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Lessons Learned After a Year in a Pandemic
Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario
1 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700
Toronto, ON M4P 3A1
416.488.7422 | 800.268.8845
Copyright © 2021 by Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario. All rights reserved. The contents of this publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
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arch 11th marked one year since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. One full year isolating from friends and loved ones. Twelve months working remotely or potentially unemployed. Three hundred and sixty-five days of social distancing, modified routines and life as we know it altered completely. This milestone is an opportunity to reflect on our experiences and ponder what will change and what will stay in the years ahead.
Remote Work Can Work
Ontario was one of the first Canadian provinces to declare a state of emergency last March, which led to a large remote-work experiment that many believed would only last a couple weeks or possibly months. One year later, employees are still working virtually, conducting video meetings with clients and team members alike, proving that productivity can begin at home.
Many businesses across the province have shifted entirely to remote work throughout the pandemic. According to a Statistics Canada survey, in August last year nearly 40% of firms across Ontario reported 90% or more of their employees were working remotely—7% higher than the national average.
While these numbers establish that our province’s workforce has adapted to remote employment, there were early concerns about the transition. Companies stepped into remote working quickly while concerns about technological capability, employee productivity and discipline loomed.
"The impacts are very different from what people would have guessed they’d be," Katherine Breward, Associate Professor in the University of Winnipeg's Business Department told CTV News. "Obviously there are some people that are working from home in very difficult circumstances where they're having to home-school, and that may be causing issues with focus. But on a broader basis, people are working hard and are productive at home."
The shift to working at home hasn’t been flawless. Zoom, one of the most popular video conferencing platforms, has faced ongoing issues with security and privacy, internet connections have failed and a Texas lawyer was unable to remove a cat filter during a virtual court hearing. Despite these challenges, the transition to a largely remote workforce has been more successful than anyone could’ve predicted.
The pandemic has proven that humans are adaptable, and the removal of in-person visiting has ushered in a new wave of high-tech ways to stay connected.
Working From Home is Here to Stay
A recent survey of 7,250 employees in 12 countries showed that 16% of workers don’t want to return to the office and prefer a permanently remote role. 45% noted that if they were to change jobs, they’d only accept a role that offered flexible and remote work options.
“If there’s an iota of a silver lining to this crisis, it’s that it’s caused us to fundamentally rethink work—where it gets done, how it gets done and who does it,” said Tim Minahan, Executive Vice President of Strategy at Citrix.
Employees are enjoying the flexibility of working from home. They’re saving time and money by eliminating a daily commute and have the ability to complete small household tasks like laundry over their lunch break.
“Both companies and employees have seen the benefits more flexible work models can bring in terms of productivity, engagement and well-being,” said Minahan. “They’re not going back to working the way they did.”
This flexibility has become a double-edged sword though—employees also say working from home has created blurred boundaries between their personal and professional lives. Working at the kitchen table or from a bedroom has become common, and for parents, juggling virtual school while trying to meet deadlines has become a daily challenge.
The truth about the future of work-from-home likely lies somewhere between all and nothing. The same study showed that more than half of global employees would choose a hybrid model for work where they can choose to work remotely or from the office. This hybrid model may help employees and companies find the right balance between the benefits of office life and remote work.
Mental Health Should be a Priority
With the loss of personal boundaries, a feeling of anxiety and loneliness is expected. In fact, in the first chaotic weeks of pandemic closures, there was a universal belief that mental health was about to spiral.
Even before they declared Covid-19 a pandemic, the World Health Organization said it would bring a tide of loneliness and self-harm, and the Canadian Mental Health Association prepared Canadians for an “echo pandemic” of anxiety and depression. In some ways, they were right. A recent Canadian Mental Health Association study revealed a large decline in mental health last year, especially in targeted demographics like Indigenous and LGBTQ+ communities, health-care workers, residents in long-term care homes and those with pre-existing mental health conditions.
Crisis centres are reporting increased call volumes from people feeling anxious and depressed about the pandemic and the changes they’re experiencing.
But over the last year, something unexpected happened. Suicides—one of the most reliable indicators of societal mental health—either didn’t change or started to go down in Canada and around the world.
All this data shows that we’re resilient but need to keep a close eye on our own mental health and the mental health of those around us.
We Miss People
Staying home may have seemed like a vacation when the pandemic began, but the need for in-person conversations, collaborations and social gatherings has become apparent in the last year.
“People want to hug their loved ones, sit together, share a coffee and see each other’s smiles without masks,” said Tamara Becker, Executive Director of Project Nightlight, a Canadian mental health organization.
The physical distancing of the past year may not only be causing people to feel lonely, but could also affect their core ability to handle the stress this pandemic has caused.
“Socialization isn’t just for fun, it helps regulate our responses to stress and anxiety,” said Becker. “Having a good conversation face-to-face, a hug or a high five can release a cascade of dopamine and oxytocin, which can increase your level of trust, improve your mood and lower your stress levels.”
The pandemic has proven that humans are adaptable, and the removal of in-person visiting has ushered in a new wave of high-tech ways to stay connected. Video calls have become a standard way to celebrate birthdays, host virtual family dinners and share major life events like weddings.
These distinct get-togethers have certainly helped fill a void. However, Becker believes people will return to in-person visits and gatherings as soon as possible.
“I don’t think we’ll see the online visiting trend continue at the rate it has during Covid,” she said. “We’ll likely see a more intentional use of time moving forward, with people engaging less out of a sense of obligation and instead choosing to deliberately make time for those they love.”
The pandemic may make us more deliberate in all our choices. From remote working to virtual friendships, our world is drastically different today compared to a year ago. We’ll have to wait and see which parts of our current situation we keep and what fades away as we leave the pandemic behind.