After a pan­dem­ic — is such a plan­ning stage even pos­sible today? We can­’t be sure, but it’s cer­tainly hard to talk about tem­por­ary solu­tions any­more. Ada Olszewska, our Qual­ity Spe­cial­ist, won­ders what is behind the change in our mind­sets, how do changes in the way we work affect us and do we have any influ­ence on these changes? 

In March 2020 when we left our Codelab’s offices we nev­er ima­gined that it would last over a year. We used to be very close-knit. Dis­cus­sions over the kit­chen com­mon table while hav­ing break­fast and lunch were almost our tra­di­tion. We used to see each oth­er also after work, both privately and on company’s events. Remote work was quite a chal­lenge at the begin­ning, but we quickly adapt and cur­rently we are as pro­duct­ive as before, while also hav­ing those dis­cus­sions over break­fast remotely. 

Lately we have been devel­op­ing the best way to work after pan­dem­ic. We cre­ated the team of employ­ees from vari­ous depart­ments (HR, Soft­ware engin­eers, Mar­ket­ing, Pro­ject Man­age­ment etc.) to get as many ideas as pos­sible and cre­ate a solu­tion that meets the needs of all inter­ested parties. We also con­duc­ted an anonym­ous sur­vey to gath­er everybody’s opin­ions and insights. What sur­prised me the most was the large num­ber of people who declared no will to come back to office, even for couple of days dur­ing the month, there­fore, demand­ing 100% home office. 

This change of mind­set is notice­able in fully remote jobs offers increase on the IT mar­ket. Work­ing from home comes with many bene­fits such as less com­mute stress, loc­a­tion inde­pend­ence, money sav­ings and so on but it causes lack of rela­tion­ships among cowork­ers, decreased work-life bal­ance and enhance isol­a­tion. Espe­cially the last one requires fur­ther consideration. 

Sci­ent­ists has been doing research on the effects of the pan­dem­ic since the begin­ning and now, after a year of social isol­a­tion, they observe that many people are afraid to return to their former lives des­pite being fully vac­cin­ated. There is even a name for this type of social with­draw­al, known as the cave syn­drome, best por­trayed by a report by Amer­ic­an Psy­cho­lo­gic­al Association. 

Tired frustrated exhausted businessman working from home online sitting at home office with laptop during quarantine and self isolation period at pandemic. Crisis management. Despair of market falling down.

A recent study shows that nearly half of Amer­ic­ans (49%) feel uneasy about adjust­ing to in-per­son inter­ac­tion when the pan­dem­ic ends. Adults who received a COV­ID-19 vac­cine feel the same way (48%). Nearly half of the pop­u­la­tion are afraid of going to the office every day, meet­ing friends, vis­it­ing fam­ily, social gath­er­ings, birth­days, and weddings. 

It would seem that people after such a long peri­od of forced isol­a­tion will hap­pily return to party­ing togeth­er. Some of them yes, but not all, and no one expec­ted such a high level of social with­draw­al before. The study from Uni­ver­sity of Brit­ish Columbia pub­lished in May 2020 pre­dicted that an estim­ated 10% of people in the midst of the pan­dem­ic will devel­op COV­ID stress syn­drome, or mood or anxi­ety dis­orders. Today it is known that the num­bers were greatly under­es­tim­ated. Emer­ging into the light after a year locked down turns out to be a dif­fi­cult trans­ition to a lot of people and we begin to under­stand the prob­lem that must be addressed. 

We had to learn the habit of wear­ing masks, phys­ic­al or social dis­tan­cing, not invit­ing people over and as any habit it is very hard to break once it is formed. An estab­lished habit needs time and effort to be changed, even when we want to change. What about those who don’t want their habit of social dis­tan­cing to be altered? 

One may ask what is wrong with stay­ing at home. Cave syn­drome is a new phe­nomen­on and a new prob­lem, it is yet not known how ser­i­ously our soci­et­ies will be affected by it. As a mat­ter of fact, we already know a sim­il­ar phe­nomen­on to cave syn­drome, thor­oughly researched, that occurred in Japan around 1920s. It is called Hikiko­mori. also known as total with­draw­al from soci­ety and seek­ing extreme degrees of social isol­a­tion and con­fine­ment.  Moreover, the Hikiko­mori phe­nomen­on grows stronger with time. It starts with no interest in going to school or work­ing and spend­ing most of the time at home and evolves into not leav­ing the room, com­pletely depend­ing on family’s help. Accord­ing to Japan­ese gov­ern­ment fig­ures released in 2010, there are 700,000 indi­vidu­als liv­ing as hikiko­mori with­in Japan, with an aver­age age of 31. 

It might seem as an extreme phe­nomen­on of very demand­ing Japan­ese soci­ety but prob­lems with get­ting back to the soci­ety has been also observed between inhab­it­ants of research sta­tions in Ant­arc­tica (The winter-over syn­drome) or astro­nauts. The com­mon factor is the isol­a­tion for a peri­od longer than 6 months. 

So, what can be done if someone doesn’t go out or is afraid to do so? Do people suf­fer­ing from cave syn­drome need pro­fes­sion­al treat­ment or just a bit more adjust­ment time? It all depends on the level of sever­ity but even in mild con­di­tions mind­ful­ness and addi­tion­al meas­ures are advised. Social inter­ac­tions can be stress­ful, but it is worth remem­ber­ing that avoid­ing stress will lead to worsen stress resi­li­ence. Hikiko­mori example does not yet mean that the post-pan­dem­ic cave syn­drome will fol­low the same path. The prob­lem is that we do not know, and it is bet­ter to pre­vent than to heal. 

NASA has the rein­teg­ra­tion pro­cess for astro­nauts com­ing back to Earth. It is mostly focused on get­ting their phys­ic­al abil­it­ies back, strength­en­ing muscles and bones but there is also a fam­ily sup­port team to help facing some inter­per­son­al and emo­tion­al challenges. 

We in Codelab also decided to slowly come back to nor­mal social beha­vi­ors and rein­teg­rate. Remote work will be tailored to the employee’s needs and expect­a­tions as well as to pro­ject require­ments. We focus on integ­ra­tion, company’s events and check for any dis­com­fort or anxi­ety regard­ing com­ing back to the office. 

We are try­ing to return to our “after hours” on-air events, but also to our inter­na­tion­al team meet­ings, which has recently become a little easi­er. Soon, in the next art­icle in this series “Codelab in the Crown”, we will share with you in detail how the imple­ment­a­tion of a new work­ing mod­el in Codelab looks like, and what our idea is to provide not only the best work­ing con­di­tions and their selec­tion, but also to pre­serve what we have the most valu­able, that is the Codelab culture.