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Yes, there’s Zoom. And phone calls. And of course, texting. None of it is a substitute for real, live human contact, is it?
We might miss face-to-face meetings more or less, depending on our personality or temperament and on what we were accustomed to, pre-pandemic. For me, sitting in a room with someone, looking each other in the eye, sharing a meal or even a meeting, can’t come soon enough.
You see all kinds of predictions.
Some say people will rush to be together live-and-in-person at the first opportunity, having missed handshakes and hugs and communication subtleties for months already.
They picture long-lost colleagues spending time together at a literal water cooler or sharing a lunch table in the company cafeteria. And it’s definitely a picture that pleases them.
Other experts predict that virtual meetings, conferences, and yes birthday/baby/graduation parties are the new normal. They’re efficient and they save travel time, the thinking goes. Not to mention saving money on room rentals and catering. We’ll be zooming into our personal and professional get-togethers for a long time to come.
In the world of professional speaking, people with years of experience and the wisdom to go with it are warning that virtual events will replace people-in-a-room-together for the next couple of years anyway, and maybe even longer.
They’re not alone. It looks as if many companies are gearing up for work-at-home to be pretty much standard for most employees for the foreseeable future.
And then, there are those expecting more of a blended approach. It will likely include more remote meetings than we used to have, while we at least occasionally connect in the flesh. We might be coming into the office weekly, or maybe even less, and working from home most days.
Nobody has a crystal ball.
Some do have research to back up their guesses though. It’s worth looking at what they expect as lockdowns loosen and social distancing gets more social and less distant.
Years before the pandemic brought us “social distancing,” psychologist Susan Pinker was concerned about loneliness and its impact on our well-being. She’s been calling social isolation the public health risk of our time.
Close relationships set you up for a longer, healthier life—that’s well-established social science.
Then there’s “social integration”—how much you interact with people as you move through the day. And that means all people, not just the ones who share your home. Your colleagues, the barista, your bus driver, your neighbor.
You know, those people we’re staying away from now.
Ironically, Pinker says, loneliness actually reduces our immunity to viruses.
In her TED talk and in The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier, Pinker makes a strong case that our well-being is enhanced by actual, face-to-face relationships.
Friending someone on Facebook or commenting on their LinkedIn post isn’t the same. We call it social media, but Pinker argues in Politico it’s not that social.
Defaulting to online relationships, she says, “has a direct impact on an increase in loneliness and depression. If we don’t have our clubs, if we don’t have our workplace, if we don’t have our volunteer work, if we don’t have our neighborhood interaction, we’re missing pretty much the biggest slice of social interaction that promotes health and happiness in humans.”
But, Zoom …
Better than an email, maybe. But still not the same as real social activity, Pinker says. Voices and body language convey so much rich information, and they’re distorted when we’re looking at a flat screen and listening to a speaker.
Face-to-face interaction releases neurotransmitters that make us feel good and keep us healthier. Making eye contact, shaking hands, even giving a high-five releases oxytocin, lowers cortisol and generates dopamine.
I know, I know.
What are we supposed to do when offices remain closed, people remain masked, and we’re told to remain at home as much as we can?
We make the best of it for now. And we resolve to meet in person when we’re able. As convenient as it is to hop on Zoom or send a quick text, it will be worth the effort to gather in person.
We may not be hugging anytime soon but just being together will benefit us too. In person friendships create a biological force field against disease and decline.
Our employers and clients will benefit, too, from renewed real-world meetings. Pinker’s been saying for years that increasing social contact at work boosts mood and also productivity. And that hasn’t changed because of our current situation.
Maybe you’re already dropping some of that social distancing you’ve been doing … post a comment and tell us how the re-entry is going for you.
Or, if you’re still holed up at home, how will you edge back into the real world contact that’s so good for you?