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.
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.