“We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.” - Dalai Lama XIV

Times are tough. What we are experiencing right now is frankly unprecedented in our lifetimes.

We are social beings. We crave human connections, human contact and frequent social interaction. It’s what defines us, makes us human. Whether it’s the strong emotional bond that ties families together, the camaraderie of friendships, the relationships that bind members of a work or recreational team together, close and frequent human contact is what has allowed us to thrive and flourish as a species.

As social beings, we also deeply care for each other. Not just our loved ones, or our friends but those around us that we may not know but who share the same humanity we do.

As countries around the world continue to grapple with the magnitude and the severity of COVID-19, with shelter in place orders in effect in many countries, we are being asked to sacrifice close human contact, albeit briefly, to accomplish a greater goal: stay away from each other so that we and our other fellow human beings can stay safe and healthy.

Through practices such as social distancing, we not only lessen the chances of getting infected by COVID-19, we lessen the chances that others can get infected as well. Over time, through flattening of the curve, infection rates go down and the threat to all of us as a human collective eventually drops to a point where it is safe for us to gather again and resume somewhat normal lives.

At a personal level, the extended shelter-at-home practice is having an impact on families separated by distance. Parents and grandparents who live in assisted living facilities or nursing homes are isolated and are the most severely affected, as they are the most at risk from the effects of the virus while also craving the regular contact they have with their children and their grandchildren. Families living in different households, accustomed to getting together regularly, are now apart. Students attending school are separated from their classmates and their teachers. Members involved in team sports are finding it difficult working together to stay fit and practice as practice and game cancellations continue. Participants in extracurricular activities, arts and crafts, reading groups, yoga and gym classes, cooking groups, music ensembles and bands that have typically been conducted in-person as a group now need to find other ways to continue their activities at a distance. And parent and volunteer groups that often met regularly to conduct business and organize events are now no longer able to meet in person.

At a professional level, shelter-at-home is forcing many of us to rethink how we interact and collaborate. The familiarity of ad-hoc interactions while in close proximity to other co-workers and the camaraderie amongst co-workers that develops through social interaction in the workplace is being replaced by interaction and collaboration at a distance. The change is forcing us to become more structured and disciplined in how we work and when we need to engage with other co-workers to get our work done.

It is impossible (at least at present) to replace that important connection that comes with physical proximity and contact that evolution has bestowed upon us. Yet we live in an unprecedented age of technology where we can remain closely connected while being physically apart. Video conferencing can approximate the closeness that we have grown accustomed to and allow us to be together, collaborate together and work together while we continue to maintain a safe social distance. It does that by providing both an audio and a video interface so that you can see and hear each other.

For families, virtual get-togethers including dinners, parties and playdates for children are now possible. Musicians can connect in a way that allows them to practice and play together while allowing them to stream a concert to their friends and fans. Instructors of anything from yoga to arts and crafts can conduct classes virtually in a way that they can visibly demonstrate the curriculum their students are learning while allowing them to coach the student as they step through the curriculum. And as students are all connected together, just as they would be in a live classroom, they can interact with each other as well. Teachers can connect with their students in a virtual classroom, share the content of a lesson and have virtual work sessions with their students where they actively interact with the teacher and each other … as if they were in a classroom. And co-workers can get together to collaborate remotely, share information, actively collaborate on work that needs to get done, and then join each other for a virtual social gathering or happy hour so that they can relax and share some casual time together.

We don’t know when COVID-19 and the threat it poses to humanity will be safely behind us. We do know that it could take a while, and so we need to find ways to stay connected and retain that human connection that is so valuable to us while we continue to carry on with our daily lives. There is no question that the aftermath of all this will fundamentally change the way we live and work together. And while video conferencing will never replace the physical connections we have with each other, it is clear that it will become a more pervasive part of everything we do. Long after we are no longer sheltering in place, we will be fundamentally rethinking everything from what constitutes essential business travel to providing more flexibility for groups to meet and work together without requiring them to physically co-locate.

Video conferencing is here to stay, and that’s a good thing.