My friend Teresa, a kindergarten teacher, is worried.
She says the children she is teaching have very little
strength in their fingers. They can’t hold crayons to draw. They can’t
manipulate scissors to cut. The only
thing their fingers can do really well is slide– to advance a screen on a
Kids are growing up behind screens. Data shows that 25% of
kids have smartphones between 2 and 5 years of age. Psychologists will tell you
that face-to-face interactions are the primary way kids learn and bond, so what
we do with technology matters more than ever. Kids who grow up communicating
through screens are less intimate with human emotions; now there are even
classes to teach them how to read emotions.
Social media is how preteens and teens relate to one
another, again behind a technical interface. Their next stop is the world of
work, where we leaders are deploying technology to save money and time, which
means communications between co-workers are again through interfaces and behind
screens. Remote workers might never see another co-worker. The workplace used
to be where we gathered, formed friendships, and felt connected to a larger
community. That social bonding has been important to our emotional well-being
since the first homo sapien walked the earth. Communities of belonging helped
us stay safe, and feel connected.
Building Trust with Coworkers
At HGTV, the company I most recently helped to build, we
tried to consider the emotional health of our organization. We began with a central location but had
regional offices, and individual, remote workers too where it made sense.
However, remote workers had a regional office or our central location to come
to as well; they weren’t isolated. They had a choice. When human beings feel
separate, they can begin to feel endangered. We’re no different from wooly
mammoths that way. A gathering place matters.
How do we experience the precious lessons we learn through
looking at someone eye to eye, interacting face to face, heart to heart? When do our screens become walls?
Building trust with your co-workers is incredibly important, so you can work with speed and focus. I interviewed Dr. Andrew Moore, who runs the Computer Science Department for Carnegie Mellon University, for my new book, Fully Human. Before CMU, he worked at Google for 12 years remotely, out of their Pittsburgh office. Much of his communication with his colleagues was through video conferencing and email. He said if he wasn’t in Mountain View at least once every couple of months, the emails became ‘us’ vs. ‘them’. Trust broke down. This is a guy who will tell you every company of distinction in the future will be run by technologists. He adores technology. Trust must be built face-to-face. It can be sustained through screens but that comes later. The emotional health of our companies will always precede their economic health. That’s probably a good thing to remember.
If you want to read more stories about emotional fitness, and get Susan’s Five Fast Tips for Building Trust, sign up here.