By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The verdict is in. My employees have just voted “no” on returning to in-office work. And my verdict is…
Since March 2020, six of the Northwest Asian Weekly/Seattle Chinese Post employees have been working at home, while six others have been coming in the office on different days of the week. Those who remain working in the office are people running the company’s operation, while those who work remotely are on the editorial side.
I actually knew their vote results before they even sent them in. I still wanted their answers to make sure that they have a voice, and an opportunity for me to understand and appreciate their feedback. Some gave me input that I have not even considered before.
One of their reasons for not returning is concerns about the deterioration of public safety in the Chinatown-International District (CID). Half of them said they don’t feel safe about the homeless situation around 8th Avenue and South King Street. Can she “walk around town and not worry about someone stabbing me or smacking me from behind?” However, most felt safe working inside the office. One said, “Wearing masks should be optional.”
Our office has been closed to outsiders since March 2020, and my staff felt that the office should remain closed as the pandemic had not ceased. What I didn’t expect was, it has been easier to run our operation with our doors closed. We are not a retail business. We don’t need traffic to increase our business. Every business transaction is done through phone calls, emails, or text. We save a lot of manpower by not dealing with unnecessary disruptions. We also save operational costs since we have fewer bodies in the office. It also saves us the hassle of managing an office, such as dealing with internet or computer problems. The pandemic has not only simplified our operation, it has increased our efficiency.
But our closed office does affect the business of the community. Our tribe used to shop for groceries or other necessities after work or during their breaks. I used to treat my team to dim sum and pastries on our press day every Wednesday, for the past 22 years.
Some use services in the CID such as doctors and accountants. Although this may be just a small percentage, it can add up if other ID businesses also close their office doors or decide to cut their hours, too. I am aware of two medical doctors that have reduced their office hours and have transitioned to telemedicine and working at home more.
Pros and cons of remote work
The obvious benefits of remote work are many, including a reduction in stress and working on a flexible schedule.
“There is no need to rush to work, and no need to rush home,” said one of my team members. “It saves money and time from commuting.” Some took as long as two hours to commute to work.
How wonderful it is not “to have to go to the office on a snowy or rainy day!” said another. Two decades ago, we used to drive our employees to and from work on snow days. Awful times, indeed!
More joyful for those who drive is how much money they can save on gas, and “protect their cars from wear and tear.”
Before the pandemic, bus fares were $7 per day for one employee living in Everett. And if you have to pay for childcare, that’s another expense. Fortunately, my staff members’ kids are all grown.
One said, ”Hahaha! My mother’s nursing home wanted me to go to a meeting, and I could go without asking my boss’s permission to leave…I feel very free.“
Another said she has time to “enjoy life more. Do things outdoors during the day, especially when the weather is nice. Who wants to sit in an office when the weather is nice outside?” With flexible hours, she can travel more.
Only one said working from home is boring. She doesn’t enjoy working at home, despite more flexible hours. “I don’t feel productive working at home despite having more potential problems with communication and coordination” working away from home.
Gaining new skills is another benefit, wrote one team member. Since working remotely, she learned how to download Zoom video and other software, and become proficient in word files that were not used before.
My team has also improved their translation skills from English to Chinese. Their creative graphics and bold layout amaze me. The reason is they couldn’t rely on their coworkers for feedback like they did in the office. They self-taught, explored, and experimented. The more they relied on themselves, the more confident they became.
One said she misses the community. Another misses “the great food choices in Chinatown.”
Others yearn for interaction with their colleagues to chat and for emotional and social support.
Should we reopen the office?
Most are against reopening the office since Covid is rampant.
“At first, the communication among the team seemed to be less effective, but we have adapted quickly,” one wrote. We talk on the phone often, and use Zoom every other week for the Chinese Post team.
“I was pleasantly surprised by how well Assunta adapted to it,” another wrote. “I think if I had proposed working remotely full-time (which I wanted) before the existence of COVID, the answer would have been, ‘Hell no!’”
She may be right. I have evolved, so has everyone in my team. With constant communication, we have streamlined the transition of working from office to home seamlessly. …to make our publications go smoothly even with unexpected challenges.
Now, I am all for remote work. To see my gang working at home positively, and both newspapers have been on time without skipping a beat, what else can I ask for!? All right! Alright, alright!
Should we even keep the office?
Three out of six voted to keep it.
“That is our home in our hearts,” one replied.
“It’s a symbol of the papers being here for 40 years!”
“Clients will have more confidence about us seeing our office.”
The one who is strongly against it, wrote this: “No, unless it’s something you think the surrounding community wants. I think financially, it doesn’t make sense to keep it open. Why pay for those utilities, supplies, etc when we’ve been operating without for almost two years? Might as well lease out the space to generate more income.”
Those are all thoughtful comments. No need to push for answers now. We will know when the time comes.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.