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‘No going back to the office’: What you want to keep post-pandemic - and what you’ll leave behind

Plus advice from a panel of experts to make those future plans a reality.

Image: Shutterstock/Kevin Sloniecki

ZOOM QUIZZES, SOCIAL distancing, and limiting your contacts… Everyday life looks quite different right now to the way it looked a year ago.

But thinking ahead to this time next year, or even five years from now, what would you like daily life to look like? Which pandemic habits will you be happy to see the back of? And which parts of the ‘new normal’ will you try to keep around?

The 25th annual Science Week runs from November 8-15. This year’s theme is ‘Choosing Our Future’, and there will be hundreds of virtual events all week long, including the chance to share what you have learned from the Covid-19 pandemic via a mass public debate (you can register for that right here). 

In the spirit of change and choice, last week we asked you to rate your feelings on life post-pandemic. Below are six sentiments your results revealed to us, plus insights from Science Week experts on how to turn those hopes for the future into reality…

1. You don’t want to go back to ‘normal’ office life 

shutterstock_1591212466 Source: Shutterstock/DiMedia

What does the work environment of the future look like, given the events of this year? Our readers rated their desire to work from home on a more permanent basis at a strong 6.6. These feelings are echoed in a new survey by Science Week, in which 40% of respondents said they never want their workplace to go back to how it was pre-Covid.

Those who are planning on working from home more post-pandemic will need to start planning ahead now, says Prof Alan Smeaton, a founding director of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at DCU:

“Most of us are experiencing tremendously reduced boundaries between home and work. The home space can be inappropriate for working in – you’re trying to focus and a delivery arrives, the dog is barking, there are kids crawling on you.”

These distractions might be okay in the medium term, but if you’re keen on extending home-working into the much longer-term, then it’s worth considering how your space works for you and what could be improved. And then there’s your mental health to think about:

Even with the best will in the world, there are a good number of us not following the tips about getting dressed for work each day, or going for a walk before we start work. Those will be watch-outs going forward – what are you doing to mark out the start and end of your working day?

2. You’d like to keep up the video calls

shutterstock_1722606529 Source: Shutterstock/Josep Suria

Conferences, coffee breaks, birthday parties, pub quizzes: many of this year’s social and work gatherings have taken place on laptop and phone screens. Video conference service Zoom took on 105,000 new sign-ups across April, May and June 2020 alone, with revenue skyrocketing compared to last year.

It’s a trend our readers are on board with – they rated their confidence that they’d use video calling regularly post-pandemic at a healthy 5.9. But in Science Week’s survey, the results were in favour of using a mix of online and in-person meetings (53%) rather than just online (16%).

For Smeaton, a video call simply can’t compare to a face-to-face interaction. Well at least, not yet:

The platforms that we have right now fall short when it comes to picking up non-verbal cues. Body language, subtle eye rolling, even the signs that someone is distracted, all of that is missed. But I suspect that companies like Microsoft, Google and Zoom are all working overtime to add new features that’ll help their calls replicate face-to-face meetings.

3. You want to reduce your stress levels 

shutterstock_1689181252 Source: Shutterstock/Sergey Granev

While financial uncertainty, health anxiety and concerns about loved ones are not new feelings for most of us, they’ve entered our lives in new and more frequent ways since March. Readers rated their desire to reduce their stress levels at a huge 7/10 – but what’s the best way to make that happen?

Pandemic or not, the same stress reduction principles still apply, says Deirdre Robertson from the Behavioural Research Unit at the ESRI.

Social interactions are vital, and quality is more important than quantity here. There’s also so much research that being outdoors is good for reducing stress and improving wellbeing.

And beyond that, it’s important to focus on what you can control, rather than on what you can’t:

We did a study early in the pandemic asking people to plan in a concrete way how they’d cope with Covid-specific scenarios like having to self-isolate – to write down what they’d do. That exercise had a significant impact on how confident they felt about coping with those scenarios.

4. You want to drive less, and walk more

shutterstock_462016021 Source: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

One positive impact of the pandemic is that we’ve all been staying closer to home, commuting less, and cutting out long-haul travel entirely. Readers rated their likelihood of cycling/walking somewhere over driving (if given the choice) as 5.6/10 – so how can we grow that figure even more?

“[The response to] Covid has been a great example of strong government leadership combined with individual action, and we need to take that approach with reducing the environmental footprint of our transport too,” says Tara Shine, environmental scientist and author of How To Save Your Planet One Object At A Time.

Even small changes can have a significant impact, and the more people making those changes the better. Shine suggests a few:

“If you have a regular journey that you can cycle or walk, give it a go, even just one day a week. Ask your boss if you can work from home more to cut down on commuting – ‘no’ is an unacceptable answer.”

Shine stresses that anyone can start to take steps toward living a more environmentally conscious life. “Being green isn’t just for an elite group, it’s for everyone.”

5. You’re looking forward to being able to explore the world again

001 Dublin Airport An empty Dublin Airport in October 2020. Source: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

This summer, Irish people swapped sun holidays for staycations, but is it a trend that could stick around? The answers were mixed, with readers rating their likelihood of choosing a domestic holiday over an international one as 4.5/10.

While we may not be ready to remove long-haul travel from our lives entirely, Shine says it’s important to be mindful of the trips we do take in the future. “One thing I will be doing personally is joining more meetings remotely, rather than travelling internationally or around Ireland to attend. Why travel to London for the day when you could spend an hour on Zoom instead?”

It’s vital that we make more of these kinds of choices in the years to come, she adds:

If we keep going as we are, we’re going to warm up the earth beyond safe levels, and we’ll pass major tipping points. This will have negative effects on weather, food, security and water supply. It’s not a place we want to go.

6. You want your future social interactions to be as safe as possible

233 The Liberties A passer-by wearing a mask in Dublin 8. Source: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

Habits like mask-wearing and standing back when you meet someone in the street have become embedded in our everyday. And our readers rated their likeliness at taking precautions like wearing a mask post-pandemic at a healthy 5.6/10.

But what will a “safe” interaction look and feel like in a year or two years from now? Could the pandemic have a permanent impact on how we form relationships and the way we act around one another?

“Human relationships will always endure,” says Deirdre Robertson.

The pandemic isn’t the first phenomenon to have caused a shift in how we interact – think about social media or mobile phones. We always adapt to whatever is new but the basic foundations stay the same.

She does predict some positive shifts in how we spend time together. “People are already spending more time outside. I think we’ll start to see more of the ‘cafe culture’ of continental Europe, with a buzz on the streets and a sense of community.”

The 25th annual Science Week takes place from November 8-15. This year’s theme is ‘Choosing Our Future’, and there’ll be hundreds of virtual events taking place, from talks to demos to workshops. Find out more at scienceweek.ie.

Sponsored by:

Science Foundation Ireland

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