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The Current Situation

Many people around the globe are working from home right now, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This happened all of a sudden and overnight. Despite the rapidness of the change, moving to remote worked surprisingly well for many teams, because they were used to some degree of remote work before. Especially development teams and technology firms in general have many years of experience with allowing their workforce to do their jobs from wherever and whenever they like. Switching to home office therefore doesn’t feel particularly grim at the moment. When I asked some of my friends how it was going, they unanimously answered: “It works very well, no problems.”

The question on my mind is, if we can sustain this feeling of “it works” in the future. I suggest we can’t. In this article you will learn which scientific results led me to this opinion, and what you should be aware of in your own situation.

The Pandemic Frames a Stressful Context

We are living through a pandemic. Epidemics and pandemics, especially the Ebola outbreaks in recent years, taught us that they are accompanied by high levels of stress and anxieties [1] of the affected population. We fear for our loved ones and don’t want to get infected ourselves. If we get sick, some of us are being stigmatized or fear we might be. If our friends get sick, we might try to keep away from them to protect ourselves. What the article cited above also tells us is, that we are likely to develop depressions and a feeling of helplessness, especially when quarantined or limited in our movement. Which is true for most of us right now.

In addition, we might not always act rationally in such a context. During the Ebola outbreak 2013-2016, people exhibited anxiety-invoked behavior to a large extent. This included for example violence against medical personnel and disregarding of the rules installed to protect the populace, such as funeral rites and treatment of sick people. Research concluded, this happened for at least six reasons [2]:

  1. Fear and stress interfere with cognitive processing.
  2. Personal assessment of risk is hampered by lack of information.
  3. Individuals’ risk assessments are poor even with good information.
  4. Individual actions are influenced by the actions of other individuals.
  5. Mass actions are influenced by the actions of the masses.
  6. Fear-driven actions may escalate and reach a tipping point when compounded by a collapse of the individual’s or the community’s values and cultural references, and/or an erosion of systems of governance and public order.

While this happened in West Africa, which seems far away and not necessarily relevant, we can spot the same types of behavior everywhere around the world, today. People leave their homes and gather in droves [3] or empty toilet paper shelves at our local supermarkets [4]. We even attack ambulances [5][6] and doctors [7], as if we could defeat the pandemic this way. Some people don’t seem to understand this behavior worsens the situation.

To make matters worse, some of us are fearing for our jobs or even our existence. In the United States, 3.28 million people lost their jobs last week [8]. Up to 14 million jobs could be lost by summer [9] – and that’s just the U.S. The same outlook is true for most countries right now. While huge monetary aid packages are being prepared by many governments, these won’t be enough to secure all jobs. That means, we are fearing for our jobs while fearing for our health and loved ones. This definitely means an increased level of stress for us.

Effects of Rem

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