Since Covid-19 seems to be here to stay for the near future at least, a focus on the ‘new normal’ requires us to shift our thinking into entirely new areas regarding lifestyle choices. Working from home continues to be encouraged by the Dutch government as a part of this ‘new normal’, since the daily commute to and from the office is described as unnecessary and prone to risk. Although many offices in the Netherlands are welcoming employees, people are actively outweighing the pros and cons of working from home as an alternative.
Although originally initiating a period of adaptation to the new circumstances, most people saw the pandemic as an opportunity to cut back on travel time and expenses. Without the daily commute, people were left with more time to spend on household chores and more quality time with family or housemates. For some, these benefits brought into question the entire purpose of an office. If working from home works just as efficiently, why not change our old ways permanently?
Yet, not only optimistic conclusions were drawn from the forced change to home working. Some people long for the return of regular office hours with comfortable desk chairs and quiet meeting rooms. A lack of ergonomic office furniture and the scrapping of one’s daily bicycle ride to and from work is beginning to cause long-term back problems for some. When suddenly all meetings are held from the exact same spot, constantly leaning forward and bending down towards our laptop screens, it’s no surprise that some of us are starting to feel the consequences.
Whilst some companies take little notice of these possible health complications, others are willing to reimburse their staff for the costs of creating a comfortable home workspace. For example, the simple switch to an adjustable desk and laptop stand to improve posture can make all the difference. Nevertheless, every situation is different. Living alone and working from home is obviously much easier than trying to work while having to care for three children and two dogs, for example. Especially if more than one person is required to work in the same room, problems tend to arise. For some, an office is the only place that stimulates proper concentration and focused work. Not only does the failure to find a suitable work spot influence one’s own work experience, it can cause friction with colleagues as well.
Furthermore, connected to this is the fact that social contact is undeniably an important part of sustaining relations with colleagues. Interaction through Zoom, Teams or any other platform might tend to the basic needs of professional life, but more informal and light-hearted conversations in the corridor remain elusive. On some levels, true physical interaction simply cannot be replicated by an online platform. With social media taking over more and more of our lives as it is, communication in the workplace appeared to be one of the only places where more authenticity remained. A mix of occasional spontaneous conversation with focused work hours is deemed necessary for increased creativity and innovation.
All work arrangements offer opportunities and obstacles. Making the most of the national advice to stay put as much as possible is a challenge the whole country has to face together. Just like many of the effects Covid-19 has had on society, it will take time to find our way and acclimatise to the best of our ability. Despite the troubling reality, the availability of new online workspaces, which have already proven to be more successful than we ever thought possible, has enabled us to keep working to a reasonable level of efficiency. What else may be possible in the future?
Written by Charlotte Seijger