There have always been – and always will be – those concerned about the degradation of human communication caused by every technological advancement. From the first email services to online banking and GP appointment booking, society feared that digitalisation would lead to the decline of personal interaction. However, in such dark and unusual times as those of 2020, that 'technifear' has almost vanished overnight because, right now, it is the digital touch that is helping the isolated individual feel human again.
Globally, the spread of COVID-19 has resulted in national quarantines, community lockdowns and self-isolation. Families find themselves disconnected, the elderly and vulnerable isolated and workers around the world face new challenges not previously considered – such as key workers' risk exposure and corporate workers’ solitary confinements.
During these times, we discover how much of our lives we have taken for granted until now. The quick trip to the shops for a pint of milk, the daily coffee break and surrounding office chatter, the hug from a friend after a bad day or the holiday getaway planned months in advance. All of a sudden, all we have are the four walls of our household and a digital connection.
But now, that digital connection provides a portal to the outside world – whether that be shopping, socialising or discovering a whole new online community of shared interests.
Over the last few weeks, virtual kinships have been connecting strangers around the world through common interests. We are discovering new networks, new fellowships and expanding our social circles through digital facilitation.
After years of fearing digital dehumanisation, COVID-19 has caused our lives to become increasingly reliant on technological communication
The lone Cîroc dancer missing her weekly dance group now finds herself twirling at home, alongside thousands of other dancers in a virtual dance-off. The busy working parents juggling childcare and remote working listen to famous actors sharing stories with their children through live streaming storytime sessions. The captive gym fans log in to morning workouts led by their local gym instructors or even famous sports personalities. Our physical world may have become smaller but our digital one just keeps opening more doors – or, rather, windows.
Right now, we are not even limited to shared interest, just shared humanity. From the singing streets of Italy through to the grateful applause for the NHS in the UK, these huge movements have not required an army of event planners – nor were the RSVPs collected beforehand. They simply required one digital message to travel out into the ether. The result has been the connection of millions of lives in a singular moment, with no other agenda than to be part of something bigger than themselves.
Apply the same value to your virtual workforce. For those who have never worked remotely before, the world has become incredibly insular. Picking up the phone, sending a message or chatting over virtual platforms can feel like a bigger task than just leaning over to a colleague with a quick question. Break down these barriers and use technology to awaken human unity.
Start by turning on your camera for that conference call – let others see your face, even if you are not looking your best. Host virtual tea breaks where you just talk. Talk about your current view, introduce your dog to the camera, display your favorite mug – remind others of you. Not your job role. Not your profile picture. Not that latest client win. Share your essence and remind those working alongside you of that easy communication we all once took for granted.
After years of fearing digital dehumanisation, COVID-19 has caused our lives to become increasingly reliant on technological communication. We are living through history right now. Our ways of communicating, working and connecting have changed forever. Our work now is to ensure we bring everyone with us. From the grandparents starting out on video calls, to the colleagues hesitant in asking the question, we need to ensure not only that everyone has a voice but that they can also hear one. Yes, we are all in isolation. But, thanks to technology, we do not need to be isolated.
Nic Girvan is global head of digital training at diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global