The decrease in social contact has caused loneliness levels to reach alarming levels in the past year.
People are craving office life more than ever before, but this may not be the best solution.
The pandemic should be seen as an opportunity to re-evaluate work standards and find a solution that would increase workers’ mental well-being.
A hybrid working system appears to be an efficient manner of dealing with work associated mental health issues. Since no solution is ever perfect, it can still cause problems and the decision on whether it should be implemented ultimately falls on company executives.
Before the pandemic, we all heard the complaints about office life: long hours away from home, stress as well as a lack of privacy were just a few of the issues frequently raised. This caused the expectations for at-home isolation to look very promising as it seemed to solve many problems. However, the decrease in social contact has caused loneliness levels to reach alarming levels in the past year.
According to one US survey, 80% of people aged between 18 and 35 years old reported significant growth in depressive symptoms since the beginning of lockdown.
This highlights the important role that offices play in people’s lives as a place for social interaction and self-fulfillment, especially for young workers.
Leesman, a workplace researcher, uncovered that 72 % of workers under 25 years old do not have a dedicated room to work from at home. This is a major cause of stress because it hinders the ability to focus and get into a productive mindset. Additionally, not having a private workspace can be very distracting, which will ultimately affect work/life balance while working from home.
Moreover, by working remotely, young workers are missing out on the informal learning that originates from life in the workplace. The casual chit-chat in the corridors and the ability to overhear conversations are fundamental for not only creating relationships with coworkers, but also understanding how to navigate the organization and knowing the company’s power dynamics.
Guy Ryder, the head of the International Labour Organization (ILO), stated that this lack of knowledge building will “make it much more difficult to rebuild a better, post-COVID economy”.
However, this desire that is being built towards office life may not be all that it appears to be. As all establishments remain closed and people sink more into their own bubbles, a previously dreaded place now seems more pleasant simply because it would increase the current level of socializing. But let’s not forget the worrying depression levels haunting office workers before Covid-19.
In 2016 it was estimated that 40% of young employees in the US experienced persistent stress or excessive anxiety and 28% had suffered from a panic attack.
This means that the pandemic should be seen as an opportunity to re-evaluate work standards and find a solution that would increase workers’ mental well-being. Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economics professor and expert in remote work, believes that once the pandemic subsides, working from home two days a week will be optimal for work efficiency, while benefiting from the reduced stress of less commuting. This system is called hybrid working.
Some companies have started implementing this method during the pandemic and employees have experienced the new measures with high levels of satisfaction. Baruch Silverman, founder of personal finance website The Smart Investor, said that “ we [Smart Investor employees] try to use home working days less for video sessions and more for the tasks that require concentration. A task that may take several hours in the office may be completed in just an hour or two at home”. This means that his employees get a much better work/life balance due to the free-time that arises from increased efficiency.
Nevertheless, there are still risks that come with this new work model. There are worries that it may lead to a divide between those who spend more time at work and those who do it less. This could even cause an increase in the gender gap since women are usually expected to be in charge of household tasks and may have to spend more time at home than male co-workers.
In the end, company executives will be the ultimate decision-makers. If they decide to completely shift to hybrid working environments, they will also have to deal with problems that may appear and find creative solutions for them.