The Coronavirus Reminds Us That You Can Still Be Productive at Home

In Indonesia, people are realising that it might be time to re-evaluate what they've come to accept as “office culture.”
translated by Jade Poa
17 March 2020, 7:13am
coronavirus work from home indonesia
For illustrative purposes only. Girl working from home via Mimi Thian/via Unsplash

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

The coronavirus pandemic is bringing life as we know it to a halt.

In Jakarta, an increasing number of offices — mostly embassies, tech companies, and creative firms — are now requiring employees to practice social distancing by working from home, prompting many office workers to wonder why they never worked remotely in the first place.

Devira Aryani, a content writer for a startup, swears by the set up.

“My boss says we can work from home whenever we want, as long as we get our tasks done,” Aryani told VICE.

But while many companies now offer a work from home option, "office culture" is still engrained in most. Most Indonesians are still expected to come into the office simply as a formality. Andreas Jatmiko, who works at an advertising agency, even prefers going to the office.

“All the other employees are still going to the office. We’re continuing to monitor the situation,” said Jatmiko. “I would follow orders to work from home, but not all work can be done outside the office.”

This, even though many countries around the world have encouraged people to work remotely to contain the virus.

The World Health Organisation has declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. Some governments have responded by requiring citizens to quarantine themselves. The entire country of Italy has been on lockdown since March 13. As of March 17, the number of coronavirus cases in Italy has risen to 27,980.

The Philippines, meanwhile, has placed Luzon island, where the capital Manila is located, on lockdown, to slow the growth of the virus after a rapid increase in cases. There were 142 cases and 12 deaths in the Philippines as of writing.

However, in Indonesia, which at the time of writing had 134 cases, including five deaths and eight recoveries, a lockdown does not seem to be in the cards.

Achmad Yuri, the government spokesperson for coronavirus response, said a lockdown would render Indonesians powerless.

“We will not consider the lockdown option. Under a lockdown, we will be even more helpless,” Yuri told local media. “This will be a joint decision made at the ministerial level.”

Former Vice President Jusuf Kalla, on the other hand, favours a lockdown. Learning from the experiences of other countries, he said, social distancing and decreased mobility have been proven to effectively contain the growth of the coronavirus.

“An example is China, which successfully slowed the spread of the virus thanks to a lockdown. But this can only be applied in countries with the discipline to do so,” Kalla said, stressing the economic impacts the virus could have. According to the Moody’s rating scale, Indonesia might see a 4.8 decrease in economic growth due to the pandemic.

Given these developments, many companies around the world have issued a work from home mandate. In early March, millions of workers in China began working from home. Tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Spotify, and Amazon — from places like the United Kingdom and South Korea — have also requested employees to stay home.

One good thing to come out of the coronavirus is that it reminds us that employees can still be productive at home.

In fact, research has shown that remote workers may be too productive. They tend to take less leaves, sick days, and breaks.

Many millennials, who have been accused of ruining office culture, prefer to work remotely.

A 2019 Zapier survey reported that 74 percent of office workers would quit their job if they found another one that allowed them to work from home. Another 45 percent said they would prefer the opportunity to work from home than a free lunch. The reasons behind these responses varied; some wanted to save on transportation costs, while others wanted more time with their families and pets.

For many Indonesians, it makes even more sense now with the ongoing health crisis.