Beyond the screen

Reclaiming human connection in the digital workplace

Last week I walked onto the second floor of an open-plan office in Canary Wharf. It was a sea of desks with people sitting at them, the majority of whom had headphones in, and not a word was being spoken. There was a deathly silence and sadly, I don’t think this is unusual.

In today’s hyper-connected world, there’s an unintended side effect: the erosion of genuine human connection. Tools designed to bring us closer – emails, instant messaging, virtual meetings – can sometimes end up distancing us on a deeper, personal level.

One person I spoke to told me how much time he spent commuting and the significant cost of travelling into the office; “what’s the point of coming in if the majority of my meetings continue to be virtual?” he said.

As we navigate through a sea of digital exchanges, the depth and warmth of face-to-face interactions are at risk of becoming diluted, leaving many people feeling isolated despite being constantly ‘connected’.

Many of our clients are now navigating the complex world of asking employees to spend more time in the office than they otherwise had during the pandemic. But people are only going to say ‘yes’ if they experience the value of doing so. Merely telling people they must return to the office isn’t enough. We can’t just schedule more meetings. We need to be intentional about making each interaction more meaningful – whether it’s a quick feedback conversation or a structured strategy meeting.

There are many benefits of being together. Serendipitous moments, shared smiles, and the subtle yet powerful exchanges of empathy during stressful times such as grief, can help us feel seen and cared for.

All these small moments of human connection contribute to a richer, more meaningful, and enjoyable work life but we must be intentional and thoughtful in creating the right conditions for them to emerge. We need to prioritise and actively cultivate robust conversational environments. Carving out spaces and times for informal interactions can encourage spontaneous exchanges that deepen relationships and foster a supportive community.

Leaders play a crucial role too. When we model conversational wisdom – showing vulnerability, engaging with empathy, and communicating with clarity – it helps set the tone for those around us. Emphasising the human touch in conversations isn’t just about improving workplace interactions; it’s about building a culture that thrives on mutual respect and understanding.

In a world where technology continues to advance, let’s not forget the power of a simple ‘hello’ at the start of the day or a genuine ‘how are you?’ These moments of connection are the true building blocks of a vibrant organisational culture.

It’s time to bring humanity back into our conversations and reclaim the personal connection that phones, however valuable, cannot replace.

To find out how we help people strengthen human connection through the power of conversation, get in touch.

By Sara Hope
29.05.2024