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20 Ways to Stay Social in an Age of Social Distancing

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A few months ago, working from home sounded like a dream. Now, thanks to a global pandemic and the ever-looming threat of COVID-19, students, parents, workers, and business owners are stuck at home, doing their part to #flattenthecurve. Many of you are under shelter-in-place orders, leaving home only for the essentials, and the rest are carefully practicing social distancing, avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people, and staying at least six feet apart.

We’re right there with you.

Our DreamHost offices in California and Oregon shut down, sending our diligent employees home to support you remotely. With no real end in sight to all this social distancing, the weeks (and months) are stretching ahead rather bleakly.

“Loneliness is psychologically poisonous; it increases sleeplessness, depression, as well as immune and cardiovascular problems,” says Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki. “In fact, chronic loneliness produces a similar mortality risk to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. We must do the right thing for public health and shelter-in-place now, but if doing so produces chronic, widespread loneliness, a long-term mental and physical health crisis might follow this viral one.”

Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation — Zaki suggests reframing it as “socializing from a distance.” Thanks to the internet, there are plenty of ways to connect with friends, family, and coworkers, all while keeping everyone safe and fighting to reduce coronavirus infections.

How can you socialize for the sake of your sanity — and your relationships — while safely flattening the curve? We have a few ideas.

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Essential Apps

Before you can bring your social life to the digital world, you’ve got to build up your tool kit. Chances are you already use many of these, and others may be less familiar. Either way, these apps, plus your social media accounts, will keep you connected to others while physically apart.

Smartphone Video Calling

Your smartphone probably already has one of your best tools for video calling: FaceTime for iPhones, Google Duo for Android. FaceTime, only available on iOS, hosts up to 32 people; on Google Duo, up to eight people can chat. These apps are best for one-on-one conversations with friends and family.

Zoom

Thanks to school and workplace closures sending the masses to work and learn at home, video conferencing software Zoom has become a surprising hero in the age of quarantine — and the inspiration for a wave of memes. It really shines for professional uses, such as connecting with clients, coworkers, and classrooms, but it can work for friend hangouts too. Download it onto your phone or tablet or use on your computer for free one-on-one chats or up to 40-minute meetings; upgrade to $14.99/month for longer meetings.

Google Hangouts

Sign in to Hangouts with your Google account (you already have one if you use Gmail) to video chat with friends for free. Up to 25 people can video chat at once, and 150 can join a voice-only group. If your friends or coworkers are all on Google (or willing to get an account), this is an easy option for some group face time.

Skype

A staple of online communication for years, Skype is free to download and use on phones, tablets, and computers with web cameras. Video call up to 10 people at once, depending on connection speeds, and easily share screens. You can also instant message and make voice calls on Skype. This app is great for a virtual hangout with friends, no matter what devices they use.

WhatsApp

Facebook-owned WhatsApp is an excellent option for free one-on-one messaging, video calling, and voice calls on both iOS and Android. It uses end-to-end encryption for added security, and its popularity around the world makes it a fantastic way to connect with friends and family in other countries.

Marco Polo

When video chats are hard to coordinate between conference calls and Netflix-a-thons, Marco Polo can help you still connect “face to face.” Leave a video voicemail of sorts — send a video message to a friend, who will watch and respond when they are ready. This is a helpful app for those with friends and family in different time zones.

Neighborhood Groups

Find an online meeting place for your neighborhood and community. Some neighborhoods are more active on Facebook groups, others on Nextdoor. Find your people and use the forum to meet neighbors, connect with friends holed up in their apartment down the block, and trade war stories about tracking down toilet paper.

How to Use Tech to Socialize from a Distance

Armed with an internet connection and a webcam or smartphone, plus one or more of the handy apps above, you’re ready for a world of virtual socializing. Try out these ideas with your friends and family.

1. Meet with Your Book Club

Move your meetings online, maybe to Skype or Google Hangouts, or start your own group from scratch. Book clubs are a great way to make sure you meet regularly with your friends — and, with all the staying inside you’re doing, you might actually read the book this time.

2. Throw a Birthday Party

People with birthdays in the next two months (or more!) can still celebrate with family and friends, albeit digitally. Gather on a group video chat with the birthday boy or girl, each party-goer with their own dessert, to sing “Happy Birthday,” blow out candles, have a dance party, and share memories.

3. Go on a Date

There’s no reason your dating life has to fizzle out. You definitely shouldn’t meet up with a stranger in person right now, but don’t delete your Tinder and Bumble accounts: schedule video chat dates with matches for a chance to connect with someone new.

4. Play Games

Don’t cancel game night — a number of your favorite board games (including the ever-timely Pandemic) and party games are available online. If you and your friends have a copy of the same physical game you can play together, moving the pieces in sync. Also try Houseparty, a social media app that lets you play digital games over video chat.

5. Try a Table-Top RPG Game

Maybe you and your friends have been Adventurers for years — if so, move your Dungeons and Dragons game online. If you’ve never played an RPG game, there’s no better time to try. D&D offers a short version of the rules online for free. Players only need a pencil, paper, and dice; this guide can help you start your first game.

6. Host a Movie Night

The Netflix Party Chrome extension lets you and your friends watch a movie or TV show in sync while hosting a chat session. You each need the extension and your own Netflix account. Pop some popcorn, argue over what to watch, and settle down to enjoy together.

7. Sing Karaoke

The bars are closed, so take the party to your video app of choice. Get music inspiration from this list of the 50 best karaoke songs, search for karaoke versions of your song choice on YouTube, and sing like no one is listening — but they are, because you invited them into your Skype chatroom.

8. Take a Zoom Happy Hour

After a long day of teleconferencing, you and your coworkers could do with a celebration. Schedule a Zoom meeting (or whatever platform your organization uses) just for happy hour, and relax a bit together, while safely separate.

9. Chat Around the Zoom Watercooler

No office is strictly business all the time. Make time for your coworkers to take breaks together while working from home, around the proverbial watercooler. Create a Zoom channel or meeting just to chat about anything other than work. These moments can help build the solidarity and connection that are so important to a healthy team.

10. Eat Out Together

Log in to your favorite video chat app to host a remote dinner party. Get some takeout (support a local business, as long as social distancing guidelines in your area allow), or pick a recipe that everyone can cook and then eat together.

11. Play Together

If you have kids stuck at home with you, chances are they could use some social connection too. Connect with the parents of their friends and hold a virtual playdate. They can color together, play Pictionary, and share quarantine adventures. The family chat app Caribu lets kids read and play games together.

12. Share on Social Media

Use Instagram Live or Facebook Live to share something you’re skilled at with your friends who are also stuck at home. Give a concert, read poetry (your own or a favorite poet’s), give a walking tour of local landmarks, teach a few Japanese lessons — the sky’s the limit. Doing a little good for others will go a long way in helping you feel less lonely.

Low-Tech Ways to Connect

You can still maintain ties without the smartphone, all while staying a safe distance away from other people. These low-tech ways to connect will build solidarity between neighbors, communities, and friends — just make sure before trying any that you’re following local recommendations and keeping high-risk groups safe.

13. Plan a Neighborhood Art Walk

Use your community Facebook group or Nextdoor to put on a neighborhood art walk. Have everyone hang posters, drawings, and messages on their doors or windows, or draw outside with sidewalk chalk, and then take a walk and enjoy your neighbors’ creativity.

14. Dance with Your Neighbors

Channel the quarantined Italians who sang together from balconies by putting on your own neighborhood dance party or singalong.

15. Cheer at 8 p.m.

A Twitter campaign called #solidarityat8 encourages Americans to stand on their porches or balconies at 8 p.m. every at to applaud the healthcare workers on the frontlines of COVID-19. Stand with your neighbors, wave at them, chat a bit from a safe distance, and cheer together for the workers who don’t get to stay home.

16. Run a Virtual 5K

So many walks and runs this spring (and possibly summer) are getting canceled. Instead of throwing in the towel, plan a 5K with your friends, family, or neighbors. Get out and run or walk, wherever you are, at the same time (six feet apart, of course!), and enjoy some solidarity and exercise.

17. Throw a Social Distancing Concert

If you live in a suburban neighborhood and play a loud instrument, put on a concert for your neighbors. Stand out in your lawn or backyard and play for all within earshot. Tell your neighbors about it ahead of time, so they can come outside and enjoy — or know when to turn up the volume on Netflix.

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18. Send Snail Mail and Play Window Tic Tac Toe

The elderly are already at high risk for loneliness and depression, so if there’s an age 60+ loved one in your life or neighborhood, don’t forget about them. Call them on the phone, buy them groceries, send letters and cards in the mail — you might head to their home and write messages on their windows, or even play tic tac toe with them on the other side of the glass.

19. Deck the Halls

Hallmark is bringing back Christmas to spread some cheer through the coronavirus gloom — why not do the same for your neighbors? Put your Christmas light back up and bust out your tackiest decorations. Walk the dog in your Halloween costume, put Valentines on doors, hang giant paper bunnies in your window — anything to entertain and surprise your neighbors.

20. Be a Helper

Fred, AKA Mr., Rogers told children, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Anything to help, from giving to a food bank, to ordering takeout at a local restaurant, to donating blood, will do some good and help you feel connected to your neighborhood and community.

Now’s the Time

Between your remote working and your distant socializing, stave off quarantine-induced loneliness and boredom by tackling a project you’ve been putting off. Now is a great time to finally build the website you always dreamed of. Your DreamHost team may be working from home for now, but we are still here to help you get your website up and running.

Sara Atwood

About the Author:

Sara Atwood loves a good story. She’s been writing them for and about DreamHost customers since 2017, along with insider tips for the care and keeping of great websites.