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The importance of the physical, in a virtual world

As most of us adapt to the virtualisation of workspace whether hybrid or exclusively virtual, it is worth remembering the words of a famous writer which are even more relevant today than when written in the 19th century:

Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.” 

Charles Dickens

There is plenty of evidence to support the importance of “real” human interaction – from books exploring the impact of face-to-face social integration on wellbeing (Dan Schwabel, Back to Human) and research into the importance of body language in everyday communication (Albert Mehrabian, the Definite Book of Body language), to research findings indicating a correlation between remote working and isolation (for example, 20% of the more than 2,000 remote workers surveyed by Buffer experience regular loneliness).

Virtual working has been a blessing for many. It is here to stay for most people and can be a force of good for organisations if managed appropriately.

As food for thought, I’ve set out below five recommendations to bring back the physical, in today’s virtual workspace:

1. Phone people

Voices are better at conveying emotions than keyboards are. Every day, set aside time to call a person you work with or someone who reports to you to have a “real” conversation. By doing so, you start humanising our evolving digital workspace avatars.

 

Auditory neuroscientist Seth Horowitz explains that our brain’s circuitry that interprets our hearing has evolved over 400 million years. We’re hard-wired for conversations, and, as Horowitz says, “we’ve evolved to listen to other people talk.

2. Send a card, send a letter

Video-conferencing solutions have brought many of us living in different geographies, closer together. Still, that decades-old act of receiving, opening, and reading a handwritten note generates more positive emotions in today’s e-world than ever before – even if it is rare for most. . Indeed, John F. Evans, MAT, MA, Ed.D., a former English professor and current expressive writing clinician and researcher, is currently working on a study at Duke Integrative Medicine looking at the value of expressive writing for resilience during Covid-19. So, once a month or so, why not send a letter to an old colleague, a friend or a client prospect. Their reaction and the sentiment it will create for you may be a pleasant surprise!

 

3. Where possible, get people together

Not for meetings, but for shared experiences that trigger human senses. A meal, a team walk in a park, a cultural experience, something fun and a little different such as, for example, an escape room. In a predominantly virtual world and working-life, opportunities to use senses with those we work with are invaluable for both our people and the organisation as a whole.

4. Get closer to nature

There is a reason why in Scandinavian countries what once was a necessity, is now becoming the choice for many families looking for early years education. Forest Schools in Scandinavia were common in rural forest communities for centuries. In today’s urbanised world, Finland has led the return to nature for younger children by developing and exporting the concept of Forest Schools. The philosophy behind Forest Schools is that outdoor play helps little ones grow into more resilient and psychologically-sound adults who are capable of ‘thinking outside the box’. The benefits of being outdoors among nature are equally strong for grown adults. In fact, in some fascinating research by the University of Melbourne in Australia it was found that nature is so powerful that even gazing at a screensaver depicting a natural scene can boost your productivity levels! So, take that walk, keep that window open, sit on the park bench. Watch as both your work and wellbeing at work improves.

5. Spend time with your loved ones

Real-time – virtual working has blurred the boundaries between work and home. We often find ourselves typing on a keyboard late into the night and watching a PC monitor well after what used to be the end of a working day. Now more than ever it is important to set boundaries. Switch off the power plug and spend time with your friends, families and… pets!

Humanising the virtual workplace should be a key priority for organisations as we all contemplate our organisational and individual workstyles. With up to three in four (75%) of your colleagues probably thinking about their resignation, according to a CV- Library survey this year, businesses that get this right have a much better chance at retaining their talent by re-building and sustaining authentic human relationships.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christos Pishias, Director

A true leader in social good, Christos is an influential and energetic project manager. Hyper-commuting between his island home in Cyprus and business headquarters in London, Christos has always done things a little differently.