The Must-Ask Question to Protect You and Your Team From Isolation

The pursuit of convenience has many workers snarled in a loneliness trap.

he world became a lonelier place on September 2, 1969.

On this date at a Chemical Bank branch in Rockville Centre, Long Island, New York the first ATM was unveiled. The automated teller machine sparked a revolution of convenience. What was once a process requiring face-to-face interaction was now a completely autonomous experience thanks to the sophistication of this invention. Today there are over 3 million ATMs worldwide.

Convenience, efficiency, and time-saving were attractive traits of the ATM, making it easy for people to adopt the new technology. ATMs soon became one of the first computers that were widely used by people. ATMs eventually became available in shopping malls, gas stations, airports, cruise ships, restaurants, military ships, and even in rural areas of Africa operating via solar power.

The invention and proliferation of the ATM teaches us some important lessons about loneliness and how we should approach remote working.

It’s estimated that the ATM has collectively saved people around the world billions of hours by eliminating waiting in long lines and speeding up the transaction process. However, there’s an opportunity cost associated with avoiding lines, and that cost is social connection. If you choose to use the ATM instead of entering the bank, you miss the opportunity to speak with fellow customers, tellers, or other bank employees. Ultimately, you trade connection for convenience. In fact, this is a primary reason why the wife of the inventor of the ATM took a very shocking stance on ATMs—a stance that is a masterclass in how to lessen loneliness. More on her stance later.

After mentioning these insights about ATMs in a recent in-person keynote presentation of mine, a woman spoke to me afterward explaining that she was a bank teller early in her career and before the bank had an ATM, people would gather every Friday and converse while they waited to process their paycheck. The bank served as a conduit of connection. It was a community staple. As soon as the ATM was introduced, the Friday social gathering vanished and she told me the "connections were never the same." The staple was removed and the tightly knit community fell apart.

Today's workplaces are experiencing a similar social vanishing where the new ATM is remote work.

If you were presented with the peculiar opportunity to press a big red button that reads “Delete the Internet,” would you push that button and erase the Internet from the face of the planet? While tempting for some people, most people I’ve polled have said they would not push the button. Why? Because the benefits of the Internet outweigh the risks. As long as the benefits of an invention or technology outweigh the risks (even if just slightly), then people will continue to adopt and integrate it into their lives.

However, while we’re marveling at the ease and novelty of today’s innovations, loneliness is wreaking havoc on our well-being and performance at work.

We are subtly turning our backs on humanity every day. We do this when we choose convenience like remote work, mobile banking, on-demand, and contact-less food delivery, or self-checkout kiosks. Just a generation ago, we could never have imagined just how convenient it would be to avoid connecting with people.

Technology isn’t bad. It's incredibly useful and at times it's better suited to carry out a task than humans are. However, if we are consistently automating out humans, we’d better start automating in more connectable habits, such as calling a friend 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 like responding to more emails, scrolling further on TikTok, consuming additional news, or binging longer on Netflix.

Regressing to pre-internet times in order to regain more social connection isn’t realistic, viable, or even desirable for most. What sane person would intentionally choose to refold those tricky road maps instead of relying on the real-time traffic updates of Google Maps?

However, now more than ever, we need to be more vigilant about fighting for less loneliness and more belonging in a world full of convenience and tempting distractions. Today’s ATMs come in many forms. Smartphones, email, remote working, social media, one-click ordering, binge-watching, and texting present us with subtle daily choices to trade connection for convenience. Left unaware and unchecked, these modern tools and ways of working can unknowingly march humanity into the deep dark sea of loneliness.

To guard ourselves, teams, and communities against this dangerous march toward isolation, we must continuously ask ourselves: Where can I trade convenience for connection?

    • Trade the convenience of sending an email for connecting on a video conference call.
    • Trade the convenience of a virtual meeting for connecting in an in-person gathering.
    • Trade the convenience of no commute for connecting with colleagues in the office.
    • Trade the convenience of shipping a new work laptop to a new hire for connecting during a tactile onboarding experience.
    • Trade the convenience of following the same agenda in a meeting for connecting with each other over personal stories.

Loneliness isn’t a problem to solve but rather a tension to manage. It will be a tension to be managed as long as humans are fully human. After all, loneliness is a useful biological cue that we belong together.

When the inventor of the ATM asked his wife to start using his new invention. She politely declined providing the reason that the ATM "will never smile back at you." To this day she has never used an ATM and prefers to interact with her local bank tellers. She has found one way to be more connectable by trading convenience for connection.

You should too.


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.

Gen Z Is More Interested in This at Work Than Flexibility

Employers will attract and retain more Gen Z talent if they can provide this.

You'd think a digital native generation would want to work digitally, right? Think again.

I've studied generational dynamics at work for a decade with an emphasis on the emerging generations. Over that decade, Millennials and Gen Z have been consistent proponents of remote work considering their confidence and competence using digital tools. However, experienced generations (Gen Xers and Boomers) were not interested in exploring new ways of working and stood firm that workers were most productive in the office.

Then 2020 said, "Don't knock it until you try it."

Remote work was stressed tested and it didn't break. Millennials and Gen Z easily adapted leaning on their digital native-ness. Eventually experienced managers and leaders developed a whole new appreciation for the ease, effectiveness, and possibilities of remote work. The once anti-remote work decision-makers became pro-work from anywhere.

The generational tables turned. The experienced generations had reversed their stance of remote work. The emerging generations also reversed their stance. And instead of finally rejoicing that they now get to work the way they've always wanted to, they are now apprehensive about the new fully remote and hybrid work arrangements.

Laslo Bock, CEO at Humu, summarized this generational pivot well with this example, "The CTO of a 30,000-person consulting firm told me the pandemic has been great for senior partners who no longer have to travel the world and are moving to low-cost havens like Bermuda, but miserable for young associates who miss out on the coaching and apprenticeship of the 'before times.'"

One Gen Z student put it this way, “Remote work shouldn’t be a requirement for young people. Working remotely is less intense—which is great if you have a family or other competing responsibilities. But for workers around my age, it offers less opportunity to showcase work ethic and capabilities.”

The transition to remote work has been easier for established generations who have developed social capital in the organization or industry and have context around how the company functions. Emerging generations lack the social capital and context and may never gain these valuable assets in a remote or hybrid environment.

Gen Z's Remote Work Concerns

Virtual work isn't always the ideal option, especially for Gen Z. Many Gen Zers are concerned remote work will threaten the following...

    • Career Advancement:  Getting passed over by coworkers who already had in-person relationships becomes much more likely during remote work.
    • Strong Relationships: It's harder to build trust with colleagues via strictly virtual environments. It's also easier to avoid conflict or other colleagues entirely when working virtually.
    • Growing Influence: Weak relationships decrease the influence someone might have with a group.
    • Gained Experience. Veteran virtual workers are more likely to handle work themselves rather than assign it to a new hire or young professional at a distance.
    • Professional Development: Mentoring opportunities become limited in virtual settings.
    • Culture Experience: Unable to experience the culture that's present in the office settings, meetings, and other company events.
    • Industry Awareness: Lose the opportunity to overhear conversations and engage in other meetings to expand one's industry knowledge.

For these reasons, Gen Z is interested in experiencing something beyond remote work.

What Gen Z's Craving

This is how Gen Z ranked their feelings about how certain workplace trends would favorably impact their job:

    1. Free meals in the office
    2. Casual dress code
    3. Games in the office
    4. Team happy hours / events
    5. Work from home / remotely

Gen Z ranked four items higher than remote work. And three of the top four items are in-person activities.

Additionally, a whopping 40% of college students and recent graduates prefer fully in-person work, with only 19% wanting to work remotely. This runs in stark difference with older generations where just 12% of all office workers prefer fully in-person work. Additionally, 66% of Gen Z want in-person feedback from their managers, rather than receiving a written report or chatting over Zoom. And 71% of Gen Z say they miss interacting with their co-workers in-person compared to 61% of Millennials.

Don't let Gen Z's digital prowess fool you into thinking they want to execute all work virtually.

Gen Z is craving connection.

Contrary to popular belief, they aren't cyborgs and have the same need for human connection as Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. Perhaps they have a greater need for connection, considering 73% of Gen Z report sometimes or always feeling alone—the highest level of any generation. While surveying a company for my new book, Connectable, 82% of their Gen Z employees said they experience loneliness at least weekly.

While returning fully back to the office might not be feasible or welcomed by all, fighting for ways Gen Z can cultivate more connection with their team, managers, and the organization is important.

Gen Z isn't interested in missing out on the socialization and connection with coworkers that are so vital when starting a career. Creating environments of connection and belonging could be the talent attraction and retention secret organizations everywhere are searching for.


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.

3 Psychological Nutrients Workers Need to Reverse the Great Resignation

These three items are the key to increasing worker engagement, commitment, performance, and mental health.

These three items are the key to increasing worker engagement, commitment, performance, and mental health.

When faced with a nutrient deficiency, people seek to replenish. When we are physically malnourished, we find sustenance. Same holds true mentally.

Psychologists, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, have identified the three human psychological needs necessary for optimal human functioning. The universal and innate psychological nutrients are competency, autonomy, and relatedness. Satisfaction of these basic needs promotes mental health and intrinsic motivation which drives engagement and higher performance at work.

A deficiency in any of these three psychological nutrients is causing workers to look elsewhere to get nourishment. When all three psychological nutrients are satisfied--autonomy, competence, and relatedness--workers experience the highest quality motivation that fuels passion, engagement, and commitment. Might these psychological nutrients hold the key for reversing the Great Resignation?

Psychological Nutrient #1: Autonomy

Autonomy is the agency to do things on your terms. It's the freedom of external constraints on behavior. Autonomy does not mean to be independent of others, but rather constitutes a feeling of overall psychological liberty and freedom of internal will. When a person is autonomously motivated their performance, wellness, and engagement is heightened rather than if a person is told what to do.

Autonomy is the opposite of micromanagement. Workers feel empowered when they have choice and when they are trusted to make the right decisions. Increasing someone's options and choices has been proven to increase their intrinsic motivation.

Workers who have clear direction and the freedom to act on their own accord with the ability to take direct action satisfy their psychological nutrient of autonomy.

What workers will say if they quit due to an autonomy deficiency?

    • Manager was too hands-on or micromanaged
    • Want more independence
    • Want more work-life balance
    • Want more career paths
    • Conflicted with workplace policy

How much autonomy does your team have to think and act on their own terms?

Psychological Nutrient #2: Competence

Competence is the need to feel capable. Competence occurs when someone is able to effectively meet the demands of their environment. Competency evokes feelings that someone is good at something.

When workers feel competent, they feel what they do is effective and masterful and can contribute to accomplishing worthwhile goals. Relevant feedback and expressing strong beliefs in the capabilities of others is key for satisfying the psychological nutrient of competence.

What workers will say if they quit due to a competence deficiency?

    • Need more of a challenge
    • Feeling uninspired
    • Want to feel valued
    • Lack of job growth or career advancement
    • Need more feedback
    • Want more recognition
    • Vague goals or no direction
    • Clearer company vision

Does your team feel competent in that they have the right skills and tools to contribute?

Psychological Nutrient #3: Relatedness

Relatedness is the need to feel involved with others. Relatedness is shorthand for being connected to colleagues, friends, family, and community. Humans have an innate need to belong. It is important to both make a contribution to the group and to feel cared for by the group.

Workers who are personally and emotionally connected to their colleagues and manager satisfy the psychological nutrient of relatedness.

Relatedness is perhaps the most crucial psychological nutrient because high-quality relationships are able to provide individuals with a bond to another person while simultaneously reinforcing their needs for autonomy and competence.

What workers will say if they quit due to a relatedness deficiency?

    • Seeking a better management relationship
    • Poor relationships with coworkers
    • Looking to live somewhere else
    • Company culture isn't a fit

How connected does your team feel to one another?
Looking for a way to measure how disconnected your team is and gain custom solutions for improving your team's connections? Check out the Team Connection Assessment™ here. It’s empirically validated to measure the strength and quality of connections teams have with their teammates, manager, and the work itself.


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.

The Complete Toolkit to Lead Remote Workers

Use these tactics and tools to keep your remote team unified, productive, and engaged.

Ubiquitous connectivity, mobile technology, shifting generational expectations, and life events (such as the COVID-19 outbreak) have all swiftly contributed to the growing number of people working from home.

Leading a remote workforce requires a different set of tools to sustain relationships and maintain productivity across a team.

Below are tactics and tools for leaders to boost engagement, create unity, and extend company culture among a remote workforce.

5 Ways Leaders Can Extend Company Culture to Remote Workers

1. Establish a Digital Water Cooler

On a remote team, watercooler talk (random and non-work-related conversation)is nonexistent. However, there are ways to cultivate the healthy aspects of water-cooler talk with a remote team.

Slack or Basecamp are chat services that are ideal for creating "channels" where watercooler talk can happen. Labeling channels such as “LOL” or “watercooler” can create a virtual place where the team can connect and build rapport with one another.

2. Openly Knowledge Share

Leaders should consider sharing industry news, company updates, financial status, etc. via a reoccurring virtual town hall meeting.

In addition, encouraging remote employees to share their work or non-work related knowledge is also a great way to cultivate culture. SnagIt or Screencast lets users share videos and images, and has mark up tools like blur, spotlight, magnify, and stamps that make it easy to share and teach others. Zoom or Skype are video conferencing services that also enable users to meet virtual and knowledge share.

3. Provide Recognition Digitally

High fives and pat on the backs aren’t possible when remote working. Leaders must consider new ways to recognize their team digitally.

15Five is a continuous performance management solution that helps leaders extend digital recognition, feedback, and coaching to their remote workforce. In addition, Tango Card makes it easy to send digital rewards (e-gift cards) to your team.

Read this to understand how emojis (and other visuals) can help clarify the emotional intent of our communications. This becomes increasingly important when remote working because we are less reliant on facial expressions.

4. Send Company Swag

It’s easy for remote workers to feel disconnected from the company brand.

Sending company swag (mugs, t-shirts, phone chargers, etc.) to your remote team can help to keep them connected to the company brand. Also, since remote workers are likely working alongside family members and/or roommates, send additional swag to include them.

5. Meet In Person (Eventually)

As powerful and enabling as technology is, it can’t replace the human-to-human connection. The secret to cultivating and sustaining culture among a remote workforce, is in-person meet-ups. In-person meetings create opportunities for employees to bond, build trust, relationship build, and have fun. All core to building enduring team culture.

For example, the 900+ remote employee company, Automattic, gets the entire company together every year for a “grand meet-up” in a beautiful location.

Once you establish a healthy culture among your remote team, turn your attention to the below tactics for leading your remote workforce effectively.

6 Tactics for Effectively Leading a Remote Workforce

1. Set Clear Expectations

Remote work is usually less structured than non-remote work, therefore clear expectations are critical. Clearly outline the expectations and then offer the necessary autonomy and trust for the team to execute.

    • Mission and vision
    • Yearly, monthly, and weekly goals
    • Hours of operation
    • Available resources and tools
    • Preferred communication methods, channels, and timing
    • Contact into and guidelines for support
    • Project and/or task ownership
    • Team availability (when, where, and how to be reached)

2. Connect Consistently

A lack of consistent connection, can leave remote workers feeling isolated and disconnected from the organization's goals and mission.

    • Schedule routine virtual meetings.
    • Designate a specific time (daily, weekly or monthly) where the entire team is online at the same time allowing for quick collaboration or help if needed.
    • Consider an "open status policy” (similar to an “open door policy”) where your online status (busy, away, available, etc.) is accurate so that remote workers know when they can connect with you.

3. Choose the Right Channel

Today’s workers have gotten fairly good at blending digital and non-digital communications in non-remote working environments. However, in a fully remote working environment, all communications are digital and a new set of rules, know-how, and abilities are needed.

When communicating with remote workers, ensure your intended message aligns with the appropriate channel. Here is a quick overview on how to use today's primary communication channels.

    • Phone: long, detailed, difficult, and/or emotional conversations
    • Email: objective and brief information.
    • Chat: informal messages, general announcements, news, quick team collaborating, and socializing.
    • Video (Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc.): focused, long, feedback-rich, emotional or difficult conversations.

4. Communicate Transparently

When communicating with a remote team, transparency is paramount. A remote team is able to be more productive and autonomous when they are well informed.

To allow a remote team to function smoothly as a single unit, make information transparent from the sense of being easily accessible and readily available by using file-sharing services like Google Docs, Dropbox, etc.

5. Track Proactively

The ability to track and measure progress is empowering to any worker, and it’s no different for remote workers. However, the tools used to track progress for remote teams can be different. Consider time tracking, task management, and/or activity tracking tools to review what the team and individuals are accomplishing.

    • Monday.com is a work operating system that powers teams to run processes, workflows, and projects in once digital workspace.
    • Trello helps to organize and prioritize projects and track progress.

IDoneThis helps remote workers aggregate their daily activity into a single report.

6. Monitor Well-Being

Setting boundaries between personal and work can be challenging for remote workers. The new independence of a remote worker leading to laziness and low performance can be very top of mind for managers.

"The greater danger is for [remote] employees to overwork themselves and burn out. It's the manager's responsibility to guard against this outcome," says David Hansson, New York Times Bestselling author of Remote: Office Not Required, says, 

Help employees take the appropriate time for themselves and maintain work-life balance by utilizing tools like OfficeVibeCultureAmp, and TINYpulse which can effectively monitor employee morale and engagement.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ryan Jenkins, CSP® (Certified Speaking Professional)™, is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker, virtual trainer, and author of Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All-In. For a decade, he has helped organizations lessen worker loneliness, create inclusive cultures, and prepare for the future of work. He is also co-founder of LessLonely.com, the premier resource for addressing workplace loneliness. Follow his latest insights at @RyanAndSteven.

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

How to Improve Communication With Your Remote Team

Here are three communication tips to increase productivity, empathy, and performance among a remote team.

Remote work has worked.

Halo Top, the reduced-calorie ice cream brand, grew from $230,000 in 2013 to more than $100 million in 2018 and they achieved that growth with all 75 employees working remotely.

Remote work has to work.

Eighty-three precent of office workers want to work from home at least one day a week, and 55 percent of employers anticipate that most of their workers will do so long after COVID-19 is not a concern. Global Workplace Analytics predicts that thirty million US employees will regularly work from home within the next two years which is six times as many as did before.

Remote work has to be worked.

Forty four percent of high-level executives are “completely confident” that their companies can maintain employee engagement during COVID conditions, but only 25% of employees feel the same. And 48 percent of high-level executives are “completely confident” they can maintain good communication between themselves and employees during the crisis, while only 28% of employees agree.

Workers won’t be returning to the same workplace they left behind. All workers will need to discover new ways to collaborate, connect, and perhaps most importantly... communicate.

3 Ways to Improve Communication With Your Remote Team

1. Schedule Times for “Bursty” Communication

A “bursty” communication style, where ideas are communicated and responded to quickly, leads to a 24 percent performance increase among remote teams.

A remote team can cultivate burstiness by identifying a common day and time (Tuesdays from 3-4pm EST for example) where the entire team is online and prepared to engage with any team communications. Using communication channels like text, chat, or email synchronously instead of asynchronously during times of burstiness enables teams to achieve higher performance. Productivity and engagement increase when team members know someone is ready to immediately respond to their communications.

Scheduling bursts of activity is particularly important for teams distributed across different time zones or who may have varying work schedules. Burstiness differs from meetings in that there is no set agenda and the central goal is the rapid exchange of information and/or ideas.

Burstiness allows remote team members to align their activities where the result is energetic and focused collaboration.

2. Clarify the Emotional Intent of the Communication

Vague digital communications such as “Sure” or “Fine,” can leave recipients spending unproductive time and energy reading into the emotional intent behind the text. In fact, 90 percent of the time people think their emails and texts are understood be recipients but the messages are understood only 50 percent of the time. As digital communications grow, the lack of facial expressions and tone of voice leave more room for misinterpretation. For example, 60 percent of the time a two-word email or text is interpreted as sarcastic.

When the intent of a message isn’t clear, humans will fill in the gaps using a negative bias and will assume the worst. In order to avoid negative biases hijacking the intended meaning of your digital communications, clarify the emotional intent of your communications.

Here are two ways to clarify the emotional intent of your communications:

  • Use emojis. The same part of the brain that processes human faces also processes emojis. Emojis can help close the generational gap, enhance relationships and have become more prevalent at work.
  • Use more descriptive words. Instead of texting “Ok,” which can be interpreted in many different ways such as apathy, submission, passive aggressive or acceptance, consider adding more description such as “Ok, happy to follow up with the client later today.” The word “happy” removes the emotional ambiguity and clarifies the emotional intent.

3. Communicate Using Voice Only

Voice-only communication enhances emphatic accuracy. While working remotely, it’s tempting to turn on video for every interaction. However, if you want to know what someone is feeling, you might be better off just hearing their voice. In experiments, people read other people’s emotions more accurately when the room lights were turned off or when the video feed was disabled. When virtual cues are absent, people tend to focus more on the conversation content and tone of voice of the person speaking.

Additionally, deciding to turn off video during communications can allow introverts to more fully contribute. Introverts are more sensitive to stimulus and consistent eye contact or visual stimuli can be overwhelming and exhausting for them.

Video communications is very useful, especially when establishing trust with someone, however, when trust is established considering using voice-only. Next time someone asks you which video platform you prefer for the meeting, tell them audio.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ryan Jenkins, CSP® (Certified Speaking Professional)™, is an internationally-recognized keynote speaker, virtual trainer, and author of Connectable: How Leaders Can Move Teams From Isolated to All-In. For a decade, he has helped organizations lessen worker loneliness, create inclusive cultures, and prepare for the future of work. He is also co-founder of LessLonely.com, the premier resource for addressing workplace loneliness. Follow his latest insights at @RyanAndSteven.

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

close-link