Before COVID-19, I was getting pretty down on technology in context to our loss of human connection in the workplace and at home. The family life disrupted as Instagram and WhatsApp took center stage over ‘Honey, How was your day?’ and ‘Let’s share three things we are all grateful for.’ “Wha??? What did you say, Mom?” click.. click..click- fingers on the tablet.
I felt like I was becoming a pioneer against technology even though I would choose personally the latest Apple products a million times over Sapphire earrings, a spa visit or the latest designer handbag. Do we see each other at work and at home enough? And our youngest workforce (according to Cigna’s groundbreaking America’s Loneliness Epidemic Study- see chart below from TIME) is the most isolated of any demographic group with well over 71 – 79% feeling lonely, that they do not have someone they can speak with.
BUT MAYBE I WAS WRONG ABOUT TECHNOLOGY… Problem or the solution I have pondered daily in this new unusual lockdown life. Maybe technology was going to help us all distance but not isolate. Work remotely but connect. Transport us into the homes of the elderly parents and the homes of our childhood friends’ free geographic barriers. It has been all that for me and more.
Maybe it is in our hands literally to eyeball each other with meaning or to tune out and distance to the numbing and dopamine- inducing- stimuli of the internet 24/7.
“I have kids to take care of. I have a staff that I need to support and hold up, and I can barely keep it together, It’s all on me,” said Irene a dynamic emerging leader from a major company you all would recognize well. “I have never been so busy and I am not getting what I need from Zoom calls. They are all day long now “I can’t take this.”
I remember in the early 2000s being in conferences for days in NYC for an amazing charity. One PowerPoint presentation after another, sometimes for 8-hours straight with a Reuben boxed lunch with potato chips, a pickle, and a stale chocolate chip cookie. + The option to sneak a joke, a laugh, or overhear some meaningless gossip in the ladies’ room on 10 minute ‘liquid breaks.’
We called it ‘Death by PowerPoint’ as there were diminishing returns after the 3rd ‘talking head’ presentation. Your head would just feel dizzy and you needed to doodle or do something to stay in the sandbox with others.
Irene was feeling those diminishing returns. She needed to feel a more human connection on these calls and so do we all. To get the clarity that she was not alone with her C-19 experience. She needed to brainstorm solutions, feel a kinship, or as a brilliant mind posted anonymously on Facebook and I paraphrase, grasp how we are “Not all on the same boat with each other, but we are in the same storm.”
When we swallow anxious feelings, we feel depressed. When we hurl our emotions at others we feel anger. When we take those feelings and put them to purposeful action, connect with others… we feel better and march forward.
Does Irene’s experience show us we are moving into “Death By Zoom? WebEx? Microsoft Teams? Adobe Connects?” and other video platforms. I hope not. Because we need them to transport us in-lockdown together.
I need them for Thursday night Zoom dinners with my in-laws by candlelight and Sunday nights with Mom and my brothers, nieces, and nephews. I see them more than I have in years now. and I get dressed up for the occasion.
I am going to share with you a big A-Ha moment. I was working with a major financial company and asked them to let me use 50 breakout rooms and trust me. GULP. Well, they did and I saw that when leaders were speaking, participant engagement rates (on Adobe Connects) were 42-60%. When we created the space for people to 1:1 directly help each other – mentor each other in the breakout rooms, discuss COVID- (aka pandemic non grata) engagement rates went up to 94-97%.
People like Irene shared after the session “I can let my hair down now. I can breathe. I can share in confidence my worries, my concerns, how other people are dealing, the costs.” I can feel and learn that at this moment in time, we sit together on Zoom, arm to arm when we need each other the most.
We might not be in the same boat but we can be joined in the voyage, together side by side evolving as stronger seaworthy vessels than we were before.
Julie Kantor is the CEO of Twomentor Managed Mentoring Solutions. Since the start of COVID-19, her company has been running dozens of “Remote, Not Isolated” Flash (speed) Mentoring experiences for executives and their teams. She can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org