How do you stay connected?
Where ARE all the virtual watercoolers?
And what on earth does it all mean?

At the moment I’m reading Sapiens: A brief history of humankind ((Yuval, Noah, Harari. Because as a historian and social scientist I’m curious about what led us here, what’s happening right now, and how the choices we make shape our future…and what on earth it all means about how we work today.

Today’s technological world is allowing us to organise at a pace that has never been seen before. Businesses are better able to compete at scale. Our online communities help us to share our ideas and creativity in virtual spaces. We should be better connected and understand more than ever before.

But I’m beginning to wonder if that’s the case.

Over the past few years I’ve seen a difference in the way we share ideas and learn from each other at work. Personally I’ve shifted from working in an office (with other real human beings!) five days a week, towards more flexible and agile working. Sometimes in my home office, sometimes at a work office, using calls, video conferencing and a whole host of other technology options to keep me connected.

I’ve also been lifting my head up from my smartphone to see what the word on the street is. I was in Bristol recently and noticed the Science Museum’s We the Curious exhibition, inviting questions from the general public. One asked, “If we took ourselves apart atom by atom, how long would it be before there was nothing left of us?”  It made me think about how we are, whether parts of us are becoming lost and what it would take for us to stay connected as humans.

My reality is that if I’m spending time on platforms then I’m not spending time having real conversations with my friends, family and work colleagues. Chats are bite-sized, tweet-sized, text-sized and sometimes just a picture/emoji. It makes me curious about how this impacts me, and the people I’m in connect with.

It’s hard to get a sense of what’s really on someone’s mind in a short message. I think it’s perhaps harder to demonstrate concern or empathy to a great extent. Waiting for followers to ‘like’ posts, reply to a Whatsapp or rate Instagram posts is all very immediate and I have to admit I’ve found it a bit too addictive at times. Breaking the habit with a bit of pre-work journaling or creative writing has been a great antidote for me. It gives me time to reflect and properly connect with what I really think, feel and want to do. I’m following ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron for help with this – her morning pages are a great way to start my day.

So what does this all have to do with how I work with others?

The way I think about problems, feel about them and decide what to do as a result very much relies on how I make sense of it all with others. And whether I take time to do that. It gives more opportunity for new ideas to emerge…live and in stereo. Being present with people. Bringing groups together in learning conversations where perspectives can be shared and decisions made has always been a more powerful way for me to work on complex problems.

I’m trying to be more intentional about giving others my full attention and time – whether that’s face to face, on a webex, video conference, Skype or Zoom meeting. I think we can have the best of both worlds with the best of intentions.