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New life situation: home office

The coronavirus pandemic has created an unusual, new life situation for many. Telecommuting, e-learning and time spent together at home have all received new meaning. The head of the Department of Clinical and Personality Psychology at the University of Debrecen shared some useful advice.

As we switched to working from home, many of us found ourselves in the new world of digital work from one moment to the next. The usual workplace and social relationships have moved almost entirely into the digital space, which is in itself an unusual, new experience, even without the accompanying epidemiological emergency.

“The routine of work and school activities provided a well-known and customary structure for our lives, which we must now experience at home, often together with several generations, all at the same time. On the one hand, this is a difficulty, but on the other hand, also an opportunity for development. Concerning the use of online tools, for example, many moved from the ‘I cannot do it’ to the ‘I’m trying to do it’ mindset, and it seems to be successful. A good example for this is the area of education,” Anita Szemán-Nagy Anita, associate professor, told hirek.unideb.hu.

The head of the Department of Clinical and Personality Psychology at the University of Debrecen emphasised: even though we are very much missing our ordinary relationships, we can also see that we can also function in this new arrangement, and this can be positive feedback for us, alongside our growing appreciation of our existing relationships, possibilities and freedom.

“Yet another positive by-product of the situation is the appearance in people of an unbelievable willingness to help others, as they strive to share their knowledge and resources to make each other’s lives and work easier,” she added.

The expert also called attention to the difficulties inherent with the situation, since those who are single or live alone have no-one to talk to, share their joys of troubles with, do not immediately receive answers to their questions, and may miss the human community that is represented by colleagues at the workplace. But it is also for the first time many couples and families spend this much time together – with the exception of vacations or holidays, but in those cases people do not have to care about their school and workplace tasks as well – and this can be very positive, but may also reinforce any latent conflicts and tensions.

“The situation of children is not simple either, since from one day to the next they were detached from their friends and classmates, and they can only maintain contact with them online.  I think that this is the period when they understand how important actual, real-life relationships are. Making their situation, as well as those of their grandparents’, more difficult is the fact they cannot meet in person. We can see that children and grandparents learn how to maintain contact online, which can also be very positive in the long run,” Anita Szemán-Nagy emphasized. She added that young children may not understand why parents are paying less attention to them even though they are at home; in addition, children’s chatter may be disturbing when one trying to work on an involved task, which may be a source of frustration or conflicts.

Parents with children in school must also function in a totally new role, as the teachers of their own children. This is an unusual situation for both parents and children, but if done with the necessary patience and empathy, a more efficient cooperation may also emerge from it in the longer run. Keeping smaller children occupied all day is not a simple task, since the parents are working at home, while the children desire their attention. It is worth involving them in age-appropriate chores, the expert advised.

“Spouses may find being locked in together unusual, just as adolescents may find the constant parental supervision. In case of the latter, it may also be a problem when and who would like to and can actually use the computer at home, since there may be as many in the household as the number of people wanting to use them,” Anita Szemán-Nagy listed some other possible issues that may arise.

The situation of adolescents is more problematic, since spending all this time with their families is difficult for them, as the role of peers is particularly important at this age. On the other hand, they are the ones most at home in the digital world. It is important that parents and children should clarify the boundaries: the former should not try to involve the latter in every activity, and should not treat them as being inferior. Teenagers should be allowed to retreat into their rooms, but they should also be involved in household chores in accordance with their age.

Finally, the amount of work can also pose a problem, since some people tend to be more relaxed in their activities when there is no immediate feedback. On the other hand, there are also people who are alone at home and work much more than before, as it helps them pass the time.

Dr. Szemán-Nagy is of the opinion that once the emergency is over, it will not be simple to get back to find our way back to the normal rhythm of life.

“I think that fundamentally people will be happy to return to their earlier, familiar working conditions. However, it is also very important to preserve all the good things that may emerge in this rather unusual situation. It would be great if the high degree of helpfulness experienced these days proved to be long-lasting as well,” the expert emphasized.

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