While we remain in a state of pandemic flux, the uptake in double-vaccinations and a lifting of restrictions has given us more freedom to re-connect in person, work together and socialize. I’ll be the first one to raise my hand and say this is great news! Finally, I can resume my extrovert sociable life (responsibly of course) and do what I do best; initiate, bring people together, and build relationships.
So how come I haven’t fully embraced the opportunity with the vigor and vitality to renew the extrovert within me?
It isn’t a lack of people or fear that is holding me back. Rather, it’s a reluctance to shift the routine. I’ve become comfortable working from home and getting things done without interruption. I like that I don’t have a commute that chews into my day. And if I am being honest, minimizing my in-person interactions gives me more time to get more work done. It’s become my default setting.
A Relational Deficit
The past 18 months has strengthened and toned my productivity and efficiency muscles, and it’s paid off. Fluency Leadership, our new venture, has benefitted from my full-attention and my interactions with people (a big part of my job) have been almost exclusively virtual from the comfort of my home office. And now that the opportunity for in-person relational interaction has opened, I find my relational muscles have atrophied. I’m stiff and out of shape when it comes to the human interactions. It’s harder to use these muscles and requires more effort. I’ve been conditioned to choose productivity and efficiency over relationships.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. For almost all of us, our networks have diminished and we are experiencing a huge relational deficit.
A recent HBR article on What a Year of WFH Has Done to Our Relationships at Work cites research from Microsoft that shows teams are becoming much more siloed.
It reports, “Connections with people outside our immediate teams has shrunk dramatically, leading to fewer places to connect around innovative ideas and fewer opportunities to build social capital.”
Social capital, which is built through informal interactions that create familiarity and goodwill, is critical to a thriving workplace more broadly, for both employees and organizations. Relationships are built in those informal, non-work moments and they are critical to getting the work done.
We Need Connection
Work is fundamentally social, as are human beings. According to Dr. Henry Cloud, noted psychologist and leadership author, for our brains to work properly we need relationships and connection. He says the entire foundation of human existence is the degree to which you are connected to other people. Without connection, we risk becoming isolated, disconnected and lonely.
“Relationships provide the essence of thriving, both for ourselves personally, and for our leadership performance,” says Cloud.
Relationships and connections are important for our mental and physical well-being and impact how we show up at work.
For leaders, pushing for productivity and efficiency without taking the time to build relationships and connection with your team simply won’t get you where you want to go.
Here’s the good news. We don’t have to choose or make trade-offs between productivity or relationships. We need both. We get results through relationships. They are inextricably linked.
Getting back to connecting and building relationships is another transition to walk through in this long journey. If we accept it’s a weak muscle, then we appreciate the need to slowly re-build and strengthen.
And so, we offer four ideas to help you map a path to more connection and getting back into good relational shape:
- Shift Your Mindset: The next time you are invited to safely connect with people at an in-person event, say yes. Rather than thinking of it as a time drain, calculating the drive time, and adding up the loss of productivity, focus on the many health and social benefits connection brings and how you’ll feel as a result.
- Re-Connect: Make a list of 10 people in your existing network who you know, enjoy and perhaps miss because you haven’t been in contact with them. Make a point of reaching out to them over the next month. We can tell ourselves that it might be awkward, weird or strange because it has been so long, but think about how you’d feel if someone you knew and like reached out to you to say hello.
- Check In: In her HBR article, How to Help Your Team Get Out of a Lull, Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg suggests leaders make a commitment to connect with at least three team members every day with a phone call, a text, or a personal check-in. The purpose is to energize that person with praise, positive feedback, or perhaps a motivating challenge.
- Get Personal: The best way for leaders and teams to build relationships and trust is to get to know people on a personal level. As teams come together in person, build in time for informal non-work interactions, meaningful conversations and human connection. Invite people to share their stories and learn what’s important to them. These stories and interactions are the glue that holds your team together.
What are you missing about the in-person experience?
How will building your relational muscles serve you?
What’s one step you can take to regain your relational strength?