We have been thinking a lot about the concept of Virtual Distance lately, and how the shift from in-person to digital interaction is far more consequential than we might have imagined.
Now that most of us have become familiar, and even comfortable, with electronic communication, the assumption might be that we can achieve the same levels of human connection and productivity from the comfort of our own home offices.
According to Dr. Karen Sobel-Lojeski, that is not the case. There are serious, unintended consequences of routinely communicating through devices rather than face to face. Dr. Sobel-Lojeski created the Virtual Distance model that systematically measures, and helps to address, these unintended consequences.
Virtual Distance is a “measure of what is lost when the human being is translated through a machine.” Virtual Distance is not a conceptual or theoretical model, but uses evidence backed data collected from more than 1400 studies across more than 55 countries.
The numbers are staggering. In teams with high Virtual Distance, which refers to psychological and emotional disconnection from each other:
It’s easy to assume that physical separation or time zone gaps are primarily to blame for Virtual Distance, but they’re not. Teams that work in the same location can have much higher Virtual Distance than those that are dispersed. Anyone who’s worked on multiple teams can attest to the fact that proximity does not necessarily assure trust and connection.
Dr. Sobel-Lojeski identified three factors that determine Virtual Distance.
Interestingly, the data shows that affinity distance has, by far, the greatest effect on innovation, trust, learning, and other team outcomes.
Here are just a few simple ways for leaders to help decrease their teams’ Virtual Distance.
A new and enhanced role has emerged for leaders as people continue to work in heightened uncertainty due to COVID. It’s up to leaders to lift the veil of Virtual Distance, and to adopt a people-first approach.
“In my daily conversations with lawyers, I am frequently hearing from many of my junior to mid level associates that they are struggling and feeling a lack of connection in the virtual world they are navigating,” says Stacy Cowan, Urban Legal Recruitment Founder, and Partner, Associate and In-House Legal Recruitment. “They are missing that sense of community that comes from in-person strategizing sessions and social activities such as lunches, coffee and drinks after work with their clients and colleagues. ”
Whenever possible, employers need to continue investing in employee wellness by checking in with them, and going beyond a simple “how are you?” Ask specific questions and really listen.
“I have seen a significant increase in anxiety and depression amongst candidates. For the most part, I believe we are still social creatures who thrive on connection from meeting people in person,” according to Stacy. “These connections can't be fully replicated virtually in my opinion.”
Life. Career. Opportunity Awaits. If you have any questions, are considering a change, or just want to chat, we would love to hear from you.
At Urban Legal Recruitment, we have experienced, along with our clients, the impacts of COVID-19. We’ve made the necessary adjustments to ensure the safety of our team members and our clients.