How odd that the coronavirus hasn’t just infected the population but spread across our vocabulary too.
Only a few short weeks ago nobody had heard of Covid or social distancing or furloughing. Now those words have become part of everyday speech, as familiar to us as Joe Wickes’ exercises and washing our hands on the hour every hour.
And adding to the list comes ‘hangout’.
Hitherto, many people might have been forgiven for thinking hangouts were what teenagers did in the park, usually with a bottle of cider.
Now, though, hangouts are everywhere – via Google, Zoom, House Party. They are all the rage and all essentially the same thing – a way to connect face to face with friends and colleagues online.
This is all very well if the people you’re inviting into your home are your mates. They won’t mind catching sight of the dirty dishes in the sink behind you or the occasional shouting match off-camera between the kids.
But it’s a different kettle of fish when it’s the office calling.
People who up to now you’ve spoken to only to enquire why the printer might be off-line or complain about a lack of milk in the office ‘fridge are peering into your home and your private life, judging you on your taste in wallpaper, the colour of your shed, the piles of unironed washing lurking in the background.
Or maybe that’s just me.
I spend my working life on hangouts these days and my dining room has never looked more immaculate, with artfully arranged family photos on bookshelves, vases of flowers and carefully scattered cushions always in view of the little camera on my laptop.
Off screen, the room looks like we’ve been burgled but I’m determined that, to my colleagues at least, I appear as if I live in one of those perfectly dressed rooms in Ikea.
The other thing with work hangouts is that they force you to look presentable – at least from the waist up.
I thought working from home meant I could dispense with the tyranny of make-up, hair washing and ironing blouses but no – apparently it does your career no good to resemble someone who lives in a bid on the 9am call with the boss.
There are compensations, of course. If you’re nosey you can glean all sorts of fascinating detail about colleagues – is that a ukulele in the background? Why take a motorbike apart in the living room? And given the decor, who knew they were colour blind?
Plus, you can always blame ‘dodgy wi-fi’ if you have to disappear from a call that isn’t going well.
Best of all perhaps, despite being physically apart, hangouts have brought us together in a new and unexpected way, putting flesh on the bones of Carol from accounts or that bloke who sat by the door and never spoke, and turning them from colleagues into people.
I’m still going to run a duster round before that 3pm call, though.