Stand up when you talk, take a virtual tea break: how to bond with workmates during the pandemic

Pamela Iyer has little idea what her director looks like. Not properly. When she started her new role as a commissioning specialist for Wokingham borough council back in July, remote working was in full swing. And the custom in her organisation is for “everyone to have their camera off” during Zoom calls, so, so far, she has only seen his photograph.

It has made her conversation a little stilted. “I can’t tell what facial expressions he is making,” she says. “I’m somebody who make jokes in the course of daily conversations. But I haven’t done that because I can’t tell how it’s going to be received – if someone is smiling or thinking, ‘God, shut up!’”

It is a small thing, an everyday tiny detail that shows the seismic upheaval the pandemic has caused in our working lives. About 730,000 jobs have been lost since lockdown began, and many others are worried that redundancy could be looming. But even without this insecurity, working from home has changed things for vast swathes of the population. When Jeremy Hunt attempted, recently, to encourage workers back to the office by talking of the “fizz and excitement”, and insisting Brits need “a bit of office banter” to stay creative, he was quickly mocked with queries about whether an increased risk of Covid was the sort of excitement workers needed. But his words did have a kernel of truth – for many of us the camaraderie of shared toil in a shared space has been lost. From long chats over coffee, small talk in the lift or (my personal favourite) gossip under the pretence of photocopying, there is a web of social face-to face interactions that make our days more pleasant, help us feel more connected and can bloom into genuine, long-lasting friendships.

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