Working from home is a privilege

ON AUG 28, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the recovery movement control order would be extended until the end of the year.

While not the ideal scenario for everyone, the extension is nonetheless the logical choice and a necessary precautionary measure to control and contain the spread of Covid-19 in the country.

Malaysia has, knock on wood, done extraordinarily well in keeping our Covid-19 numbers in check. But, as we have witnessed from the examples of our Asian neighbours, relaxing restrictions can lead to a spike in cases.

For those of us who still have the privilege of working remotely, the news of the extension is welcome as it means we won’t have to worry about being stuck in traffic jams on our daily commute. At least not for the next three months anyway.

At a time when many people are out of work, being able to keep your job and do it from home is indeed a privilege, one that some of us take for granted.

I was very recently chastised by a friend when I complained that I may soon be required to show up at the office (a two-hour commute away, one way).

He very rightly reminded me that I was selfish to think that it was my right to work from home.

His sentiments made me realise how quickly we adapt to new routines.

When the government announced the movement control order (MCO) in March, it seemed, at first, like doomsday was upon us.

Back then, no one could imagine that a mere virus could bring our lives to a crippling halt.

That was the stuff of apocalyptic movies and never meant to be our reality in 2020.

But after cruising through the first one, then two, three, four, and five months of the MCO, I have become so accustomed to the new norm that I would much rather stay home than just “show face” at the office.

While the same friend may conclude that I’m deluding myself, I’d like to think that as a writer, my opinion is justified.

Whether I am in Bukit Bintang or Barbados is little concern to anyone as long as I am able to get my job done.

Which is what I have been doing for the past five months, thank you very much.

Working from home is a privilege that I don’t take lightly. I am grateful that I am still gainfully employed and able to put food on the table.

If the past five months have taught me anything, it is to appreciate all our little blessings.

Since the lockdown was announced, my stress levels have plunged.

Pre-MCO, my life was a toxic cycle of work, eat, sleep and repeat. I was too bleary-eyed in the mornings to appreciate a glorious sunrise and always too tired at the end of the day to bother striking up a meaningful conversation with my other half.

I’d like to think that I have changed since. Minus the long commute, office politics and meeting after unproductive meeting, I now have time to quite literally stop and smell the roses.

By 10am, I am in front of the computer, ready to take on the day.

In between researching and filing stories, I cook, clean, referee fights between my seven-year-old nephew and his friends, and even make time to go cycling with the children.

Interestingly, I am more productive now than when I was putting in eight hours at the office, and I would like to keep it that way.

Sadly, work-life balance is not something we prioritise in our Asian work culture.

In our quest for success — a McMansion with flashy cars in the driveway and 2.5 kids — we often neglect our health, family and the joys of life.

Work-induced stress — a result of long working hours and demanding bosses — can take a toll on our mental and physical well-being, with dire consequences.

For a reference on how other countries score on work-life balance, we should take a page from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Better Life Index.

A poll of the OECD’s member countries in 2019 revealed that the Netherlands leads the way in balancing work with family commitments and leisurely pursuits.

In a country where 76% of people aged between 15 and 64 have a paid job, only 0.4% of Dutch employees regularly work long hours in comparison to the OECD average of 11%.

The Dutch must be doing something right as the country has very low rates of youth unemployment, high literacy levels and high levels of childhood satisfaction (over 93% of children between the ages of 11 and 15 polled reported above average life satisfaction).

It is also interesting to note that life expectancy in the Netherlands is 82 years, which may be unsurprising as the Dutch devote 16 hours of their day to leisure (socialising with friends and family and hobbies) and personal care (eating and sleeping).

So perhaps we should learn from the example of the Dutch and work smart, not hard, and learn to enjoy life a little more.

The question is not if we can go back to the lives we lived pre-Covid-19, but whether we really want to.

And if you want to swap that home-office view for a seaview, there’s always Barbados.

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