Christina Herbach is a retail strategist who loves designing spaces for connection. She’s also passionate about dinner parties and co-founded Bring Your Own Story, a global supper club for entrepreneurs, innovators, creatives and curious minds.
In our current environment, however, many of our favorite community spaces and special events have been put on hold. So we turned to her to ask - how can we connect, create, and support each other during this challenging time? Below are her top five suggestions:
The first step to real connection is accepting that it requires vulnerability. For a long time, I found connecting digitally to be awkward. Recorded, my voice sounds funny. On video, my hair seems frizzy. The screen freezes just as I’m about to sneeze. But that's ok. Digital connection can inevitably be stilted at times, but we’re all in this together and you may be pleasantly surprised to find that reconnecting may actually be less awkward than ever before.
For example, a London-based friend recently told me how he was reaching out to old friends in NYC who he hadn’t spoken to in years. He thought they might not have time or anything in common to talk about, but with Covid-19, the whole world has a little more time, and a LOT in common. Really, there’s never been a better time to reach out, catch-up and let people know you’re thinking of them.
Just because you’re separated from friends and family, doesn’t mean that you can’t throw a great party or go on an adventure.
Recently, my two friends Sally and Tom organized an incredibly imaginative murder mystery. They used a Whatsapp group to introduce a dozen friends to the place and time (2100 AD, approaching the edge of the galaxy) and asked each of us to dream up our own character. We were then given our secret clues and had a zoom call, everyone dressed in funny costumes as the script was unveiled via a shared google document.
I’ve also heard of friends organizing pub quizzes, yoga classes, and wine tastings (with bottles readily found at a local grocery store). And of course, there’s a whole world of video games and esports to explore with friends. For example, companies like Zwift allow you to convert a regular bike to an indoor one where you can race against people from around the world in beautiful virtual settings.
Even if you’re just having a simple digital dinner date though, I recommend lighting a candle, putting some flowers on the table and pouring a nice glass of wine. Put on one of Lonely Planet’s city playlists. Treat yourself and immerse yourself. Just because the connection is digital doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel transported.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from organized events are spontaneous one-off chats. With almost all socializing happening online, it can be refreshing not to schedule every interaction. In fact, I’m finding I need surprise and delight now more than ever.
For this, I’ve found the Houseparty to be ideal. Last week, my boyfriend was using it to catch up with an old friend in NYC when his grandmother joined the virtual party, resulting in a delightfully spontaneous moment for all three. A few hours later, I was talking to my brother in the US, when his business partner jumped into our call. These interactions were in turns hilarious, strange and wonderful. In a different world, these connections might never have happened, but with everyone at home, geographic constraints have dissolved. Friends are meeting family, and family are meeting coworkers. And I love it.
To supplement screens, I’m also finding it refreshing to skip the tech and go old school. Over the weekend, my friend Ewelina baked homemade brownies and delivered them to our mailbox during her evening walk as a secret surprise. We loved getting her text, "Go take a look outside! I've left a surprise for you!" followed by unwrapping the present and digging in with vanilla ice cream on top. Seriously, there is no virtual equivalent of a warm brownie with ice cream.
Even if you live far away from friends and family, it’s possible to send a care package or mail a little love note. I’m also digging Postcrossing, “a postcard exchange project that invites everyone to send and receive postcards from random places in the world.” For birthdays and other celebrations, you could also consider scheduling a delivery from a local bakery or florist where the recipient lives. The upside here is that you'll support small businesses that may still be operating in that area.
Finally, the introverted side of myself would be remiss if I didn’t mention that obviously, it’s 100% OK if you want to disconnect from it all for a bit. I used to think of my home as a sanctuary and retreat from the world. But now it seems that we’ve invited the whole world - close friends, distant family, co-workers - into every moment and inch of our personal space. So take some time to turn the tech off and be with yourself.
Personally, I love gardening and the Forest app is an amazing way of forcing myself to limit screen time and go outside to do some spring planting. I’m also loving the Nike Run Club x Headspace collaboration which has a whole range of guided meditative runs for when you just need to get out of your head and sweat.
How have you been staying connected? We’d love to hear your suggestions for us and the Lois Hazel community in the comments below!