It's been nearly a year since the Circuit Breaker saw thousands of Singaporeans adopting a regular work-from-home (WFH) arrangement — some of them for the first time ever.
Replacing work-from-office with WFH came with its own difficulties, especially in the initial transition period.
Among other things, bringing so much work into one's place of residence blurred the lines between work and rest, and "working from home" may have felt a little more like "living in office" to some.
12 months on, however, most people in Singapore, and their employers, are apparently quite used to the new WFH norm.
The evolution of WFH
We speak to six working adults who share how their WFH setups have levelled up over the past year of Covid-19-induced WFH.
From an "office jungle" of over 70 plants to a panoramic balcony view, and even an external monitor mounted on a hydraulic arm, these WFH setups have evidently grown on their owners, none of whom are particularly keen on WFH as the default mode being replaced by a more flexible and hybrid working arrangement from today (April 5).
All is not lost, however; until the next change of policy, it appears that their unique setups can still be put to good use — at least a few times each week.
1. Bringing home the "office jungle" (S, 28, Researcher)
Transitioning to WFH as the norm was quite an upheaval for S, who specially purchased a seat that helps her work in the right posture, as her desk was designed to be used while seated on the edge of her bed — "before anyone ever expected there to be extended WFH arrangements," she points out.
S shares that prior to Covid-19, she would only WFH on occasion.
Besides getting new furniture, S also had to bring home her "office jungle" of over 70 plants. She brought them back to ensure that they wouldn't dry up and perish during the four weeks of movement restrictions during the Circuit Breaker period.
The 28-year-old researcher — who currently works in the office once a week — was eventually able to bring some of her green companions back to office when restrictions were gradually eased, though a good number of houseplants still remain.
S describes the past year of WFH as "great":
"I love WFH."
From this week onward, S is expecting to go back to the office more often. She says:
"I’m fine with it because I need to take care of my second family. Of plants. At the office."
To S, an ideal arrangement would be to spend two of the five work days each week in office, as a happy compromise between being completely in office and completely at home.
"This definitely has absolutely nothing to do with me having to water the office plants twice a week," she quips.
2. "The cat bed doubles as my workstation" (J, 28, Civil servant)
"My cat insists that I join him in maintaining work life balance," says J.
J's cat is apparently in the habit of lying down for a nap on his keyboard.
The Russian Blue's propensity for an afternoon slumber in the middle of a workday has clearly rubbed off on J.
"Sometimes during lunch I lie down for a while with him and it's a nice chill moment," he says.
J was thrust into WFH right when he started work last April, just as the Circuit Breaker was kicking in. But that doesn't mean that he's necessarily looking forward to more days in office.
On one hand, J is looking forward to meeting his colleagues more often, and says that face-to-face meetings are more conducive than the ones held online.
But this comes at the price of sacrificing some of the upsides of WFH: convenience, comfort, and having control over his environment.
At home, J can always banish the cat from his room if he needs to focus. In office, however, he "can't really relax", since colleagues who walk past his desk can generally see what's on his screen.
More time in office also means less time with his cat.
"I love that I can spend more time with my cat and disturb him whenever," says J, whose office has mandated that employees only show up physically at work when absolutely necessary.
He acknowledges however, that he can only speak for himself:
"I don't know if he'll miss me, he usually just naps in the day haha."
3. She used to look at her boss. Now she looks at this view. (L, 27, Business development manager)
On the three days each week that L works from home, she's typically stationed at the dining table.
On days with good weather, however, L moves out onto her balcony for a literal change of scenery. Distant traffic and construction noise notwithstanding, L finds her view very calming, making the balcony a great place to work.
L shares that the view from her office is also rather nice, but can only be seen from the windows off to her left. That, and the fact that her boss sits directly in front of her, sets the office environment apart from her work space at home.
WFH had always been something L was keen to do more of. She once suggested it to her bosses when she was an intern — only to feel that she was being judged for lacking commitment.
On a busy day, where L had been required to do some overtime, she requested to continue working from home after 7pm, only to infer from her colleagues' reactions that an intern was not supposed to raise such topics.
Later, even as a full-time employee with relatively more bargaining power, L ended up only being able to WFH a couple of times a year.
"People would say 'it's okay to work from home', but you'd have to say you were not feeling well or have a medical appointment or something."
As L explains, the official HR policy was one thing, but the culture of each team and department dictated otherwise.
L's then-deviant views on WFH would come to be vindicated in the course of the past 12 months, however. She herself had always been more productive at home, and was glad that many of her colleagues ended up feeling the same.
"Now that people have been forced to WFH, they are more open to the idea."
Still, L concedes that there are benefits to working in an office, like having face-to-face communication with her colleagues.
But L's ideal work arrangement is one where she'd be required to report to office no more than half the time.
It'd also be important for her to have the flexibility to decide which days she needs to be physically present, and which days are better spent at home — perhaps sitting on the balcony, watching cars go by, and catching inspiration from the clouds.
4. Joining the "work desk upgrade" club (R, 26, Transport coordinator)
"It started with my laptop stand," says R, recalling how she came across a metal rack in Daiso's kitchen section that just so happened to fit her laptop exactly.
Soon after making this relatively-affordable S$2 upgrade, R began to rethink her monitor setup: a stack of six books used to raise the external display to a more comfortable height.
She'd also wanted to free up space on her trusty old IKEA desk, and eventually found a suitable monitor arm online for S$35.
R shares that she got her inspiration from friends who were showing off their own WFH desks.
"I saw their monitors and I was like, yeah, sure, why not just join the club and also get a monitor arm."
R may have now joined the monitor arm club, but she remains a clear outlier, as nearly all of her work requires her to be on the ground, onsite.
A benefit of that is that work stays at work.
The downside however? She literally cannot bring work home, even if she wanted to.
Still, during the CB period and Phase 1, the requirement for people to WFH where possible did have benefits even for those like R.
R recalls how her commute to work was smoother and faster, with the added bonus of the ERP gantries being turned off.
With more people expected to return to offices this week, R is certainly not looking forward to having a longer commute.
She's already noticed the roads becoming increasingly congested since Phase 2, and is especially apprehensive of the burgeoning lunch crowds at eateries near her workplace.
While her current job is still impossible to do from home, R says that whether she gets to WFH in her next role will indeed be a consideration.
Over the past year, R attended a handful of online training seminars via Zoom. They provided a small taste of the WFH lifestyle, and were enough to convince R of its benefits — including time and money saved.
5. More time to spend at home with new baby (T, 33, Project manager)
T, a new mother, will soon be transitioning to a new arrangement where she spends almost all of her working hours at home, even while the rest of the country moves toward more time in office.
Her new arrangement has nothing to do with Covid-19 or government directives, but rather, what she feels makes the most sense in terms of allowing her to maximise efficiency and productivity.
Thankfully, her boss agrees.
Prior to Covid-19, T would work from home regularly — almost every week — and she made a pretty seamless transition to working fully from home in Feb. 2020.
It came at a good time too; T was well into her second trimester by then.
"I suppose it was easier to work from home than to deal with the daily commute and with passengers who pretend not to see pregnant women on a crowded bus or train," says C with a laugh.
WFH for T since she returned from maternity leave has also worked out well.
T explains that breastfeeding her new baby greatly reduces the amount of time and flexibility that she has each day.
"Perhaps when I’ve weaned my son off breast milk and stop pumping, I’ll probably be more willing to head in," she says.
In the meantime, T expects to remain stationed at her dining table, even though it means having to deploy and pack up her entire setup several times a day when the table is needed at mealtimes.
After all, to her, returning to the office more would be even more disruptive.
6. "I can just roll out of bed" (E, 26, Marketing manager)
"I can just roll out of bed four minutes before my meeting to brush my teeth, go use the toilet, before I turn everything on," says E.
As easy as it is to get cracking on WFH days, E sometimes starts work before she even rolls out of bed, by replying early-morning emails from her phone.
Apart from that, E consciously avoids spending too much of her work day on the bed.
"I still wanna give my 100 per cent to my work," she says, adding that she still works at her desk most of the time, and only resorts to doing "low brain activity" tasks from her bed on days when she is especially tired.
Pre-Covid-19, E was already accustomed to working from home several times a week, as she would often clock in a few hours of work at home if her out-of-office appointments ended past a certain time.
"I'm very comfortable working from home actually," she says.
Which explains why E wasn't worried at all when her office prohibited workers from entering, soon after it was announced that Singapore would be entering DORSCON Orange in Feb. 2020.
Still, the transition to working almost completely from home was eased with a few key additions.
For one, E purchased an external monitor to replicate the dual-screen setup she used in office — especially useful for handling large spreadsheets.
And while E initially borrowed a chair from her family's dining table, it proved to be uncomfortable for prolonged use. It was eventually replaced by a new office chair.
E and her colleagues will soon be able to return to office on any day of the week, subject to capacity limits, but she doesn't intend to change her routine of monthly office visits because she has everything she needs at home.
"I get to eat home-cooked food all day, every day," she says, citing an additional perk.
"And there's no longer an expectation that you need to be physically present for a meeting," E says.
While WFH is nothing new for E, working from home more than ever in the past 12 months has changed something for her:
"To be honest, I can't imagine landing a job that doesn't allow me the flexibility of working from home anymore."