You don’t have to look far to compile a list of the negative effects of COVID. There’s no accurate measure of the toll taken by illness, death and the loss of income. Even less quanitfiable is the fear of what the future holds, both immediately and long term. When will people be able to fully return to their jobs? What about socializing with their friends? How many businesses and jobs will not be recovered, but be casualties of COVID? How long until we are gripped by the next insidious virus? This global disaster has created problems whose ripple effects are astounding and intimidating.
There have been some positive by-products, though, of this pandemic. They, in no way, come close to making up for their negative counterparts, but they do have value. With so much omnipresent grief and fear, choosing to see what is good can be vital to maintaining our mental health.
We have all had to work from home and/or simply remain at home more often. Whether consciously or unconsciously, that lifestyle change has led to a recalibration of what is essential. Each individual will define “essential” differently, but I am confident there is new awareness of what matters and what is extraneous. That is a good thing. Furthermore, with more time spent at home, people have more time for hobbies, exercise–whatever they may not have had time for before.
Note: I recognize that for people who live alone, the COVID-forced isolation is much more difficult to manage than for others. However, for those who live with other people, the increased time spent together at home has had some positive effects. Relationships flourish when they are nurtured. With family members spending more time under one roof, there is bound to be more interaction. That increased togetherness coupled with the restriction on outside entertainment have caused many families have begun to do activities together. Lots of families have been taking walks, doing jigsaw puzzles and playing games. Gardening is another great way to build family connections.
While many who have lost jobs or have been hit very hard economically, we’ve seen evidence that neighbors have stepped up to help each other. Food banks and clothing donation organizations have experienced an uptick in support. Facebook ads on community pages have offered or sought local help with deliveries or driving people to appointments. Neighbors have been grocery shopping for others who may be medically compromised. Many people who sew have donated masks. There’s also been a focus on buying local to support the businesses in the community as their owners and employees are our neighbors.
Simply due to necessity, nations around the world are collaborating. Medical responses, including efforts to create a vaccine, and ideas about how to manage the economic impacts are being shared across borders. While certain countries have obviously sustained worse COVID-related damage than others, this pandemic is absolutely a global problem. The cooperation and resulting reminder that “we are all in this together” is like what we see happening in neighborhoods, just on a larger scale. With so much recent nationlistic behavior- grabbing headlines, this cross-participation is a positive.
Another benefit has been reduced pollution, since people are staying at home. The response of the business community has also been a bright spot. One example is the computer internet providers that have offered free service to students. Similarly, the tech sector has responded very quickly. Previously available, but little-used platforms like Zoom have become staples in most homes. These programs have enabled people to stay better connected with friends and family (as well as being used for work purposes). It’s easy now to find free ways to enjoy on-line group games with sets of friends which has been a wonderful way to connect.
Effects of long-term remote work
Finally, one subject which didn’t seem to fall under any of the previous categories is the effects of people working from home indefinitely. Remote work can benefit employers as they will spend less on office space and furniture. Furthermore, their employees may be content with slightly lower salaries as they won’t be paying for transportation/parking and they will not have to designate time toward a commute. For many individuals, these benefits are worth a minor reduction in pay.
For certain employees, the flexibility to work from home is enormously helpful. Consider not having to pay the dog walker or taking time off of work to let the cable guy in (who usually gives you an 8-hour window) or even get some laundry done or put the roast in the oven. Child care costs (like after-school babysitting) are also reduced or eliminated. The majority of people prefer remote work to a traditional office environment.
There will probably be some hybrid situations, and, of course, there will be some companies that will demand that people work solely on-site. However, for the people who are able to work totally remotely into the foreseeable future, there is an enormous benefit: not having to live within commuting distance to work. We are already seeing the effects of this new opportunity with droves of city dwellers moving out of the cities (where their workplaces are located) to less expensive suburbs with larger homes and properties. People could relocate to be near elderly parents or to regions that better suit their lifestyles.
While none of these benefits outweigh the disaster we call COVID, it is a good mental exercise to look for the silver lining. Our current situation is so awful and fraught with such uncertainty. It is easy to feel hopeless and desperate. If taking a step back and searching for some good in what is happening can provide any solace, it is an exercise worth doing.