Casual Contact

Now that most of us who can switch to online work have done so, some of the implications of this new mostly-digital life are becoming clearer. Two that I’m noticing are feeling particularly insidious, and I’d love to hear how you’re tackling them:

      1. The extinction of spontaneous conversations. Whether it’s touching base over your cubicle wall or bumping into people on the sidewalk or catching up with a colleague in a hallway after a meeting, our opportunities for unscheduled chats have dwindled. Who would have thought we’d miss small talk! There are so many social touchpoints that don’t warrant an appointment but add to the richness of our days. This is not only a social loss, but also a hit to our “reconnaissance capacity” at work because we have less of a sense of what’s happening on the street.
      2. Medium-priority social gatherings in peril. As the weather gets colder and daylight hours shorter, our evening gatherings outdoors feel increasingly precious and precarious. In contexts where distanced socializing is difficult, I hear people saying, “We could meet on Zoom, but do you mind if we don’t?” Even though we have figured out how to translate our social or volunteer commitments to digital ones, spending our work days online means that we don’t necessarily want to do the same in our evenings. Extending our screen time does not feel like a win, and our formal and informal community building can suffer as a result.

    What to do?

    I’ve been adding time to the end of meetings for people to hang around and chat for a few minutes before signing off. If I’m the facilitator but not part of their team, I’ll leave my Zoom room open for them to use but I’ll mute them and turn off my audio and video so they can have some unscheduled time on their own.

    For one-on-one meetings, I’m suggesting we walk and talk by phone instead of on a screen.

    Patios are still open where I live. Let’s go!

    I’m offering blankets, a fire pit and s’mores to those who want to continue to gather outdoors in an evening for as long as we can.

    And I’m determined to become less about hibernating and more about enjoying fresh air this winter.

    As COVID case numbers rise and temperatures fall, let’s take full (and safe) advantage of the things we can do. And even though we’re weary, let’s direct our creative energies toward figuring out how to maintain a high quality of collaborative life even when it’s becoming challenging to do so.

    I’ll look forward to hearing what’s working for you.

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