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Getting Closer in a Remote World: Why Being Social Has Never Been More Important

Niels Footman 13 May 2022
content creator consultant

On the 26th of this month, Copylab will be hitting a major milestone. It’s not a special anniversary, nor is it a financial achievement. Simply, for the first time since February 2020, our team will be travelling from around the country to congregate for our quarterly meeting.

Having almost entirely worked from home through much of the past two and a bit years, and with many of our more recent joiners never having met their colleagues in person, we’ll be enjoying the great privilege of gathering in our Edinburgh office to learn and socialise, before heading off for dinner and a shandy or two. I have to say, I’m more excited about it than is anything like acceptable.

At Copylab, in many respects, we were among the lucky ones. We’ve always prided ourselves on offering flexible work so that when the pandemic hit, though we’d never done it all at the same time, we were pretty well prepared to work at home.

Some people have really thrived with their ‘home offices’. Freed from the commute and the crowded lunch counters, they felt more relaxed and comfortable, and have continued to do so even as the threat from Covid receded.

For many others, though, even for a company so geared towards remote, flexible working, it’s been a different story. Many of us have missed the casual ‘water-cooler’ interactions, where a question too trivial for a Zoom call can be talked through at ease and, sometimes, even yield great new ideas. Those 15-minute chats over a builder’s tea in the breakout area were never so cherished until they were gone. And as has been well documented, being stuck at home for lengthy periods, removed from co-workers and in many cases even family, soon gave rise to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

As the Mental Health Foundation put it:

The Foundation’s ‘Mental Health in the Pandemic’ research has found that loneliness has been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic. Loneliness has been an important factor contributing to higher levels of distress, resulting from people’s sense of isolation and reduced ability to connect with others. Further polling also found that loneliness was one of the leading issues that the public felt needed to be addressed.

So not only did Covid make people lonelier, it also inhibited our ability to reconnect once restrictions started to lift. The implications are profound and are a sad example of why the UK faces such extensive mental health challenges today.

It’s crucial that we, as managers and colleagues, are awake to our co-workers’ mental health. Though the conversation has progressed enormously in recent decades, the scale of the issue in the wake of Covid, and the ongoing recovery we’re collectively going through, mean that the risks of loneliness have perhaps never been as pronounced as they are today. And the dangers go beyond mental anguish: loneliness has been linked with a range of physical ailments too, including heart disease, diabetes and dementia.

So cherish those moments you spend together with your friends and colleagues. Although people’s working preferences have changed, when opportunities arise to have lunch together, take them. If you sense that someone you work with might still feel isolated, let them know you’re available to talk. And, of course, if you have the chance to travel, meet up with work friends, receive expert training on the finer points of writing, and then debate it all over dinner and some drinks, do that too!