Issue #67
#67 - It's getting lonely at work
May 19, 2023

#67 - It's getting lonely at work

How's this for a chart, everybody?


The problem isn't just that the compounded effects of poor social connection are so dangerous. It’s that we find ourselves in the midst of an epidemic of loneliness, the effects of which, many believe, help explain social issues that range from teen anxiety, to violence, to increased polarization.

Meantime, we spend the vast majority of our waking hours "at work", which has also become more isolated. This week we explore how it's become a more lonely space, and we ask what we can do to make it less so:

Story #1 - Remote work has been a godsend for many, thanks to the flexibility it provides and the commutes it slays. But that flexibility has also come at a cost. One of which is the loss of social connection we get from in-person work. In our first Story, we explore these remote work "taxes", and ask what organizations need to do to ease their sting.

Story #2 -
What do you get when you mix WeWork-style co-working with Twitch-like live streaming? The answer is "body doubling". Here, we learn that people are going online to watch -- and work alongside -- other people doing online work. It's a growing trend that illustrates how lonely we've become, but also serves as a great example of the (tech-enabled) lengths to which we will now go if we don't get our basic, human needs met at work.
Story #3 - Vivek Murthy is the U.S. Surgeon General; its top doctor, and a member of the President's cabinet. He's also been sounding the alarm about loneliness for years, and has put out some great analysis. Below, we link to his most recent report, much of which is about well-being at work. But the Story itself? Is actually a moving letter that Murthy wrote about loneliness -- to his children.

As we curated this issue, we were reminded that we -- humans -- are fundamentally dependent on one another. This quote, which we featured back in issue # 14, captures it well: "The crux of the problem lies in the fact that human well-being is not achieved alone: our psychological health is grounded in attachment to and acceptance by others. We are, essentially, social animals."

It's worth being explicit then that goal of this newsletter is to explore the way work is changing -- with you. And it is nothing if not an expression of the belief that, together, we can make work better than it is today.

So thank you for reading and exploring with us.

Aki + Usman

P.S. Our 14-minute podcast episode of issue #66, "Things Fall Apart, the Center Cannot Hold at Work", is right here


#RemoteWorkTax # # #

Working from home isn't all sunshine and roses. On the contrary, there are downsides, and we like to think of them as remote work "taxes". Amy Edmondson, the Harvard Business School professor who coined the phrase "psychological safety", explains one of them: the added complexity which remote work adds to communication; and the need, therefore, to go out of our way to communicate more often, more openly, with more intent, and across different channels. ✅

But another tax of working remotely is that we lose out on some of the friendship, connection and belonging off of which we tend to thrive. We know from research that even our small, in-person interactions with others compound in healthy ways.

But here's the thing: we also can't ignore remote work's incredible staying power. Clearly, people want to spend at least part of their week working from home. Which makes this a "yes, and" proposition: yes, remote work will persist in some way, shape or form. And the onus is on organizations to find ways to provide connection and belonging to their teams -- in a remote or hybrid environment.

Easy to do? No. Required? Absolutely.

And our next Story is an example of what we'll see more of, if organizations can't find a way to make up for the deficit of connection at work:


#Loneliness #Connection #Vocab #WorkAround

Wow. There is a lot in this one, folks. 🤩 Let's get into it.

📌 First off -- what is body doubling? Well, working from home has become the new normal, but not getting to see, connect or interact with colleagues in-person has also been challenging for many of us. Body doubling -- working remotely but in the shared digital presence of others, is in part a reaction to this.

📌 It's also a great example of what we cite time and again in this newsletter: people or workers adapting, and reimagining work; people working around the system when they don't get what they want from it. People "workaround" because organizations don't provide them with what they want and need. In other words, because organizations are failing to also reimagine work. Per the article:

With many workers now on hybrid schedules, offices weren’t really doing the job. “I think it started for the same reason that a lot of things start: There was a group of people who felt like they weren't getting their needs met, and once they found a tool that helped them to get those needs met, it caught on," Campbell says of body doubling.

📌 So technology enables this workaround and will make future ones even easier. The founder/s of TikTok didn't design the app to enable body doubling. But people -- as they so often do -- have found a way to use the tool to meet their need: in this case, to create the connection they're not getting at work.


#Loneliness #Relationships #Solves

The original plan for our 3rd Story was to feature a report on loneliness by Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General. Its findings are sobering: every population-wide measure of social well-being -- friendship, social engagement, companionship, you name it -- is worse now than it was 20 years ago. The report is also refreshingly focused on explaining loneliness and well-being at work, in particular. It is excellent, and important, and we share it here so you can have his diagnosis.

But ultimately, we want to feature Dr. Murthy's prescription: a letter which he and his wife wrote to his children, and published in his book, "Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection". The snippet above is the close, but the entire letter is worth reading, because so much of what it articulates is needed; and needed now at work, too:

Dear Ones,
May you inhabit a world that puts people at the center, where everyone feels they belong. Where compassion is universal and kindness exchanged with whole-hearted generosity for all.
The most important thing we wish for you is a life filled with love—love that is given and received with a full heart. Love is at the heart of living a connected life. Choose love, we tell you. Always.
Yet we worry about the world you are inheriting. When you reach out with kindness, will your compassion be reciprocated? When you are in need of support, will others reach out to you?
Right now, the world you are inheriting is locked in a struggle between love and fear. Fear manifests as anger, insecurity, and loneliness. Fear eats away at our society, leaving all of us less whole. So we teach you that every healthy relationship inspires love, not fear. Love shows up as kindness, generosity, and compassion. It is healing. It makes us more whole.
The greatest gifts you’ll ever receive will come through these relationships. The most meaningful connections may last for a few moments or for a lifetime. But each will be a reminder that we were meant to be part of one another’s lives, to lift one another up, to reach heights together greater than any of us could reach on our own.
Our hope is that you will always have friends in your lives who love and remind you of your innate beauty, strength, and compassion. Equally as important, we hope you will do the same for others.
You are precious precisely because you have the ability to give and receive love. That is your magic. And it is our mission as parents to make sure you know that no one can ever take that away from you.
It pains us that we won’t always be there for you when you feel lonely and sad. But we offer this simple prescription to remind you, you are loved:
When those moments of loneliness and suffering arise, take both hands and place them on your heart. And close your eyes. Think about the friends and family who have been there for you throughout your life, in moments of joy and also in the depths of disappointment. The people who have listened to you when you were sad. The people who believed in you even when you lost faith in yourself. The people who have held you, lifted you up, and seen you for who you really are. Feel their warmth and their kindness washing over you, filling you with happiness.
Now. Open your eyes.

Thanks for reading. 🙏🏻

Work moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Join over 1,000 subscribers — sign up today for free.
© 2021 TalentStories, Inc. All rights reserved.