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Splendid Isolation?



By Laurie Thompson


Warren Zevon’s lyrics keep running through my head:


Splendid Isolation I don't need no one


This week, with many of us working from home to help contain COVID-19, I’m thinking about the benefits of remote, low-touch work situations and how they measure up to high-touch ones.


Our company conducts collaborative work sessions where we harness the smarts and cross-functional experience of teams to build solutions. This can be done in face-to-face environments or remotely using online meeting, facilitation and brainstorming tools.


Under current circumstances, face-to-face interactions are rightly limited, but we will get through this situation and life will return to familiar rhythms and routines. When this happens, how might our perspectives on social interactions at work change? What new skills might we develop to create more inclusive environments at work?


We are neurologically wired to interpret cues only present in face-to-face situations where all our senses are engaged. While video conferencing and other online tools go a long way to enable multi-sensory interactions, they cannot go the full distance. Research shows the inimitable power of face-to-face interactions:


· As noted by psychologist Susan Pinker, face-to-face contact releases a whole host of neurotransmitters that protect us. Just by making eye contact, shaking hands (or ankles a la COVID-19), fist bumping or high fiving, we release oxytocin which increases levels of trust and lowers cortisol levels. Physical contact also generates dopamine that gives us a little high and dulls pain.


· Scientist Giacomo Rizzolatti introduced the idea of ‘mirror neurons’: the idea that when you see a person take some action, your brain fires up the neurons associated with that same action. That’s why you smile when someone else smiles at you.


So, when we all emerge from under this COVID-19 pandemic, how will social interactions evolve? Will we come out of this with a deeper appreciation of the benefits of physical interactions OR will we be wary of them?


For us, this global crisis has reaffirmed our belief in the power of people banding together to accomplish great things whether that happens remotely or in-person. Going forward, we will continue to recommend what’s right for the situation. Online approaches offer benefits related to inclusion and geographic reach. There are great, engaging tools available, but there’s no denying the shortcomings of remote gatherings.


How is social isolation impacting your perspectives on the value of in-person vs. remote interactions? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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