How Bangkokians are beating the work-from-home blues

Like thousands of other Bangkok office workers, Kotchakorn has been working from home for several weeks now. But the initial delight she felt at having to stay home to protect herself from Covid-19 is now tinged with stress and a yearning for face-to-face interactions.

“The first week of work-from-home was so good. I didn’t have to worry about getting the virus from others and there was no commuting. I could also snack whenever I wanted,” says Kotchakorn, speaking on condition that her surname and her company’s name are withheld.

“But as the work-from-home mode drags on, I begin to feel like I have lost all human contact.”

Now, living alone in her condominium, she feels as if the lockdown is like culture shock – something she has been struggling to learn and adapt to. “I get terribly bored and even develop headaches,” she says.

Recognising that their staff must be feeling isolated working on their own at home, several big firms have set up hotlines offering counselling and motivation.

“My firm has a 24-hour hotline too, to help staff who feel too lonely and isolated to cope,” Kotchakorn says, adding that though she still has online chats with her friends and colleagues, such interactions don’t fill the void that has materialised in the absence of face-to-face time.

To ease the tension of loneliness, Kotchakorn watches films online, exercises, plays games and even steps out occasionally to enjoy some fresh air and watch “other humans” from a safe distance.

Joy, who describes herself as an outgoing type, admits she finds being stuck at home 24 hours a day, seven days a week “absolutely unbearable”.

“It’s harder than I’d ever imagined,” she says about her efforts to maintain social distancing and stay home.

Before Covid-19 emerged, she had the joy of meeting colleagues at her energy firm’s headquarters every day to plan what they would have for lunch, but now she’s having to eat lunch alone, away from the people she used to meet every single day.

Joy often posts messages on social media about how much she misses her time at the office.

Dr Apisamai Srirangsan, a beauty-queen-turned-psychiatrist and now director of Bangkok Hospital’s Mental Rehabilitation and Recovery Centre, advises people working from home to keep themselves busy.

“Even though you can’t go to work out in a gym, you can watch exercise clips on YouTube and follow the steps,” she says.

The psychiatrist adds that though social distancing is important, so is small talk, which you can have with vendors when buying groceries. This is because exchanging greetings and good wishes has a healing effect, brings a sense of sharing and caring, and spurs hope.

Poonyarakk Boonruenglersak, who leads a learning and development team at a leading company in Bangkok’s Silom area, says she has made it a ritual to video-call her team every morning, not just to check on attendance but also on the wellbeing of members.

“We talk about health conditions and family stuff, so we don’t feel too lonely,” Poonyarakk says, adding that her office is using the split-site work mode rather than asking staff to stay home all the time.

“Split site” means some team members work in the office while others work from home. They alternate shifts at the office to reduce the need to commute and ensure there is enough space between office desks.

Dr Kaanwarin Polanunt, director of St Andrews International School Bangkok, reveals her school has now developed solid resources to support staff through this testing time, with a strong emphasis on wellbeing and connectedness.

For example, daily workouts for staff are conducted by the Physical Ed department via Google Meet, while other virtual gatherings include online quizzes and coffee mornings.

“We have even developed a mini site, which contains a range of resources and guidance, that we hope will be a hub for wellbeing across our community,” she says.

“The school’s counselling team is available for staff to reach out too and be guided towards additional support. The team promotes the service via the hashtag #STATIMETOTALK.”

Meanwhile, over at the Office of the Public Sector Development Department (OPDC), secretary-general Onfa Vejjajiva has initiated “OPDC One – Our Mutual Love” to keep its more than 200 staff as connected as ever while working from home.

Under the initiative, teams take turns adding videos to the OPDC Group Chat at 3.30pm every day to maintain the bond with other staff and executives. Some clips show members of staff singing and dancing, while others feature exercise tips.

“It is friendly content, and with each clip that appears in the Line chat group, we get talking,” Onfa says, adding that she is always keen to listen to every member and provide support where possible.

Asked if she had any advice for other executives, Onfa says: “Make your staff happy. Pay attention to their wellbeing. When they are happy and fine, they will perform well too.”

By Urisara Kowitdamrong


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