Pros and Cons of the "New Normal", from Someone Who's Been Living It for Years
Earlier this year, I covered the last six years of my life as a remote worker in an article that was picked up by Medium’s largest active publication, The Startup.
Little did I know, most of what I had experienced at that point was about to become the bedrock of what we now know as the “new normal”, which are the changes in how we work, live, and interact amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
I have to admit, it did feel quite strange to see several friends and acquaintances lose their cool over Zoom calls, productivity suites, and collaboration tools. As it turns out, most of these things were already normal for me, but not for them.
Although face masks and social distancing are just as novel for me as they are to you, I am most familiar with many aspects of this new normality, including:
Use of collaboration, productivity, and automation tools
Moreover, I have experienced some of the collateral effects related to working from home full-time, including anxiety, weight gain, and isolation -- all of which required my effort and attention in order to bounce back to a healthy and active lifestyle.
This is why I decided to write this article. In light of the difficulties the “new normal” has brought upon millions of workers around the globe, I thought it would be interesting to share a fresh perspective and go over the pros and cons of it.
Let’s take a look!
7 pros of the New Normal
1. Quality time with your loved ones
This is a big upside. Spending quality time with your close family is not only important but beneficial for everyone.
Studies show children with absent parents (not just physically, but also psychologically) are more likely to display behavioral and emotional problems.
While it can be stressful to juggle your family and work responsibilities once these collide in the same space, it’s well worth the effort. In addition, the new normal has been kind to pets as well, and the benefits of their companionship did not go unnoticed.
As for me, I can’t help to feel lucky for being able to be there for my toddler, and not miss this crucial stage of her life.
2. More time and space for your hobbies and interests
Another easy win. If you are curious about something or have a hobby, it’s much easier to jump into it when you’re working from home.
I have friends that play the guitar, and they all agree that it’s pretty cool to end a task, grab the instrument, and play for a few minutes before getting back to work.
Paying attention to our personal interests is a good way to keep our balance, and replenish our energies. So be it!
3. Real food, so good
Nothing beats the feeling of eating homemade food every day (OK, and maybe a little take out from your favorite joints as well).
Aside from the rare craving, switching to remote work kept me away from fast food, and spending time cooking my meals has had a net positive effect on both my mental and physical health.
Hands down, this is one of the best things about working from home. I love to cook, and being able to use the ingredients I want on a daily basis is just bliss. Turns out I’m not the only one:
4. Comfort is your new friend
While I don’t recommend staying in your pajamas all day long, working from home does allow for more casual outfits.
In addition, you are no longer glued to a desk. Couches, beds, rocking chairs - the options are real, and a lot better than what most of us got to choose while at the office.
Also, let’s not forget about gadgets. Footrests, back massagers, shiatsu machines: a whole new universe of comfort to discover awaits!
There’s no way I’d take such things to the office, but at home...bring it on!
5. The new-found meaning of travel and commutes
There’s an old saying that goes “You only miss the sun when it snows”, and guess what? It is absolutely true.
When you no longer have to commute every day, hopping on a train or driving somewhere becomes a more pleasant activity.
You will start seeing the world with new eyes, which is both refreshing and fulfilling.
6. Money lasts longer
Assuming that you are able to maintain the same income levels as before, and also that you don’t spend it all on foot massaging machines, working from home is a real money-saver.
The reasons? Fewer expenditures on commutes (tickets, gas), on eating out, and on shiny new clothes for work.
If you know how to manage your finances, you will notice the uptick almost right away.
7. New tools to explore, new things to learn
Dealing with new challenges is also a prime opportunity to learn about new solutions.
Productivity tools, automation suites, communication platforms -- all of these offer very low entry barriers and can help you attain valuable skills to beef up your abilities and resume.
7 cons of the New Normal
1. Exercise, or suffer the consequences
There is nothing more sedentary than working from home, and we all know the nefarious effects sedentarism brings to our lives.
If you don’t have to go anywhere, it’s easy to start picking up weight and also to see your overall health decrease.
I used to take walking for granted. Needless to say, it didn’t take long to find how crucial exercise is when you are housebound. Nowadays, taking a long walk is one of my go-to activities when I need to unwind and keep my health in check.
2. Less social life
Before COVID happened, keeping an active social life while working remotely required an extra bit of attention, simply because there were no “after work” beers with coworkers anymore.
The pandemic has made social life even harder, and it’s a pity. Interacting in real life is absolutely vital, and there’s no VR headset or video call that can effectively replace this.
My only advice is to hang in there; brighter days are ahead.
3. Space matters
For city-dwellers sharing spaces with their families, remote work can quickly become a nightmare if the right amount of space just isn’t available.
A small apartment is fine when you mostly use it as a crash pod after a grueling day of work, but if you are to spend day after day in it, your perception of space is likely to change very fast.
A dedicated space for work is an absolute must. It’s cool to work from the comfort of your couch once in a while, but not exactly ideal for the long term.
In my experience, the bare minimum entails:
A private space where you can speak on the phone without unwanted interruptions
Reliable internet connection
Proper seating, silence, and natural light
The effects of isolation on remote workers have been well documented, and range from loneliness to anxiety, depression, and burnout.
It is hardly news that the pandemic has put an extra layer of pressure on all of us, and that the number of people reporting health issues related to isolation and distancing is skyrocketing.
If you suffer from these, my best advice is to avoid “sweeping it under the rug”, and seek professional advice as soon as possible.
Otherwise, your productivity - and ultimately, your job, relationships, and well-being - could be on the line.
5. Public transportation, about to get worse
Public transport networks were in a bad place before the pandemic hit, and the lack of use due to circulation restrictions will probably have a devastating effect on them.
Without efficient public transportation systems, the urban landscape becomes more difficult to navigate, resulting in more traffic congestion, higher levels of pollution, and increased levels of inequality.
6. Filter bubbles and echo chambers
Real-life interactions, particularly in urban areas, are an endless source of perspectives and experiences different than ours.
As American poet, Maya Angelou once said, “in diversity there is beauty and there is strength”, and lacking different views in our daily life is not good news in these convoluted times.
Echo chambers already represented a significant problem before the pandemic, and it is hard to imagine that it’s going to get any better now that our real-life social interactions have dropped to a minimum.
7. Roadblocks in career development
Social skills play an important role in career development, and not being able to display these as usual can delay professional growth in a number of cases.
Non-verbal communications are vital in an office environment, yet their influence is greatly reduced when interactions are confined to keyboards, cameras, and microphones.
As a result, those careers that nurture themselves on social interaction are suffering a great deal of damage - without interaction, there is little room for growth.
Conclusion: The New Normal's challenges and questions
Even though I have worked remote positions for the past seven years, the rapid expansion of it has sparked a few interesting questions for which I don’t have an answer.
For example, I am very curious about the fate of urban real estate. Thanks to the possibility of remote work, professionals are moving to smaller cities in search of space, and companies are leaving their lavish office towers for less-expensive spots.
How will cities deal with the loss of talent? Will the prices of property that was designed for a previous era experience a sharp drop, making cities affordable again?
In the same breath, will cities answer with infrastructure to suit the current times? If commutes are a thing of the past, will elected powers and developers begin to discuss parks, bike lanes, and walking trails instead of highways and parking lots?
The list of challenges can be intimidating, and it doesn’t stop there.
Take technology, for instance. Will it evolve to satisfy the needs of the new normal? Investors are throwing money at companies like Zoom, but will these bets translate into better digital products to create, communicate, and share?
Other sectors - including education, and healthcare - are under enormous stress, and a high moral and economic toll has been put on their shoulders. How will these areas evolve in order to survive the needs of the “new normal”?
As I said above, I don’t have answers to any of these questions. All I can say is that the pandemic will come to an end, but it’s hard to imagine remote work going back to where it was before.
In the meantime, my only advice is to evaluate your situation, learn, do, and help others.
If we're lucky, we'll get out better.