Staying connected during COVID has been a challenge in more ways than one. The pandemic has separated many from their family and friends. Meeting new people has become much more challenging and staying in touch with friends, family and colleagues in a way that doesn’t involve spending your entire day in front of a screen isn’t easy either. We are still adapting to a new world of remote engagement and don’t have the best habits and tools to fill our cup just yet.
So if you’re frustrated by the lack of conversations with new people or bored of the standard pre-planned group Zoom calls with those you know, here are a few ideas for making new connections and cultivating relationships with other people in your life, based on what I’ve been doing, insights from friends and colleagues and the wider world:
1 | Create a virtual front door with Whereby
You may not be able to have your friends over spontaneously for a quick cup of coffee anymore (be honest, how often did you do that normally?) but you can bring the village vibe to your home using an app like Whereby. My partner and I have a spare laptop permanently set up with the app open where people can ‘knock’ on our virtual door for a spontaneous video chat. You have control of whether you answer or not, but the added serendipity it brings to my day has been a revelation.
Network Science Principles at Work
In social networks, your different links to other people are known as ‘ties’. Setting up a virtual front door will help reinforce existing strong ties, help some ties strengthen, whilst also creating an opportunity for new ties to form if people “stop by” at the same time, creating more interconnectedness and resiliency in your network.
2 | Involve People in your Projects
I don’t tend to compartmentalise the relationships in my life into categories like work and personal, so I’ve taken the opportunity to involve lots of people in personal projects—whether it’s asking for feedback, leveraging expertise in a particular area or a more involved collaboration. This has been a great way to connect to new people and reconnect to others in my network who are interested in what I’m doing. How can you involve those around you in causes you care about or what you’re working on?
Network Science Principles at Work
People who are outside of your core network are known as weak ties and they are often valuable sources of new information and different perspectives that can help make whatever you’re working on better. Involving people in your creative projects also creates multiplex ties, adding dimension to the relationship because you now have an additional project-related link with that person, making your relationship stronger.
3 | Look out for the Neighbors
If you live in a big city then chances are you don’t know your neighbors that well. In fact, according to a poll from The Independent, over 50% of people barely said a word to their neighbours and almost 7 out of 10 describe them as “strangers”. While you may not be hanging out in person, the lockdown is a brilliant excuse to connect with your neighbours in spite of social distancing. Like many people, I’ve been doubling down on my baking. Sharing what I’m making with my neighbors and it’s been a lovely way to connect and brighten each other’s day. If you’re not a baker, what are some of the little things you could do for the people who live around you?
Network Science Principles at Work
Connecting to your neighbours through small acts of kindness increases the social capital in your community. Social capital is the fabric of shared norms and values which facilitates trust and promotes cooperation in groups, which is more valuable than ever in times of crisis. These types of behaviors will satisfy the very human need to feel part of something greater than yourself.
Other Examples from My Network and Beyond
- Run Open Office Hours
Noah Askin, a guest on my upcoming podcast, announced office hours on LinkedIn with a link to his calendar that allowed anyone with the link to book in 15-minute meetings over a couple of hours every Thursday afternoon. To his surprise, all 24 slots were taken in just 3 hours and the meetings were all worth the investment of time.
- Build a Community around Your Passion
My friend Kunal Gupta has been running virtual group meditation sessions since the first week of lockdown. This has turned into a vibrant community of people and Kunal is slowly introducing the different members of the growing group to each other.
- Creative a Collaborative Video
There are plenty of examples of people getting creative during COVID but this viral stunt video caught my eye. Organised by stunt woman and actress Zoe Bell it features Margot Robbie, Scarlett Johansson, and other A-list actresses fighting each other virtually.
- Help People Use New Tools
My Mom has been running workshops for members of At Home Alexandria to help them set up and use Zoom. She has also organized virtual discussion groups and exercise classes for the community. Older people are incredibly vulnerable at the moment and helping them stay connected by getting tech-savvy can make a huge impact on their lives.
- Start a Virtual Book Club
My friend Dan Lee has started a subscription-based book club where he sends a book of his choice in the post along with a typed note to club members explaining the book’s significance. In a world that’s becoming more and more virtual, getting something in the mail is a real pleasure especially when it’s a great new read.
- Do a Game Night on Houseparty
A handful of friends have organised virtual game nights on Houseparty which have been a nice way to get together. Whether it’s a game of trivia, playing charades or my personal favorite, Pictionary, it’s a great alternative to a standard group Zoom call that brings a little more joy and laughter to the table.
- Join Virtual Conferences that prioritise interaction
How the Light Gets In is an example of a virtual conference featuring debates and talks on a wide range of topics. They put extra effort into making it interactive this year by creating various social experiences. Signing up for virtual conferences can be a great way to meet likeminded people if they have breakout sessions or community elements to keep the event social.
- Organise a Movie Night on Netflix Party
Watching a movie or series is a great way to decompress after a busy day of work but you can also use this as an opportunity to connect to friends and family. Netflix have just released a new Chrome extension called Netflix Party that allows you to watch together, complete with a chat function to share commentary along the way.
- Use Lunch Club to Grow Your Network
If you’re looking to grow your professional network, Lunch Club is a great way to do it. When signing up, you give some information about your professional and personal interests and the app will connect you to relevant people based on your objectives. This is a great way to meet others who are also up for meeting new people.
- Create a Daily Social Ritual
Two of my friends turned their morning coffee ritual into a way to stay connected, even though they live thousands of miles apart. They each took a picture of a mug from their collection, wrote a little blurb about its history and significance, and shared it while tagging the other on social media. You’re probably spending more time online than usual right now but this struck me as a fun, creative way to connect. And fill your cup.