Striking right balance to stay efficient

ZOOM fatigue, stiff joints, neck or back aches and dry eyes –- these are just some of the physical side effects of sitting too long in front of a computer while working from home (WFH).

It has been a year since many of us were asked to work from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic and movement control order, and it took awhile to adjust to a new routine while juggling other duties, such as housework and childcare.

The WFH order varied among companies, with some dividing its staff into teams to rotate their presence in the office while some continued practising it even when MCO restrictions were eased.

I believe some companies will continue some form of the WFH practice, even after the National Security Council announced that the 30% WFH policy for industries under the International Trade and Industry Ministry would be lifted effective April 1.

As journalists, my colleagues and I are used to mobile working as we can (and sometimes are required to) file stories from our assignment venues.

It is convenient and saves a lot of time. All we need are our mobile phones or laptops and a decent Internet connection.

But it was a novelty to completely work from home.

For those who were fortunate enough, we had dedicated workstations with relatively minimal distractions.

For others, it meant sharing a common space and devices with children, who were also studying from home.

Whether home or office, there are perks and downsides to both working environments.

In the office, there is a proper structure to the work environment so you know you have to get things done within a certain amount of time.

Having access to office resources such as files, printers, copier machines and steady Internet connection as well as not having a TV, bed or food as distractions make the work process easier and faster.

Another important factor is the ability to socialise and interact with colleagues, which leads to better working relationships and understanding of work culture.

This last factor particularly impacts fresh graduates or those new to a job, as they will have a better understanding of their roles if there are people around to guide them.

It was reported in a study by audit firm PwC that in the United States, 30% of workers with less than five years’ professional experience preferred working remotely no more than one day a week.

One reason was because these less experienced workers were more likely to feel less productive while working remotely.

Personally, some downsides to working from the office include time spent to prepare for work and being stuck in traffic jams.

That extra time can be used to get some actual work or even household chores done.

For example, the one hour it takes to drive to work can be used for typing a report.

For office-based working parents, it also means having to dedicate extra time and resources to ensure their children are ready for school and have proper after-school care arrangements.

The upside of working from home includes not having to waste time battling traffic jams and money saved on petrol.

Some people enjoy that flexibility as it allows them to carry out household chores and adjust their work hours to suit their preferences and family schedules.

However, that flexibility can be a double-edged sword.

We are expected to be able to work round the clock, so there is no clear separation between home and work life.

Those without a dedicated workstation have to put up with using hard furniture and inconsistent Internet connection (a situation that worsens when shared with several family members).

I find that it is also more “hazardous” for health, since food is within easy reach and we are less likely to move around compared to being in the office.

Parents with school-going children also find it difficult to juggle conflicting work and school schedules as well as insufficient devices.

Given a choice, I’d prefer a hybrid of working from home and office as it offers a balance of both worlds.

A certain form of discipline is required in either working environment, and a commitment to balancing work, family and personal health.

And as suggested by the Malaysian Employers Federation, tax incentives for those who had to buy equipment for home workstations would be helpful too.

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