Working from home, the technological and economic fallout

That wasn’t easy.

Ko Tun Tun, for one, discovered this the hard way. Before the lockdowns he’d dropped his laptop off at a computer shop to fix a broken shift key. Though the problem wasn’t serious, fixing it would help him complete his IT-based work more efficiently.

His salary had taken a hit after the first lockdowns in April and, now worrying about further reductions, he wanted the cheapest solution.

“All of a sudden we had to work from home and I was stuck without a computer. I didn’t even know if the shop would be open the next day. I also wanted the computer to access emails and information about the lockdowns. It was worrying,” he explained.

The 25-year old computer technician works at a media company, and also considered travelling to the office to borrow another laptop.

The next day, however, Ko Tun Tun managed to retrieve the computer, which was fitted with a brand-new keyboard – at a cost of K200,000.

With the whole office forced to work from home, Ko Tun Tun’s boss called a midday Zoom meeting. This would be the first of many for the local company, which had never before conducted virtual meetings. Not only was Ko Tun Tun’s company forced to use the new video-conferencing software, but they also decided to upload their work content (stories, research, pictures and videos) to the cloud.

Though Ko Tun Tun and his wife are tech-savvy, the sudden stay-at-home order has been a wakeup call to them both – and his company.

Ko Kyaw Latt is a sales manager at a food-products company based in Bago. He also relies on technology to perform his work duties, but the 30-year old encountered different problems when the stay-at-home order was announced.

“I have to keep in touch with my customers, and usually I visit them at least once a week. Now I have to call them to make sure they’re stocked up,” he said.

Though he maintains regular contact with fellow staff, the lockdowns have forced everyone to rely more on Messenger and emails – technology they use to share orders, update accounts and keep track of deliveries.

The process involves taking screen shots of paperwork, so that shared data can be entered into an excel spreadsheet. Like many companies in Myanmar, which rely more on paper-based ledgers and documents, the lockdowns have hastened the company’s move towards cloud-based solutions – for both accounting and instant messaging.

“I need to know if a shop is open or not, so I have to read announcements about local outbreaks. I can access this news on Facebook, but we also have a group page where we share the information,” he said.

On the upside Ko Kyaw Latt said that working from home reduced his transportation costs. He no longer needed to pay for petrol, and could also eat home-cooked food.

Besides changes to technology, lifestyles are also different under lockdowns.

“Sometimes I comb my hair and change clothes if I have an online meeting, but I don’t need to dress up every day,” Ko Tun Tun.

Despite having more freedom at home, Ko Tun Tun and Kyaw Latt both agreed that they enjoyed working in the office more than at home.

“I tend to focus more when I am in the office. I can see other people working, and my home can be very messy,” Ko Tun Tun said.

“With my job, it’s much more difficult to work from home,” said Ko Wai Yan Tun, a technician at the Eiki Shoji Computer Trading Company.

“Though it’s easy to send messages and information to people via technology, it’s difficult checking software and giving customers instructions about their computers. Customers can’t check the settings themselves, so it’s better to show them face-to-face,” he added.

Most of those interviewed said that their travel expenses were lower, but that the cost of living had increased during the lockdowns.

Regardless of the benefits and drawbacks of working from home, all the interviewees shared a common concern – losing their jobs.

“I don’t see the advantages to working from home,” Ko Wai Yan Tun said.

“Most people who are working from home at the moment also had their pay cut. Those with families are allowed to be with their children, and that’s good. But if people can’t afford to buy groceries then their families will suffer in the long run,” he added.

With the World Health Organization (WHO) recently issuing a warning about the harms of lockdowns to control COVID-19 (especially in poorer countries), a different approach to managing the disease may be needed.

With the lifting of the stay-at-home order last week many are still unsure whether it’s safe to return to the office, though workers like Ko Wai Yan Tun and Ko Tun Tun say they feel more reassured when everyone is back at work.

And though technological adaptation and lifestyle changes may be welcomed by some (at least those who can afford it), those with less money may beg to differ.

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