Millions in Asia work from home, find unexpected challenges

Author Anu Agarwal, Managing Editor

Aside from the usual business activities, what faces those across Asia who are having to work from home?

Millions of people across Asia are now working from home, as the rapid spread of the coronavirus prompts companies to implement a widespread response in the form of Business Continuity Planning exercises. Commodity markets are no exception and many participants — including oil traders, metal buyers, commodity brokers and staff at price reporting agencies like ours — have now implemented some form of work-from-home arrangements in China, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The great part is that the work in getting done. Technology has proven to be a big help and people are putting to good use all the available tools — Slack, Teams, Skype, WhatsApp, WeChat and more.

But many people are also feeling real stress in this drawn-out situation. Apartments in Beijing and Shanghai are typically small, and families often live with older parents, in-laws and small kids. Schools in China remain closed, and older people are mostly staying indoors out of fear of the virus, which is known to be more dangerous to older folks. Many working people are finding it hard to work, what with small children jumping on their laps and parents discussing what to cook in loud voices — all in a small space.

Older kids can’t go to school and are now doing online classes (not just studies, but also creative pursuits such as drawing and dance), making even more of a racket at home.

One business contact in Shanghai cycled into work just to escape from home, but found the office building had switched off its air-conditioning to prevent circulation of stale and possibly infected air. He tried to sit in the office with multiple layers of clothes in 4°C winter weather, but soon returned home.

Oil traders in Singapore and Hong Kong have been complaining they can’t do a decent job without the customary four screens in front of them. And I’ve heard of at least one trading company giving permission to some traders to buy extra computer monitors for home use.

In Singapore, those not wearing face masks sometimes fail to recognize business contacts in masks waving furiously to them in the Central Business District, as happened to me.

Of course, no one in China dares to go out without a face mask, and a good, reliable mask is now the most precious commodity of all.

Most of us in Asia are doing fine and learning to live and work from our homes in a totally new way, but many of us also can’t wait to return to our wonderful, peaceful offices.

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