Stephanie Davies mourns the lack of friendly chit-chat now she’s working at home.
Terry runs the newspaper and coffee stand at my local station. You can’t fail to notice that he’s a Chelsea fan. His stall is draped in Chelsea flags and he usually wears a Chelsea t-shirt. That’s how I know his name is Terry – it’s written on the back.
I’m a Scouser so Terry (rightly) assumes I’m a Liverpool fan and we have footie bants whenever I buy The Times and an espresso from him. Which can be tricky because I know nothing about football but pretend that I do. I suspect Terry also knows I know nothing about football but pretends I do too.
This complicated little dance is part of my routine. Everyone has similar social interactions woven into the fabric of their days, be they chats with the person behind the counter at the local shop, courteous nods to familiar fellow commuters, or gossip with colleagues in the work kitchen (because let’s be honest, watercooler moments only happen in American Diet Coke ads).
While these small connections may seem irrelevant, they are important. I call them social boosts. They form part of our social capital which creates shared norms, values, trust, cooperation, reciprocity, and a shared sense of identity and understanding. They anchor our days and create familiarity and identity.
Which is why so many of us have felt lost since the world changed and our routines were turned on their heads. I missed Terry more than I realised, and more than I could admit to my husband.
Social capital which creates shared norms, values, trust, cooperation, reciprocity, and a shared sense of identity and understanding
Lockdown was not easy for anyone, particularly those living on their own. Some of our social boosts stopped altogether and those that remained became more important than ever. For me, the weekly trip to the fishmonger became a spiritual pilgrimage. I looked forward to the small talk for days because it anchored me back to the familiar in a world that was very unfamiliar.
Now, as we start to get back to work and venture out of our houses into new routines, it is more important than ever that we find the time and space for safe social boosts. They present more of a challenge, because of social distancing, but there are things individuals and employers can do to make sure people still connect.
If you are working from home, create new routines. Go for a walk at the same time each morning before you start work and follow the same route. Often you will encounter the same people, which means you can say hello and build connections (saying hello to strangers might be an alien concept for people in the south but try it. Trust me, you get used to it).
Employers welcoming people back to the workplace should make spaces where people can interact at a safe distance, even if that means putting see-through Perspex screens up that people can talk through. Who knows, the impression of being behind the counter in a bank may even prove a good ice-breaker.
Collaborative spaces, away from workstations encourage conversations and interaction, which in turn create connections. People who have been away from work for months will undoubtedly feel apprehensive. They need to feel connected and confident, so creating social spaces is important.
Environments have changed, but that doesn’t mean we have to. The other day I got on a train for the first time in months and Terry was there at the station, as familiar as ever apart from the Chelsea mask he was wearing. He mentioned something about Liverpool and a Premier Ship. I didn’t have a clue, but it didn’t matter. It was just nice to see him.
I would have hugged him if we didn’t have to stay 1 metre + apart.
About the author
Stephanie Davies is head of happiness and founder at Laughology