Insights

Physical distancing, not social isolation

Amidst the current pandemic, many of us will be working from home and following new rules, at least I hope the majority of us are! While I’m sure many of my colleagues will be happy to take a breather from my persistent background ramblings, it will be vital in the coming months to maintain healthy social connection with our colleagues and our organisations, even if the physical contact is limited to none.

 

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Social beings

Social isolation and loneliness had been identified as key issues for our society well before the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. Theresa May labelled loneliness as “one of the greatest public health challenges of our time” and launched a government first ‘loneliness strategy’ in 2018.

Social isolation has been used as a punishment throughout history and used still, whether in schools (detention) or prisons (solitary confinement) – it is hurtful for any social being.

I believe that a philosopher once muttered words to the effect of “Social isolation is death”, or perhaps it was “worse than death”… regardless, there are numerous studies linking social isolation with a higher risk of death.

In fact, studies have found socialising may lower your risk of dementia as well as boosting your mental wellbeing and cognitive functioning. In fact, after a quick online search you will find that socialising is the best drug you’ve already been taking, and I don’t know about you, but I’m already feeling the withdrawal symptoms…

For most of us, our colleagues are also our friends, and work is a large part of our week. To go from 35+ hours of face-to-face contact down to zero will likely be a shock to the system.

Maintaining communication with your colleagues and your organisation will not only be important for the business but also for every person within it – none of us are immune to social seclusion.

Being socially connected should be considered as important to our wellbeing as eating or sleeping.

 

 

Supporting Social Connection within your organisation – what does the data say?

With every challenge there is opportunity. This is a great opportunity for your organisation to support social connection for staff. The first stop is to improve communication.

From our database of employee engagement survey results, we can see the median scores for this topic in the UK Third Sector:

 

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  • Just 66% of employees say they are kept informed of what is happening elsewhere in the organisation
  • 54% feel their organisation practices open, honest communication and shares information
  • 35% believe their organisation shares knowledge and information effectively across departments

 

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This data was collected from surveys conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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How do these points resonate with you?

We are in a fortunate era where physical distancing no longer means social distancing. We can still stay connected with our colleagues and we must stay connected.

Technology offers a plethora of communication options, such as Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp (and all other social media platforms), of course – email, and so on. In fact, with technology and video calls, I feel I get closer to a lot of people’s faces than I do in real life!

So why are we struggling with internal communications?

 

 

Social connection: My experience so far

Things we have done at work:

  • My colleagues at Agenda and I share a team catch-up every morning at 9am. Everyone gives a little update on themselves, so we all stay informed.

 

  • We also have a team WhatsApp group – a chance to flex your meme muscles (keep them PG) 😉! This also helps us share important information across the organisation.

 

  • If you are looking for some social fibre and substance – the Agenda team completed a mini survey called Quebie, designed by Questback, which was a nice check-in on how I feel about my organisation is coping with the current situation and gave me a chance to offer some constructive feedback to Agenda. We have now launched the Not-for-profit COVID-19 Employee Survey which is designed to help you check in on how your staff are coping with the situation.

 

  • Avoiding rushing calls with my colleagues and not being afraid to have a laugh where possible.

 

Things I have done outside of work to maintain social connection:

 

  • I took part in an online mindfulness session with hundreds of people around the world. It was an amazing way to connect with people – I doubt I would have considered doing something like this until now.

 

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  • I also recently attended an internal communications conference where one organisation discussed a platform, they had created for their employees to share their hobbies and connect staff, as well as providing advice and activities. Engage people with what matters to them, not just work.

 

  • I have seen many articles on LinkedIn about organisations offering virtual yoga and meditation sessions. In fact, Brita Benson, exhibitor and speaker at our Strategic People conference 2020 is hosting regular yoga and meditation sessions via zoom. I haven’t joined an online yoga group yet, but I did have a virtual yoga session with one of my friends.

 

What ideas do you have to stay physically distant but still socially connected?

It would be great to hear any ideas you have on how to stay connected to your colleagues, staff or friends and family. Get in touch by email  – suggestions are greedily welcomed!

 

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