Global pandemic. An opportunity for an individual friendly economy?
Life as we know it might appear to be gone. The survey by Cleveland Clinic finds that since the beginning of the pandemic, 55% of respondents started experiencing mental health issues that they had never come across before. Psychologists warn about potential issues linked to being stuck at home all the time. The respondents of the Cleveland Clinic survey mentioned that the ‘issues’ usually relate to stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness or isolation. And such conditions are reported to be experienced in all countries touched by the lockdown. In short - it does not look good. Yet, some say that singular outcomes of the pandemic might, in the bigger picture, point to a somehow idealistic vision of the future offering a new more people-oriented approach to work and economics.
The current revolution in thinking about health relates to not only how we take precautions against catching the virus, but we also seem to turn towards healthier habits. Studies show that since the beginning of the pandemic, more people took steps towards lifestyle changes which include, improving sleep patterns, exercising, spending more time outdoors, and introducing beneficial dietary changes. People have become more concerned about their health. They care more about the influence of anxiety and stress, chronic diseases, fitness, and the implications it may have on their immune system.
While being more careful about one’s mental and physical condition, more attention is brought to how and with whom we spend time. Due to lockdown restrictions, it has been difficult to visit family and friends. However, we must remember that it has not been idyllic for everyone, as, for example, for victims of domestic abuse, time spent in quarantine has been a horrifying experience. Nevertheless, it appears that, for instance, a large part of family bonds have strengthened as, according to the studies, time spent in quarantine made some of us value their relationships more and reevaluate life goals.
As a result of the pandemic, remote work has become more omnipresent whenever possible. And, due to financial cuts and the inability to work from home, many lost their jobs. But what we also witness is the switch in the perception of working norms, from which many employees may benefit. Ideally, the time normally devoted to commuting, which is no longer a case for the remote workers, would be spent on things such as exercise, mental health care, hobbies, self-development or simply relaxation, and family. The new norm for both, work and workplace should then consider the overall wellbeing of the employee, as well as switching some positions to remote work or hybrid working in the post-COVID-19 world.
What working from home can achieve is more quality-oriented work instead of focusing on the amount of time spent in the office. This, in return, could give the workers more freedom to organise their time by themselves and devote more of it to whatever they think is most beneficial to them – which then results in better quality performance. Right now working from home in many instances means much more time spent in front of the screens, and, actually, more work. However, that should not be considered the norm for the long term. To become the new norm, such a work model should be regulated, while the workers should be protected from damaging their health through intense and long hours in front of their computer screens. But what about workers who cannot work from home? During the pandemic, remote work is kind of a privilege. For those people, who cannot work from home, and this also includes the key workers, the system should be redesigned in a way to allow them to have the same privilege of having more time to themselves. But this requires a completely new approach to work regulations and policies.
To keep the positive aspects of lockdown and the pandemic, we need radical changes to the structure of the communities that we live in. We do not want to go back to normal, we need a new normal. The new norm can be achieved by acknowledging the automation of various roles previously done by people. ABC News reports that this is exactly what the pandemic changed in the employment sector – brought more automation. Originally to reduce the risk of infection, there have been more and more roles that can be replaced with technology. With online shopping becoming so popular, we no longer need so many cashiers in shops. Instead of them, there will be more machines packing up products to be shipped to our homes. The only problem is...this vision can be scary.
For some people more automation means unemployment, but that does not have to be the case. Stephen Khan from The Conversation points out that we cannot keep up in the times of the accelerating flow of money, ideas, and commodities; and that the atmosphere of the pandemic makes us feel even more stuck. Khan is sure that all we need in the current times is to plan more, to feel less stuck. Increasing automation, together with the fact that people are finding that they want to devote more time to their physical and mental health, they cultivate more conscious dietary habits, they need more time with their families, and more time for activities outside of their job points to a radical solution. This solution, according to Forbes, is rethinking our design of the economy in such a way as to put people first, not profits. The system that saves us from unemployment and helps us to thrive proposed due to the pandemic, would be, for instance, a system based on a universal income.
Andrew F. Johnson and Katherine J. Roberto propose that a system in which each person receives a regular sum of money would not only resolve the economic issues which multiplied due to numerous lockdowns but will also be a system in which we have time for both, our family and daily yoga without getting up at 5 am. We have been gravitating towards these values and activities since the start of the pandemic, hopefully, the new economical norm will allow us to cultivate them further, and we will create the new normality instead of regressing to what was before.