The wheels of my roller bag clattered behind me as I crossed the asphalt of the Westin River Front in Chicago. It was late, almost nine o’clock, and felt my stomach grumble as I lifted the tower of my purse on top of my carry-on over the lip of the curb with the toe of my boot. I scanned the glass of the revolving doors for a familiar face as I pressed my full body weight into the stiff flywheel doors that spun me into the lobby and the warm embrace of my dear friend, Alene.
Instantly buoyed by her good cheer and happy to be reconnected with an old friend, I was reminded that she was the main reason I had come so far. Having spent most of the day in a plane or airport, traveling from Oregon to Illinois, I was tired, but slowly I felt my engine turn over anew as a burst of fresh energy kickstarted my system to go out into the crisp evening air in search of a restaurant still seating late diners like us.
I had traveled to Chicago, like the other executive coaches whom I’d be meeting in the coming days, because I supported Alene’s vision of connection. She claimed it was reason enough to gather with colleagues, and I agreed. For almost a year she had been holding open conversations online for colleagues who wanted to meet and get to know each other, to explore openly thoughts, concerns, aspirations, and ideas over the course of a weekend un-conference, a kind of open design, co-created agenda for a full day of idea sharing and connecting shaped by the twenty-eight executive coaches who had gathered.
Although we didn’t know what to expect before we came, we all knew intuitively this conference was not something to miss. We were here for connection. It was the core focus of our gathering. COnection would be the conduit to all the discoveries we would make together--much of which was determined by what came through our shared design of the agenda once we all gathered together to discuss it. I was willing to release the need to know, to control the outcomes, and just show up, trusting that something good would come of putting almost thirty professionals in a room together to create something meaningful. What mattered was that I knew, liked, and felt I could trust the caliber of women who were attending; I trusted I would learn something by simply being open to receiving what came through.
It can be tempting to believe that we are better employees or business owners if we simply focus on our work, keeping our heads down, and churning out results for our companies and for ourselves. By taking time to pause to connect by asking personal questions of a colleague or sharing something meaningful that's occurring in your life outside of work, we embrace the fullness of who we are, allowing the fullness of who we are to inform our work and our relationships.
Prioritizing building connections among co-workers and colleagues provides many benefits such as
broadens our scope of knowledge about each other
builds trust and develops rapport
expands compassion and empathy
develops community and support
helps to minimize assumptions, negative thinking, and gossip
creates clear channels for direct conversations
strengthens relationships, creating space to lean into authenticity
With these benefits in mind, I did something that felt highly unusual. I traveled to attend a conference trusting that I would create the outcomes that I wanted just by leaning into the opportunity connection offered.
We said yes to participate in the un-conference because we wanted to be a part of something that made ample space for each of us to show up just as we are and because it was chock full of possibilities—there was no way of knowing what would come through days of connecting and collaborating with women who were empowered to share and support each other.
Since the pandemic work patterns have shifted, leaving many of us clacking away on keys from home, miles or states away from colleagues, clients, and coworkers. The feelings of loneliness creep in when the gap between the connection (or lack thereof) that we are experiencing and what we need increases.
Remote work has led to what has been labeled a crisis of loneliness. According to TheHRDirector.com:
67% of workers aged 18-34 stated that since working remotely, they have found it harder to make friends and maintain relationships with work colleagues. 71% felt that their work colleagues had become distant, and 54% attributed remote working as the main cause for drifting apart. . . . When asked about how they would feel about working remotely on a permanent basis, 81% of younger workers expressed genuine concerns about loneliness.
So how do we mindfully attend to the gap between what we need and what we currently are experiencing in connection with others?
Sure, we can always pack up and pay to work outside our home offices to increase our opportunity for casual collisions in connection, a term Steve Jobs, founder of Apple used to describe in his own words,
“Casual collisions are what we try and create in the work environment. You can’t schedule innovation, you can’t schedule idea generation and so when we think about our facilities around the world we’re really looking for little opportunities for engineers or for creative people to come together.”
This idea works well among coworkers within one organization with a shared mission but may be a bit more challenging to connect with others working beside you in a café who are focused on the needs of their job in a totally different organization and industry.
So, how can we transform our remote work that leaves us feeling isolated and alone most days into a variety of connection points that dot our weekly schedule like stars in the night sky?
Identifying what your personal needs are for connection is key to staving off the feelings of loneliness that naturally come when our work environments shrink and we no longer share space with others.
BEGIN BY ASKING YOURSELF . . .
What does community mean to me?
What does it feel like?
Pause. Visualize what the ideal community experience looks like.
What do I see when I imagine the community I want to create?
THEN ASK, WHAT IS THE ENVIRONMENT THAT’S IDEAL FOR ME?
Get clear on what works best for your style of learning and working.
Recall some of your best work where you felt your best. Where were you?
What about your environment contributed to your ability to thrive?
TURN YOUR CONNECTION NEEDS INTO ACTION STEPS
Build on what you have reflected works best for you in feeling connected with others and list one action you can take today and three you can take this week to move you toward attending to your need for connection and community
TEST THIS IDEA: COMMUNITY BEGINS WITH CONNECTION
Seek out opportunities to connect with others. Consider creating intentional gatherings of people you find interesting and would like to get to know better
Place yourself on the path to have casual collisions by getting out of your routine into the world to intersect with others who may inspire ideas and offer new ways to collaborate
Make time to play! Hold space in your calendar to connect casually through fun and recreation—give yourself over to enjoying the mystery and possibility of what may come without feeling attached to a business or productivity outcome as the top and only reason to connect with others.
Lean into curiosity and be open to receiving connection wherever you find it; trust that you don’t have to have all the answers or know what will come of all your relationship and community-building efforts.
With so many demands on your time, the challenge is to discern what are the choices to connect that will align us with what you need, what you want, and what you value.
I had traveled from Bend to Chicago to attend a very unconventional conference of colleagues in the hope that I’d leave with something I couldn’t create for myself, and that is exactly what happened. I left with a reminder of what we all stand to gain when we choose to build community into our busy lives.
On the Saturday of the un-conference in Chicago, the twenty-nine of us attendees gathered at the closed doors of the WeWork in the Langmore Building in River North, waiting to be let into the open space that would be all ours for the day starting at 9 AM sharp. As I stood there waiting to be let into the empty and inviting atrium, I reflected on the fact that regardless of our individual success as business owners and executive coaches, this un-conference for the sake of connection was going to be as good, or great, as we were willing to make it.
Its success, but more aptly our own success, depended entirely on our commitment to honor our shared vision:
Through connection, we build communities that support us to thrive.
So, get outside your routine! Bump into strangers. Have conversations. Connect. Dream. Build. Create. Ask for help! Collaborate!
You are not alone. You may yet know how supported and loved you are. Go find out!