I don't want to 'get back to normal' as the pandemic winds down. Here's why
Since March 2020, the world has been talking about how we'll return to normal after being put through the COVID-19 ringer. But here's what called to our attention regarding what 'normal' is.
Health disparities that disproportionately kill communities of color carry over to new diseases, like COVID-19.
Work commutes contribute to traffic and carbon emissions as people flock to office buildings.
Office spaces that lack square footage to distance employees, recirculate air and spread the flu and other illnesses.
Inflexible work schedules exact time employees could spend with family and friends or tending to mental and physical health needs and other errands.
I don't know about you but I'm dead set on not returning to the office requiring a grueling five-day commute through dense Los Angeles traffic, and it's pretty clear that I'm not the only one. Why would we want to return to our status quo filled with gridlocked freeways, freezing cold office buildings, catching nasty colds from coworkers and recirculated office air and inflexible schedules that make it nearly impossible to run errands during the week instead of spending the weekend doing them. Beyond work, what about the inequities and harshness of our world that have been looked over for so long?
Why do WFH perks matter so much though? What about them is having such a deeply rooted impact on the way this American thinks about work and life?
Despite the obvious hardships and stress-inducers many of us have experienced throughout the pandemic like job insecurity, anxiety, isolation, etc., having a work schedule flexible enough to let employees live their lives in a less congested and time-crunched way threw an unexpected curve ball. Suddenly, life can take a priority to work and I'm finding it hard to swallow the pill of mandated return to work plans laid out by employers, especially for people who have proven their effectiveness as telecommuters. Why pay to work in a cold, ugly office when I can do the same job in my comfortable home? Employers would say because it's the way we've always done things. I don't buy it.
The building standoff to a traditional in-office is somewhat understandable, but truthfully, I have a hard time wrapping my head around WFH naysayers' position. Who wouldn't want to go through the pain of buying new work pants when they inevitably discover their old pants no longer fit? Who wouldn't kill to wonder whether their sniffles are the result of a cold or COVID-19? Who's not thrilled about getting up earlier to squeeze in a workout, shower and morning ritual to get ready to sit in a cubicle for eight hours?
As you've probably surmised by now, I am a fan of working from home, despite its challenges. Yes, home might have distractions like kids, streaming platforms and the all so alluring comfortable couch. Let's be completely honest; office distractions exist too. Online shopping to kill time, streaming and gaming apps on smartphones, doodling and anything else to make mind numbing days in the office more bearable occupy our minds sometimes more than the work we're paid to do.
Interestingly, and perhaps needlessly shocking to me, was my little sister's absolute opposite opinion of the hyper digitalization the pandemic has caused, specifically for students. My sister just graduated from high school and vehemently opposes virtual classes. She insisted that if the pandemic persisted and forced Pepperdine University, where she'll be attending as a freshman in the fall, to continue offering only online classes, that she'd defer to avoid an online learning modality.
Why? For her, it's actually not a learning modality. It's boring, not engaging despite how hard teachers try, disconnected and insufficient to meet the needs of impressionable young adults. Online school also left a gaping hole in her social life and development. Attending pep rallies, football games and her swim meets are all things she's deeply missed for the past year and a half. Her opinion is understandable, even relatable. I had a traditional college experience at Pepperdine nonetheless and know how fun campus is when you live there with 3,000 other students.
I'm not saying that nothing should be restored and reinstated to the way they were before the pandemic unended our world. I am saying however that we should take the time and expend the effort to truly reevaluate how and why we do things as a society. If we've survived this pandemic but learned nothing then we've done everyone alive today and future generations a massive disservice. The key however is that real people's voices be heard, not just leadership teams, board members or consulting firms. The employees who carry the brunt of the workload of the company they work for deserve to have a chance to weigh in on how they live out their lives, including their professional ones.