Making work more human in 2017

The world has forever changed with the advent of the internet, yet we as humans haven’t at all figured out how to manage our always-connected, constantly-communicating, rapidly-evolving 21st-century lifestyles. We’re more connected than ever and live in the midst of an abundance of knowledge, information, and access, yet we’re more overwhelmed, distracted, and lost than ever before.

I wrote that blurb above in the middle of 2016, when I learned that one of my ways to help people live more fulfilling lives was by helping transform the way in which we work together and organize our workplaces. Thanks to the blend of all our modern connected technologies, the growth-first organizational systems built over decades, and the recent shifting mindset of “purpose beyond profit,” more and more people are exploring how to make work better than ever before.

There are a lot of lists and articles about trends and insights as we head into 2017. These lists are made up of the latest technologies, management philosophies, operational changes, and more. While I enjoy and believe in many of the insights included throughout these lists — some of which could become gospel for the consulting work I do — there’s something missing for me that I’d like to contribute to the “what we can do to make things better in 2017” part of kicking off the new year.

Specifically, I’d like to talk about the human element of work and life that, if we’re truly going to improve our welfare and wellbeing in 2017, we must collectively embrace and act upon. From workplace experiences to habitual interactions, here are a few thoughts on ways we can each individually improve ourselves and our surroundings:

1. Practice patience amidst our world full of instant gratification

Good things take time. Building a business, cultivating a friendship, creating successes — whatever you’re seeking to accomplish in your life, remembering that “patience is a virtue” may be an essential skill worth practicing in 2017 and beyond. While it’s easy to post photos to Instagram and micro-thoughts to Twitter, and typically get validation and bursts of the feel-good chemical dopamine in a rather short period of time, the worthwhile things in life that really fulfill us as humans take significantly more time. Sadly, however, the instant gratification we’ve grown accustomed to through digital devices and social networks does translate well to the way life is actually lived. Trust is not built instantly. Confidence is not bred overnight. And respect doesn’t show up at your doorstep — they are each earned over time, through perseverance, resilience, and patience.

In 2017, let’s remind ourselves that patience is a virtue, good things take time, it’s OK to slow down, and all the other things that help us be more at peace with who we are as people, where we are in life, and how we’re spending our time. Meditation is one way to practice slowing down and being at peace with ourselves, but simply reminding yourself to be patient in life will make a world of difference. No digital app will ever fill the void of deep, meaningful relationships and accomplishments that take empathy, investment, and vulnerability to develop over time.

2. We must get better at paying attention to people while in meetings

This is a simple sign of respect. If you’re a part of a meeting, and someone is speaking their mind, please give them your full attention. Listen to them. Hear them. Process what they’re saying, and show them that you respect their time and willingness to speak up. When you’re tinkering with your phone, regardless of what you may be doing, you’re putting up a barrier to connection and showing that you do not respect the other people in the room because you’ve got “more important things to do.” If the meeting you’re in does not require everyone’s full attention throughout the duration of the meeting, why are these people participating in the meeting in the first place? Just because we can be connected to everyone at all times, does not mean we need to be. It also doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

In 2017, let’s get better at being respectful of the people we interact with throughout our days, by putting their presence over that of our devices.

3. Try seeing things from other people’s perspectives

Most people don’t see the world the way you do. In fact, no one does — which is a good thing! While you spend 100% of your time thinking your thoughts and feeling your feelings, no one else has the same perspective on the world as you do. Therefore, your perspective and opinion is uniquely valuable! As is everyone else’s. By attempting to see things from different perspectives, you’ll change your perception of reality, which will help you bring about new ideas. You may even be surprised at how well that works out for everyone!

In 2017, let’s put effort towards trying to see every situation from new perspectives while breaking away from traditional ways of thinking.

4. Look into people’s eyes — not your devices — when in conversation

When you’re physically interacting with another human being, no texting, tweeting, emailing, Tindering, or scrolling through your home screens, just because you have your device in hand. Whether in a meeting, out at dinner with your friends, or checking out in the supermarket line, put down the phone and look into the eyes of the person who’s in front of you. It may be awkward at first, but once conversation starts flowing, you’ll find yourself engaged with the people and the world around you, and perhaps you’ll realize the world is beautiful, and there’s so much joy to be found beyond the tiny little screen you stare at for 12+ hours a day.

In 2017, let’s try to get better at giving our attention to people, not screens.

5. Carve out time for digital interactions and set some boundaries

While each of the above points talks about our digital devices getting in the way of us engaging with life, I would not dare forget how insanely awesome these devices are! Nor would I forget that they are here to serve as tools that open up worlds of possibility, simply by their nature. They’re truly incredible, and I would never take that for granted. We are now capable of so much, with just so little, and hold globally connected supercomputers in the palms of our hands that instantly serve up almost any piece of information we could ever possibly want. Whether researching new things, outsourcing your memory, strengthening relationships, or getting lost in games, modern technologies are amazing, and are only going to get better.

But, as it stands now, our culture seems to put devices above people, and that’s just not right. People come first, always. People are the ones who make the devices. People are the ones who comfort you when you’re feeling down, and people are the element of our lives that really help us further engage with our world. So why is it we now block out the people around us by staring at our screens throughout the day? Most of our days are made up of interactions with other human beings, yet too frequently we let ourselves get pulled away into our screens, for reading the news, scrolling through social streams, or even texting with people who are not presently with us. And all of this pulls us away from bring physically and mentally present in the moment as it is in front of us.

So, in 2017, let’s try to create some boundaries for when we interact with our devices, and when we engage with physical people throughout our day. Sometimes they can blend together, but I’ve found that, just like a night out with friends, devices often work better when there’s a proper time and place for them.

And with that, I want to wish you a very happy and healthy new year! I’m personally very excited for my 2017, and I hope to see each of you out there doing things you love, with people you care about, in places you enjoy. As I once wrote, life is for the living, so I hope you get out there every week and experience all the wonder and beauty this world has to offer — beyond work.

If I can help you in any way, please feel encouraged to reach out at any time! I’d be thrilled to learn a bit about your life journey.

Mike Tannenbaum

January 2017