Will social distancing actually bring us closer?

With schools closed, employees working remotely, and people staying home, social distancing is meant to keep us apart to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  While we remain physically separated from our communities, with disrupted daily routines, I believe that this distance will actually bring us closer.  We’re all in this together; the usual distancing that prevents meaningful connection as we bury our heads in our phones, social media, and the next urgent thing we need to do in our own lives, is dissipating to this larger cause.

Here’s what I have witnessed over only one week:

More compassion in professional communications

Vulnerability:

How many emails have you received with a subject line similar to these:


The best ones are letting you know how they are keeping things safe for their employees as well as their customers.  You feel the vulnerability from small businesses who ask for patronage and patience while they struggle with how to keep their businesses operational.

More ease

I hold consultations a few days a week with people who schedule a 15 or 30-minute call with me.  This week I have sensed  necessary levity with the calls.  My style is generally pretty relaxed; however, this week there is an greater ease. With the coronavirus and its effects happening all around us, any perceived pressure is gone.  It’s just two professionals talking with the understanding that for a few minutes we are focused on something besides what will happen next.

Forgiveness

I work from home (which, by the way, is now crowded with my husband and my kids at home, too!); while it does not happen often, I feel that drop in professionalism when my dog barks, the front doorbell rings, or my teenager wonders in and asks a question while I am in the middle of a coaching call.  Now, with nearly everyone in a similar situation, there is a tactic forgiveness for interruptions.  No guilt; we’re all just trying to get work done in a different way.

Creative solutions born from necessity

Distance learning

While business professionals and college students may be more to working remotely, distance learning for younger children is unchartered territory for us (at least in San Francisco).  Luckily, both of my children’s schools are used to Google classroom to share assignments and track homework; teaching through online platforms is new.

Each morning, my son’s high school provides resources with assignments that are due by 5pm.  The kids have formed more text groups to communicate with each other throughout the day. The school posts reminders on Schoology , their learning management system that they already use, to remind the kids to go outside.

The middle school will be leveraging the online meeting platform Zoom to hold class during this time.  Every kid in our school is issued a Chromebook which they had to bring home every day last week “in case” they switch to distance learning.  While the school will run a compressed schedule, they want to keep the routine as normal as possible.  Good news: eating peanut-based products is permitted in this format!

Necessity is the mother of invention. ~ Plato

Fitness centers, gyms, yoga studios

Working out five days a week is a regular part of my husband’s and my routine. It’s been an essential stress-reducer during these amped up times.  With COVID-19 threats increasing, our exercise outlets have had to be creative to keep their doors open.  Hand sanitizer and reminders to wash your hands are positioned through the spaces; extra cleaning measures put in place for wiping down equipment, spraying mats and mopping floors are also incorporated above the norm.  Last week, that seemed to be enough.  This week, however, they’ve had to account for greater risk. Here are some of the creative solutions we’ve seen emerge:

  • Soul-cycle:  Eliminate use of weights during the class (since they are shared).  Book only “odd number” bikes.  This cuts the class size in half, but spreads out the people.
  • CorePower yoga (and other yoga studios):  Stop rental of yoga mats, eliminate use of props during class (blocks, straps, weights), and switch to a reservation system.  They usually operate with no reservation necessary; they simply fill the room, sometimes with mats just 2 or 3 inches apart.  Now, they limit the number of participants to keep enough distance between yogis.  The number of classes is fewer, with a shift in timing, too.
  • Basecamp Fitness: High intensity interval training (HIIT) is the focus here.  Paired up in class, you trade off using a bike with your partner and do a variety of exercises in what can be a crowded space when full.  They have cut class sizes in half which serves the dual benefit of no sharing of equipment and more personal space.  They’ve also shifted their schedule from the usual evenings to more daytime classes since more people are working from home.

UPDATE since I posted:  I anticipate gyms and workout facilities to close temporarily; perhaps this week.  🙁

Permission granted to reach out

Because we don’t live in a place where school families live nearby and the people we work with can be spread out all over, sometimes reaching out to connect socially can be challenging.  The social norm seems to require a reason or a plan (e.g. schedule a playdate) versus spontaneity.  While this may not be reality, it is the perception.  With COVID-19, all norms are broken.  Permission to reach out is granted.  No one is surprised if you’re checking in.  We’re all much more isolated right now, operating at a slower pace.  Making plans (in small groups, of course) or just checking in is easy.  A few examples:

Text from a college friend

We catch up periodically, so I am delighted to receive texts from her.  I felt her closeness despite the 3,000 mile separation with this simple text she sent:  Coronavirus

Calls with my brother and sister

While we always keep in touch; usually through quick texts, the birthday facetime, and annual visits, I felt the luxury of time to speak at length with each of them (as did they).  With a respite from school and work pressure, we could talk without stress of whatever our busy days bring next.

Taking care of neighbors 

Wondering if the people around you are okay? Want to make it easy to help others (and ask for help)?   Take for instance, Bill Winterberg, who recently shared this solution that he set up through the neighborhood app NextDoor.

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Kids initiating meet-ups

My daughter thrives on social time with friends.  She’s already texting and scheduling meet-ups with friends (again, small groups or individually) to spend time together over this stretch of school closing.  My son has been out of school, learning through the online platform, all week.  His observation, “I like learning better this way, but it makes me crave social interaction.”  This statement comes from an introvert who is usually (socially) exhausted by the end of a school day.  While he’d love to spend time with friends, he reverts back into himself to re-energize rather than reach out.  This week has changed that!  He’s made plans the past few days, expanding his social circle and getting the engagement he’d been craving.

UPDATE since I posted:  As we focus on flattening the curve.  Interaction may be more through online games, video chats and more texts groups.  Creative virtual meet-ups will unfold, and I am encouraging my children to find them.

Parents supporting each other

Many of the families from our schools and activities either have two working parents or have one parent at home caring for younger siblings.  The disruption of school closing and work shifting is felt by everyone, no matter their situation.  Over the last week, I have experienced a heightened level of outreach to figure out how to keep our kids busy and connected (and everyone sane).

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UPDATE since I posted:  As we focus on flattening the curve., mini-meet-ups may be thwarted.  Nonetheless, I have since received group emails shared among all parents of my daughter’s school sharing ideas. 

The amount of open communication I have had this week among school parents, clients I work with, small businesses we support, program directors for the kids’ activities and others as we try to navigate closures and distancing has elevated the quality of my relationships in only a short time.  While I look forward to life as usual, I hope that the closeness that comes from this social distancing stays.

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