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Unhealthy Body, Unhealthy Mind: Covid and the Case for Universal Basic Income

June 29, 2021 – 11:24 am |

 
The effect of the pandemic must be combatted not just through medicinal but monetary means.
Benjamin Maslow who created his hierarchy of needs stated in his book The farther reaches of human nature that “The need for ‘dignity, for example, can be seen as a fundamental human right in the same …

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Covid One Year on: The Experience of a London Office Worker

Submitted by on March 12, 2021 – 11:51 pm2 Comments

I sent this photo to my family from Highbury & Islington station to let them know I was almost home, almost safe. My plant relieved to be with me. This was the last time I was on public transport.

One year ago today, I received a work email saying that someone had tested positive for COVID, and that they would be decontaminating the whole building that weekend, but no need to worry, we should be able to return to work next week.

Now, up until this point in 2020, I had been so overwhelmed with work projects, the virus was just a distant murmur – nothing really to concern myself with. But as soon as it had penetrated my immediate circle, my brain switched on. How ashamedly reactive of me.

I snatched up my plant and all my files and left the office early to avoid the rush hour, ignoring the email’s assurances that we would be back to normal after a weekend of hosing down the walls with bleach. As soon as I gave the virus one minute of thought, it was very clear to me: it would be a very long time before I would be working in the office again. Later that day we received a further email saying the building would be shut until further notice.

My 2020 experience, like so many people, has been intense. Professionally, I was faced with having to very suddenly and very urgently coordinate remote document production and organise the organisation’s first remote international conference. There was no precedent. Everything had to be invented on the spot.

The most challenging part, however, was that decision makers thought we were going to be back in the office in June, which slowed the remote planning process considerably causing undue stress, serious delays, and many unnecessary conversations humouring optimistic virus deniers. I spent many hours making up spreadsheets and documents to explain and justify the move to a digital environment in an organised and uniform way, and even after 2.6 million deaths, I am still facing resistance today. At one point I recall bellowing “health and safety is paramount!” when they were sounding off a list of staff they wanted in the office for the conference which was above the recommended limits. One of those people got the virus the week after the conference.

Due to the huge increase in workload (I sent and received over 4000 emails in the 8 weeks leading up to the conference, I thank my mother every day for having the foresight to enrol me on a half-term touch typing course when I was 11, I wasn’t able to strike a work/home balance despite being at home all day.

I had major lockdown envy towards anyone who had finally gotten to fulfil their lifelong dream.  In fact, my whole life I have wanted the world to just Stop so that I could catch up with ticking off items on my to do list that have been there my entire adult life. ‘Lose 5kg’ has always been on my list, but this has now increased to ‘lose 10kg’ due to incessant pandemic snacking. With an overactive mind, I had to mute an influx of fun creative lockdown ideas: pandemic blogs, podcasts, films, musicals. The opportunity was finally here, but I was faced with an unmanageable workload in unimaginable times.

In 2019, following an inspirational Women’s Day talk, and after four years of commuting to work 3 hours a day, there and back again, I wrote a detailed proposal for my work to consider more flexible working arrangements, including ‘telecommuting’, working from home, amongst other things.  HR were receptive, but slow and obscure about their plans in how they were going to proceed. In the end I had to push for answers, but was branded as ‘nagging’ and ‘ungrateful’. However, after 8 months of my ungrateful nagging, a working from home policy was introduced in February 2020 – exactly one month before the world we knew spontaneously combusted. How great that we had a whole month to unknowingly prepare for working from home forever. I had solipsistic thoughts that perhaps I was responsible for the pandemic as my wish to work from home came true, just not quite how I expected, be careful what you wish for folks. Of course, credit for this miraculous and uncanny, forward-thinking WFH policy was given to the organisation, not me.

But sod the credit. The lesson learned here is to always continue pushing for what is right, because you never know when and how much it will actually be needed in the future.

This is just my experience. And despite all the challenges, I am of course grateful to have a job, a home with an outdoor space and a supportive family. I finally saw my work for what it was: a job to pay the bills. Video conferencing broke down my general embarrassment and I am more outspoken than ever. My home is now suitable for 24/7 living with a fully stocked larder and in my free time I am focused on learning about music & audio production. So all in all it’s been OK.

When things got really tough, which they did many times, my thoughts always went out to single parents with young children, all my friends in the arts, everyone cohabiting with abusive people, and every healthcare worker in the world. I also considered that what I’m going through must be happening in every organisation and company in the world, and I’m pretty certain this is why everyone is feeling devastatingly burned out right about now.

Every single process has had to be reinvented driving us deeper into the digital age, and rightly so. Perhaps it’s the push we finally needed to cut all ties to the rancid and outdated methods of work of the last century. I’m proud to announce that in the last year I’ve only printed half a ream of paper, whereas pre-2020 I must have been answerable for a small percentage of the rate of deforestation, despite any of my efforts to ‘print responsibly’.  And perhaps now every office will have a working from home policy without anyone having to be a thorn in HR’s side.

I really hope that we can take the good from all of this, as personally I love working from home although I haven’t quite reaped the rewards  due to every day apocalypse stresses. The life I was leading before is no longer feasible. That life where I was Running Everywhere All The Time. No time to assess, breathe, think. My daily commute was the length of a Lord of the Rings movie for Rivendell’s sake. Why would I ever willingly go back to that knowing that another way is possible? Also, just to add, what on earth were we doing breathing tube air every day? No wonder I maxed out my sick days getting colds every other week.

I also hope that we can all think more proactively, as I have seen that reactive and passive thinking is actually dangerous in nearly all contexts – health, politics, office work. Let us think ahead and prepare a world we are happy to leave behind when we venture to the next plane of existence.