Prisms of Perception 6: Remote Life – Is It the New Norm?
I hate to be the one who points out the obvious, but of course, it’s no secret that this pandemic has changed our lives dramatically. Social distancing rules, furlough payments, outdoor-dining-only for a while, not to mention not being able to see friends and family for over a year. And let’s not get started about the vaccine debates. But as a student, I can speak for many of us when I say that it was definitely a big turn of events when we found out that we had to complete almost a third of our degrees and exams online. And of course, large numbers of professionals had to make their dining tables their new offices.
I still remember when the news of the outbreak in Wuhan had just broken out in December 2019. I was three months into my first year of university, still settling in, still getting lost in London. I thought it was just something that would diminish very quickly, so admittedly I didn’t pay much attention to the media. But then over the next couple of months, the campus became almost desolate. People’s attendance became more and more sporadic and the next thing you know, we received an email saying that teaching would be moved online. I couldn’t believe how quickly things had completely changed. I packed my bags and moved back home to Birmingham to give these online lectures a go. I was receiving all sorts of online material and passcodes and links to all of my lectures and seminars. And that was it. The start of the new normal.
The second half of my first year, and then my entire second year, was all delivered through online platforms. I had never used Zoom or Microsoft Teams before this. Now, my expertise has reached all sorts of levels. My whole life was completely instilled in my laptop. All of my assignments, all mediums of communication are, now fully electronic. I hadn’t seen any of my friends, or lecturers, in months. I hadn’t seen anyone in fact, and it felt so strange. Seeing the faces of new lecturers, I had never seen in-person, and probably never will. And it’s even stranger to see my friends through a screen, sat in their bedrooms, just like I was. Now, almost a year and a half later since all of this began, it made me reflect on how much I had missed out on, but also, how much I had learnt.
First thing’s first, one thing I can say is that thankfully, it didn’t influence my self-discipline. Well, not all the time anyway. Yes, I wasn’t waking up to run to lectures, but I was waking up for lectures, nonetheless. But also, I wasn’t in the most presentable attire either. Joggers. I lived in them during the lockdown. I tried very hard to keep up with my studies despite the changes, and thankfully I had succeeded at that. But it was difficult, with no interaction, no face-to-face help if needed. And I know many people found it even more challenging. Many people I knew, who usually maintained a pattern of pretty high grades, were beginning to see a drop in their performance. Not to mention a few friends who were international students, waking up at crazy hours to attend all the virtual classes. No wonder performance was dropping when everyone’s schedules were so broken.
Of course, it wasn’t just students who had it tough. Parents, forced to work from home, looking after their young children, who too, were being schooled online. Settling into a new routine when you had only just gotten used to the old one. But with so many companies and academic institutions realising that they did actually survive with their students and employees behind screens in their homes, will this be a new way of functioning in the future?
Now, like every topic of discussion, the concept of working and studying remotely has its pros and cons, and they weigh differently from person to person. One, quite clear advantage, is that you have independence over your location. Working remotely means that you could carry on with your day-to-day tasks from almost anywhere in the world, with the occasional compromise of adjusting to various time zones. This, then, of course, smoothly links into the advantage of there being little to no commuting stress. Oh, the worry about getting from my bedroom to the home study every morning. That’s a worry I wouldn’t mind. And we all know, that when we’re less stressed, we work better. We get things done to a higher standard. A survey conducted by ConnectSolutions reported that 77% of those who worked from home showed increased rates of productivity, with 30% doing more work in less time. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me. And if you further relate this to our current circumstances, since after the outbreak of Covid-19, Prodoscore reported a 47% increase in productivity amongst stay-at-home workers since March 2020. So, productivity and stress levels certainly aren’t affected by not being in office environments. In fact, they seem to be improving.
Now, on to bursting the pros bubble a little, sadly. Unfortunately, amongst all the stats mentioned earlier, are not workers of certain professions. These excluded professions include those in the healthcare sector, retail, hospitality, and warehouse workers. So, a con that stands high in this case, is that some individuals are simply not able to work from home, due to the nature of their work. And here is what upsets me a little. All of these professions were, and still are, listed as the ‘key workers’, especially throughout the pandemic. These are the individuals who we all relied on the most to help keep us going. And they are the same individuals who aren’t able to reap the same benefits of working from home and getting in an extra day or so of relaxation. This, to an extent, certainly creates a division amongst many professions and industries across the economy. However, this isn’t the only disadvantage. Working from home is devasting news for those who live in households of domestic violence and abuse, or for individuals suffering from mental health issues. In December 2020, around 42% of the people surveyed by the US Census Bureau reported depression or anxiety symptoms which is a drastically increased rate compared to the 11% reported in 2019. Going to work, for many may seem a chore, but for many others, is a chance of escape. Communicating and positively socialising with others can bring out the best in us, and a good laugh can help us forget our worries for a while. Interactions like these can become very difficult when you’re confined to your dining room table, no matter how much we love indulging in our homely pleasures. Sometimes we all need a break from it. As Aristotle says, “Man is by nature a social animal.” However, the lack of this interaction is expected to cause a rise in social anxiety, even more, when people are expected to ‘return’ their social lives.
Many may miss the interactions, and realise they’re missing out on more than they think. Others may jump at the chance of being able to carry out their lives remotely. I don’t know which category I fall into, maybe both. Because whether we like it or not, socialising with peers is important. Social and communication skills are the foundation of any relationship we choose to build in our lifetimes. After all, there are seven billion people in the world, it would be foolish to think we could ignore them. And even though working and studying remotely is certainly beneficial to many, including myself, I certainly miss being around people. Being stuck at home, trying to make the most of my bedroom being my new lecture theatre, I really began to realise how I had taken every day being at university and having even a coffee with a friend for granted. And with all restrictions now lifted (in the UK, anyway), we can only wait and see how quickly things will return to the ‘old normal’. Or whether Zoom and other platforms will continue to be part of our lives.
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