Humans are social animals.
From birth, we’re hard-wired for connection and community.
Coronavirus and social recession.
The current climate places this essential need under huge threat. With the public demands for social distancing and remote working to cope with the threat to our health posed by the Coronavirus, the accompanying sense of isolation and disconnectedness could take a huge toll on our mental health.
Research from dozens of studies finds a consistent relationship between social isolation, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
It’s all rooted in science. See, we experience isolation as a physical state of emergency. The absence of social connection creates a state of stress in the body stimulated by the release of more cortisol (stress hormone) and a lack of oxytocin (social bonding hormone)
But it’s not all bad.
Now, my reason for writing certainly isn’t to lay the doom and gloom on thick! Actually, as human beings, we’re incredibly resilient. And the more flexible we are, the greater our resilience to trauma.
Someone recently made the brilliant analogy of buildings that are made to withstand the trauma of earthquakes by swaying with the movement of the shaking ground below. This greater flexibility allows them to withstand the stress. Don’t ask me to explain the science of the design – but I hope you get it.
Just like those buildings, we also have some pretty nifty technology to give us that flexibility, supporting us through this crisis and beyond – Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Whatsapp, Facetime (other suppliers are available!) to name a few.
Businesses will do well to take heed.
In fact, whilst the current crisis may have jolted us into action, the trend of remote working and physical distance isn’t new.
It’s high time we harnessed technology in whatever guise to stay connected. Crisis or no crisis, virtual communication can be used to supplement our face-to-face interactions making us more agile and flexible, and our interconnectedness more resilient.
This has got to be a good thing given our reliance on it for health and happiness.
Indeed, Brene Brown puts it brilliantly – “Fear and anxiety can drive us to become very self-focused” but “this is the ultimate reminder that we are inextricably connected to each other. Turning away from collective action right now – as tempting as it is – will only generate more pain.”
Businesses must take drastic action to ensure that their people stay connected.
Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom had this to say:
“Given this coronavirus, I think overnight, almost everybody really understood they needed a tool like this…..This will dramatically change the landscape. I truly believe in the future, everyone will [use] video for remote worker collaboration.”
We’ll discover a lot through this forced geographical isolation.
Sometimes absence is the only way to truly understand the value of something.
At The Speakers’ Gym we truly believe in the importance of teams with high levels of EQ that communicate exceptionally well every day. Much of our consultancy is focused on equipping teams with the practical tools to put our core philosophy into action – “Speak, listen: Act” – rinse, repeat. Teams that stay connected – speak and listen to each other are far more agile, innovative, fail fast and move on.
Team’s that work in silos and don’t collaborate are less happy and far less productive.
When you remove the physical place of work, you realise just how vital this communication and connection is for business success. More and more businesses will learn this now. It’s not enough to rely on presence in a common space for connection. We’ll have to work harder. And in fact, this simple presence at the office has made us a little lazy.
Connection through isolation and beyond.
The tools have been available for some time. We just haven’t made best use of them. Just last week I spoke with a team leader that said their business has had access to Microsoft Teams for years. They’re only now making use of it. A reaction to the crisis.
There could be countless practical advances in the way businesses work through being forced to embrace virtual communication tools in the immediate term.
A positive experience of not having to be physically present and travel to a meeting could result in lasting changes.
We can start saving the money, time and headpsace exerted just to get everyone in one place. We could reduce our carbon footprint and improve work-life balance. This isn’t about doing away with face-to-face interaction. Far from it. But, by embracing more flexible means of communicating, we’ll remove barriers and increase the resilience of our interconnectedness.
There’s no escaping it – this is an incredibly challenging time and the effects of the Coranavirus have already been devastating. Let’s be clear, I’m not claiming the current situation to be a happily ever after. Absolutely not.
However, if the Coronavirus forces us to start exploring new ways to stay connected and to collaborate, regardless of the logistical challenges, this is one positive. And if it forces us to understand the value in looking out for each other and coming together to tackle our biggest challenges, business will eventually reap the benefits.
by Chris Wickenden, 17th March, 2020