With today’s modern technology—from instant messaging to virtual meetings—people around the world are more “connected” than ever before. But at the same time, we are actually spending less time together—in person.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development, which has been running for more than 80 years and follows Americans throughout the course of their adult lives, was recently discussed in an episode of Plain English with Derek Thompson.
Throughout the podcast episode, Thompson and the study’s directors explore the concept of happiness in relation to the “illusion of togetherness”—in particular, its impact on our lives both at home and at work.
In this article, we’ll discuss our take on this important topic, including:
- The key to a happier, healthier life
- How “the illusion of togetherness” impacts our lives and work
- 3 ways for you to support your employees
Social Fitness: The Key to a Happier, Healthier Life
Findings from the Harvard Study of Adult Development uncovered an incredible amount of data regarding what contributes to a happy, healthy life—with “social fitness” undeniably topping the list.
According to the study, social fitness is key to both a person’s mental and physical health. What this means is that those in the study who had the warmest connections with other people stayed the healthiest the longest and reported being the happiest.
Because warm relationships require exercising your brain in cognitively challenging ways.
The study also found that having strong connections with others helps shape our wellbeing as these relationships often allow us to better navigate stressful situations. They also help build stronger immunological responses and wound healing, especially with skin-to-skin contact. This has been long-proven with new mothers and their babies through the practice of kangaroo care.
In simplified terms, this means that having strong friendships is good for your health.
How the Illusion of Togetherness Impacts Our Lives
Living in the digital age comes with a multitude of advantages, like doing business with companies on the other side of the globe, video calls with loved ones in another province—the list goes on.
But this illusion of togetherness is also greatly impacting our lives in negative ways. Despite feeling like you may be connected to a great many people through social media and virtual meetings, our genuine relationships are deteriorating.
In the Plain English podcast episode, Thompson shared some startling statistics on how Americans have been spending their time in recent years, including data about:
- Spending more time alone: The amount of time people spend alone has increased by eight hours a week in the last decade.
- Having fewer close connections: The number of people who report having five or more close friends has declined by 25%, from 63% to 38%, over the last 30 years.
- Not talking to our friends as often: Compared to 20 years ago, 10% fewer people are being social or communicating with friends during an average day.
The implication of this is that more and more people are less happy—and, therefore, less healthy. Even more frightening is that many of the above statistics are in regards to young people.
In fact, as reported in the episode, a large number of students living on college or university campuses report feeling incredibly isolated and alone, despite being surrounded by people. This speaks directly to the fact that many of these students are likely engaging with their peers online and through social media, rather than in person.
What’s contributing to the illusion of togetherness?
1. Social Media
One of the most obvious causes to the decline of in-person connections is social media. It would seem that there is a huge disconnect between the opportunity for connection that social media provides and users’ actual experiences with these types of digital social applications.
From swiping right on dating apps to mindlessly scrolling through your preferred social networks’ pictures and posts, there is little authentic connection taking place.
2. Remote Work
The shift in the business world from in-person to remote work is also contributing to the illusion of togetherness.
As more employees are allowed to do their jobs from home, it seems that more offices are closing their doors permanently—taking with them that essential connection that happens between colleagues in the real world.
In today’s modern workplaces, teams are made up of employees from all over the world. And it’s becoming common to have never met your colleagues in person—even though you’re constantly in touch through digital communications.
Virtual meetings also limit interaction to structured windows of business talk, but don’t allow for “watercooler chat” or impromptu conversations that make workdays more enjoyable.
This unprecedented transition has left people even more isolated from making authentic social connections than they might’ve five years ago.
3. 24/7 Accessibility
Finally, the fact that you can go online any time of day—for just about anything—means that many young people are growing up with a screen constantly in front of them.
All you need is a smartphone, tablet, or computer and your education, work, entertainment, and social media are all available right at the tips of your fingers. This round-the-clock accessibility can make it difficult to distinguish the use of screens and digital connection from real, in-person interactions.
3 Ways to Take the Illusion Out of Togetherness in Modern Times
According to the study, many people derive meaning in their lives and achievements based on the quality of their connections. When we have genuine relationships with people who celebrate our success, we feel happier. It is our connections that give our lives purpose.
When it comes to the workplace, you can help support your team by offering different opportunities for them to create these types of relationships in real life.
1. Flexible Workspaces
While many organizations don’t have the need for a traditional, large-scale office space, that shouldn’t mean their employees are confined to their homes from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. each workday.
A shared workspace allows you to give your team a place to come together and collaborate without the responsibility of leasing your own office.
Flexible workspaces like And-Co also offer you and your team access to a variety of amenities that can help foster connections. For example:
- Our dynamic meeting spaces allow you and your employees to work together where you feel most comfortable—from couches to boardrooms.
- Our on-site wellness facilities mean that you and your colleagues can hit the gym or practice mindfulness together.
- Our restaurant NOX enables you and your team to take lunch together, without having to travel too far.
- Our curated events offer your employees the opportunity to attend hosted events with colleagues and make new network connections with other members.
2. Extracurricular Activities
Work life isn’t just about work anymore. And that’s why the concept of work-life balance has become more prevalent than ever.
Today, the workplace needs to provide employees with things that benefit their daily lives as well as their professional ones.
And at And-Co, this includes:
- A professional community
- Cultural and community events
- An elevated restaurant on the ground floor of our workspace
- An in-house wellness and fitness studio
As an employer, it’s essential to provide your employees with opportunities for real connection and to empower them to live a better and more fulfilled life.
This extends beyond meetings and professional gatherings and encompasses the extracurricular activities that are meaningful to them in their personal lives as well.
3. Annual In-Person Offsites
If your team is located across the country—or even around the world—annual in-person offsites are a great way to connect your colleagues.
These once-a-year events can help people establish deeper connections and build more meaningful relationships with each other. Why? Because they’re memorable and they typically make employees feel valued by their company.
Your offsite can take place at your head office, your flexible workspace or anywhere in the world.
For example, members of And-Co have access to an in-house team who will plan your event for you. Simply choose the right space for your group, and then pass along all the organizational responsibilities to us!
No matter where you decide to host your offsite though, remember that it’s the experience and opportunities to bond with your colleagues—in person—that truly matter.
If you’re in search of a modern, full-service, and flexible workspace and community with sustainability at its core, book a tour of And-Co today.