Invisible Threads are the Strongest Ties

 Posted by Jean, 24 March, 2016      

We need human interaction even more than air, say psychologists. In his book "Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect", UCLA professor Matthew Lieberman says that "being socially connected is our brain's lifelong passion". His neuroscience research shows that human interaction is a basic need, just like food, water and shelter. The worst punishment we can get is solitary confinement, to be stripped of human interaction and connection.

When most of us are working remotely in one form or another, how can we remain ‘social’?

The complexities of working remotely are huge. We are not in the same room, often work across cultures, work in a language that is not our first language, work across time zones and, on top of all that, we have to deal with the technology that links us. My experience is that when we work remotely, we also become much more focused on the task. We take less time to connect and build the team and relationships. Being too task-focused can reduce performance and impact on the quality of our work.

Here, we can learn from airline pilots and surgeons, who work in areas where safety is paramount. The airline industry has approached safety by developing consistent practice through the use of checklists. Surgeons are required to implement the WHO safety checklist with surgical teams before they operate. The checklists ensure everything is ready and safe. Significantly, they also ensure that team members take the time to connect before they start work. Open communication and effective teamwork are critical to safety. If something goes wrong, members are able to listen well to one another under pressure and work together to solve the problem.

The loss of face-to-face connection when we work from home or work in a different office to co-workers can loosen our ties to one another. So even when we are on chat – just checking-in with someone – we can add the human touch by taking the interaction from an impersonal focus on tasks to a conversation with another person: “Hi Samira, how are you today?” Starting a virtual conversation or a virtual meeting with a bit of time connecting is time well spent. This could include talking about our location, the weather or what we are working on at the moment. It doesn’t have to be about our personal lives.

One approach I have found very useful is based on the work of Nancy Kline. Kline suggests starting by focusing on something that has gone well recently. Let’s face it, the rest of the meeting or call will focus on challenges, so why not open up the communication channels with the good news. The good news can be as small as someone hearing back from a client, or as big as winning a major bid.

Next time you are on a call or in a virtual meeting, take time to properly connect and touch base with the people you are talking to. You might be surprised how much better your experience is. Virtual doesn’t have to mean cut off. To quote Nietzsche, "Invisible threads are the strongest ties."


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