The productivity and autonomy of remote work are appealing. However, the isolation and hazards of remote work are unassumingly alarming. Before you go all in on remote work, ensure these lies aren't hijacking your or your team's ultimate well-being and performance at work.
If you think you're more connected than ever, think again. We are communicating more but connecting less. Today we email, text, instant message and collaborate via social tools to communicate with our colleagues, but that doesn't equate to connection.
Communication is the exchanging of data or information between entities. Connection is a feeling of understanding and ease of communication between two or more people. Communication is dealt. Connection is felt.
The human brain makes a clear distinction between communication and connection. Communication is processed in the brain's frontal lobe, whereas connection, and the emotions related to connection (e.g., empathy, trust, love, etc.), is processed in the insular cortex part of the brain.
While connection can still occur in virtual environments, our ability to connect visually, intellectually and emotionally with others is severely throttled without the full in-person presence of others.
The transmission of information keeps culture shallow. The admission of feelings keeps culture deep where the roots of trust, loyalty and respect flourish. Has your attempt to communicate with colleagues fostered a deeper, more meaningful relationship? Or have you merely been pushing around information?
In 1938, Harvard University began the longitudinal study of adult development to identify predictors of healthy aging. The 75-year-old study concluded that the definitive answer to a long and healthy life is quality connections with others.
Belonging is humanity's most significant need. Because it's not our most urgent need and there aren't immediate ramifications for not seeking belonging, we tend to treat it as a non-priority. Sort of like how we are currently treating in-person working.
It can be difficult to cultivate and maintain adult friendships as life stages and priorities shift. We move houses, kids join new sports teams, friends transfer to new cities and so on. However, work is often more stable, remaining constant and providing a common thread as other aspects of life seem to change seasonally. Therefore, work is a great place to seek or deliver belonging.
One of the most standout findings from the aforementioned study is that the happiest retirees were those who actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates. The participants had to make an intentional effort to find new friends after their work life ended. That proposes a unique scenario that, for the bulk of our lives, work is the place where we make and maintain friendships — that is, if we're lucky enough to be part of an organization with a strong culture of belonging.
Don't believe the lie that belonging is not a priority.
Researchers have categorized loneliness (or disconnection) into three dimensions that are defined by the type of relations that are missing. These three dimensions have been identified in people young and old across the globe. The three disconnection dimensions are 1) Intimate loneliness (defined by the absence of a significant someone), 2) Relational loneliness (defined by the absence of quality friendships and family connections), and 3) Collective loneliness (defined by the absence of community, social identities or active networks).
Having healthy social connections in each of these dimensions is ideal and leads to the highest quality of life. However, many people find they are deficient in one or more of the dimensions. This explains why someone can have a supportive family at home but still feel lonely within their community or at work.
Having strong connections outside of work won't fully satisfy your connection craving. Don't believe the lie that strong connections in one area of your life will protect you against isolation and loneliness.
Autonomy is one of the three psychological nutrients humans need. Having flexibility and freedom in our decisions and schedules is desirable. However, connection is also one of the three psychological nutrients we need. As someone who has spent years studying and writing about loneliness, a lack of connection with others is one of the greatest threats to our mental and physical health. In fact, social isolation significantly increases a person's risk of premature death — even more than smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.
We are wildly underestimating how much we need human connection.
By choosing convenience over connection, we are subtly turning our backs on humanity every day. We do this when we choose contactless activities like mobile banking, ride-sharing, on-demand food delivery, self-checkout kiosks and remote work.
These conveniences aren't bad. However, if we are automating out humans, we'd better start automating in more connectable habits, such as coffee with a colleague, in-person training with the team or having lunch with a new hire. After all, isn't the purpose of automation to regain time? But instead of using that time to connect more deeply with others, too many of us spend it on solitary pursuits checking more off our ballooning to-do lists.
When left unchecked, today's modern conveniences can unknowingly march humanity into the deep, dark, sickly sea of isolation and loneliness. Don't believe the lie that the convenience of remote work is better for your mental health and well-being.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ryan Jenkins, CSP® (Certified Speaking Professional)™, is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker, virtual trainer, and three-time published author. His latest book is Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All In. For a decade, he has helped organizations optimize generational dynamics, lessen worker loneliness, and prepare for the future of work. He is also co-founder of LessLonely.com, the world’s first resource fully dedicated to reducing worker isolation and strengthening team connections. Ryan lives in Atlanta, GA with his wife, three children, and yellow Labrador. Learn more at RyanJenkins.com.
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