Connecting in a digital world

Fleur Ravensbergen, Deputy Director & co-founder DAG – facilitating dialogue in armed conflict

We live in the most connected age ever, yet we are often more isolated than ever. What are the pitfalls of full-on digital connections, and how can we make best use of a technology that is groundbreaking (after all, we did not enjoy such widespread internet connectivity even a decade ago) and at the same time limited and limiting? Read on for some ideas on how to make the best out of a new reality.

The pitfalls of virtual connections

Before we count the downsides of the virtual work environment, it must be acknowledged that, with one fell swoop, it allowed our economy to continue turning and us to continue having a job while operating from an entirely new, working-from-home framework. This digital environment saves commuting time, travel and accommodation costs (for meetings) and affords a far greater degree of flexibility in terms of times and locations. The virtual work environment has many benefits, but it does have its downsides, too. Some of them include:

  • The interpersonal chemistry and synergy that develops in face-to-face meetings are lost in a virtual meeting.
  • Non-verbal cues (body language) are lost and misunderstandings can occur much more easily.
  • Creating trust and team cohesion is much more challenging.
  • Isolation can be felt much more acutely.
  • The larger the gathering, the more difficult it is to maintain connection and involvement.
  • Distractions are multiple and can easily be indulged in.

Therefore, a virtual working environment is far from perfect, but it is here to stay. Let us therefore consider a few strategies that can maximize our ability to connect meaningfully with those on the other side of the screen. By meaningful connection we mean an interaction where both sides feel lit up and energized by the connection.

Gratitude to technology and trust in the power of human connection

When all is said and done, without virtual technology we would all be much worse off. This is a point of gratitude to remember as we are busy complaining about the limitations of the various virtual meeting platforms. The connection may not be as warm or as close or as spontaneous; it may feel awkward before it starts feeling natural; and it may be more energy-demanding than regular office meetings. Imagine for one second, however, what the situation would be like if we had no virtual connections at our disposal. The fact that we can continue to work, deliver and connect despite physical isolation is a wonder in itself. Let’s bear this in mind next time we moan (yet again) about having to sit in front of the screen all day long.

Surprisingly, even when sitting in front of our individual screen, we still manage to feel the energy of a person, sense the vibe of a meeting, even create deep connections with a colleague or a customer many miles away. This is a testimony to the power of human connection – we can feel each other energetically even when we are not in close physical proximity. It may not be as perfect as we remember it to be, but this is only because our subjective memory easily forgets that even when we work in close physical proximity, human relations are far from perfect.