A desk and a computer for a social-distancing Hanoian. — VNS Photo Thảo Hiền
by Khoa Thư
HÀ NỘI — A linen shirt and trousers seemed appropriate for a chilly spring day in Hà Nội, Nguyễn Linh Chi thought as she adjusted her collar.
It took the 27-year-old social worker at least 15 minutes to decide what to wear for work before sitting down in front of her laptop at home waiting for her colleagues to log in to an online meeting.
Though there is no official tally, an estimated hundred of companies and organisations in Việt Nam’s two economic hubs – Hà Nội and HCM City – have started letting their staff work from home since last week.
“I save three hours per day because I don't have to commute,” Chi told Việt Nam News from her makeshift workplace. “And I can focus better as there is no one around gossiping.”
The international NGO for which Chi works asked workers to switch to online platforms from March 12 after the country reported its 44th case of COVID-19. As of Thursday, the number had jumped to 148.
1,700km from the capital, 25-year-old Nguyễn Anh Đào, a marketing executive for a unicorn startup company in HCM City’s District 3, is also keeping herself in isolation.
“Since two people in the building were reportedly in contact with a patient, my company has let staff work online from this week,” said Đào.
“It has not been decided when we will return.”
Her working day starts with jotting down a checklist at 9am and spending 30 minutes for a check-in call with the whole team.
“There are several other online meetings throughout the day which make me sick,” she said.
“And it is a real pain to keep in touch with my partners whenever an emergency crops up,” Đào added.
26-year-old Vương Khả Phong, a programme officer in Hà Nội, said his research institute was still in search of an effective platform to gather its workers online.
“As we meet each other daily, we use very simple tools for communication, Gmail or Facebook Messenger. Therefore, the main challenge of switching to online working is to find an application capable of organising team projects,” Phong said.
Since Chi’s job involves working with mass communities, she has been forced to focus on other priorities.
“All activities are currently delayed. We are focusing on reflecting and evaluating the interventions of our social projects with partners and sponsors,” she said.
During days of social-distancing, Đào finds herself living on a much more balanced diet.
“I usually skip breakfast and have a late dinner due to my packed scheduled,” she said. “Staying at home helps me make nutritional choices as I have to cook for myself instead of consuming pre-cooked meals.”
Staying away from crowds cannot stop Chi from running every afternoon.
“I wear a face mask on my way to a nearby park and take it off during a 30-minute run. There are two or three other runners and we maintain distance from each other,” she said.
Chi said she had continued her daily routine as a way to improve her immune system and stay healthy during the pandemic.
“It also helps to get a breath of fresh air after a long day trapped by myself in a room,” she added.
While most temporary telecommuters say their physical strength has not been affected by staying home, their mental health has started asking for attention.
“My extrovert side is really coming out during this work-from-home time,” said Phong, adding he had to share the same space with parents and his younger brother 24/7.
“The longer we shelter at home, the higher the tension gets,” he said. “Jamming the whole family under the same roof for too long can really trigger arguments.”
“Any relationship needs a certain distance to sustain,” he added.
Self-acclaimed introvert Linh Chi said her maximum endurance threshold for self-quarantine was two more weeks.
“I feel the urge to see other humans again, not just my brother and parents,” said Chi.
“Not for socalising,” she added. “I simply want to be motivated by seeing others doing their jobs.”
For Chi, upbeat Korean rap songs are the only thing that lifts her mood at the moment.
On Wednesday, the national steering committee on COVID-19 control and prevention called on people to stay indoors in response to the surge of infections. Restaurants, coffee shops, gyms and cinemas in the two cities have been ordered to close.
Although it only takes one hour flying from HCM City to her hometown in the Central Highland province of Đắk Lắk, Đào said she was better staying looked up in the city.
“I don’t want to be exposed to the disease on the way back and spread the virus in my hometown. More than anything, I can protect my family by staying at home and working,” she said. — VNS