Author Erica Keswin: How to keep human connection alive in a tech-filled world

Photo courtesy of Medium.

 

We sat down with Erica Keswin to talk about her new book, Bring Your Human to Work: 10 Surefire Ways to Design a Workplace That Is Good for People, Great for Business, and Just Might Change the World. Erica’s well-researched, heartfelt, and fascinating book is a must-read for everyone who wants to live more intentionally, more connectedly, and to find that sweet spot between tech and connect. 


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The title is awesome! We love the idea of Bring Your Human to Work. It certainly feels very timely, as so many of us are seeking genuine human connection, yet are often hunched over our phones, stuck in impersonal meetings, and falling down the rabbit hole of social media. How can this be reversed?

Bring Your Human to Work is my way of sharing a clear, actionable (and fun!) menu of options for changing the way we do business. The big take-away is this: Honoring relationships is good for the soul. And it’s good for business.

There is a direct correlation between connection and success. While I knew this intuitively, I wanted to put science behind it. In 2015, I created a platform, The Spaghetti Project, to share the science of human connections. Inspired by a study from Cornell University that found that firemen who eat together are better at their jobs (they actually save more lives!), I have made it my business to serve up the power of relationships.

I designed the book intentionally with a very flexible format. After you read the first chapter, you can pick and choose among the next nine, to determine the order that best complements what you’re trying to learn and achieve. There’s so much good information in here, but it’s not overwhelming.

 

Finding that sweet spot between tech and connect is easier said than done. What is your best advice to get the best out of both worlds?

In any given situation, ask yourself: “What is the best medium of communication to honor this relationship?” We can’t always jump on a plane to meet up with our customers, clients, staff, or partners the way we might like to. Is it reasonable then to leverage what’s best about technology to help us honor our relationships? Sure it is. In other words, we must understand the trade-offs and how to find the sweet spot between tech and connect.

We can’t let technology be a stand-in for real human connection. People should not be calling in to a meeting that is being held down the hall; bad news should likely not be conveyed via text. We need to look at the impact of technology and determine best practices.

I encourage everyone to leverage technology’s greatness and to consider best practices on where, when, and how to put it in its place.

Every task you undertake is degraded by 20% when you are interrupted and taken out of the zone. Consider the pings, the texts, the multitude of ways technology can take you “out of the zone.” This is true at work, and at home. For example, we have a “no phones during homework” policy. We use an app called Our Pact as our solution. Yes, I see the irony in this! I leverage technology to manage technology. But, alas, it works – and it represents the dance, the finding of the sweet spot between the good and the bad that accompanies pervasive technology.

 

So many of us work from home or work for companies with teams spread all over the globe. How can remote workers bring their human to work?

An example I love is how global furniture company HermanMiller addressed the challenges of staying human and connected, while having a huge and very global team. HermanMiller requires their team to be seen on key over-the-phone meetings. People can dress casually, but they know they will be seen, not just heard. By creating a policy that values connectivity, looking people in the eye, reading facial expressions, and responding in-kind has strengthened relationships, clarified their purpose, and improved their bottom line.

 

Since technology can’t take the place of human to human contact (example: Facebook doesn’t increase happy hormones in our brains), what should people who work out of their home offices do?

This is not just an at-work problem, this is important for all aspects of our lives.

For one, we need to invest in relationships, the “food for the soul.” There is actual science to support this; physiologically, your body responds to human connectivity. There are many ways to do this, and you select what will work for you. I have a friend who instituted an “Every Friday Long-Lunch” plan. Another friend coordinates her workouts with her friends’ schedules.

There are many ways to personalize this to make it happen. Prioritize this; take this idea out of the theoretical and into the actual.

 

What makes for a healthy, human company culture?

Invest in relationships. Make sure there’s a clearly-defined and meaningful purpose. Be present.

After talking to hundreds of CEOs, entrepreneurs, managers, and employees around the country, I have found that, in light of the digital deluge occurring around us, we all need a more human workplace. Putting phones in a basket during a meeting, eliminating email, ensuring that employees take vacation—all of these mini-fixes are on the right track. But I’ve learned that there is one thing anyone and everyone can do to ensure a more human workplace: Honor relationships.

 

Many of us, whether on a big scale or a small one, want to make a positive impact. How can this be addressed at work?

In Fortune’s List of the 100 Best Companies to Work for, companies with social impact programs are increasingly highlighted. Though it’s not just big companies who are getting into the swing of bringing their human to work by giving back. The June 2016 edition of Inc. Magazine profiled the Best Places to Work with up to 500 employees. Even in small businesses, where the focus is on making payroll and staying afloat, 74% give time off for volunteering. That’s a whole lot of goodwill moving through the universe.

 

What about wellness at work?

Wellness at work is actually quite good for business. In one study published in Harvard Business Review, the authors showed that the ROI on “comprehensive, well-run employee wellness programs” was as high as 6:1. And a recent survey by Quantum Workplace and Limeade, two pioneering workplace consultancies, found “38 percent of respondents [were] more engaged and 18 percent more likely to go the extra mile when they felt their employers cared about their well-being.” It behooves businesses to see people as whole human beings. And treat them as such.

And here’s the thing. Some incredible new research shows that one of the most corrosive ailments of any workplace is incivility. Being mean is bad for our health and our productivity. Conversely, being kind does wonders for both. So if you or your employees are resistant to the treadmill, there’s hope.

 

“Rigidity can often be our ruin,” as you so wisely say. How do you encourage flexibility, creativity, and innovation?

Flexibility is important. And companies need to be strategic about how they decide to handle it. By 2025, Millennials, who place a very high value on flexibility, will represent 75% of the workplace. When Millennials have flexibility, research shows they work much harder, they feel more connected – and more loyal – to their companies. People are happier, results are better.

Food52 team members, for example, have the option to work from home on Wednesdays. This means employees who really must work from home can do so, and there will be fewer days when people will miss each other. This makes scheduling meetings at work easier – and it helps the team know when to schedule things that would require them to be out of the office. Win-win.

 

Practice gratitude, say thank you, do your job well. These are very basic tenants. Yet, too often, they are overlooked. How can we bring our human to everything we do?

Learning how to express gratitude is a great place to start. The simple act of recognizing employees has a proven impact on the bottom line.

A Harvard Business Review article found that “too many companies bet on having a cut-throat, high-pressure, take-no-prisoners culture to drive their financial success.” But in truth, everything, including the bottom line, improves with gratitude.

According to a survey of 2,000 Americans by the John Templeton Foundation, the workplace ranked as the least likely place for people to express or feel gratitude. Most agreed that saying “thank you” to colleagues makes them “feel happier and more fulfilled,” yet only 10 percent did this regularly, and a full 60 percent reported never having said “thank you” or only saying so once a year.

It seems so simple. We should all do it. Every day. However we can. Just say thank you.

It’s good for people, great for business, and just might change the world.

 

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Learning from you, we would like to take a moment and thank you, Erica, for teaching us different ways we can bring “our human” to everything we do. Readers,  how do you bring your human to work and to life? We'd love to hear from you in our comments below!

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