you think it would last for?
I began working from home back in February when Singapore’s government raised the country’s risk assessment on disease outbreak to the second highest level. One of the government’s recommendations was for companies to make telecommuting arrangements. I got the approval from my manager and started working from home. Nobody had an idea of how long it would last, and I didn’t think I was smarter than them to predict an end date.
Q: How were the initial weeks of working from home and what challenges did you face setting up?
My wife stays home with my two young kids who are not in school yet. By now you know how the story goes.
My apartment is on the 33rd floor (many Singaporeans live in high-rise buildings). In the late afternoon, the sun shines directly on the corner of the dining table where I sit (envy me, dear colleagues in Europe, but it’s not the kind of sunlight that you would like to have for the whole summer) – the bright light and heat becomes unbearable. In the first week, I tried many different configurations to get on with the placement of the computer and angle with respect to the light. So, there were efforts to try to handle some of these small details.
Q: How does your typical workday at home compare to your typical workday in the office?
The biggest difference is that now there are pockets of time that are freed up from commuting, heading out for lunch, etc. Some days, as a family, we exercise along with exercise videos for kids on YouTube (I wonder if they make us adults feel more tired than the kids).
Lunch break has emerged to be another pocket of family time. After lunch, my kids would ask me to play with them or read a book or two.
Q: What keeps you motivated while working from home?
My 5-year-old son should be in kindergarten this year. However, my wife decided to home school him before he enters primary school next year. She was not trained as a teacher, but she poured in tremendous effort to put together a plan as well as gathering all the materials to teach both him and my 3-year-old daughter. When they sit across from me at the dining table, whether to go through lessons or art and craft, it is a beautiful picture to behold – or motivating shall I say?
Q: Is there any common remote working advice that you would disagree with or doesn’t work for you? E.g. Exercise before work, take more frequent breaks etc.
In my view, these articles lack context in which the advice might work. For example, some suggest certain routines that seem to only apply to a person who is single without kids. If you have kids, you know the drill. Kids don’t schedule a meeting with you in advance to sit on your lap when they feel bored. Similarly, when your other half is facing a crisis with a child, you can’t choose to focus on your work only and remain ignorant of what’s going on in the house. We must be adaptable to our own situation and not take all the advice the internet has to offer.
Q: With the many negatives that COVID-19 has brought about, have you been able to take any positives from the situation?
I watched a TED Talk Bill Gates gave. He said that the world was not ready for the next outbreak. The time he gave the talk was five years ago. Apparently, former US president George W. Bush made a warning ten years before Gates stood on TED stage. I start to admire people who think ahead of time and make plans for it. Closer to home, our government has taken many steps to protect and help all Singaporeans; they would not be able to act swiftly if they did not learn these lessons from others and plan for it. My father always instilled within me the idea of saving for rainy days, which is also kind of the same idea, and now proves to be very timely. My takeaway would be to not take anything for granted, and to prepare for the unexpected.
Q: Does working from home become easier with time?
It seems that it did get easier with time in my case. Being young, my kids were very curious of what I did in front of a screen. They would climb onto my lap and try to snatch the mouse. That stopped after a short time. There are daily challenges in dealing with kids, but we don’t anticipate them to go away. As a family we have adjusted along the way – the kids go about with their fun, daddy gets his work done, and mummy gets the food served. The reward? We can all play together afterward!
Working from home due to COVID-19 has been a steep learning curve for most people. Our Global HR Manager Angela Stewart provides Remote Working Tips from a HR perspective and our IT Director Gareth Allan shares the most frequently asked IT questions during this time.
About the Author
Chun Hain Bong - Senior Consultant
When he is not hand holding his two kids to write, Bong handholds Mintra’s customers to use OCS, our Workforce Management Software. He enjoys seeing the joy on the users’ face when they realise how their daily tedious work can be simplified using the software. He likes photography; specifically taking black-and-white photos with films and processing them at home.
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