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The New Normal Is the New Unknown
Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist
Tenafly, NJ
Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Dr. Patricia A. Farrell

The year that the COVID 19 virus emerged from its yet-unknown hiding place and became the scourge of the world has brought major change. Cultures are wondering about the embrace, the hug, the double or triple kiss of the cheek, the handshake, and the high-five. But we are wondering about more than greetings.


The dilemma of the virus has forced a rethinking of office, transportation, and seating, in particular, to where some companies may wonder why have offices at all. Should the open office be abandoned and replaced with the former "walled-office" office space?

Each employee can see each other and a physical see-through wall will be standard if workstations cannot be placed six feet apart. The emotional cut-off between workers cannot be denied.


The six-foot distancing requirement, too, will not prove to be the answer. Although six feet has been viewed as the standard for virus-spewed speech protection, it isn't foolproof.


Studies have shown that aerosolized virus can remain in the air for up to three hours; six feet apart does nothing to protect us. A slight movement of the air from a co-worker passing by or the air conditioning airflow will do an outstanding job of spreading the virus beyond six feet.


Enter Face Masks


The CDC (Centers for Disease Control), as well as the World Health Organization, have returned to recommending face masks in social situations. Perhaps it's not even when two or more people are gathering for a discussion because the virus will remain in the air. If you walk through a formerly occupied space of unmasked persons, you could be exposed to the virus.


Face masks not only protect you from spreading the virus, they hide much of your personality in the facial expression on which we rely. Social cues are a part of our culture and one way we receive them is facial. Hide the face and you remove an important social element.


Facial recognition has gained a strong foothold not because of artificial intelligence algorithms, but because cultures are built on it. Scowls are limited to the forehead, so those will be clear.


But any other facial expression conveying other emotional components will be hidden. How can you prepare yourself? Are masks with vinyl openings around the mouth the answer? We are seeing them in use for work with persons who have a hearing impairment, but what about the rest of us?

Will we need face shields that further distance us from others and make us look more like medical workers? Will these shields then incorporate virtual reality to an office that is anything but our expected workplace?


The Interplay of Ideas


Walled off by see-through protective barriers, the individual working in an office will also be cut off from casual work-related interactions. Bell Telephone Laboratories, a monster of an original approach to scientific advances, encouraged physical interactions because they stimulate the needed give-and-take sessions where ideas flow and grow. Social distancing may interfere with this creativity.


Will the water fountain enjoy more importance as the new casual meeting place when everyone is walled off? Unless gloves are worn, and that seems impractical, all such units for water dispensing will need to be automatic as will hand-washing in restrooms.


Elevators will limit the number of people where, here too, a casual remark or meeting arrangement would have been made in the past. Outfitting them with ultraviolet lighting may be the answer but will they address the sense of concern and even fear that the virus has made a part of everyday life?


Office Socializing


Where staff enjoyed the office birthday, wedding, retirement or birth announcement get-together in the office, how will that be arranged now? Removing masks for eating and drinking is yet another, however momentary, time for the virus' release. Virtual meetings and celebrations will not be the same as up-close-and-personal events. We thrive on the closeness of others and it will be denied to us.


The hand-sanitizer station will become de rigue in any office not having ultraviolet lighting. Even the sight of the sanitizer and the lights will have an effect, theoretically, on blood pressure readings because of the unconscious fear of the virus. The symbols of safety will still bring forth the idea of health under attack.


We are being told that the "new normal" is here and we will have to adapt to it. But it will take time and will bring with it unforeseen obstacles for workers and the companies for which they work. Even spreading out workers to online work will be seen as having difficulties as they work in isolation and have concerns of being monitored for workload via apps on their many digital devices.


Our Future


"New normal" is "new unknown" and the solutions may not prove as straightforward as we may wish, even if a vaccine holds future viral menaces under control. Social distancing has already thrown an emotional barrier in our interactions, but weren't we working toward that? Didn't texting take the place of phone calls and video interactions displace physical meet-ups?


The future and the "new normal" may already have had a foothold in our emotional lives, but the COVID19 virus has solidified it.

Website: www.drfarrell.net

Author's page: http://amzn.to/2rVYB0J

Medium page: https://medium.com/@drpatfarrell

Twitter: @drpatfarrell

Attribution of this material is appreciated.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D.
Title: Licensed Psychologist
Group: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D., LLC
Dateline: Tenafly, NJ United States
Cell Phone: 201-417-1827
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