In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are being asked to avoid large crowds and socially distance from others.


While this isn’t in our human nature, in reality we have been practicing social distancing for years now. We have increased remote work, social media and mobile phone usage to the point where, according to a study by Dscout, we touch our phones on average 2,617 times per day. Not to mention the consistent drumbeat from life hackers telling us to meet less or in some cases, not at all. 

I personally understand everyone is now valuing productivity over personal connection. The surge in video meetings and programs has us all believing that this is the next great thing. Efficiency and productivity gurus are telling people “I told you so” because meetings are so much quicker now over video. 

However, the video conference has a lot to be desired that it can never replace. Most of my meetings are an hour long. In that one hour, I get to learn a lot more about the person than just getting to the point. In-person meetings provide connection, build rapport and provide belonging that is difficult to replicate via video. 

According to an article by Alex Pentland, MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab spent hundreds of hours tracking performance drivers across industries by collecting data on everything from tone of voice to body language. The results showed overwhelmingly that the most valuable communication is done in-person, and that typically 35 percent of the variation in a given team’s performance was explained by the number of times team members actually spoke face-to-face.

Our continued trend toward socially isolating ourselves has led to increased loneliness and depression, and the long term health effects are catastrophic to society.


According to a 2018 survey by Cigna, people who have daily meaningful in-person interactions score 20 points lower on the loneliness index and are healthier than those who do not. 

Take into consideration our cell phone usage in front of children, or for that matter, one another when we are out socializing at a bar or restaurant. We don’t even know our neighbors anymore. 

According to Pew Research, a third of Americans don’t know their neighbors’ names. We visit coffee shops to be around other people, and yet sit by ourselves. Alexa and Siri are basically new members of the family. And this lack of actual actual one-on-one connection to someone can cost us what we really want.

We have even socially distanced ourselves in the way we designed our cities.


This image of Cleveland shows the population in 1948 at roughly 1.4 million people. It shows a side by side comparison of 1.4 million people in 2002. The spread of people away from each other is eye opening. In the 1950s, half of residents in the 20 largest metro areas lived in the principal city. More lanes, longer commutes and more logged miles creates increased isolation.

In fact, over 75% of people drive alone in their car every day to and from work. Poor design leads to less kids playing games on the sidewalks or people on the street. Less people on the street leads to less of those very special serendipitous collisions that generate dopamine that a social media “like” can’t replace.  

Present and future predictions point to an economic recession and increased loss of life. But these predictions fail to account for the additional social ramifications we will face. 


Humans crave social interaction (yes, even introverts.) Human beings feel safest in groups, and we experience isolation as a physical state of emergency. 

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, social isolation will hit kids and the least technologically savvy the hardest. 

While teens and adults will experience online hangouts, happy hours and meetings as a new way to connect, it can be devastating for kids as isolation can be closely related to loneliness and physiological illness. Those without robust networks of family and friends will also struggle in this quarantine. 

For the foreseeable future, gone are the moments of hanging out at third spaces, brainstorming an idea over a drink, bumping into friends at the local coffee shop and the trust that comes by a great conversation, direct eye contact and human touch. 

I believe this virus might change our social behavior for years to come. I fear that we will become more isolated

My personal career has been about connecting people to place, passion and purpose that helps them find belonging.


Those connections have mostly been in person. NEWaukee has created a process known as social architecture, the conscious design of an environment that encourages a desired range of social behaviors leading towards some goal or set of goals. In this case, that goal is to prevent people from isolation and loneliness at a time of unprecedented confusion and challenges. 

We created a process for social architecture that has guided us to create meaningful experiences with purpose over the last decade. The experiences have helped thousands of people connect and find their belonging. This process could be something you use to connect in the coming weeks online and, in the future, in person. 

  1. Help create mechanisms for change | You can create these mechanisms inside the company and the community. Allowing people a voice and an opportunity to impact change creates a sense of belonging. 
  2. When creating something new, it’s not always about age – often, it’s about the stage of life | We tend to classify people so much depending on what age they are. But people that are in the same age group can be in a totally different stage in life. 
  3. Understand transition | There are so many different points in someone’s life where they can become isolated. If you are new to a city, a veteran returning from service, retiring, starting a business or graduating college, these are critical times in one’s life. In the case of the coronavirus, a lot of us are transitioning to working out of home or being let go from a job. What can we create around these transition points to help people cope?
  4.  Intersectionality | Often, people find their “tribe.” However, the key to belonging is going beyond affinity. It’s about intersecting with different people from all walks of life. I challenge you during this time to search and hear from people outside of your comfort zone or people with different perspectives. 
  5. Trust is shared experience + time | There are special experiences that can be created to rapid prototype trust. But often, shared experience over time is the only key to creating trust in a world where our only social cohesion seems to come down to what party you vote for.
  6. Consistency | This is simple to understand, but hard to accomplish. When creating belonging, you can’t do something once and expect the world to change. There has to be a plan in place to continually deliver towards your social behavioral goal. 


So, is a social recession coming?
I’m afraid the answer is that we were already in one. 


In the coming weeks, while we are quarantined, please use all means possible to take care of your families, your future and try to create reservations beyond a table for one.  

If you’d like to talk about how NEWaukee’s services and process of social architecture can help your business during this time of transition, email me at


Written by Jeremy Fojut
Co-Founder | Chief Idea Officer at NEWaukee


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