The need for Straight Talk skills is paramount given our migration toward virtual communication and resulting disconnected relationships. Teleworking, remote offices, and virtual communication were escalating before the COVID crisis, more than doubling between 2005 and 2015, according to Global Workplace Analytics (GWA).
The COVID-19 pandemic put this trend into overdrive, doubling it again in 2020 to 50 percent of all workers. Tens of millions of workers around the world were redeployed to basements and home offices with video conferences and other virtual conversations replacing face-to-face interaction. GWA projected that 30 percent of workers would remain remote through 2022. The real impact is even greater.
The Gartner Report research found that by 2022, 53 percent of the U.S. workforce will be a mix of hybrid and fully remote workers. Up to 60 percent of companies will have adopted a hybrid arrangement, many doing so permanently in order to lower brick-and-mortar rent costs, eliminate commute time, and reduce distractions.
Gartner’s survey of company leaders reveals that “82 percent of company leaders plan to allow employees to work remotely some of the time” and that 47 percent intend to allow full remote work. Owl Labs’ annual State of Remote Work Report, a study of 2,500 remote workers, predicts that one in two U.S. workers won’t return to a job not offering a remote work option. Furthermore, 80 percent of workers expect to work from home at least three days a week after COVID guidelines and restrictions are lifted.
The Human Costs of Remote Work. The balance sheet savings of remote work ignore the price of shrunken in-person contact and corroded work relationships. The collateral damage includes social deprivation, isolation, and loneliness. The State of Remote Work-study says the sacrifices include difficulty unplugging after work (22 percent), loneliness (19 percent), and lower collaboration (17 percent). Anxiety, depression, drug abuse, and suicide rates have skyrocketed. Virtual work’s social isolation is surely a factor.
Noreena Hertz’s 2021 book, The Lonely Century: How to Restore Human Connection in a World That’s Pulling Apart, says one in five adults is suffering from loneliness. Lonely workers are less productive, more likely to quit, and 30 percent more likely to die. Interpersonal contact and the enrichment of relationships through Straight Talk skills aren’t the cure, but they can certainly ease the pain of separation, isolation, and depersonalization.
Remote Work: A Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty? Please don’t get me wrong. Virtual technology brings opportunities for connectivity in our increasingly remote and global world. COVID prompted families to spend more time on video meetings—seeing one another rather than only having a telephone contact. Virtual technology brings other benefits, like reduced commuting time, increased international interactions, greater ease for disabled workers, and admirable technical savvy in increasingly younger children.
However, let’s also be cognizant of the drawbacks of virtual and remote work that are here to stay. Our virtual volcano is erupting into dwindling relationships and a more disconnected and depersonalized status quo. Our voice-to-voice and face-to-face interaction have become massively restricted, as documented in the frightening film The Social Dilemma. Our remote world isn’t mutually exclusive from human connection, but the term virtual communication has increasingly become an oxymoron—like vegetarian meatpacker . . . jumbo shrimp . . . diet ice cream . . . the Village People’s greatest hits (oops, sorry, “YMCA” fans!).
The remote work explosion also sends up a red flare warning about technology addiction. Organizational psychologists and human resources officers decry the pipe dream of a high-tech/high-touch balance going up in a puff of smoke. Mental health professionals lament the downsides as stunted personal and interpersonal growth. Has COVID’s physical virus not only wreaked havoc on our physical health but constituted an emotional virus that we also need to cure?
Interpersonal skills aren’t a panacea, but let’s all consciously “lean into” relationship-building skills to heal some of the virtual world’s isolation and loneliness fallout and compensate for remote work’s disconnecting downsides. Being part of the positive communication solution rather than part of the faulty communication problem demands devoting more attention–– both virtually and face-to-face–– to active listening, citing others’ strengths rather than being fault-finders, giving positive feedback, making clear agreements, disagreeing agreeably, and win-win conflict management.
Rick Brandon, Ph.D. is the founder and president of the internationally respected training firm Brandon Partners. His new book, Straight Talk: Influence Skills for Collaboration and Commitment is available on May 10, 2022. He has devoted thirty+ years to designing and delivering leadership and professional development workshops on influence skills (Interpersonal Savvy, Political and Organizational Savvy, High-Impact Presentation Skills, Selling Skills, Self-Talk and Self-Accountability, etc.) Dr. Brandon has taught for scores of Fortune 500 companies and others, helping hundreds of thousands to improve their results and work relationships by increasing the candor, clarity, and impact of their communication. Dr. Brandon co-authored the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success (Free Press), which has been called “the pre-eminent book on organizational and political savvy” by Robert Eichinger, creator of Lominger’s FYI: For Your Improvement. The book won awards and global recognition, including Fast Company’s and the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) Book of the Month. Brandon serves as distinguished faculty for IMS and has taught graduate and undergraduate courses at colleges and universities. Dr. Brandon earned a Ph.D. in Counseling at the University of Arizona, an MA in School Psychology from St. Lawrence University, and a BA in Psychology from Case Western Reserve.
By Rick Brandon, author of Straight Talk: Influence Skills for Collaboration and Commitment