“Can everybody see my screen?”: 7 top tips for a fruitful WFH experience

Working from home (WFH) can be a daunting experience especially if you’ve just returned from overseas. But fret not, we’ve compiled top tips from your fellow SGN-ers to make your experience more rewarding.

29 May 2020 / By SGN

For many of us, our couches, dining tables or bedrooms have turned into a mini-home office given the mandatory work-from-home advisory due to COVID-19. While it may seem like a minor change in our environment, such a disruption to our daily routines can have a tremendous impact on our productivity.

It’s even more challenging for individuals who have returned to Singapore on short notice due to the pandemic. Their need to readjust to a new environment is further compounded by having to manage time zone differences especially if they are working full-time an overseas employer. This doesn’t just disrupt one’s body clock but possibly affect their living arrangements with the rest of the household.

With so many possible pitfalls, its little wonder that you might find telecommuting to be quite an ordeal. One wrong move could bring your productivity to a crashing — and not to mention, demoralising — halt.

But it doesn’t have to be such a daunting experience, not when you have some proven tips to work with. We got in touch with some professionals who have shifted back home to get their advice on getting out of this pickle…

Winifred (first from right, middle row) and Cheryl (first from left, middle row) got together with other Singaporeans who were on Stay Home Notice (SHN) at Village Hotel Sentosa to pose for a photo.

1. Establish a working arrangement that works for everyone in the household

Unless you live alone, working from home means that your loved ones or flatmates have suddenly become your colleagues overnight. Working and living together with others in a confined space 24-7 can present several challenges.

Derrick, a Valuation Advisory Analyst, who returned from the UK, notes that as he is still working UK hours, he wakes up and goes to bed much later than the rest of his household. “I guess my routine has been inverted, having my free time in the late morning to late afternoon instead of the evening.” He adds, this has made it more challenging for him to spend time with those around him.

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a New York-based writer who has moved back temporarily following her parent’s advice, points out, “It’s all about navigating your work and eating schedule so it fits with those you are sharing a living space with. It’s just a natural and necessary part of this new epoch.”

She adds that she had to convince her mum to let her skip lunch. “It makes me more relaxed if she’s more relaxed about me not eating lunch. And I told her it is good for my health, too — (to practise) intermittent fasting!”

Winifred Wong, a Manager who has returned from Berlin notes that some other situations may not be as clear cut. She advises that emotional sensitivity is important. Knowing when to excuse yourself when a member of your family is having a difficult conversation is helpful. “As much as possible, [you should try] to put on headphones or leave the room. Don’t kaypoh lah! But it is nuanced, and it is difficult.”

2. Get acquainted with or acquire the tech tools you’ll need

Unlike your office space, your home might not be as well fitted with the technological tools you’ll need to get work done. Often the basic tools you’ll need would include an external monitor, HDMI cables and a robust Wi-Fi connection.

Derrick notes that he faced internet connectivity issues which hampered his video conferences with colleagues halfway across the globe. “Fortunately, this was solved with a 30m LAN cable.”

You don’t need a lot of space to get work done. Derrick’s workspace has all the essentials he needs — post-its, a secondary monitor and a wired headset.

With video conferencing becoming the predominant way you hold office meetings with your colleagues, and the wide array of video conferencing platforms and apps out there, you will need to also familiarise yourself with how to operate and use these apps.

Another pro-tip: If you find video calls exhausting, Winifred notes it could be caused by being too focused on monitoring and controlling your expressions as you see them on your computer screen. So, you can start by having more natural interactions over video by hiding your own video feed. This function is available on your video conferencing app — like Zoom — or computer settings.

3. Structure your workday

As the lines between your work and personal time blur, ensuring you put in enough time for work and play in the long run, can help you remain more effective at work.

Nelson Ng, a marketing and international business development professional who has returned from Australia, quips, “We tend to lose track of time due to all the virtual meetings that we attend [in a normal work day]. This causes us to feel slightly burnt out before the end of each week.”

Jeremy Fong, a financial analyst with Expedia UK, agrees. He adds that the longer working hours on some days has made him less productive on the others due to family commitments.

Under such circumstances, keeping to a fixed agenda for the day with a to-do list complete with approximate timings for each of these tasks can be a good way to keep yourself productive. Nelson suggests following a routine may help, too. “I got into a set routine where I will walk to the kitchen for my breakfast before the start of the day, back to the desk and then get my coffee from the kitchen like what I normally do at work.”

Make it an effort to also stick to a defined office hour, much like what you would’ve done when working from an office. Nelson enthuses that he would close applications like Skype and Outlook at 5 pm sharp and then spend some time catching up with news, and what’s on social media. “Most importantly, I’ll get out of my chair and spend some time sitting in the living room to decompress and even make myself coffee or snack.”

4. Organise get-togethers even though you are apart

Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you have to work alone. Even if you consider yourself to be an independent person, your colleagues and managers may find your presence to be a comfortable form of support.

Jeremy (extreme bottom right) is seen here in one of his many work calls with other colleagues.

Winifred quips, “Knowing when to check in with my manager at a frequency that worked for both of us was a challenge, but I have come to realise in these times that over-communication is key.” Keeping your manager updated also shows initiative and reminds them that you are productive even while working remotely.

Winifred (seen in the second video feed in the middle row) witnessed the exchange of her friend’s wedding vows, which was meant to be held on the 2nd of May but was cancelled due to COVID-19.

5. Stick to a healthy lifestyle

While working remotely often means not having to move as much daily, this may not be such a good idea because of the ongoing pandemic. Leading a sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of falling ill.

Jeremy adds that he misses his regular commutes to and from work. “I didn’t realise this before, but I’m actually someone who enjoys the commute. The process of getting my headphones on, playing upbeat music, and getting in the “zone” or relaxing my mind before I get home, so that was the biggest challenge for me.”

Now, in place of the commute, Jeremy still puts on his headphones and go for a quick three- to five-minute walk around the block either before or after work. And if you need a playlist suggestion, Jeremy has you covered.

Cheryl quips, “Make sure to keep active. When I was on Stay Home Notice (SHN) after returning from New York, I carved out time to do barre classes online with my New York City barre instructor, so I wasn’t just sitting all day, working.” Check out the ‘live’ and recorded online classes conducted by her instructor.

Exercising has been proven to trigger the release of endorphins which can leave you feeling positively happier — just what we all need in these uncertain times. Here’s Cheryl performing her barre workout (Above).

Besides lowering your immunity, the lack of movement might leave you spotting a few more spare tires in your midsection if you are not careful.

Nelson adds he relishes the chance to prepare more nutritious meals at home while telecommuting. Another tip: Don’t go to your kitchen unnecessarily. “I place a bottle of water and some healthy snacks next to my work desk. This will then reduce my trips to the kitchen and fridge.”

6. Dress for success

One of the big perks of working from home is certainly being able to jump out of bed and getting to work in a matter of seconds. Nelson says he was quite excited at the prospect of working from home during the first week as it entails getting an additional hour in bed and “less time spent deciding what to wear — including ironing.”

Indeed, working remotely means you don’t necessarily have to jump out of your PJs especially if you don’t have any meetings scheduled.

Dressed for business and pleasure — putting on work clothes does not mean you have to be uncomfortable in them. Just make sure you find a combination which works for you! (Above left) How Nelson is dressed for work these days, so he looks smart for meetings yet remain comfortably dressed for home (Right).

That said, slipping into your workwear could end up helping you get into the right mental state. Cheryl says, “While I know some people who’ve welcomed the ability to work in pyjamas all day, I actually find it very useful to change into “work clothes” — which is nice shorts and a T-shirt for me. I find it helps me make that mental shift, like [to realise] the actual workday has started.”

7. Be flexible

While it will likely take some time to get into the swing of these new working arrangements, don’t be too hard on yourself when you feel something isn’t working. Telecommuting will always be a work in progress, so be flexible and open to changing your routines and you just might find a something that pays off.

Staying focused and productive has always been a challenge, notes Winifred. For her, it takes a bit of conscious effort to nudge herself into productivity. “When I was serving my SHN in Village Hotel Sentosa, I found what helped was to always switch up the orientation where I was working, like working at the desk, or on the bed with an HDMI connection to the TV.”

Perhaps, Winifred adds, it might be wise to listen to some music. “Some genres of music also help me focus better, like jazz or classical piano.”

Getting used to the new work order

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic eases, it will still take some time before the world emerges and returns to the pre-pandemic status quo of operating from an office.

And until such time, being open and receptive towards new ways of working will have a huge impact on not just your productivity but also your state of mentality.

The latter — especially a positive mindset — will prove to be crucial in the face of this devastating outbreak.