Keeping Colleagues Socially Connected in a Time of Physical Distancing

As part of our blog series where we share experiences, tips, and tricks of living and working during lockdown, Cat Button, Senior Lecturer and Degree Programme Director of MSc Urban Planning, explains how the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape keep socially connected whilst physical distancing.

Many colleagues were sad about not seeing each other when lock down happened. In the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape we are a sociable bunch who like to see each other and meet regularly. Very quickly I formulated a plan to keep us in touch, crucially without increasing email. The simplest solution for us was MS Teams, as colleagues were quickly getting to grips with it and everyone has an account via the uni, meaning no new accounts or sharing of personal details like phone numbers. So instead of introducing a different platform I cobbled something together on Teams (There may be slicker apps, and I’ve heard other groups are using WhatsApp or Slack).

Now APL has a virtual ‘café-bar’ for staff and PGRs to meet, chat, share interesting links and set up social events. We meet on Zoom every Wednesday after work. Everyone brings a beverage (tea, wine, water, gin, whatever you like) and we have a chat. One benefit is that the drinks are cheaper than in a physical café-bar! It is much more child and pet-friendly too. In fact, turn-out to the online meet ups has been higher than when in real life. Perhaps it is a more inclusive type of social event, or at least a more accessible way to meet, or else people are needing it more.

It is lovely to have a social catch up with colleagues once a week, even when I’ve seen some of the same faces in formal meetings that very day. I know online meetings can be exhausting, especially due to the dissonance. It can also mean that more informal social interactions feel like work meetings. We have been having fun with virtual backgrounds and playing with snap camera filters in the social gatherings though. Personally, I try to do the social calls on a different device and in a different room to where I work in, but I know that is a luxury.

We have just had some new staff start in our school (recruited before lock-down). It is so nice to be able to direct them towards an online social space, that they don’t have to wait until we are back on campus to get to know us. It can never be the same as bumping into someone in the corridor and having an impromptu coffee, but it is good to still be able to have a chat!

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