At the beginning of the year, all our lives took a turn because of a newly discovered infectious disease called COVID-19. While the virus certainly affects the human body with mild or moderate respiratory illness, little did we know the impact that it would make on our well-being and social life.
Around 3 years ago, I left my hometown London and moved to Manchester to be closer to my partner and to make the jump onto the property ladder. I moved 250 miles away from family and friends and depended on annual leave and holidays to see them or keep in touch with them via social media. Juggling a full-time job and other day-to-day responsibilities really made it tough. I was rubbish at promptly replying to messages on WhatsApp or posting on Snapchat what I get up to daily. But when we see each other in person, I could talk with them for hours on end, and the happiness and feeling that of seeing them is priceless.
When Boris announced the first lockdown and social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, I questioned how I would cope with not seeing family and friends. I admit I’m old school, maybe I’m not moving with the new and emerging technologies. Virtual communication can never be the same as face-to-face communication – the warmth of a hug and happiness of physically seeing your loved ones can’t be replaced by an online video platform. Studies prove that physical touch in social interaction releases endorphins in our brains – happy chemicals – and allows humans to cope with stress and major life changes.
Even in business, I’m a big believer in face-to-face meetings, particularly networking. It allows you to develop stronger, long-lasting, and mutually beneficial relationships around trust and respect. Physical contact allows us to engage and interact with one another and convey an individual’s body language, tone, facial expressions, and more.
Same with conducting physical user interviews or observations, they are a great way to empathise with users because it can give you an in-depth understanding of the users’ values, perceptions, and experiences.
“Empathy is at the heart of design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task.” – Tim Brown, CEO of the innovation and design firm IDEO
Paying attention to what the user says and what they do such as gestures, facial expressions, and movements is equally as important. It’s a powerful and efficient way to learn about the users’ experience. It can give you an overall perspective of whether the experience was positive or negative.
Since COVID-19 minimised human contact, the majority of us switched to using online video platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and many more. By communicating over video, we miss out on valuable insights into the way a person actually feels through their expressions and body language patterns such as:
“Crossing their arms or legs”
“Keeping their palms closed or faced down”
“Movement of brows”
Virtual communication can create a barrier and users may find it harder to engage with discussions, whereas they would be more focused when you’re with them.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t rely on online video platforms such as Zoom or Skype; to be honest, I use them all the time and consider myself to be a social media junkie too. What I am saying is that times are changing and we have to adjust but, my concern is the well-being of individuals during this pandemic.
While we battle the negative impact COVID-19 has made on our social lives and fingers crossed things get back to normal in 2021, let’s maintain social connections with friends and family and care for each other’s well-being.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed my first blog post as the new member of PRWD team.