It is day 225 or 7 months and 11 days since the COVID-19 pandemic sent us home to work.
At first, it was new. Exciting. Different. S**t just got real and we were going to hunker and bunker down to power through and keep going despite the pandemic. As we scattered to the winds, we were more together than ever.
We spun up Slack channels that were dedicated to our remote work setups and our pets. We shared where we were, where we were working and how we were working. We shared how our pets helped us, hindered us, or just were. We all shared the memes, jokes, and laughs about not knowing what day it actually was, how long since we’ve worn shoes, and the differences between our day and night pajamas.
We were not just a company’s employees; we were a community.
Time moves inexorably and things change. There are fewer and fewer reactions to posts in the various “working together apart” channels. As the malaise sets in, many start to leave the more socially focused channels at work. We stay in the ones we “must” be in but few, if any, extra. Some of the more gregarious humans continue to reach out to friends and colleagues to “socialize” but start to notice that fewer and fewer are reaching the other way so they start to not reach out themselves. Eventually communications just to say “hi” are all but extinct leaving only terse work-related conversations in their wake.
The community, for many, is no longer. We have tasks to do and we do them. Some of them are our own list of “things to do” and others are handed to us but... we do tasks. We do not talk.
Exacerbating this narrowing of life is the rest of the world around us.
For many who had been working from home for years ahead of this, they thought they finally would be vindicated. Now all would see the joys and panacea of life that remote work gives. Remote workers loved working remotely because time wasn’t lost getting to and from a “place” and productivity wasn’t lost to superfluous meetings/conversation for all that the social construct was tighter. It left more time for the business of life and not just the business of work. Sadly, however, that panacea succumbed to the pandemic and there isn't a panacea, currently, to be enjoyed.
What is left is a small world where one cannot remember the last time they left home or what they did as the sheer sameness of what is left available (whether safely or by statute) is extremely limited. We start to feel like the characters in dark science fiction movies where the protagonist moves through a tiny little life with little to no variation and addresses things on a list that arrive namelessly or are “just things you do”.
While this cycle is difficult enough, for others it may be worse, even in an office populated largely by socially conscious and caring people. The “quiet ones” typically were kept in the fold by being physically around others and, as such, in people’s social worlds. Perhaps a person is an outlier older person in a company largely populated by younger humans and included where they otherwise would be ignored due to “being there”. The physical proximity nature is now gone and, with it, the implicit connections that occurred organically are gone. Even now, one of those humans might be looking at each of the communication methods they still have available hoping for someone to have reached out, seeing nothing, and won’t themselves reach out for fear of being seen as a pest.
When all this started, many took umbrage at the term “social distancing”. “No!” we cried. “We are physically distancing and the wonders of the modern age are keeping us socially together!”. Unfortunately, however, many of the “outlier” groups, as exampled above, have already seen true “social” distancing in action and are “outside”. Some others might even now be seeing cracks in the social construct. Some luckier ones to whom humans gravitate to like moths to light may be fine.
Adding insult to injury is... 2020. As a colleague very succinctly put it, “2020 has been largely devoid of good memories; just losses.” With a news cycle that is one slap in the face after another, those now socially distanced to the outside are carrying the burden alone or perhaps in the process of socially digging a hole to jump into and pull it in after them as protection. They might find themselves brought to tears over small things or even nothing. It could even be guilt tears from being sent home to work as opposed to just being sent home and... “good luck to you”. Maybe they were, stupidly, listening to Pandora station “New Age Instrumental Radio” and, even more stupidly, didn’t immediately hit stop, change station, or rip the earbuds out of their ears when “Beauty of Grace” played. Who knows.
After 225 days, for many with no breaks in a tiny routine and with none visible, if one might be outside a social construct of some sort, it is a grinding, mean little existence. These humans might be getting by OK but could do with a “Hi, how you doin’” break. It is probably time to do the next thing past the manic little pet and remote workspace channels or awkward Zoom happy hours and be social again just to be... social.
Find a human. Talk to that human. Preferably about something silly. It’s time.
Mike RathwellCommunity Leader
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