Like millions of others, I spent eight hours glued to The Beatles: Get Back, the epic documentary directed by Peter Jackson that captures the end days of the Beatles. As each Beatle appeared at Twickenham Film Studios to begin the ambitious project of writing 14 new songs in 21 days that was to culminate in a live concert, the distance between them was palpable.
But then magic happens, and Paul McCartney begins to strum the chords of “Get Back” out of nothing, which then sparks George Harrison and Ringo Starr to fill the spaces with riffs and rhythms. John Lennon then shows up, straps on a guitar and catches in with the rhythm. The beginning of an idea becomes something stunning. It’s a great example of the Design thinking process (see “10 lessons in productivity and brainstorming from The Beatles” by Tom Whitwell).
This is what I miss during our remote WFH Covid life, where I’ve only been able to interact with my colleagues and partner clients via a 17-inch laptop screen through MS Teams, Google Meet, Zoom, Google Docs, Slack, MURAL, texts, emails, etc., etc., etc.
The metaverse can wait.
I want real human interaction and collaboration that doesn’t rely on network connectivity.
I’m not alone. Many of us are suffering tech fatigue brought on by the pandemic. The need and demand to get back to in-person experiences is only growing. Only time will tell if the Omicron variant will derail us. But in-person experiences still matter, and their proven benefits are well documented.
The Importance of Social Capital
Social capital is the sum of informal interactions we have in the person-to-person workspace: water cooler chats, spur-of-the moment knowledge sharing, offering to help when we aren’t assigned to a project, mentoring. When Billy Preston drops in just to say “hi” to the Beatles, and they invite him to play, and the energy of the room visibly shifts to joy and greater productivity, that’s social capital.
At HZ, we’re in the process of returning to the office in 2022, which has ignited all of the excitement, trepidation, anxiety, and precautionary logistic problems that come with a new hybrid working model. While we have enjoyed WFH’s freedom and flexibility, the value and benefits of closer in-person human connections, a sense of belonging and working towards meaning together has been compromised.
We forget that the social capital we’ve enjoyed remotely was built on the years of in-office, in-person experiences. That social capital we created pre-pandemic we’ve banked and drawn on. With increases in job movement and new employees, those social capital accounts have yet to be created, and the longer we isolate ourselves, the more we risk our social capital.
Building social capital is a necessity for building business and employee satisfaction as pointed out in studies by both U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s book Together, and behavioral scientist Jon Levy’s You’re Invited:
- True in-person connections are valuable in creating a team
- It aids knowledge and information flow
- It spurs new ideas and energizes thinking
- It contributes to lower absenteeism, lower turnover, and better organizational performance
- It contributes to feeling connected adds to productivity
The Growing Need for In-Person Collaboration
While remote work has been beneficial by ridding many of us of long commutes and returning time and our personal lives to the forefront, it has shown some surprising shortcomings. A recent Microsoft study, The Work Trend Index, reveals we’re spending more time in meetings, and becoming more isolated and less connected:
- 5% decreases in team channels designed to include the full team, while 1:1 and small group chats grew 87%
- Time spent in meetings each week has more than doubled this year, and chats sent per person each week have increased over 40% — and these numbers are still rising
- Strong workplace networks impact two things critical to the bottom line: productivity and innovation. Shrinking networks are endangering innovation. The data shows companies became more siloed than they were before the pandemic, with digital exhaustion proving to be a real and unsustainable threat.
- Younger workers and those new to a company are experiencing the pain of social isolation more than others. 60% of Gen Z say they are merely surviving or flat-out struggling right now.
It’s time to break up the silos and add back some in-person time and experiences back into our work lives.
Conclusion: Come Together
Productivity is not just measured in time cards, meetings, and task checklists. Productivity is also measured in collaboration, serendipitous moments, seemingly irrelevant in-person chit chat and goofing around. If the Beatles showed us anything, the money you take is equal to the fun you make. And that fun begins by breaking out of silos and fostering collaboration in-person. That’s where creativity and productivity grow.
I want to be with my colleagues again and have that Beatles experience. I’m not claiming we’re producing anything as lofty as “Let It Be.” But I miss that human collaboration and being in a room riffing on ideas and creating together in person, where someone begins with an idea, and we all contribute to push it forward. I want that spark of human interaction that makes us come together towards a better idea and meaning.
The Beatles: Get Back, Disney+, directed by Peter Jackson, 2021
Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Vivek Murthy, Harper Wave, 2020
You're Invited: The Art and Science of Cultivating Influence by Jon Levy, Harper Business, 2021
The Work Trend Index: The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?, Microsoft Worklab, 3.22.2021
AP News, “Crushed by the pandemic, Conventions mount a cautious return.” 9.9.2021
Fast Company, “Big in-person tech conferences are finally bouncing back.” 11.12. 2021
Harvard Business Review, “What a year of WFH has done to our relations,” Nancy Baym, Jonathan Larson, Ronnie Martin, 3.22.21