The COVID-19 outbreak is transforming the way we communicate. Employees across the globe have had to work remotely, and families and friends now have to speak virtually. While some have transitioned with ease, many are struggling to get used to video calls, emails and texts over every day in-person interactions. Although technology was always transforming the way we stayed in touch, the threat of coronavirus resulted in drastic changes at a breakneck speed. In the UK, the lockdown has roughly doubled the UK’s internet usage during the day, according to Virgin Media.
Not just that, the uncertainty of how long this is going to last adds to the situation. As we rely on online interactions, there is the challenge of the absence of humanising features which can make us feel detached and isolated – highlighting how essential human connection is in our lives.
Online interactions lack non-verbal cues, things that we do naturally in our daily face to face interactions like smiling, changing body language, touching or intonating to emphasise or convey emotion, these essential channels of communication are absent in online conversations. These cues not just enrich closeness during an interaction; they also avoid misunderstandings. Below are a few ways to help you maintain human connection in the virtual world.
Verbal v non-verbal communications
We must turn to tools which mitigate these challenges and allow us to reinstate nonverbal cues like phone or video calls and use equipment like headphones, that enable us to hear a change in tone and volume, simple emojis or even a funny meme! You’d be surprised by how these small changes help us feel closer to each other.
Though considering how long many have been on lockdown video calls may start to become chore-like, it’s essential to work out when works best for you or even schedule calls/videos at times of the day where you feel more alert or more relaxed – find what works best for you.
Mindful online relationships
Try to be more mindful of the type of online platforms you engage with. Many online platforms can enable passive browsing, where you’re merely looking at content without actively engaging with it. This may increase a sense of loneliness and lead to disinhibition which may even encourage behaviours that people aren’t likely to exhibit in public, therefore enabling them to feel less liable of consequences. Also, putting in the effort to follow people who don’t know you, may add to nervous thoughts (otherwise known as parasocial relationships).
Try to join and engage with social media platforms where you can have meaningful chats and reduce the amount of one side communication, providing more wholesome interactions and much-needed dialogue when you’re feeling lonely. You can even use the accessibility of social media and the extra time you have currently to create new social interactions, make new friends, join online support groups or meet people that enjoy the same activities. There are more online social groups, webinars, Slack groups cropping up and bonding over various interests from dating, music to business.
Create some structure in the amount of news you consume
Try and draw a line between being informed and obsessing over the news. Social media is flooding with news about the pandemic, and it seems like a lifetime ago where Brexit and the general election were the breaking news of the day. It’s so important to try to avoid excessive exposure to media coverage. You can set a certain amount of time dedicated to the news so you can remain informed or turn off phone notifications from news apps at certain times to help manage the flow of information.
While face to face interactions cannot be substituted easily, virtual channels of communication can be adapted to ensure that we don’t lose our human need to connect socially. With the pandemic evolving how we work and meet people, the exponential increase in virtual communication is a crucial reminder that we must not socially disconnect and that we should aim to create or seek an environment of trust and empathy to strengthen relationships. It’s challenging now, but we must remember that we will be about to be around each other once again.