Dubai: Dubai-based Alexander says he can’t wait to get back to the office. As a senior journalist, he is used to working long hours, but even by his profession’s stretched standards, he feels he is on an overdrive working from home now.
“Ever since we started distance working in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, I find myself at my laptop as soon as I get up, which is around 6.30am, and with news constantly breaking till late in the night, there is no respite till I crash out -- probably by midnight if I am lucky,” he says.
While the coronavirus juggernaut may be overwhelming journalists and other essential service providers in the UAE, there are many others working from home who also feel the same way.
‘Nine to five’ – when was that?
“No one is working from nine to five these days,” says Sandi Saksena, sales manager with an insurance company who is also a personal finance consultant in Dubai. “Our work has moved to e-mails and Zoom conferencing as face-to-face meetings are not possible now. We don’t want our clients to feel they are not being taken care of and so we are constantly in touch with them, allaying fears about uncertainties and telling them about how opportunities can present themselves even during crises.”
While the sudden transition to working from home has put the focus on people’s innovative approaches and productivity levels, the question of their work-life balance going awry is also beginning to cause concerns.
“I am seeing cases where residents are unable to draw a line between the two and feel compelled to work all the time. They think it is indicative of their dedication, relevance and productivity,” says Dubai-based clinical psychologist Dr Roghy McCarthy.
Just so much to do
According to her, the enthusiasm could stem from a sense of insecurity in an unfamiliar work-from-home environment.
Personal circumstances also play a role as closure of schools and lack of help mean working parents must also cater to baby-sitting and distance learning requirements of their children, in addition to house tasks like cooking and cleaning.
So with so much to do in a locked-in scenario, the day can just fly with the morning easily morphing into the afternoon and then into the evening. Now, to pack all of this into what should be a regular working day can be daunting.
“There is a sense of guilt that could creep in,” says Dr Rory McCarthy, pointing to why people carry on working and find it difficult to draw a line while operating from home.
“What they don’t realise is that they can easily burn out. They feel very stressed, edgy and suffer from insomnia in some cases. To make matters worse, there are some who work from their beds or in their pajamas, which further blurs the distinction between their personal and professional lives,” she adds.
Never-ending calls, messages
The extent to which people overwork is largely dictated by the nature of their jobs.
As Saeed Al Janahi, Director of Operations, Dubai Film & TV Commission, says, “How busy you are depends on the kind of job and industry you are in. But generally speaking, the coronavirus outbreak suddenly changed the way we work and no one, globally, was prepared for it. When you work from home, people think they can call you or send you WhatsApp messages at any time. And you also find yourself responding to them without any hesitation as you want to be available and help out in whatever way you can in these extraordinary times.”
He says, “We should consider ourselves fortunate that we work from the comfort of our homes, while there are many others out there attending to their call of duty on the frontlines.”
Draw a line, you must
Challenging as it may seem, some residents say the key to achieving work-life balance is to work around the new schedules.
Mélanie Martini-Mareel, Director, Alliance Francaise, Dubai, puts it down to a matter of organisation.
“My working day is from 8-9am to 6-7pm,” she lets on. “As a rule, I do not look at my phone outside these hours. I make it a point to read bedtime stories to my seven-year-old daughter, who needs me more than ever at a time like this. I also manage to do my exercise for half an hour in the evenings. Yes, as we adapt to the new work system, there are challenges – distance working can be hard with multiple calls, emails, WhatsApp messages coming in at the same time. You just need to learn to manage them and work around them.”
Anishkaa Gehani, Founder and CEO, Yardstick Marketing Management, can’t agree more. “I am a firm believer in setting routines and following a disciplined approach to a working day. As an entrepreneur and a mother of two young kids, I ensure time is fairly distributed between home and work commitments. We at our agency start our day with a team huddle on Zoom and report on activities at the end of our working day.”
According to her, “Being at home has its advantages, as you can always catch up on missed tasks in the evenings (great for working parents, especially with home-schooling), however, I always urge my team to follow a work-life balance and ensure effective execution within the eight working hours in the day.”
Enjoy the flexibility, freeedom
Dubai-based author Moustafa Hamwi, CEO of Passionpreneur Publishing, who has been operating virtually for the last two years, has the following tips to share to make a success out of working from home, while enjoying the freedom it affords:
Passion: You have to be truly passionate about what you do or you will not have the sustained energy to thrive in such a virtual environment.
Organisation: Be super organised since you cannot depend on a “company” system anymore. Create your own systems, procedures, documents.
Discipline: The system works when you work it, especially when you do not have an office structure to keep you accountable.
It also helps if you…
• Put on your work clothes and start out at a set time
• Create a workspace, however makeshift it may be
• Take short breaks in between for coffee, lunch, tea like you would at the office
• Not call, message others at odd hours and let them know you won’t entertain their calls or messages too, unless they are important
• Devote time to some exercise outside the work hours – a bit of stretching or yoga in between doesn’t hurt too
• Eat healthy
• Spend quality time with family members outside work hours