Social Distancing Shouldn’t Mean Unsocial


By Neal Glatt

My job is to help companies increase their employee engagement, meaning the extent to which employees are involved in, committed to, and enthusiastic about their work and their workplace.  When employees are engaged, they work more efficiently, work more safely, and report a higher quality of life.  But what is often missed by managers is the critical role of social bonds in employee engagement.  Employees who say that they don’t have a best friend at work are only engaged 1 out of 12 times.

While typically only 20% of workers say they dedicate time to developing friendships at work, social distancing obviously makes this much more difficult.  This presents a major opportunity for leaders to make a difference by being intentional and innovative about social bonds.  While chatting over coffee and donuts, at the water cooler, or during lunch breaks are no longer real options, there are plenty of ways to cultivate relationships over technology.  Here are three ideas to get started.

Virtual Lunch Hour

Have employees coordinate lunch breaks and connect with your favorite video chat software wherever they happen to be.  Provide a topic of discussion that isn’t work-related.  Some conversation starters might be “What’s your favorite quarantine hobby?”, “What is the best TV show or movie you’ve watched lately?”, or “What activity are you most looking forward to after this is over?”.  Make sure you provide equal time for everyone to talk and engage in follow-up questions to promote strong social bonds.


This is one of my favorite activities to do virtually since most of us are video chatting surrounded by all kinds of interesting things we’ve collected.  The rules haven’t changed since Kindergarten – grab whatever picture or trinket or sentimental item or pet or child inspires you, hold it up to the camera, and tell the group about it.  Teams absolutely light up when I introduce the concept and it’s always a fun and effective way to engage socially.

Good News

I start every meeting, virtual or in-person, with some good news.  Each person takes a turn sharing something good that happened to them in the last week.  I request that we all share a piece of good news related to work and a piece of good news from outside of work.  When it happens, meetings are kicked-off in a positive light and we always learn some context about what the team is doing aside from their job.

No matter how you go about it, having social conversations are required to build teams with high trust, teamwork, and emotional loyalty to each other.  Every successful team ranks highly in these elements.  Let’s not let social distancing slow us down!

Tags: Coronavirus , COVID-19 , Quarantine ,