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Don’t work in isolation

Isolation

What most workers need are more quality interruptions

The trend towards cocooning – squirreling yourself away in a home office with a laptop to get your work done – can have a negative impact on both your effectiveness and your health. You need the energy, experience and input from others in order to perform at an optimum level. The Internet and social media will not compensate for a lack of personal interaction with others.

30 years ago most managers had private offices with floor-to-ceiling walls and a closed door to protect them from needless interruptions and socializing. But without the benefit of even the Internet, and only intermittent interaction with others, their output was limited to what they could accomplish with their own limited experience and learning.

Later, the open-office concept with cubicles as offices allowed more input from the outside world, and although this included needless interruptions, even those incidents added the change of pace so necessary for optimum brain performance and creativity. The real advantage was a healthy and beneficial relationship with other people who had different experiences, viewpoints and ideas.

Several years ago one company eliminated even the cubicles and replaced them with tables and unassigned seating so the more mobile workers could come and go according to their flexible working hours. Although the main reason was to save money on office space and equipment, email traffic decreased by more than 50%, and decision-making accelerated by about 25%. This was due to the fact the staff were able to meet informally instead of shooting emails back and forth. Another company claims that 48% of their work was being accomplished in off hours and off premise.

It seems that for the past 50 years or more we have been trying to avoid the people-interruptions and isolate ourselves for maximum productivity. Yet many of these interruptions were actually opportunities in disguise that afforded a chance to form social relationships.

Our brains are designed to associate unrelated information and ideas to form novel and creative solutions to difficult problems. With limited input from others, we have limited creativity. We would not have been created with mirror neurons, which allow us to emphasize and communicate more effectively with others if we were meant to spend most of our day in isolation. And as Matthew Lieberman claims in his 2013 book, Social: Why our brains are wired to connect, research has shown that our brains are wired to connect with other people.

Hard work usually results in maximum value only when it is enhanced by social connections with others. An article in the September, October, 2012 issue of Psychology Today claimed that “the strength of your friendship is as critical for your health as the lifestyle choices you make.” The article went on to describe data collected by Julianne Holt-Lumsted of Brigham Young University that showed among other things that “people with active social lives were 50% less likely to die of any cause than a non-social counterparts.” Many sources indicate that there is a positive correlation between the extent of your social relationships and your ability to fight infection. So there is little doubt that quality relationships go hand-in-hand with health.

If you do have to work in isolation, be sure to keep in contact with associates, get out to a coffee shop periodically during break periods, keep in touch with others on social media, and build quality relationships away from the job.