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Using digital technology to support social contact

When working from home, your use of technology may be focused primarily on facilitating your job and enabling communication with your work colleagues and clients. However, it is equally important that you receive social support by staying in touch with your friends and family.

Researchers have highlighted creative ways of using technology to facilitate spending time with your loved ones, such as using your phone camera to ‘take’ someone on a (socially distanced) walk, hike or even bike-ride. This way, if you have a friend or family member who cannot leave home, you can bring the outdoors to them.

dollar-gill-mgqbCnaagWk-unsplashPhoto by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

Use technology to support social contact

  • Schedule time to ‘hang out’ with family and friends via video conference. This does not always need to be a structured activity – you can just enjoy being ‘in the same room’ and go about your tasks. You can also listen to music or a podcast together or screen-share a YouTube video. Or even have dinner together via video conference.
  • Recreate work based tea breaks and staff rooms. Schedule time in the day for you and your coworkers to meet online just to say hi. Try to find a time that works for everyone. Remember that mealtimes may not be suitable for parents with school-aged children or people with caring responsibilities but mid-morning or mid-afternoon coffee breaks can work well.
  • Take part in online sing-a-longs being offered by choirs. This is a great option if you enjoy singing and the camaraderie that comes with it – the popularity of online choirs, and the large numbers of participants in some of them, might make it easier for shy beginners to join in (‘no one can hear you when you sing at the wrong time’). Besides socialising with other people, taking up an online hobby is highly beneficial because studies show that mastering new skills facilitates post-work recovery.
  • Take part in online pub quizzes. Better yet, organise your own. Choose a video conference app that you and your friends will use and set up an email address where everyone can send their answers. Engaging in an activity that helped you relax before the lockdown is a great way to reconnect with your support network. Research shows that having personal rituals – things we do repeatedly that are unique to us, for example the way we celebrate gatherings with family and friends – improves our wellbeing. Engaging in group rituals can make us feel closer and more in control at a time when we have to deal with change and uncertainty.
  • Play online games together. Many game apps enable several participants to join – call you friends at the same time so that you can talk while you play. You can play against each other (e.g. try online chess, card games or playing board game over a videoconferencing app) or collaborate (e.g. Stardew Valley allows you and your friends to work together on an online farm). Research has demonstrated that playing digital games can aid post-work recovery, especially so if it is scheduled, so make sure to put playing games with your friends in your calendar.
  • Watch films together. You can share your screen in a video conferencing app or use one of the many browser extensions such as Metastream (available for Firefox and Chrome) which allows you to live chat with others while watching films or YouTube videos.
  • Play online video games with your coworkers. According to PhD researcher Evelyn Tan, ‘when working remotely, our interactions tend to become heavily focused on work. We easily overlook social bonds‘. However, in order to build strong teams, we also need downtime together. Evelyn advices playing games with your coworkers, which can help create an environment where you and your colleagues not only feel confident about the team’s ability to achieve goals, but also enjoy each other’s company.

Free videoconferencing apps