Opinion: Working from home, healthily and productively

By Ryan Lim Junwei

Singapore’s battle with COVID-19 has been observed by the world. The approach to and results of containing the virus have garnered international praise from the World Health Organization. From meticulous screening procedures to the development of a COVID-19 test kit, Singapore has put her best foot forward and successfully stayed one step ahead.

Despite good results and efforts, it is undeniable that disruptions are felt throughout industries across the world. Organizations are scrambling to adopt measures that balance output and productivity with prudence and safety to keep business on track. The reality that working protocols will be adjusted to a “new normal” and that some of these changes will persist after COVID-19 boils over, is a future that organizations need to be ready for.

Right now, we see companies splitting departments into smaller groups that work from different offices, or alternate work from home (WFH) schedules in a bid to do their part in the COVID-19 battle. Organizations who had such arrangements in place before the pandemic are facing less disruption than those thrown into the deep end, who are doing so reactively.

Though there are positive case studies and statistics supporting productivity boosts attributed to WFH, there are also pain points and frustrations that WFH brings to the table. We feel that though WFH arrangements are currently viewed by some as a poor compromise between safety and productivity, they can be optimized well enough that soon, they will have a pros list to outweigh the cons.

Here are some tips to better your team’s health and productivity during the WFH period.

1) A routine is essential: set a schedule, stick to it

Working from home is not the exclusive mandate for most businesses, even during the coronavirus. In most cases, businesses are alternating a team of WFH staff with another in the office.

Firstly, keeping similar working hours across the board to keep everyone in sync is paramount. Secondly, when scheduling tasks and meetings for the day, specified meal times and breaks must be communicated. We personally find that putting more complicated tasks earlier in the day works best. Define and distinguish between what is urgent, and what is important to get the most out of the working hours.

And a note for employees–although it can be tempting to sleep late and wake up just before work starts, we recommend giving a buffer of half an hour to an hour to get set for the day.

2) Improve air quality: managing performance and health

Studies have shown that indoor air pollution can be five times greater than the air outside. For staff who are working from home, this is a big concern. As we are heavily reliant on air conditioning in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Jakarta, and Kuala Lumpur, sick building syndrome is an issue that we must be aware of.

Along with this, the high humidity levels make mould and fungi prominent health hazards as well. Though air purifiers and dehumidifiers are viable options, they can be cost-intensive. Beyond that, some schools and hospitals in Singapore have taken a further step by covering their indoor surfaces with paint that actively eliminates odours and microscopic entities.

3) Beyond email and messaging: leverage digital tools and communication channels

Though instant messaging apps are universally used in our daily communication, it’s not a good idea to get everything done on the one platform. When preparing to effectively WFH, it is important to employ other tools that complement each other and set the right expectations for your optimal workflow.

An example could be using Slack for communicating and managing roles and tasks across a project, G Suite for cloud storage and live documentation, and Google Hangouts for chats and presentations. Specific platforms help make tasks and deliverables clear and communication concise.

4) Hygiene and sanitization: a good reminder and a clean slate

Maintaining good hygiene and sanitization practices are more important now than ever in light of COVID-19. The National Environment Agency (NEA) has provided guidelines for properly cleaning and disinfecting homes and offices to aid in the effort.

Though there are many kinds of disinfectants, a good deal of them leave behind harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that could lead to other health complications. Studies have shown that ozone is one of the most effective sterilization agents against bacteria and viruses. This result has been implemented by Changi Airport in their efforts against COVID-19. Make good hygiene a personal responsibility, and keeping schedules for sanitization and home will be a safer, more pleasant space.

5) Make the distinction: dedicate a workspace, don’t neglect your wellbeing

Setting aside a dedicated space for work at home will help shift and prepare your mind to get work done. Own the working space, make it a point to keep your personal life out of it as much as possible, and let your family members know not to interrupt you when you are at work. The average person gets interrupted once every eight minutes, and when working from home, it’s important to be disciplined. Stay off social media (unless that’s your role), and know that not every email has to be replied to immediately.

At the end of the day, decouple from that space. Discipline works both ways in keeping a schedule of when to start and stop. It can be tempting to push for more, and that can lead to long hours with diminishing returns. Switch off, make time for leisure and exercise, and this will make working from home more rewarding.

WFH is an integral part of the mindset shift from “work-life balance” to “work-life integration.” Aside from the global challenge that COVID-19 has posed, it has also fast-tracked and brought to the forefront other challenges and possibilities.

Moving forward, we believe the line between work and life isn’t a static one, but one that shifts. In the near future, the responsibility of conducive output, health, and wellbeing will be actively decided by the workplace and the individual.

About the Author

Ryan is the founder and CEO of Gush. He has been responsible for the company’s evolution to be a rising star in the green and sustainable coating segment. He had grown the company from a 4 man start up to a 20-man team in the short spam of 1 year and had secured a pre series A funding from one the top developers in Singapore (CDL).

gowithgush.com

Header Image by Thought Catalog on Unsplash.

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