Coronavirus: ‘I walk around my block of flats to stay sane’

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Jeffrey Broer

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Jeffrey Broer is missing his morning commute

“Sometimes I get cabin fever, but I already did the fire escape up-and-down walk and we have 43 floors here.”

While Jeffrey Broer is enjoying working from home as he gets to spend more time with his young daughter Dansha, it’s beginning to take its toll.

A self-employed investment adviser and lecturer at Hong Kong University, he has been working from home full time since the Lunar New Year holiday as companies take measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

While he has been conducting video sessions with his students from his home office, he misses the face-to-face contact and networking.

“That’s almost impossible now. The windowsill is my friend,” he says.

While at first he didn’t miss the 20-minute commute into work every day, his attitude has changed. “I am looking forward to it again, although that might be the cabin fever talking,” he joked.

Millions of people have been working from home across China and further afield, as the government introduces more measures to contain the deadly virus.

Many are enjoying the opportunity to spend time with their families or catch up with old friends online, and some are finding it a more productive way of working.

Shanghai-based Henry Chang is a big fan of working from home and is using video conferencing tools such as Zoom and Google Meet to collaborate with his colleagues in the UK.

“It’s quite good actually,” says the China market manager for language learning site Lingumi. “Without colleagues to chat around, you actually spend more time concentrating on work if you clearly know what needs to be done.”

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Fan Yi

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Fan Yi says she is “lucky” to be stuck indoors

His colleague Fan Yi is also enjoying working from home in the city, but has sympathy for those not so fortunate.

“I worry more about people who are impacted by this virus, especially people in Wuhan, after I read the news. I feel lucky to just be stuck indoors, compared to their panic and things they’re suffering,” she says.

Work-life balance

Rajashree Basu, who works at a language school in Wuxi, about 135km from Shanghai, struggled at first with the lack of contact with her students. But she too has turned to video conferencing tools and says they work well.

“Initially it was challenging, but now as time goes on, everyone is getting charged up as they see the digital platforms work and provide similar results to face-to-face classrooms.

“Sometimes I feel I’m able to get more done in this mode and give more support to students and teachers.”

Ms Basu is currently stuck in her home city of Kolkata, India, after returning during the Chinese New Year break. Her major issues have been internet usage, connectivity and working out time differences when calling colleagues.

“Setting a work-life balance while working from home sometimes is challenging as well,” she adds.

Chinese officials have told schools not to re-open until at least March, although Ms Basu fears “it might take another extra month or so”.

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Alvin Foo

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Alvin Foo says the experience has been positive

Alvin Foo is working from his apartment in Shanghai and relishes the freedom it gives him.

“Almost anything can be done remotely, the issue is really on the effectiveness,” says the managing director of advertising agency IPG Mediabrands Reprise.

Technology is playing a major role in helping him connect with his team so they can still hold meetings remotely.

“The positive thing about this working from home experiment is that it will help us to collaborate better and develop future strategies to work from anywhere for the company,” he says.

“With the proliferation of faster internet through 5G, it will game-change the future of work.”

Another positive he sees from working from home is being able to spend quality time with loved ones.

“Besides my family, I keep myself busy with reading and reaching out to old friends that I haven’t been in touch with for years.

“The extra time has definitely created an opportunity for families to be closer together and to catch up on lost time.”