A strange thing has happened across American workplaces over the past several decades: some walls have come down, yet other walls are higher than ever before.
Think about it: most of us work in open-plan offices, created, in theory, to promote openness, transparency, a lack of hierarchy. (And to save money, of course.) The physical nature of our office spaces has mirrored a trend in workplace cultures towards greater communication, consensus based decision-making and a focus on empowerment. As employees, we are, in theory, working in environments that are flatter, free-er, and more fluid than ever before.
Except we’re not. Because everyone in those open-plan, free-range offices is either wearing headphones or avoiding eye contact. We bristle when someone approaches; we place symbols on our desks to indicate when we’re available; we schedule work-at-home days just to get things done. In other words, we’ve built inter-personal walls to take over from the physical ones.
Connected yet Disconnected
Add to that our love affair with technology. We copy everyone on emails, but never speak to them. We set up chat groups to gather input on decisions we struggle to make. We use online surveys to gather opinions, use apps to say thank you. Even phone calls have come to feel like burdens.
All of which is necessary—even desirable — in this age of quick delivery. But think about its impact on our workplace culture: being copied but not connected, open yet closed, consulted but not engaged.
We have all the appearance of human connection without any real connection at all. We’re tin men and women.
And that lack of heart has consequences: in the form of high turnover and burn-out, yearly surveys showing little improvement in staff engagement. You feel it: festering disagreements, unmet ambitions, underutilized talent. Rah-rah talk of growth targets that fade soon after the conference ends. “Churn.” How many times have I heard leaders talk about churn over the past year? This feeling of disconnect draining us of all the juicy humanity that drives growth.
How to Reconnect
So what to do about it?
Here’s what we do and there’s really no magic to it. We practice connection. We prioritize that. Not by putting another meeting on the agenda with the title “how we connect in 2018”. Not by setting up a “human connection” task force. We don’t put it on our to-do lists. We make it a human priority more than a business priority.
By doing one simple thing: investing in everyday conversations. It sounds so simple – too simple – but conversations are our carriers of ideas, opinions, and beliefs. They’re the building blocks of our human connection; how we share a piece of ourselves with the world around us. So as they get shorter, more long distance, as in person gives way to over the phone via messenger, we lose a little something of each other. And in the process we lose our most potent tools for growth and change.
So think about your conversations — over a day or a week – and as yourself these questions:
- How much time do you invest in conversations?
- How many questions do you ask?
- Do you listen as much as you speak?
- Do you broach uncomfortable subjects?
- Do you allow silences when they’re needed?
- Do you share ideas as much as opinions?
- Do you create as much as you complain?
- Do you tell stories?
How are you connecting with your coworkers through conversation? Be mindful of that one question, and watch your career, your business, your year, start to transform….