A year ago I, like millions of other Malaysians, did most of my work from the office. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic showed up, we were forced to switch to a new model: work from home (WFH).
While it took some adjustment, I soon found that this new model was much more to my liking.
Now I didn’t have to worry about waking up at the crack of dawn or rushing to catch the LRT every morning. No more getting caught in the rain or being forced to skip meals in order to get work done on time. Most importantly, no more worrying about wearing a mask or bringing hand sanitiser or a thousand other little things that were necessary to stay safe in the office.
Instead of worrying over all these issues, now I could concentrate solely on my work.
Of course, as nice as it is, the WFH model does come with its own downsides…
Why Is It So Much Harder to Work Remotely?
For many of us, having an office is important because it makes it easier to divide our lives between “home” and “work”. However, the WFH model blurs these lines – especially for parents who may have to juggle taking care of their kids while handling their own workloads.
In April 2020, a Qualtrics report discovered that 41.6% of those who switched to WFH were suffering from a decline in mental health. Some of the common problems mentioned include:
Feelings of isolation and loneliness
Difficulty staying motivated
Uncertainty about progress, fears about falling behind
Insomnia and sleep problems
Getting Your Work Done Without Sacrificing Your Sanity
While it can be stressful, if you’re struggling to cope with the WFH model, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There are millions, perhaps even billions, of people all across the world who are facing the same challenges that you are at this moment.
To help you out, here are some tips to get your work done without going insane:
1) Set a routine
When you’re at the office, it’s easy to stick to a routine. Everyone comes in at the same time, goes for lunch at the same time and packs up to go home at the same time.
However, when you’re working from home, it’s all too easy for this routine to get messed up. “It’s lunchtime, but I’m almost done with this,” you think. “I’ll just wrap this up and then eat.”
The next thing you know, it’s getting dark outside and your mum is banging on the door asking if you’re going to come out for dinner or not.
To make your WFH life easier, it’s important to set and stick to a new work routine. Work when it’s time to work and, more importantly, STOP working when that time is over.
Remember: if you’re not getting paid for overtime, you have no obligation to keep working once your hours are over. Don’t force yourself to stay at the computer when you should be eating or sleeping.
2) A dedicated workplace
I don’t know about you, but I hate cubicles. They’re small, they’re uncomfortable and they make you feel isolated even when you’re in the middle of a big office.
That said, they do have one positive: they make it easy to ignore distractions and focus on your work. When you’re at home, it can feel like there are a million distractions popping up every day to demand your attention – children, pets, TVs, food deliveries, noisy neighbours, etc.
If you’re doing WFH, one good way to stay focused is to set up your own workspace. It doesn’t have to be a big fancy office – even a quiet corner by a window can work!
Doing this is a good way to not only prevent you from getting distracted but also helps to separate your “work” and “home” lives. Keep all your work in your office instead of dragging your laptop or files over to the table while you’re having lunch. At the very least, your family is bound to be happier that you’re paying attention to them rather than the computer screen!
3) Take a break
Seriously, this is a big one.
When you’re using the WFH system, one big issue is the inability to “unplug”. For many of us, it’s tempting to feel like you need to be present and working 24/7. However, the truth is that no one can remain productive all the time.
Instead of staying glued to the computer screen all the time, make sure to take a few regular breaks. It doesn’t have to be anything too drastic, but even something like a quick five-to-ten minute break every hour can make a big difference.
The next time you start to feel stiff or need a toilet break, remember that your body is trying to send you a message. Listen to what it’s saying and you might be surprised at how much easier it is to stick to your work!
4) Talk to someone
Despite all of its benefits, the WFH model does have a serious drawback: when you’re working alone every day, it’s easy to start feeling isolated.
Human interaction is important. Whether you’re naturally extroverted or introverted, everyone has social needs. Being alone for too long is bad for your health — physically as well as emotionally.
If you’re starting to feel lonely, try interacting more with your coworkers. Instead of emails, use video calls or arrange virtual coffee breaks and other get-togethers as a way to support and spend time with each other.
After all, odds are that you’re not the only one feeling lonely nowadays.
Should We Even Go Back to the Office?
Personally, I love being able to work from home! But not all Malaysians agree.
In July 2021, human resources solutions agency Randstad released a survey to highlight how the average Malaysian’s working life has changed since the start of this pandemic.
One of the big issues they discovered was that around 37% of those who had switched to the WFH model found it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Aside from that, those who took the survey also reported several other complaints, including wanting more allowance for remote working (39%), more support programmes to improve their skills (33%) and more financial assistance programmes to help workers who had to worry about childcare (26%).
That said, even with all these issues, recent surveys have shown that eight out of ten employees want to keep working from home even after this pandemic is over!
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major shift in where we work, when we work and how we work,” said Tan Lay Keng, people advisory services leader for EY Asean and Malaysia.
She added that despite the difficulties of WFH, the majority of employees feel positive about being able to work outside the office, with 54% of respondents saying that their organisational culture has improved since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While this number may seem odd at first glance, it does make sense once you take their circumstances into account. Now more than ever, ordinary workers are paying close attention to how their bosses are treating them.
Whether you prefer to work from home or go back to the office, a company that has been taking steps to protect their employee’s health is naturally going to be more appealing compared to a company that tries to force everyone to stay in the office no matter what.
Be Kind To Everyone, Even Yourself
There’s nothing wrong with feeling tired or frustrated. There’s nothing wrong with wishing that you could return to the office or wanting things to just go back to normal.
However, in the end, wallowing in the past or complaining about things we can’t change isn’t going to help anyone. In times like this, it’s important to be kind — not just to everyone around you, but to yourself as well.
Remember that you also deserve kindness. You also deserve to be happy. This whole pandemic situation has been unfair, and many innocent people — ordinary Malaysians like you and me — are struggling to survive.
But just because things are hard today doesn’t mean that it will remain so forever. In fact, even in our darkest hour, many Malaysians have stood up to go above and beyond in order to help those around them.
To learn more about these stories, check out 4 Everyday Malaysians Who Embody #KitaJagaKita Amidst COVID-19.