In 2019, the idea of remote work had been mostly fantasy, a privilege reserved for those fortunate enough to be working in flexible industries and even more flexible employers, but when COVID-19 hit the following year, companies all over the world were forced to pivot. Everyone, from CEOs to new hires, had to adjust. By October 2020, 36% of employees from the Asia-Pacific region were already working from home more than once a week.
Today, that number is undoubtedly higher.
“Half the jobs that people traditionally used to do in the office just end up being work-from-home,” says Shopify Hong Kong Lead Frankie Ng, “and then offices themselves will follow a more hotel-ing model where people come in, they check in, they book a desk for the day, work there, maybe they have a collaborative event.”
Despite the direction the future of work is going, however, he points out that it’s still important to see people in person. “I don’t think we will go a hundred percent remote because different people will have a different propensity or capability to actually work remotely,” he says. “It might not work well for some people’s mental health, which is very important by the way.”
Frankie’s apprehensions are valid. In a 2021 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, social confinement has been linked to higher levels of loneliness, which may be tied to declining work satisfaction and performance as well as stress enhancement. Apparently, Zoom meetings and other online gatherings can only do so much.
Isolation isn’t the only factor affecting work performance. The abundance of distractions at home also poses a hindrance to productivity. For Frankie, it’s imperative that he turn off his notifications for social media. “No notification stuff early on in the day because that will throw you into this distraction of trying to follow that news,” he says, “like if something’s going on with the elections, or if there’s some big drama in the news then you read that first thing in the morning and you’re going to be thinking about that all day so you have to find a way to set your mind and balance yourself before you kick off work.”
But perhaps one of the biggest obstacles against productivity is one most people might not immediately suspect. “I think that when you’re working from home, you want to be the most productive,” he says. “You really have to streamline and focus on one thing at a time, not actually be a multitasker.”
Multitasking, as defined by a column on Forbes, is “the act of undertaking more than one task at the same time (or during the same work session) in the name of super-efficiency.” On paper, it sounds like a smart strategy, but in recent years, more and more studies have shown that multitasking might actually have the converse effect.
As Frankie puts it, “[Multitasking] will be your downfall because you’ll feel like you’re doing a lot of stuff and then when the time passes, you’ll realize you got none of it really done.”