Here we go again.
As I write this, another stage of lockdowns is happening around the world, and not just in poorer regions, but in countries like the United States and even New Zealand. Granted, the way governments have chosen how to implement these Draconian measures and the reasons therefor greatly vary, the consensus is that COVID-19 is still here. We have rolled out vaccines to almost every city in the world, and still, we are in a position of such uncertainty.
What has this meant for the economy? Well, we have seen promising rebounding effects throughout the world, especially for those countries which suffered a lot last year. That’s because work and economic activity have both returned – some slower than others, but moving forward nonetheless. Either countries learn to live with the virus or stay in a state of pandemic limbo.
Working from the office has tried to make a comeback this year, and back in May to June, it really looked like normal work life had finally returned, especially for workers in the United States, Canada, and most of Europe. Countless LinkedIn ‘office hype’ videos were shared for those who were able to return to their beloved offices, and for employers who had a difficult time getting workers back onsite, they had to resort to some desperate return-to-office marketing tactics.
With the Delta variant wreaking havoc in the United States however, plans to go back to the office for good have been at a standstill. The vaccine mandates are already there for most, but uncertainty and unwillingness still abound. There are workers though, that can’t wait to be back in the office and want the old way of working back – because working from home has been such a drain on energy and morale.
Let’s go ahead and talk about the sentiments of those who want to be back in the office.
Longing for the Office
There are workers who feel most productive and who can bring out the best version of themselves when they work at the office. Those who have been used to working remotely before the pandemic usually don’t fall into this category, but there is some indication that even they would want a few days a week to collaborate with colleagues onsite.
For some, the office isn’t just a place where you can find ergonomic furniture. Additionally, it’s not just the free air-conditioning, adequate lighting, and stable internet connection that draw workers back in. The office is a place where you can have accidental encounters with people to talk about non-work stuff, making your job not feel like a job too much. Office culture varies depending on who you’re working for, but it usually cannot be felt as much in a virtual setting.
At this time, it is normal to long for the office – a place some workers probably haven’t returned to for more than a year.
A Sense of Normalcy
Working from work doesn’t just mean you go to the office then go back home. For some, it’s an opportunity to visit favorite hangout spots along the way. When’s the last time you had a coffee break at one of the small shops near your office?
The things surrounding the concept of working from the office all have something to do with the sense of normalcy. Governments try to keep restaurants open – not just for more taxes to collect, but probably to help preserve a sense of normalcy. Dining at restaurants and having a quick afternoon coffee are two things that are completely unlike going to the supermarket. Whereas we need to go to the supermarket to stock up on supplies, we voluntarily go to restaurants and cafes not always for the necessity of feeding ourselves, but usually for enjoyment and leisure.
A sense of normalcy (2019 type of normalcy) seems very hard to get back. Even when the case numbers shrink, hospitalizations become normal, and deaths drastically decline – even by then, we will probably still be wearing masks in public places. When is the 2019 version of normalcy ever coming back? And will it ever come back?
Separating Home and Work
The Great Resignation of 2021 has predominantly been made up of workers who choose going remote forever instead of being forced to go back to work; however, a portion of those leaving their jobs is simply those who are burned out. Being burned out has something to do with being unable to separate home from work. Rather than ‘working from home’, people are more ‘living at work’ these days. Unless your company has a strict time-in-and-out schedule, you’re likely a worker than can’t shut off work properly or at a fixed, regular time.
To finally be able to get back to the office means that separating your work from your home life can finally be doable, even if it can’t be a hundred percent that way. Sure, you will probably still check your phone at home for any surprise email, but at least you will no longer experience any guilt when arriving home, because you had already ‘put in the hours’ at the office.
For most employers, it’s really the results that count, so the actual hours you put in won’t matter as much. But for the worker himself, the idea of being able to compartmentalize and prevent work from ‘bleeding into’ your private life is something the pandemic work-from-home employee dearly misses.
A Seasonal Phenomenon
Like the flu, COVID-19 seems to be seasonal. But COVID-19 just happens to be a lot worse in its seasonality – it opens and closes economies whenever it chooses. Almost every country has experienced two or three big COVID-19 waves since 2020, and workers now seem resigned to the fact that it will probably be this way for a long time.
During the post-holiday surge, workers were far optimistic because vaccines were along the way – healthcare workers and vulnerable people lined up in vaccination centers to initiate the action to put an end to COVID-19 for good. But now, even with vaccines rolling out very fast in most countries, worker morale seems lower than it was.
We’re seeing that even if vaccines are widely available, some people will still object to getting it. Herd immunity seems impossible to achieve. New variants are always a threat.
The seasonality of COVID-19 – acting normal for a few weeks or months and then closing back down again because of a case surge – it is wearing the working population out, whether the worker wants to go back to the office or wants to work from home forever.