The nation’s reopening plan is at full tilt. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced inoculating 70% of Americans by midsummer as an executive goal. Just one day prior, Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted a bevy of pandemic-related restrictions and even gave Broadway the green light to restart production. Alas, a sigh of relief overcomes a nation that has longed to return to the proverbial normal after over a year of being shuttered indoors.
When COVID-19 disrupted the labor markets last spring, teleworking became the befitting alternative to mimic a semblance of normalcy. Amidst this #WorkingFromHome frenzy, America was simultaneously shouldering the weight of a universal pandemic, unprecedented heightened racial tensions, and a contentious political realm — opening space for an environment of empathy. Not only did many remote workers begin to flourish with this sense of humanity in the workplace, but the precariousness of the world around them was an even grander revelation that their careers were ultimately not their raison d’être. Flexibility, rest, and alleviation from work culture strain is a peace many have grown accustomed to.
However, Angela Baird believes this brisk pace toward a pre-COVID lifestyle is forcing her to cherish her reprieve from the hustle and bustle of America’s workplace culture and unnervingly face what’s to come soon. The 20-year-old who works in the suspicious activity reporting field has been stationed at-home for the past year and she says the flexibility to juggle her personal and professional life along with her job’s emphasis on communicating emotional and mental wellness has become a lifestyle that she loves. “Since COVID-19, my job has placed more focus on work and life balance,” Baird tells GRAZIA. “They’ve become more lenient in allowing us to work at our own pace depending on the day and how we are feeling.” According to a new survey by Pew Research Center, more than half of the participants would continue working from home even after the pandemic if given a choice, citing flexibility and a work slash life balance as a key factor. Witnessing her efficiency and ability to rest, Baird says, “I believe some places are rushing to return to in-person work because of this illusion that COVID-19 is disappearing as states continue vaccine roll-out, but some positions can and should be permanently from home. If I can prove that I am producing work at my maximum potential while prioritizing my personal sanity, why interrupt that?” Many workers feel the intrusive demands at their jobs nearing, which means relegating their well-being to its former place is trailing right behind.
Students even bear the brunt of adjusting to a year of accommodations — some of which were needed pre-pandemic — that may no longer exist in the upcoming year and alter their lives drastically for the second consecutive year. New York City Department of Education just recently announced that the public school system would have remote learning instead of snow days and while administration sees the alternate instruction as “rest,” shifts like this portend a disregard for the encumbrance that daily life (even outside of the pandemic) can be for students.
Armani Jones attends Florida A&M University (FAMU), a historically Black institution located in Tallahassee, Florida. When the pandemic sent him home last year, his schedule consisted of remote learning while juggling two jobs to support himself financially and watching his counterparts rush to the frontlines of the Black Lives Matter protests in the state’s capital. Fortunately, his university began a system of semesterly mental health days, but the 20-year-old isn’t sure that the consideration is permanent as FAMU gears up to reopen campus fully in the fall. “I believe there is a need to give students a day to place academics to the side and focus on themselves, even if they believe the pandemic is at its end. Last year, we saw Gen Z do everything in their power to dismantle oppression and racism. Then, they returned to campus and encouraged voter turnout in massive ways. Although the climate is always changing, sociopolitical factors compounded with our mental health will always have an impact on us as students. We need breaks and accommodations to keep us going,” Jones tells GRAZIA.
What many Americans have wedded to their lives over this year is the concept of rest that was once foreign to them. Reckoning with a new life that compelled them to unpack the world around them, subsequently extend grace to one another and then focus on school and work has exposed them to a new standard of self-prioritization. Jones says, “Even if the pandemic goes away, a courtesy should always be given to us at work and in school because we are all entrenched in the climate around us. The pandemic allowed us to realize that we are all connected by the state of our nation. Those things don’t go away no matter how fast we reopen.”