Similar to everyone else I do not know what the future, life post COVID-19, will look like. I expect people will be doing their best to adjust to a new reality. I believe that life will look different in six months and most likely again in another six months and two or three years after that. In my last post I wrote about how I have been working virtually and it is not going badly, it even has a few benefits. However, that does not mean that I want to give up my office forever and only see my clients through a virtual lens. Recently companies have expanded the time frame for people working from home and some have gone so far as to say it is okay with them if their employees never return to the office. I understand there are benefits to working remotely. Removing a commute from someone’s day gives them more time to do other things like sleep in, exercise, have more time with their children, cook dinner, and have more time for themselves. And the reality is that right now working from home has been deemed safer for our physical health by various health organizations that we look towards for guidance. Even when offices open back up they will not look the same, at least not for some time, since social distancing will still be important to maintain.
As individuals and companies look to the future my hope is that everyone thinks about mental health because it’s extremely important and I’m worried it’s being left out of the conversation. An office setting provides socialization. Some people find their closest friends or significant others at work. Even for those people who do not like all of their coworkers it can still feel good to see familiar faces on a regular basis. Relationships, even those with colleagues, become deeper through face to face interactions. A meeting through Zoom doesn’t allow for the few minutes of chit chat you have when you’re all sitting around the conference table waiting for people to get settled in.
Another factor to consider is use of screen time. There have been many articles published over the last few years about people’s increase in screen time, mostly connected to our phones and other handheld devices, and how it is negatively affecting us. It’s a bit amusing that now technology is what is allowing many of us to do our jobs from home. But we can’t know yet what the further increase in screen time will do to our physical health. Even if someone worked on their screen for the majority of their day in their office they were still attending meetings in person. Many of my clients still found time to get up and grab lunch outside so they could breathe in some fresh air. Of course, while you’re at home you can take a break but that break can’t be an opportunity for a face to face interaction with a colleague.
Not everyone wants their home to simultaneously be their office. Often times people like a divide between the two spaces. It’s part of what helps people shut off. On numerous occasions I’ve talked with clients about the various things they can do on their commute home to separate their work stresses from their home life. People can implement their own techniques if that commute time is not available but it will take a more conscious effort.
In my opinion, the idea of quickly switching to a permanent work from home model only serves as a short-term solution. Now that we know many jobs can be done from home it’s imperative that we give people flexibility. The truth is that there will be fear, both consciously and unconsciously, that people will feel when they return to the offices they previously left behind. That should be taken into account as well. Balance between work and home is what will ultimately leave people feeling better mentally. But balance looks different for each individual because each one of us has various needs. A one size fits all model wasn’t working before and it won’t work now. Let’s learn lessons from this unique situation we’ve all been forced to live in. Nobody knows what the future will look like, but we need to be thinking about how rapid changes now will possibly affect our mental health in the years to come.