Managing stress and maintaining work-life balance when working from home

WFH blurs boundaries

Since work from home (WFH), along with all the associated restrictions relating to the COVID-19 lockdowns, came into effect, Singaporeans’ reactions to it have been ambivalent. Some have welcomed and embraced WFH, but others not so.

 

On the surface of it, WFH seemed like a good thing – the opportunity to work from the comforts of your home, saving time and money on commuting, getting a couple more hours of sleep, being close to your loved ones, not needing to dress up – all these seemed great.

 

But as many Singaporeans discovered, there are many downsides to WFH.

 

For employers (and employees keen to meet their KPIs), the initial concern naturally, was over work productiveness.

 

Working alongside your family

 

With home-based learning also in place, parents were more readily accessible to young children, posing potential interferences to work. Psychologically, many of us are not tuned to work from home, where attending to household chores is the natural inclination.

 

 

Harjit Singh, Operations Manager at Third Wave Power Pte Ltd

Harjit Singh, Operations Manager at Third Wave Power Pte Ltd

Harjit Singh, Operations Manager at Third Wave Power Pte Ltd, who has three children, says: “There was a time when my kids were all below the age of 10, and they were quite a handful – they would come and pull you, start groping the keyboard and all that, but when your kids are older, this becomes less of a problem. These days they don’t even come out of your room. So, the ages of your kids matters.”

 

In fact, these days, Singh likes working from home. “Working alongside my wife is a great thing. It’s only when she has to go back to her workplace, that I decide to go to work in fact.”

 

However, this is not so for others.

 

Work stress at home

 

Er S Yogeeswaran, Managing Director of CASY Engineering Consultancy, whose firm employs 14 people, says: “Some people do tell me that staying at home and working is more stressful than coming to the office. Family members can be asking for more attention just because they are at home.”

 

As the traditional boundaries between work and personal time is now blurred (given that we are all now near our workstations and can be activated at the time it takes to send a text message, even on the weekends), our colleagues, clients or partners may expect us to work around the clock.

 

The home is no longer a sanctuary away from workplace stress. On the other hand, the workplace is no longer time off from our potentially very demanding kids.

 

And for singles, the loneliness and isolation thrust upon by WFH, along with restrictions on dining and on other social activities, can be overwhelming and depressing. Especially given that COVID-19 is expected to haunt us for the foreseeable future.

 

Shortcomings of online meetings

 

Yogeeswaran finds that WFH is not ideal from an operational perspective: “When we meet and talk person-to-person, the facial expressions we observe can help us to understand things better and give us clues that reveal a person’s viewpoints, and on-the-spot we are able to understand what they mean and react to them.”

Er S Yogeeswaran, Managing Director of CASY Engineering Consultancy

Er S Yogeeswaran, Managing Director of CASY Engineering Consultancy

“With Zoom, the delayed reactions are not as intuitive in communicating the person’s reactions to specific aspects of a project,” he added. “Besides sometimes the person may not want to switch on his camera.”

 

He also felt that at his company there was less of an impact from WFH because well before Covid-19 came along, a form of flexible working arrangement was already in place: “My team didn’t really need to come to office if they had meetings elsewhere – the liberty for some of my staff to work from home was already there. So long as the job got done, according to the promises given to our clients, I was fine.”

 

As WFH, like the virus itself, is expected to remain with us for the foreseeable future, it seems that we do need to “learn to live with it.”

 

Tips to making WFH work

 

What can we do to make WFH work for us?

 

N Maheswari, Regional HR Director at a large life sciences multinational company, offers a few tips:

 

Be positive – it is human to focus on all that is negative. Instead of focusing on the downsides to WFH, let us focus on all its benefits such as flexibility, cost and time savings on transportation and the opportunity to take a time-out to leave your workstation and do some stretching or meditation. It’s all in the mind.

 

Stay healthy – rather than to be stuck at your workstation, remember to move around and exercise regularly. As we are encouraged not to go out unnecessarily, we can invest in a home exercise equipment such as a treadmill to stay physically fit. Also, continue eating healthy and avoid junk food.

 

Enhance your workstation – with WFH, we are going to be spending a lot of time at our workstations. So, make it as comfortable as possible – upgrade your chair, PC screen and speakers so that you are in the mood to continue delivering your best work.

 

Dress professionally – you want to give a good impression to your colleagues, bosses and other partners that you still treat your work seriously. So always appear professional during your online meetings.  

 

Develop a routine – although with WFH, the line between work and personal time is blurred, don’t let your work eat into your family or social times. Start work promptly at the same time every day, switch off your computer at 6, if you can help it (such that your team knows when they can connect with you), and try not to take on too much work that disrupts your work-life balance.

Comment on this Topic

3 Comments

  1. WFH will become the norm; going forward I can see it having an impact on home designs, study rooms layouts (with a mini fridge under the desk), increased Internet bandwidth, the use of advanced router technologies, large screens and ergonomic chairs. But I will miss the short coffee breaks and long lunches. Sigh!

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  2. Both the employer (including the supervisors) & employee (the staff) need to make adjustments for WFH to be successful.

    Firstly we must recognise WFH is not suitable for all job roles. The Govt has already highlighted it but the msg has not sunk in well.

    We need occasional in person sessions to break out from working with faceless & connectionless colleague. Losing human touch can lead to undesired outcomes of disengaged workforce. The sessions could be formal meetings or causal sessions (coffee/ lunch, team building, etc).

    Learn to respect each other’s time as WFH runs the danger of 24×7 meetings.

    Take leave even if you can only go from hall to kitchen or the mall. This is a forced break from work.

    We have a lot of adapting to do in this new norms.

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  3. I think we need to be looking forward at hybrid work arrangements. Or working with a distributed workforce or things to look out for now that offices are re-opening…

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