2020 Q3 Cityscapes Features

Working From Home: A Personal Take on the New Normal

Where were you on March 16, 2020?  This date is very significant to many of us since this was the start when most corporate offices had advised employees to work from home and non-essential travels were banned. In my entire professional career for 35 years now, I never have imagined working in an “isolation”, i.e. working from home. I have been in an office environment or an operation-oriented kind of person where I prefer interacting with my colleagues, co-workers, and others on the same building and floor area of our corporate office. Collaboration and socialization have always been part of my work environment. Though we have the choice to work outside of the office once per week, I rarely take advantage of that “privilege” as perceived by a number of people. Unprecedentedly, the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID 19) pushed the company’s Human Resources to devise ways and means to mitigate concerns over the spread of the virus by issuing directives on social distancing and face-covering practices.

As I initiated my thought process on how to keep my work routine and staying productive, I need to plan on how to “re-create” an office environment in home isolation. I am convinced that work attitude would stay the same regardless of the physical location or the environment. Firstly, keeping myself in an office-dress code on my WFH would be the best approach, to begin with. The dress code (sans the office shoes) puts me in that professional state of mind. Secondly, creating a makeshift office workstation at home compliments to setting up a “real office environment”. Of course, I never changed my early morning chores and schedule in regard to my wake up time and office hour schedule.

So, after I have settled in creating my WFH professional environment, the next goal is how to keep my work productivity and efficiency anticipating that there would be several factors of distractions. Fortunately, we have an extra bedroom that is not occupied. This extra space provides an ideal office-like structure environment where isolation is perfect and distractions are maintained to a minimum. Considering that my son is teaching his violin students online, working in our living room or in our common area is out of the equation. Additionally, I taped an office hour notice on the BR door showing that work starts at 8:00 a.m., lunch break from 12 – 1 pm and office work ends at 5:00 p.m. This posted note discourages personal intrusion in my schedule timeframe with an exception for emergencies.

Lastly, the 3rd goal is to tackle the work structure of my job functions. Since there has been a travel ban within our corporate business, my supplier audits that were on the schedule have to be placed On Hold, rescheduled, or designing a new audit format to mitigate this interruption. The idea of conducting a “Virtual Audit” was born. Hence, I conducted a conference meeting with my team in the Supplier Quality to discuss the virtual audit format. At the same time, US-FDA issued a memorandum that manufacturers and industries have to revise protocols on food safety programs to comply with the changes that the global pandemic had caused. Our team was in unanimous agreement and got the green light from our senior management. On March 14, 2020, I conducted my first virtual audit with a supplier. It was the first of each kind for me and to my auditee as well. Thank you to MS Teams. This conference-meeting format helps everyone stay connected. It enhances video calls and screen sharing. That first virtual audit was a success. This new adaptation of auditing format ensures that all of our new suppliers undergo a comprehensive review of their food safety management program as part of the qualification process although it does not replace the essence of a physical audit. To date, I have conducted and completed 10 virtual audits averaging three virtual audits per month. Adapting this new emergency audit plan mitigates the risk of supply chain interruptions and enables our business to function better.

Within these ninety-seven days, working in isolation (WFH) entails focus and a balanced attitude. Otherwise, boredom will start sinking in and efficiency goes southbound. Managing such mental fatigue and emotional drench is quite a challenge.

So, how I managed to keep my work productivity and efficiency? First, I set up my plans. It is always important to develop a defined work schedule and stick to that schedule. Yes, I take my breaks just as I would in the office. Whatever our personal style in executing our functions, our ability to adjust in a new situation during this coronavirus pandemic plays an important role.

The longer time we are spending into this WFH isolation may lead us to develop “cabin fever.” There are so much room and space outside of our house. Taking a walk on a lunch break or after work helps me re-energize and clear my mind from a workday’s demand. Doing some gardening or cooking a meal motivates us to develop our untapped skills. It is good that cooking is inherent in my childhood training that I started exploring exotic recipes. Additionally, it is quite fulfilling that I was able to prepare and cook menus that I have never done before. You can see them in my FB postings.

The new normal at this time of coronavirus pandemic should not deter us from our social interactions. Make the most of your social devices. Be involved in social media such as Facetime, Facebook, Twitter, or Skype. Connect with family members through any of these media channels. You just don’t know that your single call or Facebook message would mean a lot to them.

Always keep your attitude upbeat. Keep an open-minded perspective. It is one’s greatest power. It can either victimize us or empower us. “If we look for the upside in a downside situation and figure out what we can control and what we cannot, it is easier to accept whatever is beyond our control.”

From a person who prefers to be in an office environment, when confronted with a situation wherein there is no option, in the last three months, I was able to appreciate working from home. I started to like it and I like it a lot. This “new normal” did not fail me to deliver my work efficiency and productivity in addition to learning how to balance the demands of life on a daily basis.

Celso Paguntalan
“Fray Celso” is a native of Calinog, Iloilo, Philippines. He joined the Dominicans in May 1976 belonging to the first batch of Postulants (a total of 13) who proceeded to completing A.B. Philosophy prior to vesting with the Dominican habit and acceptance to the Novitiate. He was the only “survivor” in that program who completed the Philosophy course as Class 1980 of the Philippine Dominican Center of Studies. He left the Dominican Order in November 1980. Thereafter, Celso in 1981 studied Chemical Engineering at the University of San Agustin, Iloilo, graduated Class 1985. Celso is married and they have two children. He was based in New Jersey from 1991–2011 before moving to West Palm Beach, Florida where he is currently employed at American Sugar Refining Group (ASR-Group) as Supplier Quality Engineer.

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