I am a member of this machine that we call the working world. Of course, I am far from alone in this machine. None of us are. We work alongside millions of others and together, we are all the integral moving parts of an economic system that helps make the world go around. In fact, everyone is a part of this system, including the unemployed because somehow, the world has to function. Trains have to move. Planes have to fly. People need to eat and of course, investors have to be happy.
The truth is everything costs money. Food certainly costs money. Gas costs money. As it is, prices are going up across the board, yet we are finding ourselves at the corner of a new financial turn. We can’t go on like this forever. Remote learning cannot continue to damage the socialization of young students whose early interactions are necessary for their social education.
Like everyone else, I am part of a cog that turns, yet much like the rest of the world, I have concerns about the upcoming forecast. This is more than the idea of personal improvement plans or wellness in the workplace (or at home). This is more than the back and forth arguments about controversy and conspiracy. Instead, the thoughts that I am about to leave here are taken from a strategic mindset in order to create a more fluid-like approach to the future ahead.
Rather than choke the mind with thoughts about who is right or wrong, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate; instead, this a thought about what’s to come. Moreover, this is a thought about whether we have prepared for the upcoming months or if we have forgotten a few simple things.
The upcoming months will serve new and unexpected challenges. As it stands, we are in the middle of a new beginning and facing the ideas of a new normal (or whatever that means). We are in a restructuring phase and looking to rebuild, as well as strengthen our surroundings to a healthy environment. This, of course, begins at home. However, home is where the heart is and home is also where the mortgage is; which means that the stimulus and all the help will soon run dry. We will have to buckle down and come up with an active plan to reenter the workforce.
Put simply, we cannot stay this way forever. We have to find a way to safely and comfortably learn to interact and socialize. We have to stay healthy and Covid-free. However, the threat of a possible outbreak might cause our country to go back into shutdown. In which case, the question becomes how have we prepared for this? If this happens again, are the nurses ready? Are the doctors and hospitals ready? Are the supermarkets ready? Will we have enough toilet paper to go around? Will there be another mask shortage? Are the schools ready or the public services? I only ask this because since the lesson is fresh, hopefully we’ve learned from our mistakes.
It was almost understandable that we were unprepared when the pandemic first hit. Although there are arguments about this and there are accusations that say otherwise; still, no one predicted that the pandemic would be this impactful. However, we are moving in a new direction. Therefore, we have some breathing room to make adjustments. We can take advantage of our past experience and create an emergency action plan, in case the numbers rise up again.
Needless to say, whether we are out of the woods or not, we have to train ourselves for the upcoming adjustments. We have to both unlearn and relearn the simple rules of interaction. Of course, this means some added safety practices to keep germs from spreading.
There is a thought of mine, which I would like to share with you to expose a simple truth. We have spent most of our lives adjusting to the social norms and becoming accustomed to working and interacting with people on a daily basis. We have close friends and work friends, and the occasional acquaintances who we see in common corridors at work and smile or say hello. Previously, we had a morning routine with morning habits and a schedule of when to be in the car or on the bus or train. We had start times and break times, and job calendars, meetings, projects, and if we’re lucky, we find some time to eat lunch or grab coffee.
For those of us who have spent decades in the working world, we have grown accustomed to our daily routine. We had to learn and adjust to our schedules and changes. This includes all the tiny rituals that we have, like say, how we get through the day or meeting with some of our co-workers on Thursday night to blow off steam.
We have learned to adjust to our climate and the seasonal changes, the holidays, the summertime, or the mid-winter vacations. All of this has become an understandable and mainly predictable loop for us.
Until . . .
This was our life and these were our routines in pre-Covid times. However, post-shutdown, we’re living in different times. We went from inter-personal and inter-social, to isolated and quarantined. Everything changed. Our working conditions changed, which means we had to adhere to new habits. We had to learn, build and create new routines. We had to endure the change of information. We had to decipher between real news and fake news; and certainly now, since social media has become the editor of all news, science and politics. Since politics have become the new religion, since politicians have become the new scientists, and now that our society has become more divided, confused, angry and untrusting, we find ourselves in sensitive territory.
We are facing new times, which again, these times are unlike anything else we’ve encountered before. We went from living a social, interconnected life to living separated, remotely, and virtually. We had to learn new ways of communicating. We had to train ourselves to find new disciplines to balance our workload to avoid this from interfering with our home life. Yet the boundaries between work life and home life were blurred to be non-existent, due to the fact that work was now at home. There was no separation between home and the office. We learned new habits and new coping skills to deal with the new measures of our new life.
There are some who have spoken out about their remote lives and working from home. They discuss how their workday began once they arrived at the office. However, now that their office is literally two steps out of their bedroom, employees found themselves working longer hours. They found their supervisors always know where they are. The phones ring. There’s no escaping the long email chains and Zoom meetings or webinars. Of course, travel time is different while working from home. Sick days are still sick days, but now that the office is home, of course, sick days are not the same either.
Now, take the idea of school. Think about how long it’s been since we sat in a classroom. For most, learning in a classroom environment is something in their past. We had to learn how to learn. We had to learn how to study and retain the information we learned in class. If we were to go back, we would have to learn to retake tests again. We’d need to learn how to interact with our teachers and classmates, and how to navigate through the schools or around the campus.
If I were to go back to the classroom today, I would have to relearn all of these steps. I would have to teach myself how to study again. This might not be too hard, yet there is still a relearning and adjustment process that would need to take place.
And here we are now. We are looking to return to the so-called “New Normal,” which means we have to un-train ourselves from the routine we have trained ourselves to have. We have to get back into the swing of returning back to the office. We have to endure the commutes. We have to be ready for the return to society, which for some people, means crowded subway cars. This means encountering the mask-less and the new post-pandemic culture. For some people, this will mean anxiety at insurmountable levels.
At least for some people, this means irrational fear. This means new routines and new habits; new coping skills, and new safety regulations and guidelines to keep their workstations clean. This also means the return to cubicles and office spaces where there will be other coworkers to interact with; which means there will be different opinions of the virus, vaccinations or anti-vaccinations, depending upon the room. Therefore, the workplace will see new opinion-related stressors.
So what does this mean?
This means that the need for understanding, awareness and tolerance of mental well-being is crucial to our return. This means the need for in-house support and employee assistance programs will be paramount to both staff and supervisors.
As it is, we have lost more than a year together. And we will have to learn how to work together again. It only makes sense to create a good strategy and the plans to achieve them so that our reentry goes smoothly.
Let’s hope this goes smoothly. . .
Let’s hope that we learn to put the virus behind us, so that we can move forward and get back to normal.
(If there is such a thing.)