Loneliness in a virtual world

Loneliness in a virtual world

Why virtual meetings are not the same as physical meetings, and behavior and impact changes and may lead to loneliness.

Spoiler alert: The main missing link is eye contact

Both organisations and private people have eagerly reinvented the way to meet each other during the global Covid-19 pandemic. You might have joined a large global conference, watched movies with friends or had countless online business meetings.

Chances are that virtual meetings will remain a crucial part of our networking culture with others moving forward.

Communication is not only words

Much of the communication that is shared between humans come from small unspoken social cues. The cues become blurred or even invisible through the screen. Humans live for social interaction and physical contact.

Figures from the University of Copenhagen, shows that especially the younger generation are affected by loneliness. During the pandemic, loneliness in youth has risen from 12 to 21 percent. Similar growth in loneliness is reflected in studies from around the globe.

Through-the-screen interaction does not output the same social satisfaction as a personal encounter.

Missing synchronisation? Loneliness in a virtual world

Experts have found that physical encounters makes our bodies synchronize with the other person’s heartbeat. We mirror each other’s language and the react together in coherence to things we see and hear in the group.

The synchronization happens completely unconsciously and almost instantaneously. Which is also why you can feel a good or a bad connection to a group of people as soon as you enter the room.
When you do not have personal encounters, the social needs are not meet any longer. Loneliness and disconnectivity are the feelings that start to occur.

We connect with the eyes

One of the main challenges of virtual meetings are the delays in the feed.
Even half a second complicates the human connectivity aspect. Additionally, are other technical obstacles like sound breaking up or unfavorable lighting.

In virtual meetings eye contact is not direct eye contact. It is substituted with glancing at multiple faces, looking into the camera, staring at yourself talking, or if you have lost interest; your social media account.

Even with your best attempt, you can’t lock eyes with your fellow colleagues and friends. The much needed real time eye contact is necessary for humans to connect on the deeper level. Eye contact is important with both colleagues, family and friends.

Connectivity is important both online and offline

It has been suggested that physical distance, even in the same office makes team mates loose connectivity. The study showed that colleagues placed more than 30 meters apart, loose their ability to stay connected. The team spirit and work effort decreases rapidly.

Virtual meetings and staying connected online via technology is a good way to create the connection. Our brain focuses on taking care of the people near us. And 30 meters seems to mark the definition of ‘near’.

Technological VS. Human evolution

man versus robot

Technology has evolved with unprecedented pace over the past decades. Much faster than the human brain will ever evolve, even with helpful tools within easy reach.

Still, the computers and screens we sit at every day, do not begin to simulate all the communication that the human body produces to signal to other humans. Technology simply falls short as a multifaceted communications interface.

Conclusion

/ When people synchronise well in a group, they work better together.
// With a supportive work environment, the comfort level rises, confidence in the work increases and so does the ability to think creatively and solve challenges.
/// The best working environments anno 2020 are characterized by the ability to connect human to human additionally to using virtual meetings

Virtual meetings are essential for staying safe and healthy. Keep using the online meetings as much as needed.
Online meetings save travel time, heighten efficiency for sharing brief and needed information and allow for teams to be diversified across departments and distances, which all benefits the overall sustainability of the organisation.

When it comes to co-working, the focus should be on creating great work environments where small groups can meet, with the equipment and behavior to stay healthy and happy.
When the right co-working facilities are achieved, your organization can stay ahead of competitors, create new ideas and stay sharp together.

Support your colleagues in avoiding loneliness in the virtual world, by having in-person meetings on a regular basis.