Social Distancing: Shortcomings and Solutions
For the past few months, the LEADon® team has been fielding an oft-repeated question: “Is social distancing sustainable for our teams long term?”
The simple answer is no, absolutely not. The rationale is equally as simplistic: as humans we are interpersonal creatures, and despite the greatest technology, people need contact and interaction with others in order to stay healthy, happy, and productive.
We take this stance based on over forty years of psychological preparation and experience with people from a variety of backgrounds, customs, and cultures. In every demographic, we have discovered that human beings are most successful and satisfied when they interact with others. So, while we agree that social distancing may be necessary in various seasons of life, for example during a contagious pandemic, the cumulative negative impact of separation and isolation must be considered as leaders make plans for their Corporate Family® members’ future.
Robust and long-term research seems to support LEADon®’s qualitative findings. In her 2017 article, Julianne Holt-Lunstad asserts that “our social relationships are widely considered crucial to emotional well-being” (seehttps://academic.oup.com/ppar/article/27/4/127/4782506). According to Maslow’s Hierarchy, many basic human needs like food, water, shelter, love, and belonging cannot be disregarded without dire consequences. This means that social connections must be regularly and consistently maintained since “isolation has a significant impact on health, contributing to conditions such as depression, anxiety, and dementia” (see the May 2020 article entitled “How Does Isolation Affect Mental Health?” at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/isolation-and-mental-health for more details on this critical topic).
Even in a pre-COVID article, researchers espousing the benefits of “telecommuting” recognized the limitations of silo work environments, including “social and professional isolation, fewer opportunities for information sharing, and a blurring of boundaries between work and personal life” (the entire 2015 article, “How Effective is Telecommuting? Assessing the Status of Our Scientific Findings,” is located at https://journals.sagepub.com). In 2007, studies conducted on socially distant work settings discovered that “telecommuters’ relationships with colleagues generally only suffered if they worked remotely three or more days each week” (see “The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown About Telecommuting: Meta-Analysis of Psychological Mediators and Individual Consequences” at https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/apl-9261524.pdf). Therefore, to maintain healthy relationships within their Corporate Family®, leaders must carefully consider the appropriate amount of separation and connection among their team members.
At the end of the day, LEADon® believes that both qualitative and quantitative evidence suggest extended periods of “telecommuting” or socially distant work have drawbacks. Yet how can leaders encourage a productive workforce while operating within the business dynamics and health concerns created by COVID? Here are a few recommendations we have for you:
- Identify which positions in your Corporate Family® are most appropriate for telecommuting and incorporate those into your strategic plan to optimize talent. As Gajendran and Golden discovered, “employees whose jobs were highly complex but did not require significant collaboration or social support performed better when telecommuting than when working in the company’s office” (see more of the 2018 article, “Unpacking the Role of a Telecommuter’s Job in Their Performance: Examining Job Complexity, Problem Solving, Independence, and Social Support” at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10869-018-9530-4).
- Ensure that team members working remotely feel supported but also understand their responsibility in this unique role. As human resource consultant Kaila Jacoby proposes, “the onus for making remote work a success does not fall solely on employers. Employees also need to cultivate effective routines; set boundaries with managers, colleagues and family members; and make an effort to stay socially and professionally engaged” (see Zara Abrams’ 2019 article, “The Future of Remote Work,” at https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/10/cover-remote-work for more ideas on successful, socially distant performance).
- Encourage teams to gather safely using current science to develop the social distancing guidelines necessary. LEADon® recommends you use our T.E.A.M. paradigm to facilitate improved levels of connectivity throughout your Corporate Family® (read our blog entitled “Vaccinations and Social Connections” or take our online course LEADing by Building a High Performance T.E.A.M.®. Both can be found at LEADonUniversity.com).
While there is a plethora of evidence in society and science to underscore the basic need for keeping your Corporate Family® members connected, perhaps the words of one of our finest poets best summarizes these findings:
We need joy as we need air.
We need love as we need water.
We need each other as we need the earth we share.
If LEADon® can offer support to you and your team members, please connect with us at 858.592.0700 or www.LEADonUniversity.com.