I watched an interactive Zoom play that painfully illustrates the everyday struggles of work-from-home S’poreans

From awkward Zoom call blunders to the blurring of lines between work and play, life in a pandemic world is never the same again.

Kayla Wong | Sponsored | September 22, 2020, 05:55 PM

Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit Singapore more than half a year ago, most people have had to learn to get used to life and work in a world where the pandemic is here to stay for an extended period of time.

Screenshot via How Drama’s “Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap: Work Play”

With companies switching to work from home arrangements, this means a readjustment of our routines, which might require us to do things differently than before.

As we navigate this odd transition to remote working and virtual meetings, some common teething issues have emerged.

An online interactive performance made up of short skits called “Work Play”, put up by local actors from Singapore theatre group How Drama’s “Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap” and organised by the National Youth Council (NYC), has brought some of these issues to light.

The skits, which revolve around the theme of job and the future of work, as well as youth concerns, make use of strong satirical undertones to bring these issues across in a light-hearted and humorous manner.

A ‘Zoomfie’ from the event. Image via National Youth Council

Here are some topics that surfaced from the performance and subsequent discussions held among the audience members thereafter.

Balancing act

Working from home can have its fair share of distractions as well. While it is possible now to run errands during working hours, like help your mum get groceries, or receive a parcel at home, one might find the home a less conducive place to work in as a result.

A skit presented by NYC titled “Balancing Act” highlights such a dilemma by presenting a scenario of a dad who is working from home but finds himself having to help out at home as his wife was not around.

Overwhelmed by his wife’s requests to cook dinner and fetch his child from school, it seemed like he was about to reach his breaking point when he received even more requests from his boss and mother.

Eh Vester, boss says he wants the report at 6pm today, you think you can finish it?”

“Son ah, today you work from home right. Come fix my tap after work, 6pm, 7pm also can lah.”

Screenshot via How Drama’s “Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap: Work Play”

He finally got a breather when he got a call from his wife who said her work had ended and so she could pick up their son.

She had also called the handyman to fix his mum’s tap.

The skit concluded on a comical note when she said she saw her husband’s boss at the hospital in a wheelchair, suggesting that he would be free temporarily from his boss’s supervision at work.

That’s not all.

Company meetings are never the same again

Another skit highlighted a different set of challenges that come with remote working.

Online work meetings might lead to awkward moments if one has yet to get used to such changes.

In a skit titled “Work Call”, the audience was presented with a scene of a staffer talking respectfully with his boss virtually over a conference call. But he excused himself when he got a call from a friend, whom he said was a “client”, and started complaining about his boss.

He grumbled about having meetings both in the morning and night, saying: “Bloody workaholic, no respect for personal time one.”

“Every time must wear jacket, siao one.”

While all would have been fine if he had muted himself, he had, unfortunately, forgotten to do so, which meant his boss ended up hearing every single gripe about him.

Screenshot via How Drama’s “Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap: Work Play”

The embarrassment would have been very real if it was a real scenario and not just a fictional play.

Burning out when work-life balance boundaries become blurred

Working from home presents yet another set of challenges as well.

With telecommuting becoming the new normal, at least for the foreseeable future until an approved vaccine for Covid-19 is available, many find themselves living and working in the same space.

This inevitably blurs the boundaries between work and life, creating confusion around when exactly work begins and ends each day.

Switching off work at home now is much harder than doing so in the past, when the physical act of leaving the office indicates that work has officially ended.

Screenshot via How Drama’s “Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap: Work Play”

A mental health professional raised this point in the post-play discussions, saying that while work from home arrangements have inconvenienced some and impacted their well-being, it is good that he is seeing more youths in Singapore who are seeking help from professionals now.

Dealing with job uncertainties

There are, however, upsides to work from home arrangements.

Not having to travel to the office for work means employees are able to cut down on a good deal of time spent on the road, especially if they live quite a distance away.

This frees up more time for themselves outside of work to engage in social or leisure activities, or simply to sleep in a little bit longer before finally getting up to face the day -- in comfy loungewear.

Not bad in helping to ease some of the drawbacks of having to share a common space with your family.

The extra time also comes in handy should employees go for some extra courses to train and upskill themselves -- something which companies might think is best done now if they are experiencing a lull in business due to the pandemic-induced economic downturn.

Screenshot via How Drama’s “Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap: Work Play”

The sentiment that upskilling is important for one’s career development is strong even among youths, according to youngsters who took part in the group discussions.

But while most agreed that upskilling is essential, especially in the current job climate where jobs are relatively harder to come by, this presents yet another dilemma, which is whether to go for something that will be useful for one’s career progression, or something that one is passionate about, but might not be necessarily practical per se.

Already grappling with uncertainties regarding their future career prospects in the current economic climate, certain university students expressed their worries about the paths to take next.

An internship would give them valuable exposure to the industry they are keen on entering, especially if they are having difficulties securing a permanent position there, while jumping straight into working life would mean being able to attain financial stability faster than their peers.

And then there are also options such as taking a gap year or going for postgraduate studies.

With the myriad of options available, it is no wonder that some of them feel as if they were stuck at a crossroad, sometimes struggling to choose between their passion or something more pragmatic.

Screenshot via How Drama’s “Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap: Work Play”

Managing job expectations

Yet another issue that might crop up when searching for jobs is managing one’s job expectations and finding a happy medium with potential employers.

A skit titled “Fairytale interview”, which features an interview between a preschool staff and a young job seeker (JS), presents an interesting exchange where the latter questions the moral values of the fairytales she was supposed to read to the children.

When she referred to classic fairy tales like the Little Red Riding Hood as “bigoted, violent, racist, chauvinistic crap”, the job interviewer (JI) appeared shocked, saying these are “beloved tales with many valuable lessons for the children”.

The job seeker then went into a tirade, pointing out all the faults she found wrong with the fairy tales:

“Pinnochio? Boy runs away from home and lies to people? Pied piper? That’s a pedophile right there, he lures away all the children. Snow White? Who’s the fairest of them all, not trying to hide the racism? The Little Mermaid gives up her voice literally to be with a man? Sleeping Beauty gets kissed without her consent? Robin Hood is a thief. Should I go on?”

The interviewer then suggested The Ugly Duckling, which in turn triggered a heated argument:

JS: “Eh! Body shaming! This cannot possibly be expected of me. If it is, I quit!”

JI: “You haven’t even been hired yet!”

JS: “I see, wow! You are flaunting your position of power. I’ll never work for someone like you, okay? I have values and moral character.”

JI: “You are just a bleeding heart social justice warrior.”

JS: “This is harassment! I’m going to launch a complaint!”

The skit concluded when the interviewer said the job seeker was being ridiculous, and asked if she even wants the job, to which she smiled immediately and expressed her intention to work there if she gets hired.

While real-life interviews are a lot less dramatic than what was portrayed in the skit, many of us have probably experienced some sort of negotiation process with our prospective employers regarding the terms and conditions of the job in question, like the job benefits.

Finding a happy medium in between is perhaps something that both parties want.

In the discussions among participants of the interactive play, a local employer shared that he had met young job seekers who were quite demanding when it came to job expectations about issues like their remuneration.

This then sparked a debate in the group as there were many who held opposing views about the matter.

But they all managed to agree that those taking part in job interviews, be it the one interviewing or the one being interviewed, should be open and respectful to each other.

These are just some of the dilemmas facing Singapore’s youths today as they try to navigate their career paths and work-life balance in an extraordinary time, when the world is hit by a pandemic and struggling to recover from an economic recession.

If you think you have viable solutions to help solve some of these problems, the Youth Action Challenge (YAC) might be the right fit for you.

Youth Action Challenge

Back for a second season, the YAC is designed by NYC to empower and bring young minds together, giving them a platform to innovate and pitch their ideas for a better future.

Open to Singaporean and Singapore Permanent Resident youths aged 15 to 35, no experience is required as you will team up with other youths and hone your ideas over various ideation and prototyping workshops, according to NYC.

You will also receive guidance from experienced industry professionals to help turn your ideas into reality.

The tracks available are “Mental Well-being”, “Support for Vulnerable Groups”, “Jobs and the Future of Work”, and “Environment and Sustainability”.

Teams with viable ideas will receive grants between S$3,000 to S$50,000 to see their projects through to implementation.

You can find out more about it here.

You can also sign up for the next interactive Zoom theatre play on Thursday (Sep. 24) night at 8pm here.

This sponsored piece by the National Youth Council makes the writer yearn for telecommuting options to stay even in a post-Covid world.

Top image via “Work Play” by Fat Kids are Harder to Kidnap