Connect with Projects, Not Just Calls

Over three months into the isolation experiment, and our patience for Zoom and FaceTime as a proxy for genuine face-to-face human interaction is beginning to wear thin.

Not only are we yearning for authentic face-time, but it also turns out that video-calls require more focus than face-to-face interactions, leaving us feeling flat and lethargic.

Gianpiero Petriglieri, an INSEAD professor who explores learning and development in the workplace, told the BBC that “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we’re not. That dissonance causes people to have conflicting feelings, and it’s exhausting”.

We also associate tools like Zoom and Skype with work, and so when we’re ‘relaxing with friends’ via Zoom, our brains think it it’s a meeting, which adds further stress. How relaxed can you really be when you’re hunched over your laptop or monitor with no freedom to really move or look away?

Small Talk Doesn’t Thrill Us

The typical conversation one has via video-call might also be starting to suffer a little. With external stimulation and input being tempered, it might go a little something like this…

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“Same old, still in lockdown…can’t wait for it to end.”

“Yeah, same!”

Not very inspiring or engaging.

A 2018 study at the University of Arizona found that small talk is essentially an inactive ingredient insofar as our mental wellbeing is concerned. The research team gave 486 students devices that would record intermittently throughout the day.

Research leader and psychology professor Matthias Mehl told Business Insider that “People who reported being more satisfied with their life spend less time alone and more time surrounded by other people”. He went on to say that they also have more substantive conversations.

The Science of Friendship

I recently interviewed Lydia Denworth, author of Friendship: The Evolution, Biology and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond, and contributing editor at Scientific American, for an episode of the Future Squared podcast.

She spent two years unpacking the science of friendship, and said that solid friendships are based on three things:

  • cooperation and reciprocity
  • stability and dependability
  • positive feelings (they make us feel good)

Her work looked at the cellular responses of our bodies, and how strong bonds can improve our cardiovascular systems, strengthen our immunity and cognition, and support our mental health.

With research finding that loneliness has the same effect on our mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, how might we continue to cultivate positive friendships when we’re starting to tire of Zoom calls both literally and figuratively?

We can try out a project instead.

Start a Project

Denworth suggested creating a project around which you can bond with and connect with family and friends.

For example, I began missing my teenage nephews and niece, and so instead of simply Facetiming with them, I decided to create an entrepreneurship project that we could work on together — it meant that I could contribute to their lives in some meaningful way.

Lessons one: entrepreneurial fundamentals

Essentially, I’m guiding them through the startup lifecycle — identify a problem, define a solution, build a prototype, market your idea, learn from customer interactions and so on. They’re learning heaps (I hope!), and I’m really enjoying the process. We connect via Zoom or Slack when we need to, and when we do we’re having meaningful exchanges, because they’re asking me questions related to the project, the answers to which might serve them both inside and outside the entrepreneurial domain for years to come.

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Another previous guest of mine, Paul McIntyre, wrote a book called Use It or Lose It, about healthy ageing. Paul told the story of telling his mum what ingredients he had in his fridge, to which she responded with a recipe for a cake. He later posted his creation on his Facebook and shared it with her. This gave her a sense of meaning and contribution in his life and served to act as a project that they could bond over.

Musicians too are finding ways to connect with their peers by writing and/or recording respective parts of a song individually, before flicking it over to a producer to combine the tracks into a complete song. They’ll then do the same with a camera, before mixing and uploading the finished track to YouTube or Instagram.

Above is a great example from 80s rock icon Kip Winger, who assembled a cast of friends including Alice Cooper, and members from bands such as The Scorpions, Steel Panther, and Warrant. Clearly I’m an 80s rock junkie.

Final Thoughts

There are numerous ways people can connect with projects as opposed to having the same old phone or video-call, day in, day out.

Projects can be both simple and short, or more complex and longer term.

Just some that come to mind:

  • a song
  • an art project (some art schools are offering drawing classes via Zoom in real-time that you can do with your friends)
  • articles or ebooks you can work on together
  • a YouTube video series
  • a shared social media account
  • video-games and online board-games
  • a business idea or project
  • sharing recipes
  • a learning project (“let’s learn a language together and then connect on Zoom to converse!”)
  • insert your idea here

Doing this can help us to stay connected in a meaningful way, and derive a sense of fulfilment and joy from our online interactions… at least for a little while longer!

Download my brand new Remote Working Playbook for free, right here. Over 60 pages of insights on how to remote work effectively.

May 8, 2020




Steve Glaveski


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