22 June 2020

Corona Blues and Managing Happiness

Buranond Kijwatanachai
AUN Programme Officer;

In late February, the AUN Secretariat shut down its physical offices and began working from home. A week later, Chulalongkorn University, which houses the AUN Secretariat offices, shut its doors. Finally, on 25 March, almost a full month later, the Kingdom of Thailand imposed a partial lockdown.

Like the rest of the world, the AUN Secretariat is well on its way to restart again. The answers people came up with ranged from outright denial of the current situation to total rejection of physical workspaces. As the dust settled and things were figured out, the AUN Secretariat took stock of all our projects and went to work on patching together online versions of those projects. Taking full advantage of the Zoom application, we have already organized our annual AUN-QA Assessors’ Meeting complete with plenary and breakout sessions, engaging discussions, as well as the many intangibles that make up international conferences like these. And this event is not the only one of its kind that is being produced by the AUN Secretariat and other organizations that are not letting COVID-19 slow them down. For the AUN Secretariat, there are more international conferences in the works, including an international youth forum.

But not everything has been going well. Sensing that resentment for the current working conditions are beginning to take root, an open discussion was held to find what has been making everyone unhappy. It became apparent as grievances were aired that everyone in the office was losing sight of the boundaries that used to split work from home. The times to relax and the times to do work were quickly blending together into a thoroughly unappetizing cocktail.

When a physical space no longer divides work from home, when the internet provides unlimited contact with anyone else, it becomes easy to never unwind. It begins in many ways. Perhaps people are worried that they might not be working enough at first so they say a little text message outside of regular office hours would be okay. You hardly see each other because the physical space is gone so maybe some time wasted during meetings will be alright. Next thing you know, you are having full conversations with your coworkers late into the night discussing projects. Meetings begin to drone on with no clear direction and start taking up time from other important things. The worst part is that you can no longer physically leave work as your home - your safe haven - slowly turns into a cubicle.

This makes it all the more important to have an open and clear conversation about what the boundaries should be when it comes to where work begins and where it ends. The answers to that problem will come from the nature of each office along with what each worker feels are acceptable working conditions. Beyond that, we must also make sure that we do not devolve into old habits. If we keep reaching for lofty productivity and efficiency goals, we risk losing track of our humanity, neglecting the mental health of our colleagues, and alienating them. If they are gone, what then?