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Staying connected with colleagues remotely

Virtual chats are not the same thing as walking across the street with a friend from work and venting over a cup of tea or coffee, but they are not all that bad

Working from home can get lonely but the banter in online chats with friends from work never fails to energise.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

My work calendar has meetings, deadlines, reminders about projects and other important events.

Sometimes, it also includes an invitation to a chit-chat session with friends from work, usually over a cup of our favourite hot beverage.

Before it is time to join the once-in-a-while friendly chat, I quickly brew my cuppa, run a comb through my unkempt hair, make sure there's no unsightly food or kitchen stain on my tee or teeth, neaten the backdrop of the area from where I shall join the call, locate my earphones and practise my smile.

We may exchange text messages almost every day, but looking at faces and hearing the sound of voices make a world of difference.

Topics of the chit-chat range from hobbies, the latest interesting meal we had or made, gardening, books, Netflix, walks, work ideas, mini work rants and masks to the weather, travel memories and the other usual stuff that make up an exchange without a fixed agenda.

It is anything but inconsequential. Everyone gets to speak and say their piece in the freewheeling manner characteristic of a friendly chat.

Sometimes, it is very difficult to eke out that half an hour from our busy schedules. Sometimes, one of us cannot make it. Sometimes, one joins late or has to leave early. But the banter never fails to energise, decompress, lighten and motivate.

Working from home can get lonely without the usual face-to-face sharing of ideas. The stresses related to the pandemic situation we are in, coupled with everyday pressures, become a bit too much to take.

Netizens on social media have been reaching out to have coffee sessions to share thoughts and ideas with other similar-thinking individuals.

Twitter user @fairban_c, a DPhil candidate in English from Oxford University, sent out a feeler last week.

"Would any early modernists be up for a periodic virtual coffee via Zoom to chat about our work and ideas? Been really missing this over lockdown - #BritGrad2020 last week reminded me how lovely and inspiring these chats can be!" she wrote.


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Her query got a string of yeses in response.

Like most of us who have found some positive sides to working from home while missing some aspects of going to the workplace, the Netherlands-based Twitter user @MHLut says she likes some things about this situation.

"No forced touching (handshakes) for example, and reduced travel time. The best thing though is that I'm not overburdened by sounds; I was at the office once, and more than ever realised how much I hate working in shared spaces," she wrote in a thread.

"But it's also funny because even as an introvert I was super happy to see my colleagues again (provided, they are pretty awesome people) and I'd love to attend a physical meetup again," she continued.

Like her, I am grateful for the travel time saved when working from home. But I do miss the sounds of a workspace.

Even though there is constant interaction with colleagues over e-mails, Google Hangouts messages and conference calls, some small things go missing, such as the sound of the keyboard clattering, the mouse clicking, the expressions on faces, the murmuring of voices, the ringing of phones, the nodding of heads in agreement, the impatient drumming of fingers on the table, the "hi, how are yous" at the lift lobby, the fire alarm drill on some mornings - okay, maybe not the last one.


Now that the Ministry of Health here has said that more people can go back to the workplace from tomorrow, would being back in the office for some hours or days of the week feel weird after months of turning our living room space into a work area?

Would a masked-face-to-masked-face interaction mean the same thing as a face-to-face one?

One thing I have noticed, though, is sometimes, you can't really hear the other person very clearly behind the mask unless he is speaking loudly or you are sitting close, especially if the surrounding is noisy. Does that defeat the purpose?

I guess gestures like a wave, a thumbs up, a nod will be a big part of conversations when we are back at the workplace.

Maybe I should start practising my "smize" - learning to smile through my eyes.


While there is a way to remove the clutter in the mind by talking about it over a virtual chat, some of those who are working at home cannot control the clutter accumulating in the space as all members of the household spend more time indoors.

People are looking to make better use of their homes as they try to divide space between work, school and retired family members.

Ms Marie Kondo, the Japanese tidying guru, says she noticed a spike in queries related to organising home clutter as the Covid-19 pandemic keeps people indoors most of the time.

In response, she has introduced the 10-episode KonMari Method: Fundamentals Of Tidying online course, available for purchase on her website.

"People are spending more time than ever at home, so this course is an opportunity to help them tidy up and rediscover their joy," Ms Kondo told Apartment Therapy, a lifestyle website.

If you are looking for ideas that don't cost money, there are plenty online too.


When Twitter user @paulaalorenaa asked for some advice on maintaining a clean and clutter-free home, one of the suggestions she received was from @whatismedicine, who said: "For me what seems to work is committing to putting things away right after I use them, like if I put one dish in the sink it'll be a pile in no time. That and also vacuuming every Sunday."

While another Twitter user @kateasterisk suggested something I follow too: "I purposefully looked for 10 things to put away when I went into a new room. The little bit adds up without having to take half a Saturday. Having no clutter made cleaning fast."

There are always two sides to the coin, and some people are at their creative best amid chaos.

A National Geographic article last month cited innovative thinkers with messy desks such as Albert Einstein and Mr Steve Jobs.

At the same time, it also pointed to studies that showed a clutter-free environment can lead to more efficiency. It depends on what works for you - clutter-free or not.