11 July 2024

Khajorn Chiaranaipanich noticed his staff were posting odd messages and complaints on social media about a week after they were instructed to work from home in line with moves to combat Covid-19 outbreak. He was concerned that this out-of-character behaviour was caused by the new measure.

The Zero Publishing, where Khajorn is managing director, began implementing the measure in mid-March, before the government declared a state of emergency on March 26.

Like many other companies, during the early days of working from home, Khajorn’s firm encountered problems with devices, computers, internet speed, as well as employee discipline. Most of the problems were swiftly solved thanks to preparations already in place, but then came signs that the new work arrangement was causing mental health issues.

“After working at home for seven to 10 days, employees began missing the office and their colleagues, especially those who live in dormitories and don’t even have a pet to keep them company. When we [the company’s executives] saw their strange posts, we got worried that they were being starved of social contact,” Khajorn said.

His company came up with the idea of inviting all of its 30 employees to have lunch “together” every day via Zoom, a video conferencing software app.

“Now they enjoy showing what they are eating and chatting with friends. That is helping them get over loneliness and lack of social contact,” he said.

Tech-savvy Khajorn also uses the app Discord to create an online beer garden where his staff can hang out after work every Friday. The all-in-one communication app allows users to request songs from a DJ bot as they drink and chat, which helps them maintain at least some kind of a normal routine.

Thailand reported more than 1,700 confirmed Covid-19 infections and 12 deaths as of Wednesday (April 1). The Kingdom stepped up measures to combat the contagion by announcing a nationwide state of emergency and “soft” lockdown from March 26 to April 30.

Covid-19 has brought huge changes to daily life. The government and doctors have been pleading with people to stay put, including working from home, to help prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

Many streets in Bangkok, notorious as one of the most congested cities in Southeast Asia, have become deserted, especially on weekends, since the state of emergency was declared.

Bangkok authorities on Wednesday stepped up measures by ordering all convenience stores and street food outlets to close from midnight to 5am, effective until April 30. Large retail businesses and entertainment venues have already been shuttered as per a previous order.

While many companies are willingly imposing the work-at-home measure, others say they cannot afford to have staff leave their premises.

Voravat Vongsangah, deputy chief of marketing at Siam Syndicate Technology, said his firm had allowed most staff to work from home. But its business operations selling system equipment for large facilities requires some on-site workers and back-office staff to stay at their posts.

“Other businesses have suffered impacts [in demand] from the pandemic, but ours is still very busy. Our services are desperately needed during this period when most businesses are closed due to the lockdown,” Voravat said.

Clients are using this time as an opportunity to renovate or install new equipment with the hope that the situation will normalise soon, he said. However, the company is ensuring its employees are given proper health protection if they have to go out to install equipment.

Meanwhile, though last week saw staff and executives struggle with technological glitches and device compatibility as working from home got underway, the executives were still able to make big decisions via their online meeting.

 

Has work culture changed forever for some?

As managers, both Voravat and Khajorn say that when companies realise that working from home helps reduce the cost of rent and other overheads, many will continue the practice even after the pandemic had ended.

“We have to consider [introducing working from home] in the long term. If you can reduce costs while efficiency of staff remains the same, why not?” Voravat asked.

“We all see the benefit of it. For me, I can save the three hours it takes for me to get to the office daily, and will have more time to spend with my children and exercise,” Khajorn said.

He is considering letting his staff work from home one day a week once the pandemic ends, though it will only be applicable in some departments.

For example, sales staff and content creators can work outside the office, but accountants and those who need big computers will need to stay put as it will not be practical to move the machines.

While employers see benefits as their operating costs are reduced, this measure is causing big problems for some employees. Praphan Rattanasombat, a 50-year-old teacher at a language school in Bangkok, reckons his cost of living will rise if he has to work from home long term.

Praphan feels like he has barely had a break – even at the weekend – since he began the new working arrangement last Friday.

He has to constantly monitor his Line app for messages, while his home environment is also not conducive to working. His desk and chair are uncomfortable, and he develops aches and pains during lengthy sessions.

Though working from home means lower travel costs, he reckons the extra spent on utilities and food is actually draining his finances.

“I cannot stop eating when working at home. I often get food delivered. And I don’t get any exercise. If I work at the office, at least I have to walk or even take a break. If I work at home for a long time, I will have mental health issues for sure,” he said.

With all Bangkok schools shut during the lockdown, Praphan also has to prepare online courses. And though he’s been teaching for 15 years, online tutoring is new to him.

“I have yet to decide whether online teaching will work. But as a teacher, I don’t think it will work efficiently in the long term,” he said.

Personal contact with a teacher helps boost the student’s concentration when learning and practising a language.

“When teaching online, you can only see their faces on the screen. Who knows they may have junk food or other distractions in front of them that are not relevant to the learning process,” he said.

By Jintana Panyaarvudh