Malcolm Gladwell's Fears About Remote Work Are Real. It's Your Brain That's Telling You Lies — Here's Why.

When it comes to remote work, what you need and what you want are two entirely separate things.

"It's not in your best interest to work at home." A bold and controversial statement made by five-time  bestselling author  on the "Diary of a CEO" podcast. Since then, the internet has been ablaze, mostly in opposition to Gladwell's strong stance against remote work. There was so much backlash that Gladwell reinserted himself into the conversation and doubled down on this pro-office position stating, "offices really do matter."

Gladwell is right — I can confidently say that, as someone who has spent over three years researching connections at work. No research shows that our social connections improve while working in virtual environments. This alone should cause us to pause and be much more thoughtful about how we approach work moving forward. Additionally, 69% of employees aren't satisfied with the opportunities for connection in their workplace. And people who have weak connections at work have a 313% stronger intent to quit.

So, why did so many employers and employees have issues with Gladwell's comments? Because our brain is conflicted and lying to us.

Why your brain is conflicted over remote work


If someone had their car keys taken away from them as a teenager, it was devastating. Why? Autonomy was lost. That's how many people felt after Gladwell's anti-remote work comments. Coming from such an influential thought leader, people felt as though remote work was in jeopardy of being stripped away from them. Their autonomy was attacked.

And that should concern you because autonomy is one of the three psychological nutrients necessary for optimal human functioning. Autonomy is the agency to do things on your terms. It's the freedom from external constraints on behavior. However, autonomy does not mean being independent of other people. And that's where our brain gets conflicted because another of our primary psychological nutrients is connection.

This is the crux of the whole debate between remote versus in-person. Two of our primary psychological nutrients are in conflict like we have never experienced before. Your brain wants autonomy. Your soul needs connection.

How your brain misleads you about human connection


Researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Berkeley recently teamed up to conduct experiments across trains, city buses, cabs, airports and waiting rooms to discover how people benefit from spontaneous social interaction.

Random passengers were recruited and divided into three groups, each with a specific condition. The first group was the "solitude condition," where passengers were instructed to keep to themselves, not engage with anyone and focus on the day ahead. The second group was the "control condition," where passengers were instructed to do whatever they normally did, which was typically not speaking to others. The third group was the "connection condition," where passengers were instructed to make a connection with someone else on the train and get to know something about a stranger.

The results? People reported the most positive experience in the connection condition, whether they were the initiator or receiver of the connection and whether they were introverted or extroverted. The real kicker? When people were asked before they participated in the experiment which condition they thought they would be most satisfied in, most people wrongly chose the solitude condition.

People wrongly predicted that engaging with others wouldn't be pleasant. We think a quick conversation will be awkward, too time-consuming, rejected by the other person, or not worth the effort, but those intuitions are wrong, even for shy people. Our brains mislead us, but the research is clear: connecting with others, no matter our personality type, makes us feel more satisfied.

Are you choosing remote work because you think you'll be more satisfied?

Your brain wants solitude. Your soul needs connection. Sure, you can spark and cultivate connections outside of work when working remotely. Still, if you don't have strong connections with the people you spend the most time with during your waking hours — your colleagues — you'll experience a deeper and unexpected level of disconnection. You're highly susceptible to experiencing a deeper sense of disconnection and loneliness.

The late actor and comedian Robin Williams summed it up well when he said, "I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone." Work is one of the best opportunities we have to establish consistent connections. Let's not squander it behind screens. The immediate benefits of remote work are easy to see (no commute, control over schedule, productivity, etc.), but the long-term damages are not as easy to see but are much more severe (isolation, loneliness, languishing, burnout, depression, etc.). Gladwell is right. It's in our best interest to be together. Together we're healthier. Together we're stronger. Together we belong.


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.

Need help strengthening the connections across your team or organization? Contact us today to see how our experts, assessments, or other services can help.

4 Lies We Are Telling Ourselves About Remote Work

These four remote work lies are unknowingly hijacking your best chance at satisfaction at work (and in life).

Technical skills depreciate.  appreciate. Yet, we continue to make decisions counter to this logic — the most recent being remote work.

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.

Lie #1: I'm more connected with my colleagues than ever before

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.

 is the exchanging of data or  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  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?

Our Wi-Fi connections might be stronger than ever, but our personal connections are waning. Don't believe the lie that communication is the same as connection.

Lie #2: Belonging isn't that important to me, and I can find it outside of work

In 1938,  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  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.

Lie #3: I don't need strong connections at work because I have relationships elsewhere in my life

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 . 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.

Lie #4: The convenience of remote work is better for my mental health and well-being

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,  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.

Need help strengthening the connections across your team or organization? Contact us today to see how our experts, assessments, or other services can help.