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  • Writer's pictureDr Lina Engelen

The Interim normal - life during the Corona crisis : a silver lining or stranglehold?

The current COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to change the way we work. Working from home, or telecommuting, has for many become the new norm.

The working from home was not very well prepared. Almost from one day to another, millions and millions of people were asked (directed) to not come to the office to work. The adjustment to working from home therefore was abrupt, but at the same time had to take some time. Our family’s experience is, I guess, very similar to many other families around Australia. After finding a relatively quiet spot in the home for everyone to work/study; the challenge of internet connection, hardware needs and ergonomics became evident. Frantic online shopping for keyboards, new laptops, screens and WiFi repeaters revealed that we were lagging behind in terms of technology available to four people simultaneously. The high school-goers had to get used to online learning, waiting for all classmates to log in to the zoom lecture and solving maths problems by themselves. The husband, who had avoided working from home for decades, was now forced to hold countless meetings over zoom, discussing high-level issues from a desk in our bedroom. The IT department was working overtime to make sure everyone could be connected. Everyone understood the gravity and tried to calmly do the best of it, but it was still stressful. To add to the stress, the elderly in-laws who were visiting from overseas had their flight back to Europe cancelled three times over two weeks before they finally made it back home.

A few weeks in, a certain calm spread over the home. The interim normal was now a fact. The routine had started to set in; wake up, exercise, eat breakfast, walk the few meters to the workplace, study/work wearing tracksuit pants and Ugg boots (with a nicer top for those zoom meetings), and sneak out to the kitchen to raid the pantry countless times. Then in the late afternoon finish school/work and have dinner together before gathering on the couch for some screen-based down-time, either in the form of TV, or whatsapp-ing friends over a glass of wine. We have now somewhat gotten used to seeing family, colleagues and friends on a screen instead of in real life.

Thinking about it, there are a number of issues with this interim normal working. The first one is ergonomics; the chairs and tables now part of the workspaces were not chosen for their ergonomics when we bought them, especially not for working at 8 hours/day. The second one is snacking; where do I start? How can you not snack when the pantry is full of sweet and savoury snacks, at just an arm-length's distance? Another biggie: Screen time; so much time spent on screens now that in the ‘old normal’ would be spent on commuting, gymnastics (for the kids), and soccer training. From computer, to phone, to TV.... Finally, the social/physical distancing is weird and quite hard to get used to and this causes feelings of loneliness and isolation. To mix things up a bit and to stay somewhat sane, I’ve sneaked in some dog-walking on the beach, house painting, gardening, grocery shopping and runs in the bush.

There are also many positives to this ‘interim normal’; getting to see my lovely family so much. I can just walk into their room and give them a cuddle. Just like that, on any random day, like a Wednesday. And we have dinner at a normal time; often around 6 pm; I quite like that! No time is now wasted on commuting, or picking up from m a range of activities. Just such a relief from the rat race.

The real winner in this game is the dog! The whole pack is home, all the time, what more could a dog want?

So, what used to be normal is no longer normal, rather the current normal is the interim normal. What will the new normal look like? I will delve into that in my next blog post.

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