My Three Cents

Let’s face it, I miss social contact! I admit it! But what I miss comes in many forms.

It means the electricity I feel when I enter Grand Central Station in the morning arriving from my suburban home. It means shaking hands with the person I am saying goodbye to whom I have been talking to as I walked up the ramp into the Station. It means walking through the dizzying crowds as I rapidly go through the streets on the way to the office. I bump into one of my colleagues and have a great chat as we turn the corner. I say hello to the concierge in our building. I greet our receptionist and say good morning to my associates. The morning kicks off with a great discussion about client strategy and implementation. I have a lunch appointment with a prospect or friend. By the end of the day I am ready to have dinner and converse with my wife at home.

All of this communicating all day long and I never gave two thoughts to it. Then, suddenly STOP. And I mean a big STOP.  COVID-19 is lurking everywhere you turn, and it might as well have been called “DIVOC-91,” as I had never heard of it before!  And now it is plastered all over the place. And I mean everywhere from storefronts wishing essential workers well, to newspapers and TVs providing live updates from our government to Blue Angel flyovers recognizing the tireless efforts of our front-line workers. And many of the reports are scary. Over 1-million cases and 70,000 deaths in the U.S.  Major cities in the world were locked down. The economy tumbled as everyone was asked to stay at home. For the first time in my lifetime there was a single global conversation. In my company in NYC we were all conversing about our solution: working from home.

Communications is my business, and more than ever I realized how much we all depended on it. It is the baseline from which everything emanates, physically or emotionally, internally or externally. Everything happens through communications. Now at home during the business day, social contact means a Zoom or FaceTime meeting. If you are meeting someone for the first time, can you really make a judgement about their character from Zoom? Well, you have to these days. You probably get a close-up of their face and facial expressions more than you would live in a conference room. This is another form of communications. Off Zoom connecting from one person to the next via cell phone can also be challenging as opposed to walking into someone’s office. Some people are thriving WFH; others display despair and loneliness.

In a book called TOGETHER, Vivek Murthy, MD, former surgeon general of the U.S., speaks of the healing power of human connection in a sometimes-lonely world. Specifically, he emphasizes the hidden impact of loneliness on our health and the social power of community. He even makes a case for loneliness as a public health concern, a root cause and contributor to epidemics sweeping the world. Loneliness, he says, affects how we perform in the workplace and the sense of division and polarization in our society. “But at the center of our loneliness is our innate desire to connect, to forge lasting bonds with each other, to help one another and share life experiences. We are better together.”

But there is a contrary point of view. In an article in the New York Times on May 6, some remote workers say “there’s no place like home,” citing such benefits as less time on the road, greater productivity and more job satisfaction; the study found that “job satisfaction increased with each additional hour people spent working remotely. But it stopped increasing beyond 15 hours worked remotely.”

Nevertheless, I yearn to see a Broadway show again, sitting next to someone I do not know. Nothing is more exciting than seeing a major league baseball game and rooting for the home team with the guy next to you who you just connected with.  Rubbing shoulders at cocktail parties or conferences. Even traveling on planes and trains keeps you moving. Subtle connections are as good, well, almost as good as solid ones. Perhaps it takes several months of WFH to truly appreciate the many kinds of connections which bring us together.

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