The warmth of human connection

Over the past month I’ve found myself reflecting on the power of human connection and how important it is to be physically present and connected with our friends, family and colleagues for rich and rewarding relationships at home and at work.

Quality of online relationships…

Even the social media sites are starting to notice the importance of quality connections as opposed to those who just enjoy collecting likes and follows. These platforms have encouraged us to participate in and build relationships online to the point where we’ve all become “too busy” with our social media apps and the lives of people we don’t really know, to notice what’s going on in front of our faces. Don’t get me wrong, there’s always a place and a time for this kind of connectivity and it can do wonders for finding new opportunities and inspiration. However, have you ever reflected on how you feel when you engage with someone face to face or even ear to ear, rather than text to text? What happens as a result?

Meeting in person….

I was in Berlin recently at the European MBA CSEA conference. I spent 3 days immersing myself in interesting and thought-provoking conversation regarding the future world of work with people that laughed, listened, questioned, fell silent and were just present with me. I could see them, hear them, have a coffee with them, and was able to understand in the moment how they felt. This is so important in being able to build quality relationships, which I’m not sure can be replicated online.

Human relationships are key in the future world of work…

At the conference I listened to two amazing key notes from Ade McCormack on the 4th Industrial Revolution and Kriti Sharma on the topic of Ethics and AI. My biggest take away was how in a future world of automation and AI it is the power of the human connection, the human experience, the emotional intelligence we bring and the ethical and morally sound judgements we make (or try to!), where we will be able to add the most value. We talked about humans being augmented by AI and technology rather than the other way around. In other words, the world will still be powered by the strength of human relationships, an ability to connect, often face to face, with our employees, our customers, our shareholders, our communities and our societies to really understand how they feel and what they want.

The power of face to face…

I noticed this human need to feel physically connected at a very practical level too when I recently posted a few video updates on my social media feeds. Comments such as “great to see you again” and “so lovely to hear your voice” made me realise how little time we spend connecting in person any more and how important it is for our relationships but also our mental wellbeing.

I’ve been involved in a recent re-model of the Executive MBA programme at Henley Business School and I noticed how much more progress I made when I took my time to work with people in person, to really understand how they felt and what they needed. The assumed ease of a “quick email” can often do more damage than good! Relationships flourish when you give them the time and space in person to really connect as human beings.

The same message rang loud and clear at a recent coaching workshop I ran. A group of people sharing stories with each other, realising they weren’t alone and that others felt the same way too. There was so much to share and learn together. Even in the silent moments there was a strength in being physically present with one another and being able to feel physically and emotionally supported.

The future of virtual teams…

I’ve often marvelled at the effectiveness of virtual teams and how people across the globe can collaborate and work together to achieve a goal, without the need to be physically present. However, I wonder if something might be missing from this kind of team environment and what the impact might be upon our basic need for human connectivity, particularly when you start to look at it through the lens of our mental health and wellbeing. Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? The flexibility and diversity of thought, facilitated by technology, that allows teams located in multiple geographies to collaborate with each other to achieve common goals, yet at the same time allow for the benefits of physical connection and the warmth of human contact? I would love to know what you think in the comments section below.

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