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A Lesson in Semantics: Social vs. Physical Distancing for Remote Teams

By Angelica Fierro on

With this fourth part of our series on remote working, I wanted to take a brief but deep dive into semantics. We've all heard so much about the need for social distancing during this coronavirus pandemic but, if you think about what the experts are asking us to do, it's physical distancing that can keep us healthy. And while the difference between the two terms is slight, the impact can be immense for a remote working team and business.

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Staying Healthy With Physical Distancing

Six-feet. That's the rule. Whether you're at the supermarket, gas station, bank, or serving some other "essential need," experts recommend staying six-feet away from other human beings while out in the wild during this COVID-19 crisis. And while I'm certainly not a doctor and don't even play one on TV, it's not the idea behind social distancing that bothers me but, instead, the terminology itself.

Physical distancing can help keep us healthy, whereas social distancing threatens our sense of well-being and inmate need for human interaction. Yes, this is literally a case of semantics but, given the circumstances, a crucial one. From a personal perspective, social distancing comes part and parcel with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

Likewise, for a team of remote workers and a business, social distancing can quickly dismantle even the strongest company cultures. And as we all know, a healthy and robust culture correlates directly with happy and satisfied employees, productivity, and success. Am I reading too much into a simple misused word? Perhaps. But with such devastating consequences stemming from eroded company culture, I figured it best to err on the side of caution, especially with so many companies now forced to embrace a telecommuting model.

Connecting Remote Workers

While I'll reserve a more thorough discussion on culture and remote workers for a later day, I still wanted to briefly touch on the importance of maintaining some semblance of social contact in both personal and professional lives. If you're a business owner, your people are probably pretty scared right now. They have families to support, careers to develop, and dreams to fulfill.

This pandemic threatens much of that so, depending on how close your team is, using technology to create and maintain a support system of coworkers could be very beneficial right about now. As I said before, tools like Slack, Skype, Zoom, and other communication or video conferencing platforms can fill that need for interaction, simultaneously bolstering a sense of teamwork and camaraderie.

Simply put, human beings are social creatures. We need steady interaction with one another to preserve mental health and remain productive. Obviously, happier remote employees make for more successful remote teams. This isn't a time to social distance from each other. Put another way, let's maintain a healthy six-foot perimeter when out and about, but use this opportunity to strengthen our teams and companies, especially under such trying circumstances. Your bottom line and employees’ well-being will thank you for it down the road.

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