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How Social Distancing Can Bring Us Closer Together

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

By Dr. Victoria Mattingly

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on March 14, 2020.

In response to the global outbreak of the coronavirus, the CDC is recommending we steer clear of one another for the time being, otherwise known as "social distancing."

Social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.

This prescribed social distancing is especially difficult for an organizational psychologist like myself, building a career on the premise that bringing people together leads to a better, happier, more productive workforce.

Businesses and leaders have needed to make difficult decisions all week, many of which come down to the personal assessment of:

How seriously should we be taking the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?

As an entrepreneur, I have the privilege of being able to work from anywhere in the world without disrupting business as usual. Most of my clients (and the vast majority of U.S. companies for that matter) do not have this luxury.

Over the last week in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, mandatory work-from-home policies were enacted, travel bans were enforced, and many big, important events and conferences have been cancelled.

Is all the precaution worth it?

As of this moment (4p ET on Friday, March 13th), no case of COVID-19 has been verified in the Greater Pittsburgh Area, yet the entire city is shutting down.

And yet, it's not a matter of IF the virus will arrive in Pittsburgh, but WHEN. And we all need to be willing to shift our reactive mindset (fix the problem once it arrives) to a proactive one (prevent the problem from happening in the first place...or at least intervene before it gets even worse).

We must choose prevention on behalf of others over the selfishness of being personally unaffected (which may itself be a fallacy of self-delusion...but that's an article for another day).

Here is what the CDC recommends companies do to prevent COVID-19 from spreading unnecessarily further:

The World Health Organization advises that, "All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights."

And with that, I made the difficult decision to cancel my own workplace event, a really exciting photo shoot I've been planning to create diversity training stock photos for my website and marketing efforts. I've worked diligently to recruit and secure a diverse, beautiful slate of volunteer models across the human spectrum of gender and color. Hell, I even convinced my dear Uncle Joe to play the part of the"old, white, male executive."

Side note: Uncle Joe initially pushed back when I asked him to be a model for my diversity and inclusion (D&I) consulting practice, contending that he's, "not diverse," to which I applied:

Diversity is who we are. Inclusion is what we do.

"And you are just as important to D&I initiatives as anyone else is, Uncle Joe."

But Uncle Joe is in his 60s, which means that out of any of my incredible models he represents the most vulnerable population when it comes to COVID-19. And how could I call myself an inclusive leader if I didn't make decisions that considered the most vulnerable populations first?

So last night, I sent out the following message to my model volunteers:

Hi beautiful people....It’s with a very full and equally heavy heart that I’ve decided to postpone Saturday’s photo shoot until the state of affairs improves.

As hard as I’m trying (and you all are helping!) to build a business around bringing people together, in this unique case the best way we can take care of each other is by staying apart. At least physically. And only for the time being.

Even if Uncle Joe wasn't attending (meaning none of us would be particularly susceptible to contracting/dying from COVID-19), I would have still ended up cancelling because it was simply the right thing to do. Just like intentionally building more diverse and inclusive organizations. And caring about the human experience at work. And humanity in general.

Times are scary out there. Let's take care of each other....even from afar.

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