China Daily: "My home is my castle, and my workplace too"

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Susana Harding, a development worker in Singapore, bought an ergonomic chair soon after her employer imposed work-from-home arrangements to help curb the spread of COVID-19. As the director of International Longevity Center, Harding spends a lot of time sitting in front of her computer, researching and writing about issues that affect the city state's elderly population.

"I had to buy (an ergonomic) chair, one that will allow me to sit for eight hours without hurting my back unnecessarily," Harding said, citing her long medical history of back pain.

The chair complemented a table she already had in her flat. Harding also converted the guest room in her 84-square-meter apartment into a home office and has been working from there since February.

"I have the space and the equipment at home already in place, including a printer, shredder and a dedicated Wi-Fi connection. So actually, working from home is a breeze to me."

Harding is one of the thousands of professionals throughout the Asia-Pacific region who have been working from home over the past few months as governments around the region have imposed lockdowns and social distancing measures to cope with the pandemic.

"An important measure taken by governments across the world to contain the spread of COVID-19 is to encourage those who can work from home to do so," the International Labor Organization said, noting that this is one way of promoting physical distancing.

With most offices shut and even co-working spaces made unavailable, employees in Asia have had to think of ways to replicate their office spaces at home. Some, like Harding, have transformed the extra rooms in their homes into makeshift offices. But for most workers who do not have the luxury of space, the easiest and most affordable way to remain productive and efficient is to buy office desks and chairs.

Home design and furniture industry companies expect that the work-from-home trend will continue in the next few months, boosting demand for office furniture in Asia. The new demand will not come from businesses, but from private households that never had to buy this kind of furniture in the past.

"We are spending so much time at home now and (are starting to realize) the advantage of having a proper home office setup," said Pauline Wetzer, founder of Foerni, a furniture leasing company in Hong Kong.

Having launched her startup in August, Wetzer noticed early on that her most popular items are standing desks and ergonomic office chairs.

"They are popular products right now because these are the things that you don't usually have at home," she said.

Wetzer's observations may be limited to Hong Kong, but this is certainly not an isolated trend.

Several reports have shown that across the Asia-Pacific region, home-based employees have been busy buying office furniture for their homes because dining chairs and kitchen countertops are not designed for long hours of desk-bound work.

In Melbourne, Australia, swivel chairs and standing desks were in short supply in March on the back of high demand among home-bound employees, according to a report by The Age newspaper.

Sales of the Japanese furniture companies Itoki and Kokuyo rose significantly in the financial year ending March 31 on the back of home-based workers' increased demand for office desks and chairs, a report by Nikkei Asian Review said. Kokuyo's sales of office chairs alone increased by 150 percent compared with those of 2015.

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