Mar 13 2020

Social distancing vs social isolation

I took a poll of the Foundry portfolio this morning to check in on the shift to Work From Home. As of today, about 1/3 of our portfolio companies have implemented a mandatory work from home policy. The vast majority of the rest are recommending people work from home but are not mandating it (meaning they’re not physically closing their offices). Only a couple are still operating with their offices fully operational.

We’re living in unprecedented times. Children are out of school. We’re shifting work patterns. Many of us have parents, partners or others that we’re close to who are immune-compromised or in some other class of person who is at higher risk for Covid-19. It’s a time of great emotional and physical uncertainty.

As we retreat into our homes and bunker down it’s important to consider the challenges many among us will face with that kind of forced isolation. There is a great deal of research on how we’ve slowly been creating a society that is less and less connected. The results are greater instances of depression, anxiety and other forms of illness. Humans are social animals. We need connection and our “tribe” in order to survive and thrive. Johann Hari did a wonderful job outlining the research behind this in his book, Lost Connections (there’s quite a bit of information on this on his LostConnections website as well).

I had this in mind as we were talking to everyone who works at Foundry yesterday, telling them that the office would be closed for the foreseeable future. I’ve been talking to many of the CEOs I work with about how to best support their employees through what can be an isolating and scary time. It’s critical in times of stress – and especially in times where we’re physically isolating ourselves – to foster a sense of community and belonging. We talked about this explicitly as a group in our discussion at Foundry and are taking extra steps to make sure we’re not just checking in with each other, but also that we’re creating a sense that we’re working together even though we’re working in separate places (this morning that resulted in a bunch of photos of our various dogs working with us; silly but it gave us the sense that we were all working together; we’ve also significantly stepped up our use of Slack and Voxer so we’re all in touch more than we were when we were physically next to each other in some cases). I think this is important for all of us to keep in mind. While its important to check in on how people are doing, creating a sense of normalcy to working apart; creating community and connectedness – at work, with our neighbors, with our children’s classmates and with our friends – is just as important as what we’re all doing to physically isolate ourselves to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Let’s make sure that we’re not confusing social distancing from social isolation.