Editor’s note: A Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and member of Cowork KCI, Jesse Masson helps couples and individuals connect to the issues behind their own inner struggles so they can have healthy relationships. In this article, Jesse outlines four tips to stay connected in a virtual, remote world. Learn more about Jesse’s company, Connected Counseling.
One year ago marked the change in workforce norms. And no one person has been left untouched from the uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19.
Beyond health concerns, the pandemic has caused an epidemic of personal disconnect as businesses and schools transitioned to a virtual environment void of personal interactions and connection.
Virtual Does Not Replace In-Person Contact
Moving to a work-from-home environment created a sense of loss that negatively impacted individuals, workplaces, and our communities. In turn, these uncontrollable circumstances initiated a “loss of self-identity” dysfunctional dimension which altered the way people see themselves in relation to others.
Results of Workplace Disconnection
Isolated workers no longer see themselves as coworkers. Whimsical office conversations have been replaced with back-to-back online meetings. Creativity has decreased and the pressure to produce has increased.
Unfortunately, virtual connections via platforms such as Zoom have masked the rise of isolation, depression and loneliness caused by an ominous void of in-person contact.
This loss of self-identity coupled with countless distractions like, tv, snacks in the kitchen, kids, virtual-learning schedules, the dog and much more have taken a toll on workers’ mental health.
Brain research reveals human beings are created for connection; we thrive on eye contact with one another, tone of voice, non-verbal communication and in-person interaction.
None of this occurs when faces are covered (although this is necessary for health reasons). Zoom meetings prevent true eye contact and non-verbal body language signals. Distance keeps us from the comforting hugs and handshakes of friends.
And, when our mirror neurons detect less empathic interactions caused by the pandemic, people experience spikes in anxious and depressive symptoms.
With vaccinations increasing, public health experts forecast the end of isolation. Nonetheless, many predict that work-from-home and a hybrid workplace are here to stay. Therefore, we must become aware of our feelings and intentionally work to create connection.
Below are four ways stave off depression and to create a healthy, connected work life.
- Self-care. Be aware of your capacities and limits. Reach out to coworkers to collaborate or even strike up a friendly conversation. If you are feeling overwhelmed or need support, let your supervisor know your feelings. If you’ve been sitting for an hour or more, get up and go for a walk. Listen to your body and your feelings. Take action to respond.
- Find small ways to be present. Set up video calls to check in with teammates, friends and relatives. Ask the simple questions: How are you doing? How can I make today a great day for you?
When you are in the office, keep your door open.
I office in a coworking space. When I am not with clients, my door is open so that I can see others passing by, and it is inviting for others to stop and interact with me. If you are a manager, be intentional to walk around and greet others with a smile.
- Be curious. This is a theme in my counseling. Asking questions safely demands engagement. When you ask about a person’s day and s/he responds with “Fine, good, or ok,” then simply respond: “Glad to hear it. Tell me what is [good] about today.” And then thank them for sharing.
- Be brave. If you do suspect suicidal ideations for yourself or another, please do the brave thing and talk. Reach out to someone. Share your thoughts. Or if you suspect another is in pain, be the person who cares enough to listen. You are not responsible for others, but you are responsible for how you interact for yourself and with others.
We all miss the interactions and relationships give a sense of sanity and stability. Plus it is easy to become more isolated despite increased technological connections. Consequently the number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression skyrocketed between January and September 2020, higher than rates prior to COVID-19.
As a therapist, I encourage you to proactively monitor your feelings as well as be aware of behavior changes in your coworkers and loved ones.
Jesse has been counseling since 2012 and through thousands of client hours has helped hundreds of couples and individuals get connected to the issues behind their own inner struggles so they can have healthy relationships. He is passionate about providing professional care from his Christian worldview for clients of all backgrounds.