For years you have been dreaming about working from home. How wonderful it would be to but on a nice shirt but keep on the sweat pants. How glorious it would be to wake up five minutes before you need to report. Your office chair would be a recliner. You get to make YOUR coffee instead of that swill in the break room. And maybe best of all: no interruptions from that chatty coworker.
COVID-19 made this not only possible, but mandatory for millions of workers around the world. But now that we are a week in, that recliner isn’t quite as comfortable as we thought. The coffee is better but we miss the break room. We even wish that chatty coworker would show up to bother us. As we continue to do our jobs or attend online classes and seminars, we are starting to experience what so many at-home workers already know: life exclusively at home can be extremely lonely.
We are starting to experience what so many at-home workers already know: life exclusively at home can be extremely lonely.
A few months ago I met with a person in our community who, when not traveling, works from their home office. We took time from his day to grab a cup of coffee and talk about the issues that his job poses and it was clear what was missing: the water cooler. The water cooler is the icon for community in the business world. Around the water cooler we share prayer requests (because Christians don’t gossip). Around the water cooler we talk about the banes of work. Around the water cooler we share life with our colleagues and develop a community that we need to thrive.
Now the water cooler is gone. We are being encouraged to physically distance ourselves from others. Stay at home. Don’t go out. No more playground. Grocery runs only when necessary. No gatherings of 10+ people. No in-person assemblies for worship. Stay 6’ away from people. No hugs. No handshakes. No contact.
We Christians now have to figure out community in the age of COVID, especially now that we don’t have a water cooler during the week or a sanctuary on the weekend.
The good news is that social distancing is not the same as social isolation.
The good news is that social distancing is not the same as social isolation. Social distancing has no bearing on our ability to foster and develop quality relationships. We do not have to isolate ourselves from one another. It is part of our Christian call to prevent social isolation in our communities. We cannot be the Church on our own. We need community. We need relationships. We need connection. We can keep our distance and not destroy our relationships. However, building community in the age of COVID requires intentional effort.
It is part of our Christian call to prevent social isolation in our communities.
Here are some ways to prevent isolation in the time of social distancing while we work and school remotely.
1) Establish a Water-Cooler Hour
As I said, the water cooler is the community hub for most offices. What if you established a time each day to FaceTime, Google Hangout, or Zoom with your co-workers or others who are working from home to give you that 15-minute break where you would normally discuss life? Likely you are taking those breaks anyway throughout the day, so why not be intentional in connecting with others while you take them?
2) Choose Video Chat
Sure, you could just shoot out a bunch of group emails, but maybe you could be intentional in your staff meetings to see the other person face to face… er… screen to screen? Not only would this help break up some of the isolation that others may feel, but also this would be incredibly impactful for brainstorming and creativity.
To help with loneliness, consider starting your staff meetings with an opportunity to hear what others are experiencing and think about responding to their concerns individually. It will be important to note that this could be really inconvenient for some people with small kids at home who are vying for attention (see my family) so limit the number of video chats you offer and make sure it fits everyone’s schedule as best as possible.
3) Write Notes
Just because your work situation has changed does not mean your relationships have changed. The only thing that will cause your relationship to change is if you change how much you engage. Try writing notes via text, email, or even send it through the post office to encourage and thank your colleagues for all their work or let family and friends know how much you are thinking about them. You may be amazed at how impactful a little note can be.
4) BONUS: Breathe
One of the most important things you can offer to your home and digital work environment in addition to your hard, diligent, and quality work is to be a non-anxious presence. Take a deep breath. It’s going to be ok, it’s just a little crazy right now.
Everyone is anxious trying to learn this new way of life. By lessening your own anxiety, you will have the opportunity to greatly decrease the anxiety of your colleagues, friends, and family. Speak hope. Speak optimism. Speak bright future. Speak about possibilities and opportunities rather than only lamenting the shift we are in. Maybe by breathing a little, you can find joy in the chaos.