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.