In Dan Schawbel's breakthrough new best-selling book, Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, he argues that as technology becomes more pervasive in our lives, and robots replace more humans in the workplace, interpersonal skills (soft skills) will become even more critical for success.

Contrary to the illusion that today's workers are "highly connected" to one another, Schawbel's book shows that most people actually feel isolated from their colleagues, and the main cause of social isolation is technology itself.

The book features the results of an exclusive global study of more than 2,000 managers and employees that found what people at work crave the most is a sense of authentic human connection with others.

Technology, a double-edged sword

Schawbel interviewed 100 top young leaders from companies like Facebook, Google, Uber, Nike, Walmart, and the United States Air Force to ask them how they viewed technology in their roles. Most agreed that it's a "double-edged sword," in that it helps their teams become more efficient, highly informed, and super-connected, but at the cost of the human touch. 

In most cases, technology can actually make the workplace more dysfunctional. It keeps employees constantly working, even after they leave the office, leading to burnout and health problems.

Schawbel says, "I recognize its power if used properly, yet when abused it can be stressful and lead to anxiety and unhappiness.

The most significant finding from the research

The research of Schawbel's global study, conducted in partnership with Virgin Pulse, uncovered a startling statistic. One-third of the more than 2,000 employees surveyed work remotely, and they're much less likely to stay at their company long-term. 

In fact, only 5 percent of remote workers believe they'll be working at their company for their entire career, compared with almost a third of the workers who never work remotely. It's a profound finding, because in the past decade, the number of remote workers has increased by 115 percent.

Schawbel says, "While remote work promotes flexibility and eliminates commuting costs, it has made employees more isolated, lonely, and less committed to their teams and organizations."

Three leadership tips for fostering more human connections

In his book, Schawbel has provided several exercises and activities to help individuals or teams improve their human leadership skills. When asked to share some advice for how leaders can foster more human connections, Schawbel recommended three things:

1. Get to know your teammates on a personal level.

Leaders should have more frequent one-on-one, in-person discussions to truly understand how their teammates define work fulfillment and what brings them meaning and purpose. This relationship-building strategy helps leaders design a positive employee experience that appeals to each employee's sense of what truly matters to them.

Schawbel states, "You can't possibly satisfy their needs unless you discover what they are and how your teammates best learn and excel."

2. Minimize use of technology during meetings.

Schawbel says we should continue using technology for its wonderful operational efficiencies -- scheduling meetings, notifying people, syncing calendars, managing deadlines, etc. But during human interactions, he says, leaders should enforce the rule of putting the phone down. 

One good tip for teams coming into a meeting is to immediately place all phones in the middle of the table. This shows that team members are committing to be fully present, attentive, and ready to collaborate. "Technology is great for organizing a meeting or event, but bad when you're physically there," says Schawbel.

3. Become a support system for team members.

"Instead of trying to push policies on your teammates, [leaders should] empower them to take on new challenges," says Schawbel. "Encourage them to become the best version of themselves and support their own ambitions."

Published on: Nov 26, 2018
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