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The Digital Disconnect Is Worse Than You Thought

Oct 28, 2021 · 5 MIN READ

Long before COVID-19 hit, a troubling modern work dichotomy was emerging. A problem that is now threatening to undermine the future of work. The more digital we become, the more disconnected we are.

Today, knowledge workers report — more than ever — that digital disconnect is causing increases in loneliness and decreases productivity. Humans are deeply social. Strong professional relationships are foundational for business success. And mountains of research underscore the need for strong human connections at work.

Connectivity Without Connection

Yet, despite this clear, basic human need, the modern work world is evolving in the wrong digital direction.

Some call this “The social media paradox”. Many Americans report feeling more lonely and isolated than ever before.

When COVID hit, everyone embraced Zoom as the new way to communicate. And Slack as the new way to collaborate. A new, different approach to “work from anywhere” emerged. But, in our race for a new digital workspace, we forgot something. 

People.

Human beings need to be connected, before they can truly communicate and collaborate. 

Digital Disconnect – the lack of human connection in the new native digital workspace – is now a major contributor to dissatisfaction, culture erosion and feelings of isolation. 

More and more people are challenged with feeling meaningfully connected, despite our constant connectivity.  

Digital Disconnect Data Is Shocking

Digital Disconnect Worse For Women and Younger People

A research report by The How Institute unveiled that women feel:

  • 48% less connected to coworkers
  • 74% less connected to their organization and 
  • 100% less connected to their direct manager than their male counterparts. 

People under 30 also report a similar experience. 

Scientists report that for individuals to thrive, we must foster the real human connections that build relationships, teams and cultures. 

Only through powerful, personal connections, can we come together in a shared sense of mission, purpose and vision.

Without connection, there can be no collaboration.

UCLA Professor Matthew Lieberman, Author of “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect”says, our human need to connect is as fundamental as our need for food and water. Further he says, we suffer when our social bonds are threatened or severed.

When human beings are disconnected, it can lead to a long list of horrible personal and professional outcomes, all adding up to record high levels of dissatisfaction.

Mental Health Decline At Work

Kelly Greenwood and Julia Anas write in Harvard Business Review that “a culture of connection is key” to addressing the rising mental health problem at work. 

Their research shows that a stunning, ninety-one percent of people believe a company’s culture “should support mental health, up from 86% in 2019.”

Their attrition research is even more eye-opening.

Further, 48% of Gen Zs and 44% of millennials report feeling anxious or stressed all or most of the time. This is a serious problem given that these “native digitals” are now more than half of the U.S. population – 140 million strong. 

With 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day in the U.S., business leaders are now faced with hiring an entire generation of workers who are dealing with various levels of digital disconnect depression. 

Digital Disconnect Is Unsustainable

We are at a breaking point.

It is past time for leaders to re-think, re-imagine and re-design much of how we connect, communicate, and collaborate at work.

The future of work must be focused on human connection as the center-point, the north star for how we create projects, teams, cultures and even companies.

We have over-rotated on work connectivity, communication and collaboration. And massively under-invested in human connection.

The data is clear. People literally cannot take it anymore.

This has broad, sweeping and long-term ramifications for how leaders design organizations, teams, processes and the software applications to support and empower knowledge workers. Today people want to “bring their whole selves” to work.

The future of work must become a future where the more digital we become, the more connected we are. 

Leaders must embrace new strategies, approaches and technologies that put people first. Because often, the most important thing that happens at work, has nothing to do with “work”.


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