The New Working - Life Circumstances:
Are they Catastrophic?

by Antonios Mantakas

Wake up early, roll out of bed and get prepared for another day in the office. Off to work? Not exactly this time. On a normal day, we would all have to start our mornings by getting prepared and then commute to our workspace or university to attend lectures and continue our study together with our fellow researchers and supervisors. That is not the case anymore. Covid-19 outbreak has changed our perspective of work and research, and generated new ways of efficiently working and collaborating. It appears that there exists a window of opportunity now for individuals, businesses and governments to understand and proactively manage the transition to a new future.

Working from home benefits have already been recognised in the U.S. and European market and within the last years, there has been a steady increase in the acceptance of people working remotely using telecommunication and by exploiting the advantages of new age technologies. In addition, a great number of leading companies, especially in the industry of consulting engineering and research, have fully embraced the concept of utilizing a remote workforce and consequently be able to reduce the needs of permanent work spaces and offices. Analysts predicted that by the end of 2019, approximately 20% of consulting work and engineering services would be made remotely.

By the time this global pandemic became real, however, the need to work from home just got a big push and spiked as the menace of the coronavirus infection threatened millions of people and forced them to stay home. People of all ages have been directed by governments to remain at their houses aiming to avoid the spread of the disease and the following inevitable collapse of the health system. Most countries were unprepared but the need for economic productivity continues and everyone had to react with maturity and implement their best strategy to adapt to the new working style. The question to every employee and employer is simple: will this new circumstance be beneficial or catastrophic to your productivity?

It is clear that the case is not straightforward and certainly, the ability of someone to continue to produce during this difficult period greatly depends on the type of their work and specialization. I should definitely mention that for example the situation for people working in the art industry, service sectors and everything that is involved with tourism and entertainment is going to be a struggle and it is difficult to expect from them to maintain their ability to work. Engineering sector is also affected as construction funds are reduced and uncertainty governs every financial operation. On the other hand, there are specific professionals that due to the nature of their work, could be benefitted from the situation and exploit the advantages of working from home within a new lifestyle that could increase both their productivity and mental health. Such individuals that might continue their work without serious interruption are PhD students and researchers. In fact, as an early stage researcher myself, I can definitely state that a quiet space and environment that is developed according to the needs of the individual may lead to research inspiration, ability to work efficiently for prolonged hours and in the end present an outcome of great quality and standards.

Back in 1665, during the Great Plague era, Cambridge University students have been asked to work remotely in order to reduce the spread of the disease and protect their own lives. It was then that Isaac Newton came up with optic theory and as the legend says, developed the idea of gravity while observing an apple falling from a tree. The story of this great researcher shall be our inspiration and guidance through these difficult times and should give us strength and passion to continue searching for solutions to our research problems.

As a proud member of the INSPIRE initiative, I feel lucky enough to be an early stage researcher during this coronavirus outbreak, being able to continue with my work. My research aim is to develop novel seismic dissipation systems that will be used as a means to protect buildings using the concept of negative stiffness elements and metamaterials. I am currently working together with a fellow researcher on a journal paper that will present our first outcomes and progress on the subject. At the beginning, working remotely and communicating with my co-worker and supervisor was a struggle. However, working at my own pace and environment soon became a blessing that increased my motivation and effectiveness.

The first thing I understood was that you need to have a starting work routine in order to be effective. To this end, by the time I wake up I make sure my desk and working set up is clean and clear and that my room is tidy. I take a shower, prepare a nutritious breakfast and enjoy my first coffee of the day. I carefully select a nice music album that will accompany my first hour and that’s how my day begins. It is simple as that, but for me this morning habit allows me to relax and get a proper breath before I dive into my thoughts, work and study that will continue till the end of the day. During the working hours, I have regular video calls with my co-workers and supervisor. That’s a perfect way to touch base on your work and to better plan your next moves and methods. As soon as I finish my study for the day, I go out for a walk or, depending on the mood, I simply exercise at home. This a nice way to restart my brain and remain in shape during the quarantine. By the time I am back, I am ready to plan for the next day and set up goals for the week and near future.

My work-from-home setup during quarantine

My personal experience from conducting research during this situation made me understand that in many cases adapting to a new way of life is possible even if at the beginning the circumstances seem catastrophic. The remote working not only helped me increase my productivity, but also provided me with more time for my personal thoughts and led to a much healthier lifestyle. I believe that as long as someone is still able to conduct his day to day working activities and to effectively communicate with partners, working under these circumstances could be a blessing and a nice break from the office/research lab routine.

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