Building social capital in a pandemic shouldn’t be any different than any other times. Correct? This excerpt from Satya Nadella’s recent interview with nytimes got me thinking. All of us have social capital built up. Some of us are spending it as we ride out the worst pandemic the world has seen in a 100 years. What happens when the hardships increase or conflicts arise? Can we simply continue to build more social capital in this socially distanced world? Perhaps we can!!
We are in this together
I have spoken and connected with many long lost friends. Virtually met friends from primary school that I hadn’t heard from for decades. This happened only because of the pandemic. I have shared more intimate moments with my child, and with my loved ones, that I wouldn’t have probably done to this extent. Our innate human nature is compensating for lack of social contact. Moreover there is a really clear underlying sense that we are all in this together. We may or may not have herd immunity but we definitely have acquired herd empathy.
Purpose is greater than productivity when it comes to building social capital in a pandemic.
A lot of organisations track productivity metrics. I have seen and even experimented with many approaches to measuring productivity. While they are certainly useful, they do not generally encapsulate nuances of behavioural psychology let alone a raging pandemic. As Satya mentions, poor mental health, widespread burnout, and false sense of euphoria over magically switching over to an all remote environment are all real dangers. The best thing about office for me, is it offers a clear boundary between family and work – this blurring boundary is not something a virtual setup will be able to solve for easily.
Practically, what I have observed is that in this environment a sense of purpose trumps productivity metrics. A sense of purpose need not necessarily be a big visionary statement. It can be simply clear, concise and collective objectives. Such clear collective objectives can actually ensure that layers and layers of communication are not needed. It also ensures effort on the right kind of tasks with minimum redundancy. We can also federate decision making and ensure speedy decision making.
Shared values, Shared trust and reciprocity
We all know that Interpersonal relationships form the very heart of social capital. We have to put in concerted efforts to create new social relationships, especially at work, reach out to new people.. setup virtual coffee sessions, help someone out without necessarily expecting something in return. Teach a new skill, ask for advise, give advise, mentor someone. What is most important is that we share common values – values that your organisation chooses to identify with. Also build trust and common sense of purpose relentlessly. That I believe is what keeps the team going.
I find 1-1 informal conversations as frequently as possible helps a lot. Last but not the least, reciprocate! If someone reaches out, take the time out to have small chat. Someone seems a bit down, offer help or a chat. If someone calls you, make an effort not to forget to call back – be approachable – especially as a leader.
I hope you found this useful, but these are just my thoughts. I’d appreciate your views too, thanks for taking out the time to read.