Lockdown can be overwhelming – are well-meaning remote social events making it worse?

It’s day 3,000 or so it seems, (what day is it, actually?) of working from home. Or perhaps more accurately, trying to work whilst at home. I’m sure that some people will have settled in to this ‘new normal’ by now, but there are plenty of people who haven’t. Emily Landale reflects upon lessons we could learn from our new online “normal” – both work and social.

Emily Landale is Online

Our home space is our workplace. When asked about work-life balance, I’m sure we’ve all been told to leave work at the front door. That just isn’t possible anymore. We’ve created makeshift desks where the wifi is strongest, are trying to find courtroom-friendly backgrounds for remote hearings, and people are juggling home-schooling and additional caring responsibilities on top of that. And that’s before you get to social events.

It feels like we’re living on our computers at the moment. Remote working and remote socials have taken over. Team WhatsApp groups have been set up, our phones are going off all the time and every hearing requires more emails than ever before in order to get our pixelated ducks in a row so that it can go ahead. The notifications are constant and the whole thing seems exhausting. 

Add to that the fact that any down time or socialising takes place online too – book clubs, drinks, seminars – it’s neverending. No baking effort exists unless it was published on social media, and since the sun’s been out, even everyone’s coffee has had a social media/Covid-19 update. Is your kitchen splattered with coffee after an attempt to make the Dalgona coffee or is it just mine?

There are a lot of posts on social media at the moment suggesting that if you’re not being extra productive in this pandemic, you’re a failure and have wasted the opportunity. 

A pandemic isn’t a productivity contest. Everything is different at the moment, a lot of things are difficult. It is enough to simply be plodding along as best you can. 

According to Kings College London, there are broadly three different responses to lockdown within our society: Accepting; Suffering and Resisting. 48% of people are in the accepting group – they’ve responded well to the lockdown measures and it’s not having much of an impact on their mental health. 44% of people are in the suffering group, and the measures are proving really tough for their mental health. 93% of the suffering group said that they felt more anxious or depressed since lockdown. Perhaps the 48% should do something to help out that 44%. 

My immediate reaction to lockdown and the cancellation of my wind band rehearsals was to set up a flute choir on Zoom. I also organised a Chambers social for the Friday of the first week. I like being busy, and I’m a bit of (perhaps a lot of) a control-freak. I also recognise that everyone’s got a lot on at the moment. The flutes would ordinarily rehearse every week at our wind band, but I went for fortnightly remote rehearsals to help people commit and balance other things in their life.

I made the Chambers social clearly opt-in, with a separate email for those who wanted to be included, so those who didn’t weren’t bothered by my emails. I set a challenge in advance, and the responses were posted in the email thread in the run up to the social so everyone could play along and keep in touch. (Should I publish these, some time? – Ed.)

The rehearsal is at our usual time, so that seemed fine. However, I didn’t account for the time of my social being when children were going to bed, and would want to be read to. Or that people would have spent their whole day in front of a screen and likely wouldn’t want to spend their evening in the same way. Or that they might be going out to exercise before sunset in order to encounter fewer people. I hadn’t considered how something I had hoped would be inclusive would, in fact, automatically exclude people. 

That was over a month ago now though, and I’ve since had time to think about it. 

Remote Events

Which brings me on to suggestions for making remote events as inclusive as possible, and also things we could take forward beyond lockdown to make future events inclusive too. 

Doing a quiz? 
  • Could you produce a written copy of the quiz questions to share with everyone so they can complete it in their own time? If you hold the actual quiz remotely, make sure you share the answers with those who’ve done it separately and publish the leaderboard to include those who didn’t make it to the virtual one. 
  • How big is the group? If it’s of a smaller size – decide on the time/date by using a poll. If you’re doing this as a regular activity and there isn’t a time that suits everyone maybe you could hold it at different times each week? This would mean the same people aren’t automatically excluded each and every week. 
Doing a live-stream?
  • Can you publish a recording of the event for people to catch up on in their own time?
Holding a seminar?
  • Could you do a short write up about the main points raised in the seminar so that the information can still be shared to those who couldn’t make it?
  • Consider what else you could make available after the event for those that didn’t attend. 
Sharing things in the WhatsApp group?
  • Firstly, is everyone who needs to receive the message in the WhatsApp group?
  • Bear in mind that people may be away from their phone in order to focus on other things. If it’s strictly a work matter – send it in an email. Be aware that people might have muted the work group in ‘non-work hours’, and that those hours might not be the same as yours. 

There seem to be even more remote social events than ever took place before all of this.  Given you cannot really be out anywhere else, it’s easy to imagine that people simply expect you to be able to attend their events. This creates a pressure to accept and attend which can be overwhelming. Wording invitations so they’re easy to decline without any pressure will help. 

Future Events 

I think we’ve all established that a video conference is easier to participate in and follow than a telephone conference. If you’re holding a meeting and people are asked to dial in if they cannot physically be there, let’s keep using the video conferencing where possible. It’s so much easier to be part of something when you can see people, and can respond to non-verbal cues in order to get a word in edgeways!

We can feel part of an event without being there in person, so let’s try to stream events taking place in the ‘real-world’ online, too. We have a real opportunity to include more people than ever in our events, just by making things available for people to access from their own homes, and after the event.