Anyone who tuned into the American League wild-card playoff between the Red Sox and Yankees could not help but notice a jam-packed Fenway Park. Built in 1912, Fenway is an iconic sports venue often referred to as the Cathedral of Baseball. But even multiple renovations cannot change the fact that Sox fans were pressed together like sardines – cheek to jowl – with hardly a mask in sight.
Still, no one was calling the event a super-spreader.
Concerns about catching COVID took a back seat to Major League Baseball’s archenemies playing a sudden-death ballgame. Tangibly, the Sox-Bronx match-up symbolizes COVID fatigue – people are tired of mandates and masks. As the COVID crisis appears to be dying a slow death, Americans seem eager to resume their lives. But one wonders if the coronavirus will mean a new normal regarding where we work and how we play.
Home on the Range
The advantages of working from home are many and varied: a 30-second commute from bedroom to laptop, no more frustrating bumper-to-bumper drives that raise your blood pressure, not to mention more family time or being able to head to the market or put in a load of laundry at a whim.
A Harvard analysis explored “the impact of COVID-19 on employee’s digital communication patterns through an event study of lockdowns in 16 large metropolitan areas in North America, Europe and the Middle East.” They looked at the email meta-data from 3,143,270 users and found “increases in [the] length of the average workday” by over 8%, or more than 48 minutes of work per day.
In the early days of the lockdown, the Harvard examination showed that “employees expanded both the frequency and the scope of their communications.” The large-scale analysis revealed workers were attending more meetings, although the duration of those get-togethers was shorter. In reviewing email patterns, researchers found a communication spillover that went “beyond normal working hours.”
Flextime should mean more freedom, right? When the water cooler has become your kitchen faucet and your ability to exercise is as far away as your Peloton – what could possibly be the problem? Add to this all the wonderful electronic conveniences like your smartphone and laptop, and your instant office should mean greater productivity in less time. Simply put, employees should be more efficient.
However, Americans, long considered to be those with one of the most robust work ethics on the planet, appear to be working longer and harder than ever before. Perhaps this should be chalked up to a psychological component that must be added to the statistical data. What if all this convenience makes you feel like a hamster on a wheel? When is your downtime? When are you done for the day? When and where does your workday end and your free time begin? That appears to be a gray area.
Slack, Zoom, and the internet never sleep. These communication platforms don’t shut down at 5 p.m., and there is no sign saying, “closed for the day.” Such fantastic technology often has us believing we must be available to use it. Thus, technology has become the tyrant. It is the taskmaster that never says, “You’re all done. Go home and get some rest.”
The person who has difficulties setting boundaries is the most at risk for overworking themselves. As author Aki Ito wrote for Business Insider, “I’m never really fully clocked out anymore … It’s that I feel guilty and confused all the time — either because I feel as if I’m not working enough, or because I feel as if I’m working too much. Working from home means I never leave the office, and I’m never truly home.”
So, if you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, you might as well turn on the game – after all, work will still be there once the Red Sox have vanquished The Evil Empire.
~ Read more from Leesa K. Donner.