In 2020, life changed. Lockdown measures and stay-at-home orders prompted companies around the world to abruptly close their offices and shift to remote working.
While it might seem as if most people spent the past year staring at a Zoom screen, perfecting the ideal at-home lunch, or finding a quiet place to take phone calls, no two work-from-home situations are exactly alike. In Mexico, a ranchera singer transitioned from performing at parties to recording serenades in her living room. A call center analyst in the Philippines balanced shift work with parenting her three toddlers — while occasionally having to explain to clients why a rooster was crowing in the background. A reverend in South Africa learned how to make his sermons internet-friendly.
Rest of World checked in with nine workers who turned their homes into a makeshift office during the pandemic. While each setup is unique, one thing is for sure: working from home is the new normal.
Photographer: Azad Amin
At first, it was a hobby. I used to work part-time as an English teacher in an elementary school and arrange flowers in my off hours. But during the pandemic, I quit my teaching job to do it full-time.
I use every corner of my house for work. I record tutorial videos in the bedroom and stage photo shoots on the balcony. The dining room gets lots of light, so I use that space to prepare arrangements.
The prospect of being around lots of people seems unbearable to me right now; even the idea of going back into an office is frightening. At home, everything belongs to me and I can manage my time more easily. I also like that I don’t have to deal with traffic.
Things aren’t perfect. Sometimes the wifi cuts out and I have to switch to using cellular data. Calling my internet provider’s support line can also take a lot of time, and I’ve lost customers because I can’t take orders on Instagram or Whatsapp when I’m on the phone. By the time the problem is solved, I’ve missed out on the job.
Photographer: Yam G-Jun
Before the pandemic, I worked in a small office with three people. Nothing fancy, though we did have snow leopard decor and there was free coffee and tea. It was in an old, Soviet-style building, so the office could get quite cold in the winter.
Now I work from the living room of the one-bedroom apartment I share with my wife, son, and infant daughter. I usually set up my laptop to face the balcony so it’s less distracting.
Aliyar, my son, needs a lot of attention, so I tend to work in the evening when he’s asleep. My wife takes care of him during those hours, though he still comes to bug me from time to time. Working at night is exhausting.
The upshots to this arrangement are that I can spend more quality time with my family and I don’t have to worry about my commute. Still, I preferred being in the office because it was easier to focus. I also miss my colleagues. But working from home saves money, so it doesn’t seem like we’ll be heading back anytime soon.
Photographer: Alejandra Rajal
I used to perform at private parties, restaurants, and salons. Now there are no gigs, so I’ve mostly been making money through virtual serenades and personalized videos. There was even a short period of time when I sang inside buses. I also do live serenades, but that makes up only about 10% of my income at the moment.
When I work from home I try to find moments when my singing won’t bother my family or neighbors. I’ll place my phone on a music stand and will arrange the sofa so the background looks nice. Going to different parts of the city used to take hours, but now I can do everything — putting on makeup, getting dressed, recording — in just one. I’ve even reduced my cell phone plan because I’m not out as much.
While I have enjoyed spending time with my wife and kid, I am really excited to work outside again. I miss connecting with the audience — making them shudder with my singing. It’s very difficult to connect with somebody through a screen.
San Jose del Monte, Philippines
Analyst at a call center
Photographer: Kimberly dela Cruz
I used to work on a production floor with between 100 and 200 agents, but since last March I’ve been at home. The company sent us our computers, and employees were given a connectivity allowance. Still, it hasn’t been easy.
Once I didn’t have internet access for ten days and I had to chase down the telecom guy just to get him to check out the problem. That time was taken out of my leave. Some of my coworkers who struggled with slow internet are now back on-site.
The hardest part is balancing everything. In the office there are no distractions, so I could focus on my job. At home, it’s still an eight-hour workday but I also have to deal with errands, chores, and kids. I have three toddlers, and the first several months were hard. Now my kids are used to it. They know that when I’m at my workstation, I’m working.
My number one struggle used to be background noise. Sometimes a rooster would be crowing, for example, and the American on the line would ask what the sound was. But I got promoted in November, so now I don’t talk unless I’m in a meeting.
Chef / event coordinator
Photographer: Andre Malerba
My work was always on the road. I manage and coordinate meals for annual sales meetings, so I was always travelling, mostly to big conferences in Europe and Singapore. The year before the pandemic, I took seven trips.
Now, I work from home and shoot cooking videos on my patio. I thought about recording in my kitchen but it’s a little dated, and the lighting was poor. Plus, people enjoy seeing my outdoor kitchen, which has a tripod with a stabilizer, a laptop, a cooking table, a stove, cooking utensils, and ingredients.
Being in front of the camera is new to me; I had to learn how to use Zoom and YouTube and edit video. At the beginning there were some technical issues — the internet would fail every now and again if my mom was on her iPad and my brother was streaming something. But we’ve resolved most of the problems.
Before, when I was traveling, I didn’t get much time to enjoy day-to-day life, so now I spend a lot of my energy gardening and taking care of my mom. Still, I’m looking forward to getting back to normal work and seeing my colleagues again.
Photographer: Ziaul Haque Oisharjh
I worked in an office with 70 employees before the pandemic. It was hectic and a bit crowded, but smoother than working at home. While my schedule is more flexible now, communicating with my teammates is more difficult. Sharing ideas, brainstorming, and getting immediate feedback is easier to do face-to-face.
I have broadband at home but I also buy weekly mobile data packages as a backup. My internet connection isn’t always reliable, and when I get kicked offline I’ll use my phone as a hotspot.
I’m super excited to go back to see everyone in the office, but until that happens I’ve tried to make my home workstation as efficient as possible. I keep two workstations: one on my desk and another in my bed.
Macassar, South Africa
Reverend in the Methodist Church
Photographer: Barry Christianson
I worked in two churches before the pandemic: Macassar Methodist and Lwandle Methodist. Now, I work from my study at home. My daily routine involves responding to emails and Whatsapp messages, and every Saturday I pre-record my services. To make my videos look more professional I bought software that lets me add my own name and the church’s logo.
I upload the videos at night when data is cheaper. I’ve learned that my online sermons shouldn’t be too long — the longer the message or video, the harder it is to compress.
I miss having in-person contact, particularly with people in distress who have lost loved ones. I just want to be there for them — I don’t have to preach or do anything other than be present. It means a lot to the family, and it’s my calling.
It used to be that I would absorb all of the day’s emotions — whether from comforting someone, presiding over a marriage, or visiting sick congregants in the hospital — and then go home. Now everything happens in my private space, and there isn’t any distance. It is difficult for us ministers.
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Entrepreneur and fashion designer
Photographer: Tasneem Alsultan
I’ve worked at home since 2013. My setup includes two sewing machines, an area for cutting fabric, and a desk with my printer and computer. My phone is my lifeline — I use it to post on Instagram, make calls, and read. I also get a lot of natural light in my studio space, which puts everybody in a good mood. One effect of working from home, though, is that I often won’t stop at night. There aren’t clear divisions of time.
During the pandemic, I started making more DIY pieces: tie-dyes, designer socks and hoodies. I’m continually inspired by the materials, and I’m especially proud of the team I’ve built. The few people who work on my fashion line have been with me from the beginning.
Seoul, South Korea
Campaigner at an environmental NGO
Photographer: Jean Chung
My wife and I have been working from home since last March. I was allowed to bring my LED monitor and standing desk home, so I tried to set up my workstation to resemble the one at my office. My wife and I share a desk, and I installed a new Wifi router and bought a 2GB/month internet plan.
It can be tricky to share a home office. If my wife and I have meetings scheduled at the same time, one of us will have to move into the bedroom or dining room. Also, we have a two-year-old who often interrupts us and wants to play. He doesn’t want to go to daycare because mommy and daddy are always at home.
There are big benefits, though. I now spend the two hours it used to take me to commute each day with my family. And I’m saving money on lunches. At the beginning, working from home was hard because I felt like I was locked up. But now I’m used to it. I would like to keep working from home after the pandemic, although my wife and I are considering moving to a house with an extra room.