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The Singapore Law Gazette

The New Normal

As I write this column, it is day two of Phase 2.  Life is nearly returning to how it was on 6 April 2020.  Most people are flocking to the food centres, restaurants and malls. The pandemic is not over yet. Singapore is not certified COVID-19 safe. The virus is still lurking around the small island. I imagine the scene to be similar to the movie, Jurassic Park where there is a still safe feeling before the next attack.

What has happened to us in the last two months? When the Circuit Breaker was announced, many law firm owners had only three days to grasp why legal services were not classified as an essential service, bewildered about how we are going to practise law in the next one month and make the necessary changes. Circuit Breaker lasted till 1 June. We found a new way to work and live at home, though we find the line between work and home blurring. Technology, that we are used to became essential and took over our lives. We created professional and social lives through video conferencing platforms and phone calls.  Business owners were very quick to start marketing their products and services through free webinars and on social media. There was a sudden avalanche of information and entertainment which could be obtained online for free. Many started exercising at home with the help of videos. Others, including me, started cooking and baking to assuage our food cravings which we would have normally have fulfilled by going out to dine.

A new way of life started in Singapore.

Life during Circuit Breaker was surreal but meaningful. It created a new perspective to life in Singapore. The Wife and I lived in our own cocoon which I enjoyed very much. Life was simple and quiet, away from the maddening crowd – the way life is supposed to be. I do not remember spending so much time together at home since we got married 15 years ago. We worked long hours, cooked, did household chores and actually lived life. I, who never liked staying at home and preferred going out and dining out, turned out to be a happy homebody.

When Phase 1 started on 2 June, and many people were looking forward to going back to work, I dreaded the change that Phase 1 was going to bring into our new and happy family life. The Wife had to return to office on the first day. I felt life was changing too quickly.  Seven weeks is enough to form new habits and I felt something was missing.  I went back to the office on two occasions. It felt odd to dress up and leave home to go to work. The CBD area was relatively quiet. When Phase 2 was announced, the Wife suggested we pursue my favourite weekend activity – mall trawling. It did not appeal to me. I just wanted to stay home and continue living the life I had gotten used to.

We have changed our mindset, some may say under duress, but it is a change nonetheless.  We became adaptable. We are no longer the same individuals we were. I am reminded of the Chan Brothers’ Travel TV advertisement, “Life will never be the same again”. The buzz word now is New Normal. It is quite contradictory as normal denotes status quo. How can normal be new? What does it mean? When I asked my friends what this means, some said that we will return to our old lives when Phase 3 is introduced and the experiences we have acquired in the past two months will be just like holiday experiences. New normal is also about social distancing, wearing of masks, which the Japanese started as a way of life way back in the 1990s, and adopting a high level of hygiene. Returning to life before January 2020 may not be possible or will take a very long time. Maybe next year or in 2022?

For the law firms, the manner of conducting business, introducing flexi-work arrangements, downsizing of office space and facing the economic crisis impacting business will be the new normal.

Life did go on during this period, albeit differently. We changed our mindset. The mindset change, trying out new ideas, taking risks and learning new things are the positives of the COVID-19 experience. Without it, we will be operating in the same way, and would not realise that living and working in a different way is even possible. We would not have acquired new knowledge, skills and experiences, which is what life is about.

Now with Phase 2 will we go back to life the way it was before this January or will we embrace the changes and new experiences that we have learnt? The Wife challenges me to see how long I will last as a homebody. I gaze into my future. It is likely that the Team and I will continue to telecommute. We will have no fixed office desk in our co-working space. I hope the Family Justice Courts will continue to do Zoom Hearings and tele-case conferences which have been successful so far and efficiently carried out. I will still go out for work related and social activities. I hope to keep mall trawling and eating out to a minimum. Purchasing goods and services will be a treat and not a norm. The home will continue to be the centre of my life.

Till then, it is #stayathomephase2 for me.

Rajan Chettiar LLC
E-mail: [email protected]