Beyond Efficiency: Why Connection is Your Best Productivity Hack

When it comes to a typical work day, how essential is connection for you? Do you crave it like coffee for stimulation, or does it feel like a distraction when you just want to be productive?

The post-Covid remote work culture has been a boon in many ways. I was able to move to Europe and continue to operate my business, even grow it, because I was no longer tied to a physical location for income. But this new style of work also has its drawbacks. Mainly, it’s perpetuating the loneliness crisis that began with Covid. While I don’t want to go back to the pre-Covid way of work, I am actively searching for an antidote to our modern conundrum of being “connected to everyone” while at the same time being connected to no one.

I met Nina Simone at an in-person event in Lisbon last year. Nina runs an organization called Shesapiens, a global organization on a mission to hold space for women so they feel more empowered and inspired in their businesses through events and collaborations.

We spoke about remote work, burnout culture, and social synergies as a productivity hack. Here’s what came up.

Remote work is awesome, and hard

My family in Texas has no idea what I do for work. They are all firefighters, ranchers, and teachers, connected to their physical location through their work. When I roll in now and again with my laptop and mobile studio lighting kit, their brows furrow. “So what do you do again?”

The ability to work from anywhere is a blessing, but it has some serious drawbacks. Before Covid I lived in San Francisco and worked from an office down the street from my house. I had office mates and we would throw parties. It was very social, and I thrived in that environment. 

Today I split my time between Lisbon and Mexico City, and I generally work from home. My neck is often stiff from Zoom calls (often more than 4 hours a day). A recent xray showed compression in my cervical area, which is a direct result of all that stationary screen time. Sometimes I don’t leave the house all day, I often feel lonely, and I’ve noticed that I’ve developed some social anxiety. Sound familiar?

Nearly 1 in 4 adults across the world report feeling very or fairly lonely, a 2023 Meta-Gallup survey found. In my work with global, remote first teams, the biggest struggle I see is team dynamics as they navigate how to do this remote thing well. Sure, it’s sexy to have people on your team from Singapore to Berlin to Timbuktu, but if you can’t connect, what’s the point? The biggest issue I see with remote first teams is that, while they may be sophisticated, they have lost the ability to connect. So why should we care so much about connection?

 

The business case for connection

“We don’t have time to connect.” I heard this from an individual contributor I worked with recently. In fact, I’ve heard this over and over again for years. What’s true is that the value of connection in the workplace is eclipsed by the holy grail of productivity. But what’s true is that if you can’t connect, productivity actually goes down, not up. Why is this?

Business is built on relationships, and the business case for connection is proven. Connected teams demonstrate enhanced productivity. Here’s some data on that:

  • A Gallup study found that highly engaged business units result in 21% greater profitability. 
  • According to Deloitte, 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success, which is strongly influenced by how connected the team members feel.
  • Data from Salesforce indicated that 86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures. Connection can mitigate these risks by fostering open communication channels.

 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/simone-franke-710021167/

 

It’s clear: if you’re not prioritizing connection on your team/in your org, you’re risking falling behind. So what can we do to increase connection, both on an individual and organizational level?

 

Social synergies are the best productivity hack

About six months ago I signed up for a sound healing/networking event in Lisbon through Nina’s organization Shesapiens. I arrived on the morning of the event stressed. I had a lot of tasks on my to-do list that day, and sound healing was not one of them. Someone struck a gong, and I tried to focus on my breath. I felt the weight of anxiety crushing me, but I had no choice but to wait it out.

“That’s so American,” Nina told me when I relayed this story to her months later. I laughed because I knew what she said was true. Americans optimize for productivity. We often feel guilty if we’re not getting things done. That’s one of the reasons why based on GDP we’re the strongest economy in the world. But Nina offers a different approach to productivity. Spoiler alert, it’s about connection.

“Social synergies are the best productivity hack.”

“The traditional view on entrepreneurship is that you have to hustle 24/7,” says Simone. “But this isn’t sustainable, especially for women.” And it’s true. More and more we see the evidence that hustle culture is a waning trend. I’ve noticed that now, instead of bragging about how many hours they’re putting in, entrepreneurs are bragging about how much sleep they’re getting. What a relief.

“We have to promote a more holistic outlook on entrepreneurship that creates healthy routines and community.” —Nina Simone 

I couldn’t agree more. It’s time to prioritize connection as a healthy antidote to burnout culture. “Relationships are the great multiplier,” Simone goes on to say. And it’s true. Relationships don’t just make work easier, they make it more generative and more sustainable. 

 

How to build connection into your remote workflow

No one likes to be talked at, yet I witness this all the time when I work with leaders on their communication skills. One CEO I work with has a bad habit of jumping into the agenda immediately when the call starts. Sure, there’s a hello, but he doesn’t even wait long enough for the other person to say hello back. He leaves no space for the other person to talk, which leaves them feeling like a cog in a very impersonal machine. Can you say, “Not great for culture”?

Here’s my number one tip for remote first teams, “Always connect first.” That means before you jump into your agenda, take two to three minutes to actually talk to each other about something other than work. How can you do this?

Avoid the standard, “How was your weekend?”, which feels canned. Try asking open-ended questions that spark a conversation. For example, “How are you arriving on this call?” Or, take note of something you see in their background and comment on it, “Your plant looks healthy. How often do you water it?” Or something broader, “What’s new and exciting for you lately?” Get curious about the person on the other side of your screen. They just might be the best work connection you’ve ever had.

Another way to spark more connection in your work life is to join a group like Shesapiens to keep your social synergies flowing. Get out from behind your computer. Connect early and often. Get curious about the people around you. Your work, and your life, will be better for it.

Watch the full interview with Nina Simone here.

How do you build connections into your workflow?

 

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