In the wake of an anticipated ‘great resignation’, this blog series explores ‘back to work’ implications from a neuro perspective. As we transition from ‘mandatory work from home’ mode, organizations are having to rethink ways to attract and retain top talent.  One such challenge, is how to create connection and collaboration when we rarely see each other in person?

A numbers game?

Companies are increasingly drawing on scientific research to enhance working culture, productivity and collaboration. For example, Dunbar’s theory is a social hypothesis that proposes a correlation between brain size and the optimum size of our social network.* Humans, based on their brain size, are said to be able to process up to 150 relationships, whether in ancient society or today’s modern workplace.  Additionally, the maximum number of people a person can recognize is said to be 1500.  Some companies have gone as far as designing their office space in accordance with this theory.  The Swedish Tax Authority restructured their offices to limit capacity to 150 employees. Gore-Tex and Facebook also report changes in organizational dynamics once employee numbers in a given location or functional unit hit this number. How does this theory apply to our increasingly digital way of working if we are to maintain highly engaged working cultures?  Well, social scientists propose we can create experiences of deeper trust, collaboration, and information-sharing simply by leading and communicating in ways proven to help people feeling more connected to and safe in, their virtual working network.

Safety = Connection

Drawing from neuroscience research, psychological safety is a term describing the most widely prized organizational environment.  Why is that so? Studies suggest that this premier working culture enables people to perform at their highest level, and only exists when people feel supported, connected and rewarded for their unique contributions. The good news is all leaders can learn how to create this optimum social environment by taking care of six core conditions for psychological safety. The Noesis SAFETY framework listed below is a way to ease and optimize our participation in increasingly large and complex virtual networks. Here is one question for leaders to ponder on and discuss, for each of our six core needs for psychological safety:

Status – In the absence of the prized corner office and other physical markers of seniority, how will your highly tenured employees be socially recognized and rewarded?

Assurance – Since the disruption to physical meetings and co-location, in what ways are leaders encouraged to establish regular reassuring rituals of connection?

Fairness – How equipped are leaders to communicate transparently about a clear rationale for working policy changes?

Empathy – As the workforce shifts and relationships are lost and changed how skilled are leaders in building trust and rapport to foster belonging across their virtual teams?

Thinking – How are leaders being developed and rewarded for communicating in ways that encourage and reward ‘out of the box’ thinking and idea-sharing?

Your mindset – In what ways are senior leaders modeling and promoting behaviors such as humility, curiosity, and the championing of diverse perspectives and others’ success.

Our next blog will look at the powerful effect of routine and ritual on productivity and innovation.

* Dunbar, R. I. M. (1992). “Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates”. Journal of Human Evolution22 (6): 469–493. doi:10.1016/0047-2484(92)90081-J