Working from home during Covid-19 threat: No bed of roses

By Long Nguyen   February 15, 2020 | 04:45 pm PT
While some enjoy the perks of working remotely to spend more time with family, others find it inhibits productivity.

It is 10 a.m. on Friday, but Nguyen My Le, 38, is still dressed in pyjamas at her apartment in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 10 instead of being at her city center office.

Sitting on the bed with her laptop, she often glances at her 6-year-old daughter, who is coloring in a notebook.

Le is working.

In the last two weeks after the Lunar New Year holiday in January, Le, a headhunter, has been enjoying working from home full time as her company employs measures to prevent its staff from getting infected by the new coronavirus.

Working from home is not a utopia for everyone. 

Some companies let employees work from home to limit the spread of the new deadly coronavirus. 

"This has been so far so good because I can take care of my daughter, since her school has been closed," Le commented.

Several citizens have been working from home across several metropolises in Vietnam as fear of the deadly virus spreads. Many maintain working remotely allows for greater productivity and safety.

Le and most of her colleagues support the idea of staying at home amid the Covid-19 outbreak. Having a child at home makes mothers afraid of meeting people outside, especially after the festive season.

"I feel lucky my company gave me the option to work at home. It not only helps me keep an eye on my daughter, but also makes it easier to concentrate," said Le, who is not a fan of office gossip or wearing face masks at work.

Some people think this is a chance to spend more for their own activities.

With schools and educational institutions across Saigon closed for the past two weeks, 31-year-old English teacher Adam Evans decided to provide online tuition classes to "help learners remember their lessons".

"It is interesting because university students are all used to conference calls; I give them online lessons and the deadline for homework once a week," he added.

One alluring factor of working remotely is the chance to avoid traveling during rush hour. Instead of riding his motorbike from District 3 to the English center in District 2, Evans can now stay at home or go to a coffee shop to prepare for his lessons, sometimes hangout with his friends.

"Avoiding traffic congestion saves me time and energy."

However, client meetings and discussions via video pose their own problems.

No utopia

Encouraging staff to work from home has become a new experiment exciting many white-collar employees until they realize it is not a bed of roses, reducing face-to-face communication, and hurting efficiency.

"I miss face-to-face conversations with colleagues and clients, and the view from my office," Hoang Thuy Vi, an accountant in Saigon’s District 1, said after staying home in Cu Chi District for over one week.

No matter how fast people respond to messages on Whatsapp or Facebook, it is always more convenient to get things done when the person you need is in front of you, Vi added.

Some managers try to check up on their underlining by placing video calls before starting work in the morning, like Vi’s boss.

"On the first day they allowed us to work from home, some coworkers looked sleepy - I think they only got out of bed right before the call," Vi recalled.

Evans faces the same situation with his learners, who do not pay full attention to the lessons, and sometimes, miss their deadlines.

"The problem is effectiveness, but it is still better than nothing," he stated.

Some employees do not find it difficult when it comes to discipline and meeting deadlines, though the longing for a true working environment has been an obstacle.

For those who finish their work at home, having no office means they face a lack of stable Internet connectivity, and necessary tools, etc.

Nguyen Mai Anh, a graphic designer in Hanoi, admitted she could not bear the low quality Internet connection at home, forcing her back to the office three days after working from her shared apartment in Long Bien District.

"The computer at the office is also more efficient," she added.

Background noise can also be a severe problem affecting critical communication or those who want to pay full attention to their work.

Last Monday, one of Le’s neighbors sang karaoke for more than one hour in the afternoon, making it impossible for her to concentrate.

"But I love being with my kid during the day. She is good at keeping quiet. Everything comes with a price," she explained.

When school resumes next week, Le remains unsure if she will let her daughter attend for fear of the deadly virus.

Vietnam declared the Covid-19 outbreak an epidemic on February 1.

To date, the country has confirmed 16 infections of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), 11 of whom are from northern Vinh Phuc Province. Of the remaining five, three were detected in Ho Chi Minh City and one each in Khanh Hoa and Thanh Hoa.

As of Sunday, the global death toll had climbed to 1,666, including the first fatality in France, one each in Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Confirmed infections topped 69,000. Over 9,400 patients have recovered.

"I miss the view from my office and will go back when I feel safer. Sometimes, the office atmosphere gives me the opportunity to have new ideas, and of course, they come with gossip," Le said.

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