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The Importance of Seeing Each Other

Will social distancing cause the most socially distant employees to retreat even further?

Let us start the work week with an antidote for loneliness. Why it’s important: A friend of mine that does post-production work for a NYC agency related that many of his colleagues hadn’t had physical contact with anyone for 3 weeks. In the time since shelter in place and work from home began, they’d been alone with their anxiety about health and finances and things ever being normal again. Even if this isn’t your reality — and I sincerely hope that it’s not! — it’s likely true for someone on your team. Pushed into remote work constructs, will your co-workers that don’t want to burden anyone with their problems retreat even more?

There’s a simple solution, brought to us by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Murthy is a pretty impressive guy, overseeing 6,600 health workers during his Obama administration tenure, tackling gnarly, multi-headed problems like opioid dependency and the Ebola outbreak. And yet, something far less sinister was undermining the effectiveness of his immediate team. It was loneliness. In broader national studies, loneliness has been described as not feeling connected to anyone at work… that no one really has your back. On his small team, Murthy defined it as people not stepping out of their lanes to help each other.

If there was ever the temptation to invoke “not my problem” thinking at the office, it must be even easier when working remotely, especially given the added stress we’re all facing.

Murthy implemented a genius way to engage all team members and get them to pull together. In weekly meetings, one team member was invited to “show pictures of what they wanted their colleagues to know about their lives.” Not project stuff, but life stuff. To me, this sounded like the original goal of Instagram or Facebook. Except that with larger and distant audiences, the same idea has morphed from what do you want us to know about your life into what do you want us to believe. So that we started one-upping each other with amazing-but-rare life events rather than the mundane-but-meaningful dinners with family, long walks, violin solos and other small victories.

Murthy’s exercise is designed to help us see our colleagues beyond their work personas. What’s important to them. It helps us relate and treat each other with more humanity.

What do you think? Could this work on your team? LMK if you decide to try it. Also, required reading (listening) if you’re interested in going deeper on these ideas. Murthy is prolific. You’ll be a better person for knowing him.

Interview on The Tim Ferriss Show

Together book

Blog post on Cigna Loneliness Survey

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