An Interview: The new normal from a journalist’s point of view

When COVID-19 hit the world at the beginning of 2020, offices adopted remote working to protect employees, and it seemed like “Work-from-Home,” commonly abbreviated as “WFH,” was the buzzword that would soon be forgotten. However, with the lengthening of the pandemic, working from home has become the new normal in cities that are facing challenges in curbing the number of cases, and it is especially true in Hong Kong. The city logged 55,000 cases on Wednesday alone, and it seems inevitable that work from home will continue.

Cherry writes for SCMP’s Style Desk. (Photo courtesy of Cherry Chan)

We spoke with Cherry Chan from South China Morning Post to hear her thoughts on working from home. Cherry is an editorial assistant for SCMP’s Style desk and mainly covers beats regarding Hong Kong celebrities.

First and foremost, how has working from home been for you?

When we first started working from home, I felt burnt out frequently and got distracted easily. Luckily, my line of work does not require me to go out for story ideas, but due to the pandemic affecting events that celebrities attend and resulting in less production for media, brainstorming for content has been a little restrictive.

I used to cover celebrity news or any occurring productions (films, TV shows, music, etc.). Unfortunately, productions have been put on hold, and the production rates are much slower than pre-pandemic times, which has narrowed my scope of coverage. To overcome that, now I tend to dig into a celebrity’s career and see if they have any interesting history or backstories and come up with a hook to breathe new life into their work. This way, I can still write celebrity content while giving readers something new and enjoyable to consume.

What does your average workday look like?

I allow myself one hour to slowly wake up, get ready for the day, and have breakfast before starting work to feel awake and ready to start the day. If I wanted to have the same routine and still commute to work on time, I would have to wake up 2.5 hours earlier. In that sense, I am grateful that I can have a consistent routine when I am working from home.

To make up for the stimulation of the office and interacting with co-workers for a break, I find myself taking more breaks during the day, whether it’s scrolling on my phone or walking laps in the house for a change of scenery. At the end of the workday, I tune out by doing things I enjoy to take my mind off from work until the next morning.

How do you balance work and life when you are working at home?

During the day, I tend to work in the living room, which is a big and open space, while listening to music I enjoy. Unless I need to get something, I try not to enter my bedroom to minimize distractions and temptations to take a quick nap when work gets a little slow. As soon as office hours end, I leave my work laptop to charge and take my mind off work until the next morning, which has been a way I balance my work and life.

How do you work with your editors?

Most of the time, we have been communicating through Slack or email. This is not a drastic change because both means of communication are used quite frequently, even when we are in the office. Overall, working with my editors has not been too challenging.

What’s the biggest difference between going into the office and working from home?

There are several differences. I realized that I am more prone to being distracted at home because I am not in an environment where other people are working, and no one can see if I am slacking off. I also found that I get burnt out very easily working from home, most likely because every day seems to feel the same and lonely compared to being in the office since the office gives me more stimulation from interactions with colleagues or friends.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and positive about not only your working situation but also the prolonged pandemic?

Initially, I don’t think a lot of people, myself included, expected that work from home would last this long, so when I started working remotely I just persevered and kept thinking to myself, “I will be going back into the office soon, I just need to stick it out.” I have been working from home since mid-January, and I felt burnt out for most of February. I am less motivated to work and feel quite distant, not only to work but also to interacting with family or friends.

However, I try to find something to channel my lethargic energy from work whenever I have the time. Light exercising and baking have been great avenues for me to exert my pent-up energy from the day, so doing either one of those a couple of times during the week keeps me occupied.

The social distancing regulations limiting gatherings and dining out have been tough on my personal life. I haven’t been able to meet with friends since the Chinese New Year holiday, and it has been tough to make the time pass since we can’t meet up when we’re available. Hopefully, I get to see my friends soon.

Would you want to work from home even after the pandemic is over?

I would want to be in the office working alongside coworkers.

Despite being able to sleep in and relax immediately after work when I am working from home, I would still prefer working in the office. I find it easier to work when I am in an environment where other people are working as well. Not only does it help with my own productivity, but it makes work more efficient when you can communicate in person if needed. Plus, I think that working from the office allows me to enjoy my days off work more since they would feel more like a break from work.

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