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It’s 2020—and instead of teleporting to work like we imagined, we’re confronting a virus that has changed the entire world. Nobody truly understands the pandemic we’re facing, but there is some solace in that: we’re all together in the unknown.

While we may feel more disconnected than ever before, this is a chance for us to grow closer in ways we didn’t know we could.

The importance of social distancing

COVID-19 (coronavirus) has been deemed a serious public health emergency by the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). We’re finding out more about the coronavirus as time goes on, but social distancing has been deemed critical by health and government officials.

Social distancing is just one way of slowing the spread of the coronavirus, by decreasing the number of times that people come in close contact with each other. Because individuals who are not outwardly showing symptoms may be spreading the virus, social distancing has become a way to protect ourselves and others—minimizing the outbreak.

As friends and employees are physically distancing from each other, we need to adapt in order to keep our social connections strong. 

We are hardwired to connect

When working from home started to become the norm for many companies following social distancing protocols, there may have been some relief—no rush to get ready in the morning, no commute to your workplace, and more time to focus on productivity. However, for many of us, that relief was short lived.

Humans, as it turns out, are hardwired to connect. Evolutionary biology tells us that our ancestors relied on each other for everything from protection to hunting and gathering. This need for social interaction was identified long ago, and has since evolved into something we can’t live without.

In the brain’s “downtime” it processes what it perceives to be other people’s thoughts and feelings in a likely attempt to prepare for future scenarios. Our colleagues are not simply employees we must interact with to get our job done, much of the time they are people we develop bonds and genuine friendships with.

Interestingly enough, if you have a friend that you see on most days, it’s the happiness equivalent of earning $100,000 more each year. This means it’s vital for our mental health that we seek out one another, mitigating the feelings of social isolation and loneliness.

“I couldn’t imagine just three years ago how much I’d grow to care for two groups of people, almost none of whom I knew then: our employees, and our customers.”

– Blake Murray, CEO at Divvy

Ways to maintain relationships with your remote coworkers

Knowing how crucial connection is to our mental health, we’ve compiled a few resources that will allow you to reconnect with your co-workers during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Set aside time to be real

Many companies have started remote work, so it’s common to have households with more than one person working remotely. Combine this with kids, closed schools, and pets running around, and you’ve got a full house. There’s probably a high pile of dishes in the background of more than one video chat.

Take this opportunity to show empathy and understanding, to take an interest in what is happening in your employee’s lives. When your colleague’s child is intrigued by a video conference, engage with them and let your employee know this is normal and okay.

This is a unique time where you get to see more personal sides of your employees. Relating with one another and allowing others to feel vulnerable will not only strengthen your bonds but will make you feel good, too.

“We need to be empathetic with ourselves and our coworkers while we work from home. Appearances won’t be “work” all of the time—hair, makeup, clothes, state of your house, children in the background, dogs barking—that’s okay.”

– Casey Bailey, Senior VP of People and Places at Divvy

Adapt your meetings

Since you’re not in the office, now is a great time to get clever with your regularly scheduled meetings.

At Divvy, we have had employees go on walks in their neighborhoods during one-on-one calls or create fun images to use as backgrounds on Zoom. Connecting with employees like this will make remote work feel genuine and will help normalize the situation for your employees. Employees can get innovative when they get the opportunity to think creatively. Give it a try!

“If you wait to accept how things have changed you’ll be so far behind that it’ll be impossible to make up the ground. In this “new normal,” I’m quickly getting convinced that two superpowers will determine the success or failure of your future: creativity & adaptability.”

– Sterling Snow, Senior Vice President of Revenue at Divvy

Do activities together

Employees spend around 50% of their waking hours a week working and may feel disconnected from company culture.

Here are a few activities you can do together to reignite your employees’ drive, feelings of connection to the company and their colleagues, and curb social isolation:

Play games on your lunch break: Recently my colleagues and I played Fibbage (an online bluffing game) during lunch. Not only was it hilarious, it took our minds off the pandemic and let us enjoy some time together. You can find a great list of games to play virtually with your employees here.

Get in some physical exercise: Companies like Nike Training Club and Peloton are offering their products for free in order to encourage social distancing workouts—which you can do together. You can also meet at a local park and go on a social distancing approved walk (just make sure you’re staying at least 6.5 ft. apart).

Binge watch some movies: Netflix Party is a free resource that allows you to stream shows in a group and use a chat while you are watching. There are also a lot of movies that you can rent online instead of going to the theater (after work hours, of course).

Infuse your culture

The coronavirus has changed the way companies behave, potentially forever. Take this time to look at your company’s culture and give it some life.

At Divvy, we have increased posts in our #recognition Slack channel and have increased the time allotted to departments to share the work they’re doing during company meetings. We’ve also have created some fun new channels in slack like #10-pushups-an-hour, #currently-reading, and #dailygratitude. These have all been incredible for keeping our inclusive culture going while we work remotely. 

We may be social distancing from coworkers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t interact with them. Employees need to know they are heard and valued. Having a leadership team that is committed to working with them through the coronavirus outbreak will help ensure remote work is successful and employees continue to feel like they belong.

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