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‘No (wo-)man is an island.’

We’ve all heard that proverbial expression, right? It serves to suggest that we, as humans, aren’t intended or designed to go through life alone.

Adages like John Donne’s and those similar – ‘It takes a village’ – ring true. They resonate with us on a deep, primal level. But before we go on extolling the virtues of community, tribes and villages, allow us to address the elephant in the room.

Yes. Our company is entirely virtual. A company where everyone, from our corporate team to our contractors, works from the solitude of their homes.

But hear us out. 

In spite – or because –of that virtual model, we’ve forged a company culture so rich and so robust that it’s won countless awards. And not just any awards. We’re talking about us being one of the highest-scoring businesses on Inc Magazine’s annual list of best workplaces.

Yeah, culture is that integral a part of who we are at BELAY. So we know about community. We are a tribe, and this is our village. 

But outside of our professional tribes, what can we do to stay connected and feel like a part of a pack?

The Science of Modern Socializing

It’s hard to overstate the impact that modern life – specifically the digital revolution – has had on our ability to establish and cultivate community, at least in the ways that would have defined establishing and cultivating community some 15-20 years ago.

Picking up a phone to speak telephonically instead of texting? GASP. 

Meeting IRL rather than behind the security of a glowing screen? THE HORROR.

Sociological study: Next time you’re out, count how many people you see staring down at their smartphones. It’s alarming.

Now, to be clear, we’re not innocent of such charges. We are, after all, acting members of this ‘modern’ society so we, too, participate – and relish – in some of the computer comforts afforded us.

But it’s mind-bending to recognize that while we’ve never been more connected, we’ve also never been more disconnected. Ever.

Our increased reliance on texting, email, and social media has made one thing alarmingly clear: We have forgotten how to develop deep, authentic connections with other people. And we are lonely.

Sharing Your Island

To forge meaningful relationships with friends, partners, co-workers, family, and yes, even strangers, it’s critical to actively seek out the right opportunities for deep connection. 

So below, I’ve listed just a few ideas for dipping your toe in the IRL waters.

And for those of you who break out into the small-talk sweats at the mere mention of proactively putting yourself in uncharted social situations, fear not: You can do this!

Strike Up A Conversation

But skip the usual suspects ‘What do you do?’ and ‘Where are you from?’ 

Have a few unusual icebreakers at the ready to pepper into a fresh, new conversation to get things moving. 

‘If you were a wrestler, what would be your walk-up song?’ 

Now that made us giggle.

Give A Compliment

The fastest way to get someone to drop their guard is to give them an unexpected compliment. Seriously. 

Pay attention to what you genuinely like about someone so that it’s sincere, personal and tailored to them. 

Then, just watch their face light up, their shoulders relax and a smile wash over their face.

Be An Active Listener

You’d be amazed at how quickly you can forge a connection with someone when you make it clear that you see and hear them. 

A well-placed follow-up question or repeating something of note that they’ve shared later in your conversation does wonders for creating a connection.

Get Involved

Whether it’s a hobby, volunteering, a book club or an aerobics class, your activity du jour will afford you what most other gatherings may not: a room full of people with whom you have at least one thing in common – your shared interest in that activity.

See? Those weren’t so bad, were they? Breathe, take baby steps, and give yourself grace as you brave the exciting new (old) world of real-life human interaction. 

Like anything, it will get easier – and more fun – the more you practice being actively social.

And PRO TIP: It doesn’t hurt to have your favorite hype music playing in your head while you’re at it.