December 23, 2021
The government has eased up on public mobility restrictions (PPKM) as COVID-19 cases have come under control, but many Indonesians are reluctant to return to the office.
Like many others around the world, in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Indonesians struggled to adjust to working from home. But soon enough, it became the norm.
Fast forward a year and a half; the number of active cases in the country has dropped considerably and the government has eased up on public mobility restrictions (PPKM). Consequently, employers have gradually started to ask people to return to the office.
Although there is no clear data on the numbers, many Indonesians have struggled with making the major adjustment to office life. Some say it has negatively affected their mental health.
Anida, not her real name, a 29-year-old manager working in the telecommunications industry and based in South Jakarta, returned to the office full-time in October. And while her workload has essentially stayed the same, Anida said that within a few days of going back to the office, she felt mentally exhausted.
“I couldn’t focus on my work because many people wanted to have face-to-face discussions at the office,” Anida said. “And of course you have to deal with the bad traffic as well.”
Having experienced working from home (WFH) for a while, Anida does not think going back to the office has improved her productivity.
“I’m an introvert, and I realized that [while working from home] we can effectively work from 9 to 5 without having to spend time on pointless small talk and wasting time in Jakarta’s bad traffic,” she said.
Even those who don’t really have an office, such as Ezra, a 35-year-old freelance forestry consultant based in Bogor, say the new normal is tiring.
“Even though I haven’t started going back into the field yet, I’ve done a few interviews and face-to-face presentations with users,” Ezra said. “And after these meetings, I get so tired that I need a whole day just to recover my energy.”
More work for some
For Donawan, a 32-year-old marketing professional at a Surabaya export company, stress comes from the fact that his workload has actually gotten more substantial since he got back to the office.
“At the moment, all exporters are having difficulty getting enough containers to carry their goods overseas, and the company I work for is one of the few that can accommodate this need,” Donawan explained. “Each day, I get 10 to 20 calls and tons text messages from potential customers, and it is overwhelming.”
“It’s so stressful that I had to fake being sick to leave the office earlier to hang out with my friends,” he continued. “Plus, I’ve had symptoms of a mild stroke before.”
Siddha, not his real name, a 42-year-old media worker who has been diagnosed with mild depression and anxiety, said going back to the office had triggered his conditions.
“Since WFH, I’ve been communicating less with my team, so I feel awkward having to meet them every day now, especially since they’re all like 15 years younger than me,” Siddha said, “I’m always tense and uncomfortable before heading out to the office to the point I’m sweating.”
Wie Rahma, not her real name, a 35-year-old construction trainee for a state-owned company who is also an introvert, said she was not looking forward to returning to the normal office experience.
“At the moment, we’re at 75 percent, so I go to the office four days a week,” Rahma said. “The office is crowded. There are so many people there that I had to ask for permission to work from the communal space one level below. After I went back up, I got so tired from all the social interactions that I couldn’t work anymore. What happens when it goes back to 100 percent working from the office? I’m panicking.”
Abnormal ‘new normal’
Since September, Ajeng Raviando, a 48-year-old psychologist practicing in Jakarta, has seen more patients concerned or upset about going back to the office and was even asked by a large company to hold a webinar for its employees on the transition to in-office work.
Ajeng said it was completely normal to have difficulties making the transition back to the office, especially since things were nothing like how they were before the pandemic.
“The office situation is nothing like how it was. It doesn’t meet our expectations,” Ajeng said, “Many people enjoyed going to the office for the social aspects as well, but now you have to worry about health protocols, social distancing, wearing a mask at all times, and those things take a lot of energy and effort.”
“It’s almost like traveling these days and how different the excitement level is. Now you have to do a swab test prior to going, and there’s always a possibility of you being COVID-19 positive, not being able to go and then dealing with the quarantine if you were, so while traveling is supposed to be fun, there’s a lot more to consider now,” she continued, “so people have different thoughts about traveling before and after the pandemic, and I believe it’s a similar situation with returning to the office.”
Ajeng said a lot had happened over the past two years and that having to change one’s daily routine was not an easy thing to do. Therefore, she said, being able to manage one’s emotions would be the key for many people.
“If, while working at the office, you find that you have become more sensitive, moody or easily frustrated, be aware that you might be going through a psychological issue, and that it is completely normal because our daily routine for the past two years has been closely related to our emotional journey,” she said.