Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, life is not the same, be it working, travelling, or even socialising. What I repeatedly hear from the experts is to keep the social distancing alive and seek medical advice if there is any symptom.
It was January 26th, 2020, and I just returned from the UK to a less crowded Changi Airport. Singapore's early cases were primarily imported, and honestly, the world was either being careless or ignorant of the situation at the time. There was not much known about the disease, and while my parents told me to be cautious, many of my acquaintances in the faraway land kept telling me it's just a darn flu. By mid-April, the UK cases soared to around eighty-eight thousand and more than a few of my friends already lost their loved ones.
Note #1: Have sympathy and be kind to others. When the mother nature is mad, we are all in it together.
Around mid-March, while I was in Thailand for a trip, the situation in Southeast Asia started to develop quickly. Singapore began to enforce restrictions on all International travels. Depending on the travel history, those who returned from abroad had to either serve a Leave Of Absence (LOA) or a Stay-Home Notice (SHN). With the help of an excellent HR team, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) granted the permission for me to return to Singapore between March 22nd, 2020 and March 24th, 2020, subject to a 14-day SHN (exclusive of the arrival date).
I had to book my flight twice for March 23rd, 2020, as the airline cancelled the first one. And since I was not able to serve the SHN at my primary residence, a package was booked for me at the Park Avenue Changi Hotel.
Note #2: Appreciate your HR. They are there to support you despite all the doom and gloom stories you may have heard.
Early morning on March 23rd, 2020, I queued up to check-in at the Don Mueang International Airport. The process was quite dull due to ineffective communication between the airline and relevant divisions. Despite all that, the AirAsia's ground staff managed to check me in on time for the flight.
I arrived at an empty Changi Airport. From the aircraft exit doors to immigration control, everything was very well organised. The document checking was a bit confusing as many of the staff were under training to handle this unusual situation. After collecting my baggage, I hopped onto a cab the company booked and went straight to the hotel. My room was in a building isolated and dedicated for guests serving SHN. All the lifts were insulated, and in front of each room, there was a red chair for placing deliveries.
As you can see from the above photo collage, the room was spacious and had all the basic amenities, including a thermometer, toothbrushes, tissue rolls, and laundry detergents. I confirmed with HR on my safe arrival, and they walked me through a list of things to follow while serving the SHN. Later in the afternoon, a gentleman from procurement came to drop me the company's care pack.
Note #3: Nice gestures matter a LOT, especially to those who are in stressful situations.
The First Half
Serving an SHN requires the returning resident to follow a set of rules such as remain in the accommodation at all times and don't allow visitors. I stuck with the advice from HR and the MOM mandates, but I am not going to bore you with the details.
Technology and Well-Being
During the SHN, having WhatsApp installed was compulsory as the MOM expected me to pick up any video calls from the agents and respond to SMS messages within an hour by clicking on the uniquely generated links to confirm my location. I received three SMS messages per day, and one or two video calls on most days. From May 18th, 2020 onwards, the MOM replaced SMS with the Home mobile app.
The HR team took the safety of the employees seriously. I had to measure the temperature at least twice a day and recorded it on a tracking form. They also requested that I install the Doctor Anywhere app so I can video-consult a doctor whenever necessary. I had an opportunity to try the app only recently for an unrelated issue, and I must say that it was convenient.
Note #4: We cannot prevent a disease outbreak from happening (yet), but the advancement in technology helps us control it better and improves our odds of survival.
The Mind Sharpens in Solitude
Fortunately, the lack of physical presence in the office did not prevent me from fulfilling my roles. Au contraire! As I did not have to commute, I managed my work schedule better, especially with teams in the UK and the US.
Being alone also allowed my imagination to run wild. Instead of commuting, I spent that extra energy to research for a data engineering strategy that can work well under a given context. It was and still is the best time to find a better way of working for your team post-COVID-19.
Note #5: Solitude can help you focus and become more effective in problem-solving.
For a person who needs to switch the focus frequently like me, working in an adequate environment is crucial. My comfortable set-up requires a minimum of two external screens. How on earth would I achieve that in such a situation?
Knowing how much time I usually spend on my laptop, a colleague from the infrastructure team asked if I wanted anything. Within a few days, he drove all the way to deliver his spare cables and devices so that I can connect my laptop to the TV screen. After that, one of my teammates helped send a portable monitor via the GrabExpress service.
Note #6: Good colleagues make your work meaningful; the awesome ones also make it enjoyable.
Music is Life (and Death)
Having had a few melodies stuck in my head before, I couldn't have thought how irritated the music from the hotel corridor could be. Understandably, the intention of those tunes was probably to reduce the stress of the guests serving their SHN. Nevertheless, imagine you had to listen to an instrumental version of Love Me Tender, I Did It My Way, and Yesterday Once More repeatedly for 14-15 days. Would it drive you crazy?
On the seventh day, I felt I had to fix this immediately, so I spent some time to create a playlist on Spotify with my happy songs like Zenzenzense, Sparkle, and Kirameki. My SHN then continued into the second half.