by Jacqueline Hall on 27 May 2020 3:12pm : 294

Whilst we are in lockdown, I've been thinking about how much we really connect physically with people when conducting our business affairs. Much of our well-being, it seems to me, is rooted in physical proximity, even if we don't touch.

When I've been out for exercise, I see people (myself included) self-consciously distancing themselves from others.  Someone will be coming towards me and as I look in their face, I see them: 

  • Calculating how near they will allow me to be, before they swerve to avoid entering a potentially hazardous zone, and 
  • Planning how much air will be between us as we cross paths.  

A moment of socially-distanced teamwork happens as you lock eyes, nod heads and agree – without speaking - that one of you moves to the left the other to the right.

During the weekend I visited a food shop I don't normally go to; looking around I couldn’t see what I wanted. I approached a staff member and keeping distance, got her attention and made my enquiry.  Responding, she instinctively took steps towards me and I reminded her about social distancing.  

Space preservation
Each of us has an amount of space we like to preserve around us, whilst going about our business and interacting with different people; you put this aside when you’re physically networking.  Covid-19, which no respecter of persons, has taken over our personal spaces. It is the great separator. Exerting much power over us, we're forced to increase the distance we ideally like to have between ourselves, our acquaintances and strangers. Our intimate zone – the one into which we invite family and friends when we meet – has been invaded by its presence.  It has made everyone suspect and suspicious.

We’re social beings. It’s one thing to choose to stay a metre or more away from another person because of personal preference.  It’s quite another to visualise a force field wider than we normally might, to preserve safety and life. It doesn’t feel natural. And it isn’t. For businesses that rely on proximity to generate revenue, the lack of it threatens to prove devastating in various ways.  Bad experiences whilst in work can have negative effect on well-being.  I wonder if we’ll have business leaders coming out the other end of this season with some form of trauma.

Technology’s impact
During physical meetings we share three-dimensional space, and it helps us to connect, be productive and innovative. I’ve been in a few online meetings where I could see the other participants’ physicality, and some where I could not. The two experiences were different. When I could see my colleagues, it was as if they were in here in my space and I felt close; it made it easier to navigate and learn from the experience.  

When social distancing was first suggested I’m sure many of us made light of it.  A couple of weeks in we’re experiencing how challenging it is to accept the loss of that nearness, and to willingly maintain the instruction to be distanced.  It challenges our emotions, our intellect and productivity.  My hope is that when we come out of this season, we will appreciate each other’s presence more than we might have done before.

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