Do you remember what our work life was like before the monstrous pandemic took over? What did our day look like in the pre-pandemic era? How did we work, collaborate, and connect back then?
Well, the answer is of course we remember. How can we forget the way we have lived and worked all our life? How can we forget those thriving offices, spirited crowd, action-packed meeting rooms, and chattery cafeterias? We definitely remember it all.
In the pre-pandemic era, our offices, large or small, were blooming with enthusiastic employees working in focused teams, solving problems together, sitting right next to each other. Almost half of our waking hours, a very significant portion of our lives, were spent in our offices, with our colleagues. We not just shared things professionally but also shared a small but significant portion of each other’s life. We worked together, struggled together, enjoyed together, laughed together, and shared meals together, and this probably was one of the simplest means of developing a sense of belongingness towards our work, our teams, and our organization.
However, with the arrival of what is now known as one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, everything changed radically. The way we lived, the way we ate, the way we socialized, even the way we breathed, everything changed by 360 degrees. Work was no exception. Offices were shut and most of the organizations shifted to the “work from home” model. Soon, the crowded premises were empty, the meeting rooms were vacant, the roads were barren, the chattery cafeterias were pin-drop silent. It was all unimaginable but it was all true!
Slowly we adapted to the new work-from-home model. The work-from-home model with its own pros did provide us some relief and rest as we saved commute time, avoided traffic jams, and got extra time with family and loved ones. However, on the downside, we started to see more and more meetings in our calendars and an increased number of emails as now communication could only happen through digital means. Our phone usage and screen time rose exponentially. Headphones became the only means to hear, webcams became the only means to see each other. Our experience of human interaction got limited to only a virtual experience.
Fortunately, the pandemic appears to have reached its last leg and life seems to be returning to normalcy. And with that, both organizations and employees are in a sense of dilemma choosing between continuing to work remotely vs. returning to the office. At one point even I was considering working from home always but do we really think that is a good idea? In fact, several organizations are planning to make work from home a permanent thing, will it be good?
Studies seem to suggest things differently. A recent Harvard Business School research shows that 85% of respondents felt that their well-being declined after the pandemic. 26% of respondents felt they experienced increased work demands; 20% felt a lack of connection and isolation; 13% reported increased home-life struggles.
A more profound analysis will make us realize that choosing to work from home either by the choice of employees or by the choice of organizations will have adverse effects on the human mind and psyche in the long term. Do we realize how working just in front of the laptop increases our psychological insecurity, leading to the release of the stress hormones cortisol in our bloodstream, eventually elevating our stress levels and impacting our personal lives negatively? We may be saving time on the commute but don’t we lose the same time in the added conference calls and meetings? We may be spending more time with loved ones but aren’t we struggling to draw boundaries between our professional and personal life at home? We may be sitting in the comfort of our homes but aren’t we losing our social and networking skills? Even organizations are at the losing end due to this missing sense of bonding and belongingness between their workforce. The fact is, we, humans, are social beings and we thrive on community set-ups. We function better as teams. We need humane interactions to feel connected to our tribe, our organizations. Would working in isolation forever not hinder this fundamental human aspect?
My personal hope is that both organizations and employees see beyond the short-term advantages and understand the negative impacts that working in isolation would create in the long term for both organizational as well as human well-being. I am optimistic to see the offices jam-packed like before with an exciting workforce, working and growing together. Teams getting to know each other not just virtually but personally. And we, humans, thriving back to our full potential, bonding and blooming with our community, our tribe. The road is tough but not impossible and we shall soon get back to what we considered “normal” again.