How to Stay Social at a Distance: Combating the Isolation Wave

Six simple strategies for adjusting to the new normal of work and life while isolating at home

Bavo Studio/ Getty Images
Bavo Studio/ Getty Images

Just last week major corporations began implementing voluntary work from home policies that have quickly become mandatory as sweeping and very draconian social distancing measures are being mandated by major municipalities across the country.  

Working from home often conjures images of kicking back on the sofa with a laptop and cup of coffee, but the new reality of “working from home” is quite different. My experience with working from home over the last 15 years has typically included morning takeovers of the kitchen counter (much to the dismay of my wife) coupled with afternoon stints at my local Starbucks. And of course, the occasional lunch stop at my neighborhood deli somewhere in between. Social, yes, but at a six foot-distance, certainly not.    

In other words, working from home didn’t literally mean working from home. For at least the next couple of months the new working definition of “working from home” is really going to be working in physical isolation. The reason I say physical isolation as opposed to social isolation is because the notion of social distancing is really about physical distance. The idea is to keep far enough away (six feet), so as to minimize the possibility of transmitting the coronavirus. However, what social distancing does not mean is to burrow up in a hole and disconnect. We are social creatures by nature and we have a strong need for human connection. The fact is we are experiencing a once in generation pandemic at a time of unprecedented social connectivity. We all have a variety of tools at our disposal to remain socially connected no matter how physically isolated we must become.

There is also the matter of those who will have to isolate at home, but without a work-from-home option. As bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters, museums, and daycare facilities close their doors, millions of workers will have to stay at home without the ability to engage in their jobs. Not to mention, manufacturing and distribution facilities across the country which may well have to take similar measures if the so called “curve” doesn’t start flattening. So, whatever form of physical isolation you find yourself in, here are some steps you can take to ease the stress:       

Keep your morning routine, because you need it: You may not realize it, but your daily routines are now going to be more critical than ever before. Personal routines and daily plans allow for a sense of certainty and control, particularly in uncertain times. Try to keep your routine as similar as possible to your typical workday. So, get up shower and get dressed as you typically would. Do whatever it takes to resist the all-day pajama party because this is about the long haul.

Embrace your space, and add a little spice: To maintain some sense of normalcy be sure to treat your online video meetings (or calls with family and friends) just as if they were in-person. It drives me crazy when I have to look up somebody’s nose or adjust to the Dutch tilt of their cockeyed laptop awkwardly perched on a sofa pillow (you know who you are). I always stage my background when getting online from home and I like to have a little fun with it. It’s a combination of projecting the fact that you are being thoughtful in how you present yourself as well as an opportunity to showcase your personal style. Take a cue from Vladimir Duthiers of CBS This Morning who has been reporting from home and have fun with it. 

Stay in touch, just don’t actually touch: Social support is a critical buffer to stress, which is why maintaining social contact will be vital to adjusting to the new normal. Try to establish a regular routine of contact with your coworkers whether you are working or not. Set regular check-in times and be sure to use technology. Google hangouts, Facetime, Zoom, LinkedIn messenger… are all great options. And, if you are using video conferencing technology for your meetings be sure to have your camera on. The ability to see each other will enhance your social interactions and it will also incentivize you to get out of your PJs.    

Spotlight your new support team with a cameo: Speaking of being on camera, many of us are now juggling childcare and pet duties while at the same time trying to keep our work on track. My three-year-old has rolled into my office during video meetings and my dog loves making surprise appearances. Let’s face it, this is part of our collective new reality. So, on occasion why not spotlight your new office mates with a cameo and show a little of your human side.    

Scrub in like a surgeon: My father was a veterinarian and when I worked in his hospital as a teenager I had to learn the processes of scrubbing in before surgery. The twenty second CDC handwashing protocol is a lot more than most of us are used to, but we owe it to our family, neighbors, and the food delivery folks that will be frequenting our front door to keep as clean and virus free as we can.   

Laugh at Yourself, it’s OK: You never want to make light of a tough situation, but approaching these changes with a little levity will make it easier. Taking yourself too seriously will just spiral into negative self-talk and that never helps in tough times.   

In a strange sort of way working from home, but with a healthy dose of on-line and on camera interaction, may be a way to actually get to know your colleagues better than when you were physically together at the office. We are now truly blending work and life like never before. So, embrace your space, enjoy the interruptions, and laugh at yourself as much as you can.  

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