When the pandemic began in 2020, life changed for billions of people around the world. To stop the deadly virus from spreading, many local and regional governments put in place measures that limited congregation in areas that usually attract large groups of people. Restaurants and bars closed. Office buildings shut their doors. Even city parks in some places were made off-limits. For many people, this also meant a dramatic shift to working from home.
In March of last year, Rest of World profiled nine workers who turned their homes into workspaces during the pandemic. In Iran, a florist turned her living room into a flower shop. In South Korea, a couple managed to parent and work side by side. A South African reverend filmed and edited sermons to post them online.
This year, Rest of World checked in with them and asked what their year and life working from home has been like.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Hnoi Latthitham is a chef and event coordinator in Bangkok, Thailand.
Since the last time we spoke, I have started doing tours and event work again and do not plan on working from home permanently. I missed human contact. I traveled to Mexico, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. I even contracted Covid at one point, which made my return to Thailand difficult. It is much more expensive to travel now, and it has become harder to get places, but my passion is still alive. Cooking is how I connect with friends and family. That will never change.
I am still doing online cooking classes, and working from home has become easier as time goes on, especially as I get better at my prep time and teaching techniques. The more you do it, the more efficient you become. The setup has worked out well, and I’ve conducted a lot of online classes. But I have struggled with getting new clients. The number of class inquiries has decreased as people go back to work and pandemic restrictions reduce. But I have, to my surprise, enjoyed the online shift in my work. I never liked being in front of the camera before, but I have learned to get past that.
Ava Mokhtari is a florist in Tehran, Iran.
As time goes on, it has become easier for me to work from home. I feel like I can manage my time and work better, without wasting any time and energy. With the internet, I’ve been able to maintain my business entirely online and get flower orders from customers directly through Instagram. None of my customers know I’m working from home because I don’t post about it on social media, but I don’t think they would mind if they found out. During the past two years of the pandemic, most of my flower orders have been for sympathetic occasions, like people losing loved ones, rather than happier situations like birthdays and weddings.
I’ve heard rumors of the Iranian government considering a ban on Instagram, but I’m not worried about it. I’m sure that it won’t happen because there are many people in Iran who make a living via Instagram, and the government will face severe difficulties if they put restrictions on it. I haven’t decided yet if I want to work from home permanently or not though. It’s a really hard decision. On one hand, I don’t have to spend money on gas or transportation or waste time in traffic, but being stuck at home is getting tough. Not interacting with other people or going outside during the week can be really boring and depressing.
Nancy Velasco is a ranchera singer, currently based out of Mexico City, Mexico.
I never really stopped working. I still work as a trumpet player, and after I came back from Playa del Carmen, I had to learn how to play vihuela (a stringed instrument, similar to a guitar) for work. So I was working, studying, working, and studying. There is a lack of trumpet players here these days, because so many of them died during the pandemic.
Since things are slowly going back to normal, I have the opportunity to go out to work again. But it has been a slow transition. In the beginning, there were very few people. It’s still rare to go to an event with more than five or six people, maximum. I have noticed that people celebrate even harder these days, perhaps because they are still here after the pandemic, and the ones that are still here want to celebrate life.
Yeonho Yang is a campaigner at an environmental NGO in Seoul, South Korea.
If I could decide it myself, I would choose to permanently transition to working from home. I have been following company guidelines regarding work from home, which, apart from a recent ease in government social distancing policies, have stayed the same. I am in the same space that I have been in since the start of the pandemic, next to my wife. If one person has a meeting, the other person works in the kitchen or the bedroom.
Recently, a lot of shared offices are popping up in South Korea, but I haven’t considered using them. To me, there are no special advantages over working from home — which has gotten easier. I have gotten used to communicating with colleagues virtually.
Emil Turusbukov is a logistics specialist in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
For me, the first few months of working from home were really easy. You’re sleeping longer and not spending money on taxis, food, or clothing. It’s also become obvious that there is no reason to spend money on office rent, among other things. But in some cases, you do need to catch up with colleagues. I’ll admit, I needed my boss to kick my ass a few times when my productivity did begin to decrease.
I’ve been living in the same house for 27 years. My wife and I recently welcomed our second child, and I’ve absolutely enjoyed the time I get to spend at home. You stay between two options — the cheaper option, which means staying at home and helping your spouse, and the more expensive option, hiring a babysitter and increasing your productivity. But that is kind of necessary. Otherwise, you’ll degrade staying at home all the time.
Msizi Msibi is a reverend at Macassar Methodist Church in Macassar, South Africa.
Our church is part of the South African Council of Churches, which decided to go back to the “old normal” in November last year. Working from home was getting easier as it went on, then I got too comfortable. But now that I’m moving around all the time again, it’s tiring. I get tired driving around to people’s homes, going to the church, sitting in meetings, attending Bible studies and Sunday services. All this traveling also costs a lot of money.
At the same time, when we had meetings online with large numbers of people, some of them were not fully participating. Now that we’re back in person, people are focused once again. When we initially returned, not everyone came back right away because people got used to receiving messages online through YouTube, Facebook, and WhatsApp. But, eventually, they’ve all come back.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me working from home made their family relationships stronger. When I worked from home, I had to edit my videos, add music that captured the spirit of church, and post them online. It took a lot of time. But I was able to work while still being around my family. That helped nurture my relationship with them. Now that I’ve had to return to church, I’m back to being busy again.
Kaye Balmores is an analyst at a call center in San Jose del Monte, Philippines.
I’ve decided to transition to greener pastures and permanently work from home. Compensation-wise, it’s life-changing. It’s just a bonus that you’re working remotely and there’s no pressure anymore from things like productivity metrics. I actually transitioned to a new job and am a virtual health care assistant now. I was nervous to make the change because the training was two months without pay, and I had to buy my own laptop. But after I got a paycheck, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and take a leap of faith. I borrowed money from my mom to buy the equipment, and then I got the job. Working from home has become way easier. The workload is manageable. There is no pressure, and it’s stress-free. I have no regrets.
My family is doing better than last year too. We are all healthy, have great opportunities, and are more focused on our goals.