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The many ways in which work culture has been forever changed by the COVID pandemic

Well, it seems that the “Roaring Twenties” are truly off to a great start. For one thing, we are in the midst of the “Great Resignation,” instead of the Great Depression—though the global economy is silently suffering in the background, work culture is changing. In fact, it already has. If you told me two years ago that the world would shift to university students sitting in Microsoft Teams lectures, that school children would meet their new classmates for the first time through Zoom and that Google Meet would become the lifeline for a lot of people’s daily office interaction, I would have laughed in your face. Yet here we are. It’s 2022, and (hopefully) we are nearing an oh-so-deserved post-pandemic time, full of uncertainty as well as lots and lots of video calls. You win some, you lose some, heh?

The modern-day workforce is defined by a generation of Zoombies, jacked up on caffeine, with weary tech neck syndrome setting in. It makes you wonder how we got here, doesn’t it?

The cataclysmic pandemic

Here at SCREENSHOT, we like to dive deep into all things gen Z and millennial-related. Naturally, we have to talk about the elephant in the room—the COVID-19 pandemic, which put a pretty large dent in the already tricky road to adulting.

The pandemic swept through the world and with it, took hundreds of thousands of lives and many more in the form of robbing people of memories, milestones and events that they should have been able to experience. Graduations were cancelled as the world was put on pause. Many spent a lot of their time cooped up in the house on furlough waiting for their jobs to open up in the service industry, while the suits were carefully placed back in the wardrobe in exchange for comfy loungewear as people learned to work from home, decking out the home office with a well needed spruce up. And don’t get me wrong, it was fun at first.

Now, as we approach the possibility of entering the virtual space of the metaverse permanently, a lot of us (myself included) took to streaming episodes of The Office, somewhat longing for a past life. But enough with the soppy nostalgia—let’s get into all the ways the office IRL has changed.

Remember when Zoombombing became a thing?

The normality of jumping on Zoom calls on a daily basis and getting the hang of virtual presentations was a learning curve a lot of people have finally overcome. The endless online meetings even prompted some to take up an unusual pastime for entertainment: Zoombombing. The crashing of calls rose to prominence in the early stages of us getting to grips with life being solely online. Since the pandemic, cyber-related crimes have risen 600 per cent as online safety became compromised by the boredom of internet trolls.

The rise of the living Zoombies

Now, we all know it’s not exactly rainbows and sunshine working from home. Though it’s possible that you could work from home forever, every dream has a catch. As a result of the many lockdowns we endured—that we thought would never end—dress-codes switched up and some turned into sweats-wearing, hoodie-hooked Zoombies. A little FYI, the haze of day in and day out Zoom calls with little pace change definitely does catch up with you.

If you’re not sure what a Zoombie is, it’s all in the name really: a zombie on Zoom calls. Zoombies are easily spotted as the odd ones out on call meetings, eyes glossed over, very ‘head empty, no thoughts’ vibes. It’s no surprise so many employees turned into such sleepless beings. It’s surprisingly easy to get sucked in and get turned (no bites needed), all you actually need is a daily routine with no exercise involved and little to no stimulation during the day—other than your Zoom calls, of course. Makes you want to pick up that exercise mat, am I right?

Hustle, hustle, hustle people

To avoid turning into a Zoombie themselves, and in lieu of the stay at home orders that defined the lockdowns of 2020, people took up their creative passions and dived into the hobby lists and resolutions that they had initially ditched in the first week of January. The ban on going outside propelled many to take up at-home exercise, going their own way as freelancers while others found their inner Remy from Ratatouille—through a lot of cheeky food delivery orders were made, no doubt.

At this time however, the hustle culture fanatics couldn’t leave well enough alone and allow people to actually enjoy things other than getting that bread. In the chaos of the sudden redecorating and renovation projects, you may have come across a lot of content online spurring people to upgrade their lives. From #wellness TikTok to the ‘girlbossify your life’ Pinterest boards, no place was spared—even Twitter feeds were full of viral hustle tweets telling people to get their money up. The rat race didn’t seem to cease for a global pandemic as people jumped into the realm of cryptocurrencies, and the boom of NFTs in the art world became a new normal.

Side hustle galore has been glorified online especially, but no amount of moodboards and aspirational planners can take away how detrimental this movement has on the next generations of workers. ‘Why not use up the very little free time you do have at the end of the day to drum up more dough with an online career?’ This question has a lot of us stumped. Of course, money makes the world go round, but at what cost? Polyworking has us all in a chokehold too. The newest problematic term in the work from home jargon has its own issues as a lot of zillennials are faced with the dilemma of having to work multiple jobs to survive, while also trying to attain the distant dream of sneaking our way to the top.

Let’s not forget the dreaded ‘office Karens’

If the Zoombies didn’t get to you yet, then the office Karens definitely will. What is an office Karen, you ask? Well, similar to the archetype we all love to hate that ruins the fun for everyone and radiates peak toxic feminine energy, office Karens are native to the, you guessed it, office. There in the depths of the rows of desks and the corridors of cubicles, you will probably find one lurking, or rather dwelling in paperwork as the manager of the place.

Geared up to gaslight, gatekeep and girlboss, the office Karen may not know herself that she is one, but if you’ve ever gotten a passive aggressive email from the zero-chill lady in charge, then you’ve for sure encountered one.

Where do we go from here?

We’ve already seen some countries fully embrace WFH culture by introducing work from home laws—an efficient way to create boundaries for their citizens’ work-life balance. Though it’s not caught on universally to ban bosses from texting their employees outside of work hours, we must remember that this is all new territory which we haven’t entirely figured out yet.

So don’t let the blursday blues get you down too much, the new normal isn’t all that bad. It’s not the end of the world guys (yet), though I’m sure the Zoombie apocalypse had a few of us scared for a second.

Tech neck: here’s how technology is affecting your posture in the age of ‘Zoombies’

First off, I want you to look away from whatever digital device you’re reading this article on and analyse your current posture. Are you scrolling through your phone, laptop or tablet with your head down and bent forward? When was the last time you actually got up from your seat, or even worse, looked away from your screen before I told you to? Have I hit the nail on the head? If you feel a little attacked right now, then I hate to break it to you but you may be on the fast track to a condition called ‘tech neck’.

What is tech neck?

Tech neck, also referred to as ‘text neck’, is a 2022 repackaged version of an old issue: the repetitive strain of muscles while using digital devices—resulting in neck injuries, shoulder pain, stiffness and soreness. Broadly put, it’s a condition caused by holding your neck still for long periods of time.

While headaches, neck spasms, reduced mobility, jaw discomfort and pain between your shoulder blades, down your wrists and elbows are common symptoms, some complain of facing a hard time looking up after spending hours looking down into their devices. In severe situations, one could even experience tingling, numbness or weakness in their arms triggered by a pinched nerve in their neck.

But what does the weight of our heads have to do with tech neck? According to Doctor Daniel Riew, director of cervical spine surgery at the NewYork-Presbyterian Och Spine Hospital, our necks aren’t built to withstand the type of force that comes with prolonged periods of strain. This is because the muscles in the back of our necks have to contract in order to hold our heads up. “The more you look down, the more the muscles have to work to keep your head up,” Doctor Riew said in an interview with Health Matters. “These muscles can get overly tired and sore from looking down at our smartphones, working on computers or looking down at our tablets all day.”

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A post shared by Iron Neck® (@theironneck)

However, bad neck angles are not the only villains behind tech neck. Remember how we’re often told to correct our postures and “sit straight” when sitting at our desks? As per Doctor Riew, our childhood was a lie as this is incorrect advice. “When you sit with your back straight, you not only put a lot of force on the discs in your lower back, but the muscles in the back of the neck have to contract to hold the head up,” he said, adding that if you sit straight up for hours, you may actually end up with both back and neck pain instead. Tell that to the next person who says you shouldn’t slouch so much.

A pandemic-accelerated concern

At a time when work from home has birthed a new generation of ‘Zoombies’, tech necks have evolved into an e-epidemic most of us with a digital device face today. You just rubbed your shoulders and sighed a while ago, am I right? According to Doctor Riew, the number of people suffering from the condition currently is at—surprise, surprise—100 per cent.

“Virtually anybody who spends a lot of time on a computer is eventually going to complain about it,” he explained. “Almost every patient that I see says that working on a computer usually makes their neck pain worse. It’s the rare person with a neck issue who says, ‘Oh yeah, I can work on a computer for hours every day and not have my neck bother me’.” With the smell of Vicks Vaporub wafting into the living room from my desk as we speak, it’s (concerningly) safe to say that I’m among the 100 per cent.

Apart from the pungent odour of pain-relief ointments, however, how can someone actually tell if their posture has succumbed to tech neck? According to osteopath and yoga teacher Anji Gopal, as noted by Glamour, neck and shoulder pain is one the basic symptoms you should look out for. Early signs of the concern also include your head feeling heavy as you fidget around to find a comfortable position while sitting down.

Another telltale is “when your shoulders become slightly tilted forward causing your head to drop and come forward,” explained Anisha Joshi, an award-winning osteopath. “It may be characterised by general discomfort in the lower neck, shoulders and upper back, or an increase in how often you experience headaches and reduced mobility or stiffness.”

A quick scroll through the 27,000 Instagram posts on #techneck will also plop you in a parallel land of a rising cosmetic concern. Head over to the closest mirror, tilt your head slightly upwards and inspect your neck. If you see lines running along the area from ear to ear, then congratulations, you—like me—won’t be able to unsee it for a while now. As noticed by cosmetic surgeons all around the world, these lines have significantly worsened with tech necks over the pandemic.

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A post shared by Dr. Jason Diamond MD (@drjasondiamond)

Welp, what can be done?

One of the most basic things you can do to confront tech neck while you’re reading this article is move around at home. “If you have a sedentary job, at least every 15 to 30 minutes, you should get up and walk around—even if it’s for a minute,” Doctor Riew advised. This will not only get your blood flowing but will help reset the position of your neck and your body. “Studies show that sitting for long periods is dangerous to your heart and that it leads to a shortened life span,” he urged.

Need a more long-term solution? Why not try switching up your workplace furniture while opting for a reclining chair with good lumbar support? And before you ask, no, asking your furniture retailer about the lumbar support offered in different seating options won’t magically transform you into a millennial. So do your research and analyse the ones recommended to you. Then take the furniture home and lean back as much as practical while you’re working to take pressure off your neck muscles.

“You can tell if you are leaning back adequately by doing the following: first, if you were to fall asleep in that position, your neck should fall backward. Alternatively, if you put your hand at the back of your neck, as you lean forward, you’ll find that the neck muscles contract and stiffen up. As you lean backward they will relax and get soft,” Doctor Riew continued.

Other tips also include propping your elbows with pillow support to keep your phone at eye level while scrolling through endless TikTok FYPs and incorporating exercises like scalene muscle stretches, head unweighting and spine retractions into your workout routine. Developing good posture and learning to recognise what that feels like are additional milestones to a healthy lifestyle in a tech-gilded age. So get up and moving already, because if tab overload doesn’t have your swollen butt yet, tech neck sure will.

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A post shared by Monica | Physical Therapist (@movinglikeamother)