I’m an introvert. I like spending time alone as opposed to being with a large group of people. I need time away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world to recharge. To center. For me, working from home has always been the ideal situation, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work this way for years. So, when the pandemic hit in 2020 and organizations were forced to move from an onsite workforce to one that works remotely, my work life didn’t change. But for most people, this was drastic. Almost overnight, people found themselves not only isolated from family and friends but also from coworkers.
Social Distancing, Social Isolation, and Social Well-Being
Not everyone is equipped to work from home. Humans are social creatures by nature (even introverts need a little human interaction!). We rely on each other for emotional needs—compassion, understanding, friendship. As the weeks of social distancing have turned into months, it’s become evident that while we’ve slowed the spread of COVID-19, we’re now suffering in other ways. Emotionally, mentally, physically, and socially. Social distancing became social isolation, and it’s taken a toll on our social well-being. This has affected our emotional and mental well-being and even our physical well-being, as people are consuming greater amounts of alcohol. People are lonely. And loneliness can be just as damaging to your health as smoking. This is bad news for a workforce that’s been working remotely for such a long time—and for the organizations they work for.
So what is social wellness, and why should you care? Social wellness means taking an active role in connecting with other people, and, for the past year and a half, we haven’t been able to do that. When our social well-being suffers, it creates a ripple effect. Months of social distancing and working remotely have cut us off from other people. We haven’t attended family celebrations. Entertainment and travel were cancelled. And we still can’t pop into each other’s workspaces or gather around the proverbial water cooler to catch up with coworkers.
Social wellness is a vital part of our overall health, one we didn’t really pay much attention to pre-pandemic, but that has taken center stage now. And as states begin to ease restrictions that slowed the spread of COVID-19, we have to learn how to be social again, and that is causing more than a little anxiety for many of us.
It’s such a problem that one of our clients has recognized the impact that social distancing and working from home have had on its population, and they're taking steps to help. They’re hosting a series of webinars so their people can learn how to navigate the new world of work and new way of socializing, focusing on how to successfully reach out to coworkers and network in a virtual workplace. It’s a good start, but there’s more to do.
As organizations prepare to welcome employees back to the workplace, they shouldn’t expect that the social wellness of their people will magically return to pre-pandemic levels. Your people may experience reentry anxiety and will need support as they make face-to-face connections as opposed to those via Zoom. Because we’ve been social distancing and working from home for such a long time, we’re out of practice with meeting others in person, making eye contact, and chitchatting. Organizations should also pay close attention to, and be intentional about, the social wellness of their people as they potentially shift to longer-term hybrid or flexible working arrangements.
Encourage Social Wellness Awareness
As you take steps to help your remote workers prevent burnout, adapt to working from home, and balance their work life with their personal life, you can also help your people find ways to feel connected, which will help improve all parts of their well-being.
Connect in the virtual workplace. Even though we’re apart, we can still connect on a personal level. It just takes more effort. Suggest that your people:
- Make time for brief, informal get-togethers, like virtual coffee breaks, no-agenda meetings, or end-of-the-day happy hours.
- Set aside five minutes at the top of meetings for people to chat before getting started.
- Encourage 1:1 manager check-ins with direct reports, without having a formal agenda. When employees feel supported, they feel seen, and managers become better equipped to respond to their personal needs.
Encourage your people to make connections. Social connections can help your people protect other areas of their well-being, but after more than fifteen months of isolation, venturing out may take some encouragement. I’ve rejoined a local artist group that focuses on photography, something I can do with my son to get him back out in the world too. Other ideas include:
- Volunteering at a community garden
- Joining a theater group
- Learning martial arts
- Taking a fitness class
Promote self-care. COVID-19 has affected each of us so differently. I lost two family members early on in 2020 to the virus but recognized that, to care for others, I had to first take care of myself (that old flight attendant chestnut of “put your oxygen mask on before helping someone else with theirs” aptly applies). Encourage your people to:
- Reach out to those in their social circle just to say “hi.”
- Check in with their managers if they don’t have regular meetings scheduled.
- Ask for help when they need it.
The pandemic won’t last forever, and with the COVID-19 vaccinations readily available, opportunities to reconnect with the human race abound. Just be patient with your people. After such a long time of living in a way that isn’t normal for humans, it may take a while to feel comfortable and safe around others again. Encouraging your people to try some of the tips above is a great way to help them get their social groove back.
We're proud to work with organizations that value their people. If you want to learn more, we’d love to talk.