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What does it take to be real, virtually?

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

Virtual work is awkward, exhausting and lonely. I’m not sure if it’s difficult because it’s now imposed. We can no longer feed off of each other’s energies or read body language, even with people we know really well. I find myself struggling to perform at my best, because I thrive with people.

Productivity is not possible without personal bonds. How do I cultivate a sense of belonging? What about my interactions with people bring out the best in them? What are the intangible reasons why we thrive at work? How do we trust each other? I suggest that it’s as simple as open-ended conversation.

I spent the earlier part of my life as a concert pianist. Practicing eight hours a day. Vomiting before the curtains opened. But, I did it all for the few moments on stage when, in that zone of pure expression, courage outmuscled my inhibitions. I was, as it were, communicating with the audience one by one. They too were sharing with me.

The attitude of a musician is strikingly similar to the attitude of a conversationalist. Instead of asking what, I search for the how and why. Instead of entering a conversation looking for discrete answers, I am delighted by our ability to surprise each other and share what really matters to us.

Relationship-building, the rarest of human skills, is both highly valued and hardly practiced. Every company has a handful of leaders who are gifted at personalizing connections and inspiring community. The returns of employee bonding seem hard to calculate, but become evident with voluntary churn. Relationships make up the cultural DNA and shape the way we see each other and ourselves at work. Because no matter who you are, the decision to join, stay or leave a company is an emotional one.

Imagine the richness of a workplace where every colleague can lead with empathy and build bonds that transcend agenda. Where open-ended interest is not a gift of the few, but a practiced habit of the many. Where people have trust and feel fulfilled in the workplace, virtual or otherwise.

Genuine interest in others is the generation-agnostic requirement of the workforce. It’s as simple as signaling that you want to know. But, it gets more challenging with large and remote teams. That’s why the colleague experience depends on innovative methods of scaling a relationship-centric signal. One that, like music, does not prescribe, but invites you to feel, share and explore.

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