Covid has brought about a heightened level of loneliness for many of us. While I have not stooped to talking to “Wilson:, the volleyball in the movie Castaway, I do spend 8-10 hour stretches many days by my lonesome. My dog Max is often my only companion and he is usually sleeping!
My spouse is going into work each day and sits in silence many hours, as her organization wants to limit folks stopping by offices to socialize. She is also dealing with extended periods of isolation.
I am busy teaching classes 5 days a week online, and my client work fills up a good portion of the work week. But Zoom and Teams is a poor second option compared to being with and around folks. My business model has afforded me the opportunity to pivot online completely the past few months and I am thankful for the technology and the openness of clients to go this route.
Until recently I did not think about our current situation too much. I spent most early mornings this summer and early fall on the pickleball courts near my home with some new friends, and warm summer evenings allowed for limited socializing and recreation as well. A round of golf every Saturday helped me connect with my traditional group as well. But the weather is turning cooler and socializing outside of work has ratcheted down considerably. The courts are empty, and the courses are covered with leaves. This past Saturday was our last official round of golf, so I am now relegated to indoor recreation for the foreseeable future.
I am feeling the social and emotional effects of the virus and it is uncomfortable, especially for an extremely extroverted person. I get my energy from being with and around others. Netflix binging just does not do it for me. And as I write this post, I think about all the folks in similar situations. Being alone at home, even with online work, is challenging. Sometimes I lose track of what day it is. It feels a little like the movie Groundhog Day.
Many of you may be saying, “well, do you want to change places with me? With kids are doing virtual school and I have no privacy at all”. Well yes, I would trade places with you and those who are lonely would as well. Don’t get me wrong, telecommuting with kids and spouses vying for space and bandwidth is a challenge and worthy of a separate discussion. It is obvious that we all are facing new challenges.
But as the daily virus count continues to ratchet up, I am concerned that we will face even more isolation. We are dangerously close to another shut down of restaurants and non-essential stores. One only needs to look at Europe for a cautionary tale of where we may go. Here on Long Island, we are facing cooling temperatures and the novelty of sitting outside for a meal at a restaurant diminishes with each passing day. This will certainly lead to even more isolation for many folks as we head towards winter.
For HR folks with remote workers, this is a departure from pre-Covid work-from-home scenarios. We have been focusing on those with crowded spaces at home and we also need to recognize there are some that are all alone. This can lead to both mental and physical health concerns. We are for the most part social animals and need social contact regularly.
I do not have much in the way of solutions right now. Some say we just need to be patient and things will go back to normal. As an optimist, I do know there is a finish line in the distance. This sprint has turned into a marathon and we are only at the 10-mile mark. There is a long way to go.
For now, I suggest that you check in on folks who may be alone from time to time. In the workplace, most folks spend a few minutes each day with “water cooler” conversation, a shared coffee break, a quick stop by a colleague’s desk, or lunch together.
All those little things are now gone.
Ask your managers to carve out 10 minutes to make a call and just chat with folks who may be isolated and when possible, do it using video to make it a little more interactive. Schedule a lunch get together online once or twice a week too. It will certainly be appreciated and a way to keep connections. Your productivity will not suffer by these few acts.
On a personal note I suggest folks do get out, even just for a walk with a friend or neighbor each day. Yes winter is on our door step, but so is possible hibernation, Bundle up and get some fresh air.
For anyone questioning if I am ok, the short answer is yes. I will make it through the winter and so will you. But be sensitive to those struggling, reach out and make a difference….they will certainly appreciate it!
Mark Fogel is best known for his HR with an Attitude. His background includes almost a decade and a half as CHRO at Leviton Mfg., The Marcum Group, and The Success Academy Charter School Network, as well as co-founding Human Capital 3.0, a boutique HR advisory firm. Mark has been honored by SHRM nationally as their Human Capital Leader of the Year in 2007, and by HR Executive Magazine as an Honor Roll recipient in 2010 and “Best HR Ideas” in 2012. His HR teams have garnished numerous national and local awards for HR innovation, wellness, and employee engagement. Mark speaks regularly at national conferences. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Adelphi’s Graduate School of Business.