Social Distancing: the business health warning!

Might your email inbox be a tad more loaded than a year ago? For many, the answer will be a resounding yes…  and includes a fair sprinkling of video meeting invites!

Managing through a pandemic has certainly presented challenges. Many face to face meetings have been replaced by video calls or email. Yet, we don’t seem to have much time as another conference call looms.  It has been important to adhere to best practice guidelines regarding social distancing: doing so makes sense – when the approach is sensible. Conceptually, social distancing is about protecting ourselves, others and our NHS by preventing the spread of Covid 19.  We know this is achieved through physical distancing, but we can physically distance without becoming socially disconnected. 

The very thing that will grow our businesses, reassure customers, support the supply chain and engage our workforce is social connection.  We must avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  This is not a case for ignoring government guidelines: these must be adhered to. It is a case, however, for ensuring that we socially connect more so today than ever.  And we can do this whilst physically distancing.

Our work with many organisations highlights the complexities of connecting meaningfully with stakeholders. For many, we have reverted to video conferencing, but email has replaced much of the person-to-person contact we had.  It doesn’t make good business sense to allow social disconnection.  Brands, businesses and teams have for centuries been developed through social connection. Connection to others is actually an emotional need, hard-wired in each of us. Email simply doesn’t connect in quite the same way.

Thomas A. Watson (one of Alexander Graham Bell’s assistants) found he could solve the problem of how to send a live, human voice that usefully and meaningfully connects one person to another.  We have used it effectively throughout our lifetime. This pre-pandemic invention (circa 1876) – ‘the telephone’, has become a somewhat underused resource – playing second or third place today to email or video calls.  Some of the leadership teams we work with talk of the telephone call as ‘being awkward’. Did we not say the same thing a year ago about video conferencing?  Awkwardness is a mindset and regarding telephone calls, is not borne out when handled skilfully.

It might be useful to ask your team how often they speak by telephone to your key customers, suppliers and employees. For those who have, our experience is that it was appreciated and valuable.

If we were to allocate the average time of one video call to making telephone calls each week, physical distancing will be preserved, and social connection restored.  Hold back on a few emails this week. Reconnecting, socially connecting by phone yet physically distancing can protect the NHS. And our businesses.