The business lesson in social distancing.

Image result for hugsFor me, one of the worst things about the Covid-19 crisis is the social distancing piece. While I understand the need to do it, it pains me.

You see, I am one of those people you might call a “hugger.” I tend to hug people when I see them. It’s a practice I grew up with, my dad hugged everybody, he was definitely a “hugger” and I guess I just followed suit. Fear not though, I am not creepy about it, I don’t hug everyone I see and I don’t do it if I just meet someone. I only do it if it is appropriate and I get a sense that the other person would be okay with it, in fact, I typically ask someone if it is okay to give them a hug, but I do it without reservation because I think it says so much more than a handshake, it says something important about us as humans.

But now, with all of the distancing, hugging is definitely out, in fact, pretty much any contact is out. So for a “hugger” like me, things just seem very cold and almost rude. I mean, I don’t like the idea of just bumping elbows, even though everyone knows why, it just seems rude not to at least shake hands. No matter, it must be done, and I am doing my best to be physically distant.

So, what’s the rub in all of this? Well, I hope, when this whole thing gets better and a solution to the crisis is found, we reflect back on the awkwardness and discomfort of this distancing and learn something. And what I hope we learn is that all of the things we use to de-humanize our workplaces and customer spaces — you know, chat bots, artificial intelligence, voice recognition software and all of the other automated tools that remove people from the equation — should be revisited and reviewed through the lens of the discomfort we are now feeling with social distancing. In other words, I hope that we realize that we need each other more than we may think. I hope it becomes starkly obvious that we need real, living-and-breathing humans to speak and connect with, and yes, perhaps even to hug from time to time.

And for those of you who think the business world is not the place for a hug, a favorite story I heard at a conference a couple of years ago came from a speaker from an insurance company that realized that when disaster strikes, customers, of course, want to know if they’re covered and all of the details of that coverage, but before any of that, most of them simply want, and need, a hug. So, the company implemented putting more people in the field so they could provide live human connection in those trying situations. They saw the power in empathy, compassion, and yes, even a simple hug.

So, out of all of the pains we are encountering now, a chief hope of mine is that when the dust settles, more companies will begin to emphasize empathy and compassion for both customers and employees and stop so much of the dehumanization, the distancing between people, in our workplaces and customer spaces, and maybe, just maybe, allow for a few more hugs along the way because we all could use one now and again.

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