11 September 2013, by Dannie Cho
So. I left my job in February this year, and joined an India-based start-up as a consultant. With only 2 of us in Singapore, and work that could be done as long as there was an internet connection, it didn’t make sense to rent an office space. I therefore found myself in an oft-envied position of working from home.
Is working-from-home all that great though? As with anything, it has its highs and lows. It’s just something that you have to go into, with eyes wide open. And here are some of my thoughts and experiences, to help open them eyes.
By far, the most obvious advantage, the flexi-work hours are a double-edged sword. Flexi-work hours has allowed me to schedule my time around the family. I can drop Coco off at playschool, and if necessary, drop Yi Lin off at work too. If I do that, I get back home at around 10am, and there’s no one to mutter at me for being late at work. Lunches are also longer than the standard hour, because that’s when I pick Coco up from school and drop her off at an aunt’s.
However, this can really sometimes take a toll on my productivity. Take for example, the recent bouts of HFMD, visits to the doctor and hospitalisations that our little family had gone through in the past few months. If I were working in a normal office job, Yi Lin and I would probably be taking turns to use our child-care leave to handle these little emergencies. But since I’m home anyway, it becomes so easy for the full weight of these additional responsibilities to fall on me.
That being said, Yi Lin is completely understanding when I have conference calls to attend, or emails to respond to in the evenings, when we are supposed to be eating and playing together as a family.
The one highlight of flexi-hours so far lasted for about 3 months, when Yi Lin was on maternity leave after Claire was born. I was home to keep the wife from the loneliness, boredom and depression associated with looking after a newborn who only drinks, sleeps and poops all the time. Now that she’s back at work, I think it’s my turn to be lonely, bored and depressed!
Which brings me to my next point:
One of the great things about working in an office is the energy you get when working together with others. It’s easy to discuss issues with others, get opinions. Lunch is… uncomplicated. In my last job, my colleague will just stand up at 1pm and exclaim,”Lunch!”. We would all then dutifully hustle down to the food court to buy our food, then head to the pantry to eat together and socialise.
I miss all of that, working from home.
Sure, there is the advantage where I could possibly lunch with friends, rather than pine over the lost opportunity to lunch with colleagues. But more often than not, timings just don’t work out, especially since any lunch plans I make can only start from 1.30pm onwards, after I drop Coco off.
Finally, the one aspect that of the missing office life that I am still grappling with – the lack of face-time with your bosses. Your bosses are the ones who have to be convinced that you are bringing value to the company, so that you can keep your job. Convincing them without them seeing you work day in, day out is incredibly difficult. It is really not enough to work at your usual productivity level. That would not get you noticed. You have to work twice as hard, because you not only have to do the job you were hired for, you have to constantly put in the extra effort to make your presence felt.
Case in point: Just last week, my boss sent an email asking for the status of various projects. I replied him in what I thought was a concise manner. Short, sweet and to the point. I got a response from him, saying that he felt that my reply conveyed a lack of commitment and energy. Ouch. Time to raise the energy level! Or just learn to respond to emails in a flowery manner!
I thought Finances deserved its own heading in this post, because of how I am being paid. As mentioned earlier, I am working for a company based in India. The company is not incorporated in Singapore, therefore there is no employer/employee CPF contribution when it comes to receiving my pay.
I took this into account when negotiating my package, so have been pleasantly pleased with the way my bank account is growing.
My bank pays an interest rate of 0.1% – 0.4%. CPF pays interest of 2.5% on Ordinary Account, and a whopping 4% on Special and Medisave. If my bank account is growing, that means I don’t need to use the money now. And if I don’t need to use the money now, then why the hell am I settling for the bank’s interest rate?
Also, bear in mind that when you take any kind of loan, especially for home and car loans, your CPF statement is used to assess your credit worthiness.
With these two points in mind, it becomes obvious that I should do a voluntary contribution to CPF every month. I’ve been trying to max out the contribution level, and this has brought my bank accounts back to their traditional near-zero state. It was fun while it lasted, though.
The last thing I wanted to mention in this post is Structure.
You need to be incredibly organised and structured in your approach to work, when you work from home. To be honest, this whole experience is a real eye-opener for me, and it’s forcing me to work smarter. There’s always room for improvement though!
There is also another type of structure that is not available when you work from home. The building structure. I started really appreciating an office building during those hazy days in late June. When you are working from home, you find that the haze just seeps through your doors and windows. It’s a horribly grimy environment to work in, and it really made me scoff at those crazy people who thought the Government should issue a stop-work order because of the haze.
Ladies and gentlemen, during those hazy days, the cleanest air I breathed was when I had appointments in office buildings! So which is better? Being unprotected in the open for a couple of hours each day for your daily commute to work, or just being stuck at home and breathing in those nasty particles trapped in our air the entire day?
And now, I am curious. Anyone else out there who works from home? What are your experiences like? Are they similar to mine? Do leave a comment and share!