After an unprecedented couple of years of getting square-eyed and talking through screens, the UK government has removed restrictions and given the green light to go hugging, hanging and working together In Real Life again. Whatever your opinion about that decision, it is clear that we are now entering an unusual transitionary period. One where we have to remember how to be together again.
For most companies (The Maydays included) communication has been remote for so long, maybe it feels strange to interact IRL again. We’ve conditioned ourselves to be less social and more guarded; more task-oriented and less present; more in our heads and less in our bodies. Yes, we’ve been able to continue the process of work through virtual comms but that process is thin and functional, it lacks much of the flesh and vitality on the bones of a working business.
Benefits of Zooming in
- You can dress ‘Business on the Top – Superman y fronts on the Bottom’
- You can get out of bed 5 minutes before meeting someone on the other side of the world, and people can join wherever they are.
- You can mute people or feign ‘internet trouble’ and disappear if it gets boring.
- You can make a cup of tea WHENEVER you want.
Perils of Zooming in
- It’s lonely. There’s no social buoyancy or bouncing ideas. Conversation is functional and limited.
- It’s unhealthy. Staring at a screen all day, you get hunch neck, narrowed eyes and forget to move the blood around your body.
- There are no boundaries between home and work which means you’re often half working/half not, leading to low-level constant stress and decreased productivity.
- Other people switch off, don’t engage, feign internet trouble and mute you!
Benefits of Being In Real Life
- You have real conversations with individuals that aren’t broadcast to the entire team.
- You can read each other through body language, eye contact and sensory information, there is room for nuance as you know your colleagues in a more well-rounded way.
- There is more engagement when people are physically present and so productivity is better.
- Increased trust, connectivity and camaraderie.
- Your office pays for the teabags (maybe!) and you can get some hot intel or bounce ideas by the water cooler.
Perils of Being In Real Life
- You have to cover up your Superman y fronts with actual clothes. (unless your job is being Superman)
- Your bed isn’t next door to the office and teleportation doesn’t exist yet.
- You can’t mute people and it looks rude if you freeze for a few seconds then disappear.
It ultimately comes down to CONNECTION. Thankfully for us as improvisers, connection is our GAME! We love it. It’s what makes us tick. And it has been a delight to go into organisations over the last few weeks to help bridge the weirdness gap of reconnecting. Using improv games and exercises to ignite each other’s creativity, to laugh together, learn to open up again and trust each other.
Recently we went into a London media company, Initiative, to give their top advertising peeps an opportunity to reconnect and become a high performing team again. It was a blast. They had each other crying with laughter and bonded in ways that doesn’t happen in zoom meetings. For many of the team, it was the first time they had ever met in person, despite working for the organisation for a couple of years and living in the same city.
One participant commented that the workshop was the longest he’d spent without looking at his phone in years and it was a great feeling. Another said how much more comfortable they were going into a shared upcoming pitch after they’d laughed and played with their colleagues vs a functional online call.
There were nerves at the beginning and uncertainty. Lots of awkward ‘oh gosh you’re 3D’ moments. Everyone had got so used to being insular and isolated that coming together in one room felt exposing initially. But after a zip, a zap and a failure bow, the trepidation trickled away and was replaced with laughter, camaraderie and some mind-blowingly innovative ideas. Their collaborative creations were on fire!
Robert Bellamy, Head of Growth, said of the session, “I didn’t know what to expect but it totally blew my expectations with its approachableness and fun. Helps even the most anxious people shed their fears and find something in themselves they never knew they had. As a group, it brings all types of people together through vulnerability and self-expression.”
Teams that play together, stay together. Teams that listen, build on each other’s ideas and have each other’s backs, are teams that succeed. Studies show that happier workers are much more productive.
For all the wonders of technological connectivity that we have available, there is no substitute for genuine in-person interaction. It is immediate, responsive and embodied. I’ve always found that improv exercises are a shortcut to connection – after creating adventures together you feel closer. And whilst we have discovered that improvisation is definitely possible online, it is magnified into juicy, high octane technicolour in real life.
As we slowly peer out of our work-from-home cocoons and blinkingly step into the light, it might feel strange at first. We’ve got used to the self-preservation of shutting it all out and numbly doing processes in isolation. But that’s not how we are meant to be. It is a human survival skill that we are able to adapt to new ways of being, and we have adapted to the pandemic. Now the time comes to peel away that armour and step back to our nature. We are social mammals. It’s how we’ve been for millennia, it’s how we’re at our best. So be gentle with yourself and let the games and the laughter of improv be a joyful shortcut back to human connection.
And I’ve got your back – I’ll send a memo to TechCorp to ask about how that teleportation research is going. Can’t be too long now….;)
by Liz Peters
The Maydays are available for business workshops to reconnect remote teams and put the sparkle back into work.