This blog, inspired by Dan Robinson and written by our co-founders Su, explores the impact of more people working remotely. Are we burning through the social capital that we have been building up over years of interactions with each other both in our social and work lives?
What tips do you have?
How have you maintained social ties?
Much has been written about our human need for social interaction and connection. It’s both hard wired and key to our survival. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve been curious to see what impact moving to more virtual/remote digitally based way of working would have. In the early days of lockdown, I was grateful for the availability and ease of access to different web based video conferencing platforms.
Some clients (pre COVID) had started commissioning individual coaching as an on-line option to manage costs (travel and room hire). So for me, the transition to on-line and virtual working had already begun. Although, I noticed that it wasn’t necessarily the ‘norm’ for others, there seemed to be a natural resistance, which I could related to. Over the last 5 years I’ve been gradually transitioning to on-line as the technology has improved. The main driver was working with peers and work colleagues that were distributed around the country. I continued to favour meeting people verses conference calls. And that seemed to be the case for the majority of individuals and teams that I worked with.
Coincidently in January 2020, a contract for coaching GPs and practice managers meant that my coaching practice pretty much moved on-line, at the same time I was coaching clients from a higher education institution as part of a leadership development programme. I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of work that was possible to do and yet…. Intuitively something was missing. I couldn’t quite put my ….. excuse the pun …. finger on it.
The importance of touch
One of my coaching clients was in the shielded category. Hearing their experience had a profound impact on me and inspired me to write a blog about the importance of touch . I also began noticing the ‘dehumanising’ effect of on-line interactions and began talking about these with friends, peers and work colleagues. The absence of those small informal interactions and exchanges. Walking into a room, having a chat about something or other we had in common. Sharing mutual humour and exasperation about something we had heard on the radio.
The computer says….
A recent article published in the New Scientist by David Robson, explores the impact of working remotely and the impact on our social capital, i.e. the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling the society to function effectively. There are at least 3 forms of social capital:
- Bonding – emotional support
- Bridging – Identifying practical help or areas for cooperation
- Linking – Identifying some kind of resource or important information through ‘the grapevine’
Researchers of social capital measure our dense social connections in terms of the number and strength of the links we have with family, friends and acquaintances. What the researchers have discovered is that people with high social capital:
- May both perform better at work
- Find it easier to land a new job due to greater possibility of constructive collaboration
- May be more likely to live more healthily
- Have better mental health
The article was a great reminder of all the studies over the last 20 years that have explore our need for and benefits of connectedness. In summary social capital:
- Sooth our stresses
- Help us to live more healthily
- Lead to a lower risk of mental illness and physical disease
One study, a meta-analysis conducted by Julianne Holt-Lunstad (2017) found that a lack of social connection presents a large a risk to our health as smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day.
David Robson suggest that there may be 3 subtle ways that our social capital may be being eroded:
- The loss of shared experience – joint activities such as sport, cooking, eating
- Exposure to non-verbal communication – such as physical touch. Studies show that rubbing someone’s arm triggers neurological and physiological changes
- The loss of weak ties – vague acquaintances and brief interactions such as exchanges with co-commuters, barista’s in coffee shops
It was surprising to me that one study where participants were encouraged to create small talk with strangers showed a marked improvement (17%) in their measure of happiness. It was also interesting that there appears to be a gender difference, with the suggestion that women fair better than men. Robson cites a study that highlighted that women rely on the frequency of communication (face to face, calls or texts) to maintain social ties, whereas men relied more on shared experience. Given most interactions during lockdown have been video conferencing the suggestion the impact on wellbeing due to absence of share experiences may be greater.
Maintaining social capital
Rethinking how we maintain our social ties is an important issues, irrespective of the pan demic. Turning our virtual experiences into share joint activities. Here are some things that my friends and colleagues have shared:
- Quiz night in lockdown was a surprising phenomena
- Secret cinema set up a series film nights and Drive In, watching the same film and then connecting on zoom to share
- Virtual book clubs
- Wine tour in your home facilitated by an expert
- Reaching out to colleagues, informal calls and check ins
- Making the most of chance encounters
- Sending an open invitation to a video conference – just bring yourself
- Vicarious touch – Watching videos of people stroking cats or dogs has been shown to reduce anxiety
Let’s not forget virtual reality and augmented reality is becoming available to the masses.
- What tips do you have?
- How have you maintained social ties?
Learning to do this together is important, our social constructs and habits are changing. Off to hold a chicken for a while…..
Robson, D (2020). Missed Connections. New Scientist. 15 Aug edition, p. 32-36 www.davidrobson.me
Holt-Lunstad, J (2017). Why Social Relationships Are Important for Physical Health: A Systems Approach to Understanding and Modifying Risk and Protection. Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 69: p437-458, January 2018
HWBInspiration co-founders, Su & Claire, are grateful to our Associate HWBI Ninjas for sharing their knowledge, skill and insights.