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Remote Work
We (will) remain social animals
Sylvia Gallusser
February 1, 2021
4
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The COVID crisis has separated individuals in many ways, but even when distant, human beings are resourceful and inventive at connecting.

All along the human life cycle, literally from cradle to grave, the pandemic has highlighted that we craved in-person social interactions more than we thought we would. Technology has helped partially bridge the social distance gap, but in every age group we have heard cries for more human interactions.

  • Distance learning in early year education proved to be more than limiting. Social Emotional Learning is – almost by definition! – not a discipline that can be transmitted via a laptop or a tablet. After only a couple of weeks, young children had reached their screen time limit, and wanted to meet, touch and feel each other again. While we used to worry about our children’s screen time, we have since been inundated by reports of parents bribing their kids to keep them in front of their virtual classroom! Screen-avoidance, tech-anxiety, and the loss of rituals shared with peers in a school-environment, have hindered young children in their social emotional experiencing of the world. A future challenge will be to integrate in a smart way the social-emotional component in a new half-distant half-physical learning environment.
  • Learning from home, working from home, and befriending from home, celebrated the ascent of Zoom, but soon enough individuals were overwhelmed with online meetings, virtual happy hours with friends in different time zones, and online lessons of yoga-sketching-russianmaths-you-name-it. But videoconferencing tools still fail to convey the full range of our social interactions – deficient eye contact, altered voice tone, lip sync lag, lack of body language and hand motion, decreased engagement. Soon enough, our human selves yearned to return to greener pastures and natural parks, playing around the rules to hike in company. And conducting dating and mating strategies in a distant environment has raised strong frustrations, with individuals defying bans to be able to meet other humans in a physical space.
  • With the generalized lock-down, work-life balance has been reshuffled. On the one hand, companies have required work-from-home without checking whether homes can provide a quiet work space, consequently exposing spouses and children to work stressors, and generating anxiety in family members. The individual home has gone through a functional remodeling in order to adapt to the needs of multiple age groups with competing goals. On the other hand, we monitored positive effects of refocusing on the nuclear family. In the past, it was commonly accepted that you spend more time with colleagues you haven’t picked than with your own family members, whereas we now hear about parents joyfully spending more quality time with their children, closely following their learning efforts and personal development, and being actually able to share activities instead of just sending them to as many extracurricular activities as possible.
  • Essential workers have shown us that not every job can be easily AI-ed tomorrow, that there is nothing as strong as a human smile to comfort you when you are sick. Clear masks and transparent face coverings have started to popup on health workers as a way to better display empathy. Mourning in a no-touch world has been nerve-racking for individuals seeing their loved ones depart with a glass between them. Funerals over Zoom offered opportunities to renew this rite of passage with attendees from all over the world, but were at loss to replace the warmth of a live hug.

Our social nature has revealed itself to be stronger than ever. The reign of artificial general intelligence will have to wait a little longer…

About the author

Sylvia Gallusser is an inquirer of our future, conducting foresight research on the future of health and well-aging, the future of work and life-long learning, as well as transformations in mobility and retail. She also closely monitors the future of the mind and transhumanism She has been advising 500+ tech companies for the past 15 years. She is a published author, teaches MBA classes, and facilitates workshops on go-to-market, competitive analysis, futures thinking, and entrepreneurship.

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