It would be fair to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we knew it. The unprecedented events that unfolded during the pandemic have radically redefined the way we live, work and think and how we relate to space and to each other. Pandemic mitigation itself required mass, coordinated behavioural change to succeed. Almost 2 years down the line, the challenge is clear; wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and greater reliance on virtual mediums of interactions has become the new normal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on the workplace culture. Many people that initially favoured the traditional office-based way of working had to inevitably resort to working from home. The global lockdown and travel bans gave rise to assumptions about work behaviours and corporate interactions. Very quickly, people realized that they don’t have to be in an office to do their respective jobs and that they did not need to commute to work, sitting hours in endless traffic.

It has become imperative that the workplaces adapt to the new normal which in itself brings a set of new concerns, expectations, and even unconscious reactions to situations that previously seemed normal and harmless. By moving to remote working, managers, and employees have had to develop new levels of trust and ownership, a component Derin Oyekan, the co-founder of Reel Paper, singles out as a possible productivity booster. The real question however is that how the workplace offers a trusted environment that responds not just to fear and anxiety, or the invisible threat of germs, but the full range of behaviours and attitudes that have evolved through the COVID-19 crisis.

Zoom and video conferencing have kept connections alive across families and teams of colleagues working from home encouraging virtual community-building across the globe. James Thomas in his article in Strategy&; as part of PWC Network says that this calls for the importance of discipline and boundaries. People working in isolation tend to become less productive over time, although they may work longer hours than they did in the office. They lose their frame of reference and task orientation. The boundaries between working and not working become eroded. Homeworkers do not receive signals about when to switch off, which office workers do when they walk out of their office building at the end of the working day. It; therefore, places more onus on the Leaders to role model the conduct that they expect their people to demonstrate.

COVID-19 has also proven the human connections can remain resilient in spite of the physical distance. People around the world came together to support the vulnerable, the less able and the unfortunates, thus showing understanding and eagerness to be together again to resume a sense of community. It is equally important to enable that sense of community and togetherness in the workplace when social distancing is now a mandate.

There have also been huge psychological health impacts amidst the global pandemic. It is expected that mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, suicidal ideas, sleep disorders, as well as drugs and alcohol addiction are more likely to affect healthcare workers, especially those on the frontline, migrant workers, and workers in contact with the public, like the law enforcement and to some extent other workers across the globe. These issues are variously related to the high level of job strain, the fear of being infected and being a vector of the disease towards the family, the discrimination and stigma that may arise. Moreover, job insecurity, adverse employment environment, long periods of quarantine and isolation, work rights exploitations, and uncertainty of the future worsen the psychological condition, especially in younger people and in those with a higher educational background.

For these reasons, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the risks of a secondary psychological pandemic and since the workplace represents an important aspect of our life, a number of businesses are redirecting the focus towards investing in corporate wellness and supporting workers to resolve mental health issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. There is still work to do and an even greater need for workplaces to move with the team and start considering possible actions to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of their workers.

Sabahat is a Transformational Life Coach and the founding owner of Ashmir by Sabahat Ahmed with offices in Dubai and London. She regularly writes about dealing with anxiety, stress, trauma, grief, and how to deal with emotional immunity. She is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and a senior member of Accredited Counsellors, Coaches, Psychotherapists and Hypnotherapists, UK. She lives in Dubai.

Sabahat is a Transformational Life Coach and the founding owner of Ashmir by Sabahat Ahmed with offices in Dubai and London. She regularly writes about dealing with anxiety, stress, trauma, grief, and how to deal with emotional immunity. She is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and a senior member of Accredited Counsellors, Coaches, Psychotherapists and Hypnotherapists, UK. She lives in Dubai.

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