My current social life is not as empty as you might think. Each week, I usually have a couple of calls with friends, sometimes over a bad attempt at yoga, I might play Jackbox after work, and I join a lengthy and needlessly pedantic music discussion. The unexpected thing about the latter two is that they are with my colleagues, or to put it another way, people I’ve met since Covid.
To emphasise this, I’ll rewind to roughly one year ago. I feel like everyone’s all too aware of this quote from the Office by now: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you actually left them”. Sounds great in a TV show, but I honestly thought I was smarter than all that. I thought, “Great, I already know that the good old days are at university, so I have until graduation in July to make the most of it”. And then March happened. So if the pandemic was sent just to spite me, then I apologise for my hubris. But in all seriousness, it was hard to suddenly realise that I wouldn’t ever get a chance to say goodbye to a lot of my friends, and I didn’t see much in the future for making new ones.
Fear not though, student-Jess. I’ve proved myself wrong. I’m pleasantly surprised by the connections that I’ve made post-Covid. It’s common nowadays to discuss the differences between work-from-home and being in the office, but I’ve never really known anything else, at least not as a full-timer and a graduate. Maybe that’s why I and the CEMPS DLDs have managed so well. I have never met any of my co-workers (apart from one who informed me that we had in fact spoken at a party years ago – sorry, Will) and yet I can imagine us keeping in touch after our contracts end in the summer.
It would be remiss of me not to give credit to our task manager Barrie and our “daily debriefs”. It started with a scheduled chat every morning and afternoon – nothing particularly structured, no intimidating icebreakers. Just 30 seconds each to sum up our day, and a chance to ask any questions. This may sound unnecessarily frequent but they were invaluable for us new starters. Without staff kitchens or printer queues you can easily go a day without speaking to another human. It’s also much more awkward to meet new people, so these meetings really kickstarted our group’s interactions and gave us a window into each other’s days. As we found our feet, the meetings dwindled from ten a week to seven, then four, and now we plan our own events for both work and social topics. Events vary between after-work games, discussions about training and professional development, and the inter-college DLD Societies.
I am personally most involved in the DLD Music Society. Forming last term around creating collaborative playlists to fit a theme, the focus this term has shifted onto an Album Club, where we discuss an album each week chosen by one of our members. Even in four weeks we’ve ranged from alternative hip-hop to jazz-funk, from 2004 to a few months ago. I’d never heard of Hiatus Kaiyote but their album Choose Your Weapon was an exciting if disorientating trip through soul, jazz, and prog rock. I have really appreciated how the society has helped reignite my passion for music; even as one of my main hobbies it has not been immune to the sterilising effects of multiple lockdowns. My main takeaway though is nothing to do with music but is in fact my altered perception of my colleagues. Chatting about work is one thing but sharing our personal interests will always amplify these connections. I’ll take this chance again to invite all DLDs to join Music Society or any of the other societies – you’re not too late and you need nothing but your enthusiasm.
I won’t pretend that all these events are purely products of Covid. I would hope that something similar would have happened in an office, and we should be thankful that they’ve been made possible by the ever-welcoming and hospitable culture we’ve found here at the University. But I wanted to reassure people that it’s not all doom and gloom. I considered whether I might look back in a few years’ time and see these virtual interactions as two-dimensional, but I really don’t think I will.