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What COVID Has Revealed About Our Complicated Relationship With Work

Back in March, the way we lived changed overnight. How we ate, shopped, exercised, traveled, and communicated with others mutated, each activity permeated by our fear of a quickly spreading novel virus with no cure. One of the major changes to be born from the pandemic is how and where we work. Although many essential employees had to be physically present on the job (and to this day, still do), a lot of people who were used to commuting to an office Monday through Friday had to adopt remote working.

And many of us are still working at home and will be for the foreseeable future (considering COVID-19 has only continued to spread at an alarming rate in the U.S.). While some people were accustomed to a WFH Friday here and there, many had to totally re-adjust their workflow and job dynamics. Daily in-person conference meetings transformed into daily Zoom calls. Stopping by a coworker’s desk for a question became a Slack message. Happy hour on Fridays went digital. 

Along with these changes have come realizations about our relationship with work. While everyone has led a unique WFH experience, here are some things people have been learning about themselves and their jobs during the pandemic.

We spend a lot of time getting ready for work.

Without having to spend time getting ready and commuting for work, some people have found their WFH situation much more ideal for getting more work done. What if we didn’t have to worry about traffic or our appearance every single day? Isn’t it true that we could get a lot more work done without those roadblocks?

Sure, coming into work occasionally makes sense, and not all jobs can be done efficiently from home. But it’s something companies are thinking about. (Office space is expensive to rent, after all.) “I don’t have to get all dolled up to go to work. I typically get up at 6:15 AM to get a shower and get ready, leave at 7:15 AM, get to work at 8:00 AM (depending on traffic). Which means I get an extra hour of sleep!” Anna Harper tells The Financial Diet.

Companies are finally seeing the importance of mental health.

A few companies have really stepped it up and put more emphasis on employees’ well-being during this time, knowing how much stress many families are going through. A former colleague of mine works at an LA-based media company that mandates everyone to take a (paid) Friday off to take care of themselves, along with offering virtual team-building experiences like scavenger hunts (these were optional, of course). “My company has put extra emphasis on employees’ mental health, so there have actually been more engagement events than before, even though they are conducted over Zoom,” Bella Wanana shares with TFD. After COVID-19, will employers still be emphasizing the importance of self-care? Let’s hope so.

Essential workers are under-protected.

Many essential workers are under-protected from COVID-19. Disturbingly, many employers don’t give employees paid time off if they contract COVID-19 on the job. Some people are too scared to even speak up and say they have COVID-19 due to fears of being fired for it. If you work as a contractor for Uber, Lyft, or Instacart, then forget about it — you’re not even considered an “employee,” so you won’t get any benefits, period, even if you got COVID-19 grocery shopping for a customer. This is an ugly problem within our workforce, and it’s one that some politicians are working on getting fixed. Elizabeth Warren proposed the Essential Workers Bill of Rights, which would protect front-line workers from losing income or their jobs due to contracting COVID-19.

Maybe office socialization is good for us.

Many workers miss interacting with coworkers face-to-face. When you work remotely, it’s harder to find ways to casually chat with the person who may have sat next to you in the office or the colleague who always joined you on a Starbucks run. Remotely, communication might be more functional.

Previously, there was a greater level of actual friendship mainly due to the conversations occurring outside working hours, possible at a social event,” Amit Gami, Business Waste Guru Founder, tells TFD. “Now, it is very difficult to talk to another employee without work topics getting into the picture. Without having after-work social activities, employees are seeing and interacting with each other in a much more professional manner. This would likely be compounded for those companies hiring during the COVID pandemic.”

Job stability may be more fragile than we thought.

I’ve worked in media for the last eight years, so I’m well aware of how shaky the industry is — it has been for quite some time. Any writer, editor, or journalist has most likely been laid off at some point in their career. But suddenly, we’re seeing well-established and -funded companies like Bird, AT&T, Disney, and Boeing lay off a huge chunk of their workforce. And this happened fast. What does that say about our economic structure, exactly? I’m not an economist, but to me, that’s pretty scary. “What [COVID-19] has shown me more than anything is that the employee/company stability that our parents or grandparents may have had doesn’t exist now. Employees can’t rely on their company to always be there and to provide for them and their families. If this company continues on its current financial trajectory and things don’t ‘return to normal’ we might not still be in business 6 months from now,” -Jeff Campbell, a blogger for TheGroceryStoreGuy.com shared.

The “That Meeting Could Have Been An Email” meme has never been more accurate.

With back-to-back meetings taking up so much of our day, it’s interesting to see how much time we actually save by implementing video calls instead. Don’t get me wrong, video calls are also treacherous (if I have to hear “Let me just share my screen,” or “Can everyone see my screen?” or “What did you say? Sorry, the internet cut out again!” one more time, I may die), but it feels like we’re more encouraged to end them quicker than an IRL meeting (which can meander and take more precious time than it should). Personally, I have found that the new use of digital platforms has made communication both efficient and inefficient amidst the pandemic, depending on the conversation and what it entails. For example, I can now arrange a one-to-one with my boss instantaneously, as all I have to do is request a call or send a message on Slack to discuss a query. When we all worked in an office, my employer would be in and out of client meetings. So, there was less opportunity to quickly discuss projects or issues in detail. Therefore, this has been beneficial for team morale due to the ability to have faster instances of communication,” Katie Derrick, a Senior Content Writer at It Works, tells TFD. 

Perhaps a M-F, 9 to 5 structure isn’t great for our mental health.

Some people love coming in to work. Some dread it. Many of us just wish we could do it a tiny bit less, at least. Do we have to come into the office every day if it’s not even necessary? Emma Geiser, who’s a nurse and finance expert, tells TFD, “When COVID hit, the hospital made it mandatory for all employees, not essential to direct patient care, to move to a remote work environment. Everyone in my department was overjoyed to move out of the hospital basement to their home office, they are happier now. I already knew how lovely it was to be able to get dinner going, switch laundry, or walk the dog on small breaks. Now my co-workers are experiencing this and they are enjoying the balance. You can feel how calm and content everyone is on conference calls. It’s incredible to me that it took a pandemic to spark immense change. The effect on the mental health of my co-workers is great to see as a small positive in a very scary time.” 

On the flip side, working remotely can blur the lines between “work” and “life.”

One thing I’ve observed is that, although there’s an appreciation for the flexibility remote work offers, it’s also harder to turn off when your home is also your workplace. It’s so easy to pause Netflix and answer an email at 9 PM even though you know you shouldn’t. It’s not hard to find yourself skipping lunch in order to meet a deadline. “I feel like my relationship to work isn’t as separated as it was pre-COVID,” April Demsko tells TFD, “I feel like I will more readily stay later or reply to texts (non-work-related but from coworkers) outside of duty hours because work is all the social interaction I’m getting. When we were intermittently teleworking, it was hard to not work constantly even though I knew half my office was not sitting in front of their laptop all day and even though I wouldn’t be working non-stop while in the office.”

Regardless of how you feel about your new WFH life, your relationship with your job has most likely pivoted in some way (and if you have kids you need to take care of, you must have felt this transition tenfold). Hopefully, remote work has made us all more mindful of the things that do and don’t work for us during work time, and that maybe that mindfulness can translate to real, permanent (and positive) change once we do head back to the office.

Gina Vaynshteyn is an editor and writer who lives in LA. You can find more of her words on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, HelloGiggles, Distractify, and others. If you wanna, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Image via Pexels

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