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Forgetting how to Socialize – The Implications of Working from Home

by Lucy Greaney

The COVID-19 pandemic has displaced many business professionals from the hustle and bustle of the office, to their fuzzy socks and sweat pants at home. While it seemed fun at first, it quickly got old, making people stir crazy. Slowly, businesses are re-opening, but this has opened a new set of problems for these home-dwellers… they forgot how to communicate effectively.

Realizing the problem

When I first realized this issue was real, it was all too real. I was fresh out of quarantine, and after spending 21 days of being completely isolated, I was ready to see my immediate family. I felt like I was escaping solitary confinement (with the added thrills of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and unlimited access to food… thanks mom).

I somehow forgot that the entire world was still closed for business, and it wouldn’t be returning to normal anytime soon. The first stop that I made on my drive home, however, was to Starbucks. This is when I realized I had forgotten how to interact with human beings. I got to the cashier and was overwhelmed by the worker asking me for the money I owed, and being handed my drinks. What is wrong with me, I thought to myself as I drove off.

It wasn’t just me

Soon after quarantine ended, and I was able to visit my friends at a two-meter distance, I realized that I wasn’t exactly the only one to have this problem. In fact, some of my friends has developed a major sense of social anxiety after being cooped up for so long. Even friends who continued working remotely, and who engaged with colleagues over zoom were having trouble socializing with people in real life.

I was relieved to hear this, but also alarmed. The upcoming generations of millennials and Gen Z students are consumed with every day digital interaction. Social media has become the most attention-grabbing distraction of young minds. Being a college student myself, I have read studies regarding the impact social media has on society as a whole.

The Elephant and the Rider

An NYU psychologist Jonathan Haidt came up with an analogy known as the Elephant and the Rider to explain the distraction that occurs when technology is used by humans. He uses the elephant to represent the emotion of the person and the rider to represent the rational side. The rider of the elephant appears to be in charge of all movement, but when there is a disagreement between the elephant and the rider, the elephant typically wins.

Take a college student in a lecture hall as a real life example. They are sitting on their computer taking notes on the lecture, when an email pops up in the corner of the screen. The rational brain of the student tells them to continue taking notes, and check the email later. But, the emotions take control of the student and cause the student to click on the email and become distracted.

The same analogy can be used to describe social media usage, but the impact is much more than reading a 30-second email and getting distracted. Social media has a huge impact on the anxiety levels in teens and young adults, making social anxiety a much larger part of society than times of the past.

Social media and the work place

According to UNCTV Science, the average person makes nearly 35,000 conscious decisions each day. One of these decisions is whether or not you show up for work on time and ready to socialize. Because of the tendency of professionals calling in sick for mental-health reasons, it has become common for companies to integrate “mental health days” into their employee’s time off.

Taking a Mental Health Day

Although it is common for people to take a “mental health day”, there is a stigma that comes with it, and it is still a grey area for many companies. According to a Healthline article, taking a mental health day can make employees anxious of being judged by colleagues or bosses, so they tend to show up anyways. This is not only unhealthy for the person experiencing a mental struggle, but also for the working team around them.

“Yet, when you’re feeling too stressed, you and your work suffer, potentially leading to issues that can hurt your performance and co-workers.”

Healthline says.

Exercise your social muscle

It is important now more than ever to take advantage of the opportunities you have to interact with the people around you. It takes practice to form meaningful, organic connections with others, especially in the workplace. Maybe you should be prioritizing those afterwork networking events even more!

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