It’s now clear that the coronavirus pandemic is not going to be a short, sharp emergency. How people cope with the fallout is dependent on the depth and quality of the relationships — with friends, family, or colleagues — they had before lockdown.
In a crisis, people tend to revert to type. We have seen this with our political leaders. Some have been able to rise to the challenge and be open about the problems. Others less so. Our business leaders are no different. Shockingly some have been panic buying spyware to keep tabs on their remote workers. Others have shown true leadership by communicating brilliantly with their employees, customers and communities.
Though communication and leadership are essential, it is ultimately our relationships that will sustain us.
And relationships are built on connection.
The Dunbar 150
Many of us are familiar with the Dunbar number — 150. Professor Robin Dunbar of Oxford University estimated that 150 is the size of the average social network (how cool to have a number named after you!). However, you might not be familiar with the two smaller circles of relationships he also observed. He determined that we have up to five intimate friends and 15 close ones.
Dunbar’s circles of relationships are helpful as we seek to navigate a new reality where it is nigh on impossible to just ‘bump’ into people that we know. He estimates that we typically dedicate 40% of our emotional time and efforts towards our tight-five, and a further 20% to the next circle of ten friends. In other words, our core-fifteen always have 60% of our attention. As our worlds shrink during this current crisis, this is good to remember. We get the majority of our social sustenance from just 15 people. So, we can probably cope with only touching base with our broader social network (the remaining 150 and beyond) through social platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.
How this applies to remote working
However, what if we applied the Dunbar model to our new remote organizations? How can we ensure that we continue to build, support and nourish the relationships that we all know are critical to our teams and businesses?
Identify your circle
Identify your tight-five and core-fifteen. At work, these are the people who you are interdependent with. Many will be in your designated team, but some might be in different departments. Don’t forget about the people who challenge you, as well as those that support you – we can learn a lot from their different viewpoints and the quality of our work can improve as a result.
Maintain your personal relationship
Make sure that you not only ‘work’ with your core group but you also maintain your personal relationships with them. Ask them how they are feeling or how they are coping with working from home? Take time to have social calls in the same way you would take a coffee break to socialize. Share a joke or a funny story. Laughter is a great way of connecting with people, even when we are physically distant.
Take responsibility for relationships
Consider giving someone the role of being head of relationships. In families or friendship groups, there is often one person who plays the role of ‘the maintainer’ who takes it upon themselves to keep in touch with everyone and let everyone else know their news. This could be an internal comms role whose responsibility is to share news between departments through newsletters.
Relationships are the most critical factor in keeping healthy — a finding that is consistently repeated for mental health, wellbeing and happiness. Lockdown can make it challenging to get our needed nourishment from socializing with our core people. This puts the impetus on us to continue to maintain or develop these relationships and not let them fade. In this time of social distance and remote working, here’s hoping that you’re able to keep the relationships that sustain you.
Here to help
For more on best practices in this time of crisis, please reach out to me. I’m happy to help. My organization, Friday Pulse is designed to help teams stay connected even when working remotely. Each week, it provides an opportunity for team members to share their experiences, as well as publicly appreciating colleagues who have supported them.
During the current crisis, we are offering SMEs free access to Friday Pulse for 12 weeks. We are here to help you get through this time. If you are interested in learning more, please contact my colleague Clive Steer, Head of Helping People, at email@example.com.