How to Build Social Capital When Working Remotely

Eight (8) Inclusive Ways to Cultivate Connectedness

With the proliferation of COVID-19, remote work aka flex work, telecommuting, home office, work from home (WFH) has suddenly shifted from a nice-to-have option in many organizations to a must-have necessity for business continuity. We have entered into the largest involuntary experiment on remote work that we have ever experienced.


No longer does one need to “talk to their manager” who could be a ‘yea’ or a ‘nay’ depending on their preferences. Now, in many cases, there is no option for a manager/leader to determine if they: like working from remotely themselves; have a habit of managing-by-sight; fear losing control/accessibility; or, have had bad experiences where people weren’t productive working away from the physical workplace. Currently, such managerial sentiments have little to no relevance. Still, the challenges and considerations during this unprecedented time are many.

Firms are responding by offering help creating emergency plans and leadership lessons. Other colleagues are offering a gratis webinar focused on dealing with remote work. The content offerings from all seem quite rich. I suggest learning as much as you can about remote work and managing effectively during a crisis. One of my favorite pieces of writing on this talks about the pros and cons of remote work during a Black Swan event.

One of the most overlooked considerations, when the unpredictable happens, is the role of inclusiveness in organizations and across local societies during life-altering events of this magnitude.

While technological challenges may arise with an immediate exponential increase in the use of company IT resources, they can be anticipated and adjusted for. There will be some technological hurdles to jump, but they are transactions that can be mitigated as they occur.

Inclusiveness as a way of being or prioritizing connectivity, on the other hand, is often overlooked. Inclusiveness can act as a salve for anxiety and allow fluid decisions to be made with less resistance. If a company hasn’t prioritized inclusion, the likelihood is that things will considerably slow down and long-term recovery will come at a higher cost.

1. Say good morning: Seems simple, huh? While not everyone walks into the office each day and cheerily offers a morning greeting, such rituals matter. Avoid finishing your third cup of coffee and beginning the day by sending 100 emails as fast as you can to show that you are working. Each day, send AM greetings to a few of your colleagues.

2. Reach out to people you haven’t seen very much recently. One of the things that happen when you are in the office is that you have a greater probability of colliding with colleagues you don’t normally encounter. Working remotely creates opportunities to be intentional about deepening connections outside of your strongest ties. This means, every month/week/day (over this period) as you contemplate your schedule ask yourself, “how can I make a connection that I may never encounter?” That is, given my general patterns of engagement — time spent with those I have the most need to engage, have an affinity with, or desire to connect with because they provide me with insights or a different perspective that I trust — what do I miss out on?

The general lack of connecting with those you don’t typically transact with or relate to could be for many reasons. It could be because of level (up or down); discipline/department/ professional focus; educational level (certain degrees hold a higher status in some firms); or your networks simply don’t have ample weak ties or bridging ties that bring the degrees of distinction that could allow you to rethink something you are deciding on. This could be a candidate you are considering, a critical project milestone decision, leaving for a new role (or staying where you are). Plant a new relational seed, multiple times each week. If multiple new connections are not possible, plant one each week.

3. Have lunch together (via video). Again, rituals are important to us. If you and your colleagues/team/group of friends go to lunch together on Thursdays, by all means, try to do the same. If your kids are home (as are mine), there is a possibility that your colleagues may meet them at least once during this period. I wouldn’t say bring them to your meetings, but if they pop into the camera, I hope that those with and without kids are caring and empathetic in their response. (REMEMBER: We all are taking precautions because we are perhaps more interdependent as a planet than we’ve been in our lifetimes. Be kind. More about this below.)

4. Don’t turn off the water cooler. I’m (mostly) an introvert. I’m energized by a source that I tap into more so when I am alone.

If I can have access to my library, the internet, and can read and write all day and periodically engage with a client or a partner, and occasionally run after my soon to be one-year-old throughout the day, that would be my favorite cup of tea. (And, it would allow me to drink a variety of my favorite high-mountain green teas.)

My reality is that my extroverted 40% usually has to be ‘on’ a bit more than is rejuvenating to me.

For those like me, don’t secretly turn off the water cooler. Physical places where people collide and exchange ideas are valuable and will remain as such. Most collaborative work is better done in person. That said, now we have to be deliberate in designing our seemingly random interactions.

Create an explicit signal (via your communications systems (Slack, Skype, etc) that you are doing something that can be interrupted. There are some cases whereby an interruption is necessary and those can be worked out. I’m talking about ‘no agenda’ openness. Meaning, I’m open just to talk about the album I listened to on vinyl last evening; what on-line course I took or am taking; how weird it is that there are no sports on TV and how a Joni Mitchell song popped into my head this morning. . .

A distraction. . .And we need a few more of those right now.

5. Learn something and share something that can help a colleague (or two. . .) learn. When you have something big in front of you, something unprecedented, “necessity is often the mother of invention.” For this idiom, you will likely be learning new things that will allow you to do your job better. Share what you are learning and ask for feedback. This can be done via internal or external social networks (as appropriate). Tag or share (in whatever manner suits you) with at least 10 people. Make sure at least four of them are people you follow but don’t otherwise exchange with more than once a year during your LinkedIn anniversaries or when you new add new info to your profile that seems worthy of at least a [click here] “Congrats!”

If you are not getting any traction (e.g. likes, responses, reposts) perhaps in addition to tagging people, you can send them a direct message (DM) greeting and include a link to your post. You can be as explicit as you’d like to be…Of course, you can tell them that “Amri (Johnson) suggested that I share something with you that I learned” if they ask ;-).

6. Form a [colleague] coaching/mentoring circle. A mentoring/coaching circle can contain as few as 2–3 members and probably no more than 6–8. These are likely people who are stronger ties. The principal reason for this circle is peer support and pressure/accountability. Let’s say that your circle supports you in times of distress and helps one make a pivot from distress to the situation occurring as eustress.

In this circle, you share what you are working on, what (sometimes who) you are avoiding, when certain things are due and how up to speed are you, what is going on at home that is enabling or getting in the way of your creating what you want to create, etc.?

In this group, it is a very vulnerable & judgment-free zone coupled with unabashed candor and care. Here, the circle is mindful to not create a new narrative about your friends/colleagues; but rather, you coach (i.e. listen and ask incisive questions) as you cheer for them and as they create the narrative of their highest intention. You want them to be great and consistently deliver their best.

7. Create a new physical habit or a challenge with your network. Drink more water. Drink less coffee. Add 1000 steps to your baseline, etc., etc.

When your life has you by circumstance less active; as in going from fewer point A’s to fewer point B’s, adding some extra energy to your day can go a long way for your mood and your overall well-being. Telling your friends spices it up with a little inspiration and fun.

This routine could include anything from periodic fasting, bodyweight squats, short yoga routines throughout the day — the list is endless. You could even get those extra steps by walking around your neighborhood and posting a video about it. Of course, we should smile at our neighbors walking with their families and pets; and as you know, remain mindful and follow your local public health guidance. Be sure to wash our hands upon returning home.

8. Be mindful. Be kindful. Be grateful. I’m bummed that there are no amateur or professional sporting events in action right now. I like having the option of going to the zoo with our children. My preference would be that I could get on a plane to work with clients. I get claustrophobia from time to time and wish I didn’t have to think twice when the feeling that I need space arises. I want to do what I want to do, too!

When these thoughts or others that are about individual relief arise, find ways to get the relief that are: mindful (looking at the bigger picture and impact); kindful (considerate about what is most beneficial and caring for the so-called other(s)); and, that we can be grateful for (most of us are healthy, we can be grateful for this and can help make sure others can be so too if we do our part). If we do so, we can move through calamity with a sense of calm.

Many of us spend a lot of time away from our loved ones each day. Such physical separation is at times a healthy thing to do and we will have to find ways of having alone time during this period when many families are together the entire day. As well, there will be golden opportunities to do things with our families given the hours we are not commuting or physically in the office, that we should take full advantage of.

Of course, some cannot telecommute. Be grateful that we can count on the folks who are essential to keeping our communities operational (i.e. people working in grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies, etc.) in these challenging times. Tell them “thank you!”.

Some will be without income during this time — be grateful and show your gratitude if you have the heart to share and can contribute to helping in some capacity. Maybe not exactly like basketball star Zion Williamson, but in a way that makes sense for you.

Here in Basel, Switzerland where I live, people are helping out by caring for health care workers’ children. One can only imagine the burden on global health care systems right now. A community approach to caring is heartening and leaves me with the hope that we can end up in the plus column of social capital as a result of this forced crucible of interdependency.

Find a civic opportunity that you feel would resonate with you and lend a much-needed hand.

I have been requested by my 12-year-old twin step kids ( especially the girl) to teach them and two of their classmates English for the next several weeks. Let me inform you that their English is considerably better than my German, yet they are requesting that I take the English learning lead. I humbly accept the challenge.

Struggle As An Inflection Point

One of my favorite quotes comes from the great orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. He said, “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.” (“West India Emancipation” speech, August 3, 1857)

Our opportunity is to revitalize and elevate social capital across all of our localities globally. How that happens will have some variation across geographies. All that see success and progress through this struggle will have done their part to start back on the path to normalcy.

Consider our current struggle as a point of departure from old ways of transactional thinking towards deeper connection, community, and social capital.

As you do your part and when we get well over the peak of the curve, globally, let’s celebrate what we created together. Through our workplaces and simultaneously in our communities we can move on from this calamity enriched via our commitment to finding meaningful ways to contribute to one another.

When Inclusion WinsEveryone Wins.


Diversity is about counting people… Inclusion is about insisting they count

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