Thursday, March 24, 2022

Back to Work (In-Person): Reflections

One of my goals is to live and be in the place of abundance...of time, energy, creativity, space, love, compassion, mindfulness. 

In the last two months of working hybrid model, I was fortunate to be able to work in a hybrid model (half on site, and half remote). We've been back on-site fully for a couple of weeks after COVID subsided. 

I've made an interesting observation about myself since transitioning back to traditional on-site model. With hybrid work, I felt like I had more energy after work compared to fully on-site work. I'm attributing (and I could be wrong) the difference in energy levels due to the work space and environment. 

With remote work at home, my workstation is in a room with two large windows with plantation blinds that allow the beautiful, spring warm sunlight to cast its rays in my workspace. The window looks out into my backyard, which is borders Arizona Open Nature Space, full of wild Arizonian flora and wildlife. The room has direct door access to the backyard, and I keep the door slightly ajar throughout the day to allow the wonderful Arizonian desert air with aromatic pollens from the flowering plants to flow into the the room, and chips from the birds resonate into the room. The walls in the room are decorated with photos of my family and friends, and a large canvas of Arizonian succulents. I felt great and after work, I had the vigor and motivation which often led me to go for a run or hike on the trails leading to the nearby mountains. 

With on-site work, well, it's a radiology reading room. The room is dimly lit, and it's in a clean, nature and sunlight-free standard office with dark blue/grey walls. That's it. 

In the book Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee, the author discusses the power of ordinary things that create extraordinary happiness. In her book, she discusses the importance of nature and sunlight contributing to our happiness, peace and joy.  She says nature provides a form of mental abundance due to the open space and variations in sensory stimulations we experience. In contrast, being in closed quarters with stagnant air and lack of surrounding nature (artificial or real) make us feel confined and can sap the joy and vigor in our lives. When I spoke to my mother about this phenomena, she drew an analogy to plants. She said humans are like plants, we need nature touches (sun, wind, smell, etc) to thrive.  Otherwise, we slowly wither like a plant deprived of these necessary elements. The effects are more pronounced in children. The effects of nature exposure to children improved cognitive function (increased concentration, greater attention, higher academic performance), better motor coordination, reduced stress, increase social interaction (Strife et al).  Shankar Vedantam deeps dive in to the the idea of how nature improves our lives in his NPR Hidden Brain podcast "Our Better Nature: How The Great Outdoors Can Improve Your Life" In Chicago replica housing projects, high-capacity high rises with green spaces led to 15-20% drop in incidences of violence and police calls compared to housing projects without nature spaces. Artificial sounds of birds projected from audio system embedded in landscapes in high-violent neighborhoods led to a drop of violence by nearly 10%. Breathing air in the nature led to increase in NK cells, which contributed to healthier immune systems compared to air from urban spaces. Research from Well Living Lab, a Delos and Mayo Clinic collaboration, shows that offices with windows improve workers' productivity,  and satisfaction. Centers have coined the term "biophilia". "Bio, life. Philia, meaning love. So we have a love for nature," says Dr. Bauer. Areas with windows which provide natural light and views of the outdoors improve cognitive performance and increase well being. Exposure to nature led to calming effects. Contemporary cultures such as Japan advocate for Forest Bathing to offer an antidote to burnout.  Large tech companies like Facebook are designing work spaces that integrate nature, sunlight and green spaces to improve the well-being of their employees and staff. 

I think the workspace made a significant contribution to the difference in experience. I think days when I have more access to sunlight, view of natural spaces, and other natural sensory stimulations, I feel good all the day long. After I finished work, I felt light, and energetic, and often went for a walk/hike, and in the evenings, I was fully present with my daughter in the evenings. I logged in many more steps. I felt Virya, the Buddhist term for energy and enthusiasm that led one to pursue wholesome activities. In addition, I was in a state of abundance.  When I work in dimly lit, nature-free spaces like the reading room for 10 hours a day, I feel less good after work...and in fact, not infrequently, irritable / stressed.  

Obviously, different people will have different experiences from hybrid working. Some people appreciate the commute-free day, and others benefit from the flexibility.  A good friend told me she went to a yoga class in the middle of the day after she caught on her work. She felt so amazing from the yoga class and came back to the work list feeling great. The yoga time completely transformed her experience. She ended a busy work shift a little healthier, flexible and a lot more happier. Arun Krishnaraj from University of Virginia delivered the New Horizon lecture at 2022 Society of Abdominal Radiology meeting in early March and shared with the audience the need to provide our workforce a hybrid work option, and its importance to promote a healthy and sustainable workforce. Early adopters including New York University, and Cleveland Clinic have offered remote working options due to recruitment needs, and a few of my academic powerhouse friends have moved to these 100% fully remote working models, which have dramatically improved their quality of lives.  There are also negative sides to hybrid working (limited social interactions, potentially suboptimal educational experiences for learners, etc). However, I think the benefits could potentially outweigh the risks if the schedules are designed thoughtfully and iterated to preserve important interactions. 

Having had a taste of how amazing hybrid work option is, I'm super excited about how radiology will be unfolding over the short and intermediate term. I am going to unabashedly put a plug for the RadioGraphics invited commentary I co-authored with a good friend pre-COVID, in 2018 about this topic ( When we provide work options, we provide people with an opportunity to live and work in a place and be in the place of abundance. 

Sekhar A, Tan N. Invited Commentary on "Navigating Generational Differences in Radiology". Radiographics. 2018 Oct;38(6):1679-1681. doi: 10.1148/rg.2018180197. PMID: 30303787.

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