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Anoushka Maini 2021 Winning Essay

What did the perfect day look like in the different stages of the pandemic? What does it

mean for future productivity at work?


‘You just got to say to yourself, "I’m a free man in here" – he tapped his forehead – "and you’re all right".' (Orwell, 1933).


This is how Orwell deftly synopsised the significance of individual freedom in the pursuit of utopian perfection. Perfect human experiences can be numerous, of all magnitudes, and can occur within a single day. With reduced human contact in the departure from normalcy, the pandemic has profoundly transformed how we perceive our ‘perfect’ day. Whereas before, many believed they had already mastered crafting their ‘perfect’ day, rigid parameters have forced everyone to change what they turn to when craving the same sense of teamwork, contribution and individual input that would be fulfilled in ordinary reality. No longer can we anticipate societal changes thus we must be able to pursue perfection through unpredictability.


I will take ‘different stages of the pandemic’ to mean the stages into and out of lockdowns. According to an April 2021 Commons Paper entitled Coronavirus: A history of English lockdown laws, there were seven distinct lockdown stages from March 2020 until present. For convenience, I will explore what perfect days seemed to be like across these seven stages.


First, from March until July 2020, when the reality of a once-in-a-generation pandemic hit society, people adapted by turning to old habits and forging new realities. With weather gradually improving, making the most of gardens or outdoor green spaces became more precious than previously appreciated. Personally, since March last year, I have written a diary entry every day in order to record what I have been doing, feeling and experiencing – including my perfect moments. This mindful shift into exploring the past and present has enabled me to appreciate what I have and value that further – not just materialistically but spiritually and physically. Being healthy and happy soon become top priorities for those of all ages, no matter how vulnerable they initially seemed in relation to contracting the virus.


When my exams got cancelled in Spring 2020, it focused me upon finding other creative channels, such as meditation and running. In this period, others also picked up simple activities they had ‘not had time for before’. The pandemic seemed to have made people realise just how busy and hectic their ‘former’ lifestyles had been. Even for meals, I started experimenting in ways that I simply had not done before. I helped out more in the kitchen and my family came together more regularly for meals, all in one place – something that we had largely missed whilst my siblings and I had been away at university. Assisting in domestic chores made me realise what a vast operation the home really was, thereby making time I spent outdoors in the garden even more rewarding.


Realising our nonna was vulnerable, we assisted her throughout the first stage of the pandemic in our house. Some of my perfect days in the pandemic were spent largely with her by my side. The generational gap between us generated deeply interesting conversations of a different nature than before. Some of these conversations were in Italian, which I asked if she could help teach to me throughout our time together.


The second stage of the pandemic lasted from early July to September. During that period, I became more connected with friends both old and new, and with relatives both far and near, be that via Zoom or my newly picked-up letter writing. I decided to also pick up the piano again – my younger sister taught me so patiently. Before university term started, I decided to read several novels which would broaden my literary horizons on top of my undergraduate material. Walking was another rewarding activity – be that alone or with someone else. It was a perfect time to clear my head and absorb the perfectly beautiful nature around me. The Chancellor’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme additionally made me feel as though I could play my role in supporting small, independent businesses within my local area. This led me to find new hidden gems which I never came across before.


Throughout the third stage of the pandemic from September to October 2020, with the reopening of more sectors and public spaces, I embraced accessibility to my university gym. I did more sports than I had since sixth form. Guaranteed, sports always managed to lift my mood and change my perspective when things started to get more chaotic during term time.


Then came the second national lockdown in November 2020. Between university lessons and meetings, my flatmates and I would host Come Dine with Me evenings where we would cook for each other – the perfect end to a day and an incentive to work more productively! Keeping mental health in-check was key, and online socials or sports activities were hugely beneficial. With social venues closed, I placed more priority on maintaining a strong worklife balance and preparing contingency plans with the uncertainty.


During December 2020, when some families could unite and others could not, making a ‘perfect’ day would be tricky for some who lacked company. Perfection is often seen as taking place in wildly exiting places, but the ‘stay at home’ environment made me find other ways to reach some sort of perfection. Similarly, from January to March 2021, when university was conducted wholly online, I made sure to keep up activities that I had practiced in the past year that had made my day a bit more perfect. From March 2021 until present, a great deal changed. The vaccine enabled people to, arguably, have ‘perfect’ days more frequently because more opportunities arose and more places were open, so people could form new experiences. What managed to ground me the most and bring out the best in me during this time of upheaval and angst were comforting rituals and habitual activities.


Ramifications of the pandemic upon future productivity in workplaces both at home and inperson have potentially beneficial and detrimental facets. A large proportion of firms, across a variety of scales and geographies, are turning towards a ‘hybrid model’ of work-fromhome and in-office formats, in order to maximise the benefits of each. The pandemic has accelerated the need to tailor to individual circumstances, specific needs and personal strengths in an effort to enhance collective productivity.


The pandemic has brought about a pressing need to re-design or, at a minimum, re-think the structural and circulatory basis for workspace designs. The direction of corporate real estate now points towards functionality and efficiency as a means in which to reinforce human capital productivity. Most notably, many organisations have embraced office ‘hot desking’ or recreational break-out spaces. More European offices are now jumping onto Scandinavian crèche initiatives to catch-up with more enlightened lifestyle practices for working parents.


Corporate discussions around workers’ physical and mental wellbeing and wellness could enrich future productivity because colleagues are more transparent with peers about their emotional state. Fitting in work around personal schedules by working more flexibly could involve conducting a greater proportion of hours from home. Working more efficiently within the domestic setting would mean colleagues can spend more time with friends and family, or on hobbies they have always wanted to try or have not dabbled in for a while. Working at one’s own pace is another plus of working from home. Stresses brought about by the pandemic have meant that individuals seek solid relaxation methods as solutions.


Nonetheless, creative juices tend to flow in energetic settings full of drive and with available collaborative outlets. Therefore, an office (not isolated home environment) is perhaps more conducive to coming up with new ideas, where there are fewer communicative obstacles. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon was quick to call out the tangible downsides of work from home, including enhanced regulatory pressure because of less centralised operations and reduced oversight. Solomon urged Goldman workers to return to the office at the earliest convenience, despite evident health risks.


To summarise, while the perfect day in the pandemic has altered with modifying lockdown rules, a constant variable throughout the past year and a half has been making the most out of what one has access to in order to find perfect simplicity and manifest gratitude. In terms of what this means for future productivity, already evident is hybridised work from home and in-office models for a majority firms, which is likely to boost productivity. At the top of agendas for HR specialists has become re-evaluating workspaces and working practices for colleagues at all management levels. The pandemic has brought to life for everyone – from students to Executive board directors, from entry-level analysts to middle-management – the urgent necessity for firms to make their working options more diverse and accessible, to cater for a broader worker base. The pandemic has woken up people to what needs to be changed both at home and in the office for them to thrive and flourish.