Find Ways to Connect, Ease Coronavirus Isolation Woes

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek March 26, 2020
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online coffee break

​People are finding ways to lessen feelings of isolation during social distancing. Taking their cue from Italians who serenaded each other from their balconies, socially distanced New Yorkers came together over the Beatles' songs, Bostonians belted out "Sweet Caroline" from their apartment windows, and Chicagoans gave their rendition of Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" from their high-rises.

Happy hours are proceeding via videoconferencing platforms such as Google Hangouts, Skype or Zoom. Movie buffs on Netflix can participate in online cinema parties with friends. In New Jersey, virtual dance parties are popping up.

Workers are filling their evenings and weekends with virtual dinners and Skype poker games. Fitness instructors are livestreaming free yoga classes or workout routines. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Philadelphia started nightly recitations of the rosary online and by telephone to allow for group prayer while adhering to public health measures that curtail large gatherings.

And workers want their employers to provide ways for them to virtually—and informally—connect with colleagues, according to a snap poll from G&S Business Communications conducted March 20-21. Twenty-six percent of 1,080 respondents in the U.S. who are working remotely said their companies could provide such opportunities.


SHRM Resource Spotlight
Coronavirus and COVID-19

What Employers Are Doing

It is important, experts say, to find ways to stay connected at a time when closures and other social-distancing tactics can lead to loneliness and feelings of isolation and anxiety, impacting employees' mental wellness.

"Employees look to their executive teams during times of perceived crisis," said Henry Albrecht, CEO and founder of Limeade, an employee experience company based in Bellevue, Wash.

Peep Laja, CEO of CXL, a marketing training company in Austin, Texas, is among those inviting employees to a virtual lunch.

"I'm a firm believer in 'never eat alone,' and used to do 3-4 lunches/week with people I know or should get to know," he tweeted. "Time to start doing virtual lunches? We both eat at our desks, and chat over Zoom?"

Whether sitting at the kitchen table, in the backyard or elsewhere, "the point is to share a meal with someone," he added in a follow-up tweet.

Lori Russo, president of Washington, D.C.-based Stanton Communications, kicked off #closingthedistance at 4 p.m. ET on March 23 by streaming a favorite baking recipe on Facebook and answering questions in real time.

"It really is just the Stanton team sharing how we're getting through this period of social distancing and quarantining, what we're doing to stay connected to one another, and to our families and the world as much as we can," she said on LinkedIn.

She credited CEO Peter Stanton with the idea of starting a social activity to connect team members, in addition to the extra Zoom calls and weekly video staff meetings they participate in.

"It's a way for us to show how we are individually … dealing with the current situation we are in," Russo told SHRM Online. "We are each sharing stories about how we are closing the distance with each other and the ones we love while we are forced to be apart." Some are sharing photos or videos as they present their do-it-yourself projects.

M Science, a research and analytics firm headquartered in New York City, is pairing up team members for virtual coffee breaks. Workers also play virtual trivia to win a $250 gift card to Amazon Fresh. They can participate in 20 minutes of virtual meditation led by a yoga teacher and are encouraged to register for a 30-minute workout. The company pledges to donate to the World Health Organization's COVID-19 relief fund for every person who participates in the workout.

Companies such as Fitbit, Hinge, Intuit and Red Bull are sending "work from home wellness boxes" of munchies from SnackNation, a nationwide delivery service for healthy office snacks based in Los Angeles, to boost employee morale during the pandemic. 

Future Tense, a commentary website that is a partnership of Slate, New America and Arizona State University, is reaching out to its audience through social-distancing socials. People use Zoom to talk about a given subject from 4-5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Limeade's Albrecht suggests creating intentional connections with others.

"It's important to be responsible and adhere to CDC guidelines by physically distancing ourselves," he said, "but that doesn't mean we have to give up human connections. By getting creative with how we keep in touch with friends and colleagues, we'll be in a much better position to get through these trying times together." 

What is your organization doing to stay connected? Drop us an e-mail at shareyourstories@shrm.org


Provide input for the Department of Labor guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act online at https://ffcra.ideascale.com through March 29.





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