From Corporate Office to Living-Room Office
Many people in the working class have become accustomed to waking up, taking a shower, catching the 6 am bus, and scurrying to their cubicle heaven. The outbreak of COVID-19 changed all of that almost in the blink of an eye. Many professionals had to stop commuting to office parks and had to make do with turning their living room (or even their bedrooms) into their new cubicle heavens. For a photojournalist such as myself, one who has grown accustomed to working on the field, attending packed conferences, or sharing a few square meters with other photojournalists as we observe protesters burning tires and blockading roads, the change was all too sudden– and all too discomforting. It had a tremendous effect on my mental health, and this led me to wonder just how bad other workers in other sectors have had it.
What does the science of statistics say about this?
“Tackling the mental health impact of the COVID-19 crisis”, a report that studied the mental health impact of COVID-19 on OECD countries, revealed that the COVID-19 crisis saw a massive increase in teleworking. Around 39% of workers reportedly switched to telework, and while there can be benefits associated with this sort of work, there is also a negative impact. For example, telework blurs the boundaries between work and home, and this creates a sense of detachment from the workplace. Remote workers also spent more hours working as opposed to those working in offices. Telework has also been found to increase the risk of burnout due to having to manage balancing work and life.
A testimony of a worker who is affected by the sudden shift
I interviewed Mark Staley, a United-Kingdom native who works in Telecoms. Mark moved from New Jersey to Florida due to the COVID-19 outbreak. He told me that before the outbreak, he was always at the office and used to fly to the UK twice a year to visit friends and family. However, his world came crashing down in a way he did not expect– or like.
“It was fun, interacting with and seeing people. The change was quite instant. I remember that we left at 2 pm on a Monday with two monitors, a laptop, a wireless keyboard, and three desk-phones in tow. Tuesday I was already working from home.”
Mark never adjusted, and this has had a severe impact on his mental health.
“I’m still working remotely and I will never go back to the office,” he said sadly. “I’m always experiencing feelings of complete isolation. I will never see my co-workers and friends there again. This made me anxious about leaving the house. Now I throw myself into work, which means I spend more hours online.”
Mark told me that he misses the banter in the office. He has now become very introverted, finding any excuse not to go anywhere. He has also resorted to filling his time playing computer games to stimulate and distract him. His anxiety has gone through the roof.
What is the way forward?
Although it may not seem so, there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel. Employers can take proactive steps to provide and strengthen mental health support available to remote employees. European Parliament lawmakers reportedly called for a law to allow workers to digitally disconnect outside working hours without repercussion.
For Mark, he has found the solution in disconnecting for a few hours. For me, the solution has been a quiet night of sleep until the troublesome twin toddlers wake us up.
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