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Hybrid-work environment affects health, leisure time

Blurring lines between work, leisure, office, home has positive and negative effects
Quadra Wellness owner Tony Ho specializes in helping people deal with sleep disorders.

Many employers have started requiring workers to be at the office some days, while allowing them to work remotely on others, as COVID-19 has become less lethal and less feared thanks to most people having had multiple vaccine doses. 

That new working-life dynamic comes with positives and negatives for employees. 

Some workers enjoyed the geographical freedom and flexibility that full-time remote work brought; others craved the structure and separation between work and home that being at physical offices provided.

The new hybrid-work reality means that there is even more blurring of boundaries between work and leisure. 

Not only is there now a mixing of time spent working and time spent on leisure activities and family, but there is also a blending of working in multiple workplaces. 

Central 1 chief economist Bryan Yu told BIV he enjoys his new hybrid-work life in part because it allows him to spend more time with his children, aged five and seven. 

One change he has noticed when he is in his Central 1 office is that meeting times have shifted to start later in the morning, and well before 3 p.m., to give parents time to pick up or drop off children at schools. 

“There’s definitely more of a balance and ability for people to schedule their own work times,” he said of the way office life has evolved. 

His children have not yet had talent shows, track meets or other midday school events that Yu could take time out of his day to attend, but he said he will feel more able to take time to go to those kinds of events now than he would have pre-pandemic. 

“There are more abnormal hours,” Yu said. “A lot of people I have talked to might pull a few more hours working in the evening than they would have previously. It’s that balance to make sure that you get done what you need to get done.” 

Yu said that even pre-pandemic he felt as if he was always on call, as he checked and answered emails and was accessible. The new work reality simply amplifies his willingness to pay attention to work during evenings. 

Another father of young children, Toderian UrbanWORKS owner and former City of Vancouver chief planner Brent Toderian, said he was able to spend more time with his children during the pandemic because he stopped travelling to advise global-city clients or speak at conferences. 

Toderian has a home office, so when he is in Vancouver he can spend quality time with his family. He said experiencing the pandemic travel bans has made him more empowered to say no to travelling for business when a phone or video call will suffice. 

“We all got so much better at working virtually,” he said. “It wasn’t so much a cultural change alone during the pandemic. It was also a technology and skill-set change.” 

Some aspects of flexible work schedules can cut two ways. People who had been busy with office work five days per week may have skipped meals or eaten more fast food than healthy food pre-pandemic. 

Being at home for some may have meant more opportunities to eat healthy food, while for others, there may have been more temptation to nibble on junk food or start drinking alcohol earlier in the day. 

Quadra Wellness and Counselling owner and wellness counsellor Tony Ho sees clients experiencing the downside of having blurred boundaries between personal and work time. 

His main area of specialization is helping people who struggle with insomnia, and some of his clients have struggled with stress from hybrid-work schedules. 

When people are free to work in several-hour spurts and then take time off before another few hours on the job, it can lead to sleep disruption, he said. 

The first two group-stage World Cup games, for example, started at 2 a.m., 5 a.m., 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. Fans may have gotten up extra early or stayed up through the night to watch their favourite teams. 

“As humans, we’re pretty adaptable,” he said. “When there’s something exciting, or temporary stressors, we tend to bounce back after a period of regularity. With this kind of new reality around schedules, and dysregulated sleep-and-wake times, over time that can affect people’s sleep rates.” 

He advises clients to try to stick to consistent bed times and wakeup times and to avoid using electronic devices just before bed. Light from devices – even when in night mode – can delay the onset of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, which the body produces in response to darkness, he said. 

Sometimes people’s sleep problems stem from ruminating over a problem. Ho said it might be helpful to schedule a time in the day to think about the problem. 

“It doesn’t mean that your mind won’t think about those things, it just means that your mind is comfortable knowing that you’re going to deal with that problem, or thought or idea. It makes it easier to not get stuck in that thought.”