The Power of Hugs

Posted January 3, 2017
By Nick John

Working as a remote team member, it’s hard to define when an in-person meeting is truly needed. Sure, there’s the occasional *critical all-day customer meeting* that calls for travel, and most would agree that distributed teams genuinely benefit from occasional retreats conducted in person. By and large, though, I can do my job remotely from wherever I’d like and be in continual contact with my coworkers via Slack, email, or the occasional phone call. When that doesn’t cut it, the trusty video conference helps us get some face time in.

But what about beyond that? When is a digital connection not enough? You might think that conducting in-person meetings should be reserved for only the most important occasion, and to some degree, I would concede that makes a lot of sense. But what about the myriad of day-to-day tasks and problems that one encounters throughout a typical work day? Do they ever call for something as disruptive, expensive, and time-consuming as a trip back to HQ?

My answer to that is a resounding “yes”.

Actually Feeling the Love

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Madison to see the folks that work at Redox’s home base. We weren’t having any special event or client meeting, but I wanted to visit Madison because I had developed a growing sense of ennui. This was the primary reason, but in hindsight, the timing of my trip was quite serendipitous, as it was approaching a deadline for a project I’ll refer to as “1000 Tiny Tasks”. I couldn’t articulate why, but I knew that despite having constant digital access to everyone on my team, I was losing touch with my colleagues. I know I can contact anyone in the company any time I need, but every request costs social capital. I worried my social bank account was drained by all my requests for help on my 1000 Tiny Tasks project. I felt like I needed to make a deposit in the form of some in-person interaction into my account.

That, and I needed a hug.

Redox is a close-knit team. We genuinely care about each other’s well-being, both professionally and personally. And we hug. I can’t tell you whether we hug because we’re tight, or we’re tight because we hug, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Hugs are more than just a pleasant moment with someone you care about—hugs force you to stop what you’re doing and feel the other person. Really feel them. They’re true indicators of how someone is feeling, and you learn so much about how a person is doing by their hug. Are they joyful? Tense? Distracted? While seemingly innocuous, hugs allow you to take a moment and immerse yourself in abstract physical communication, one you can never truly convey through Slack or video, no matter how strong the connection or high quality the video.

I showed up last week wrapping up my 1000 Tiny Tasks project. My Friday deadline was in jeopardy, not because I wasn’t skillful enough to complete them, but that there were too many for any one person to finish and I was struggling to ask for help. And why would I spend the last of my dwindling social bank account on tiny mundane tasks I could do myself?

I came into the office and tried to be my usual cheery self when I greeted everyone, but when I hugged my team, they could feel that I was drowning. The natural questions followed—everything okay? You don’t seem like yourself… is there anything we can do?—and when I shared my concerns about my project, the entire team stopped what they were doing and helped. Everyone from every team pitched in and what felt like an insurmountable project became a still-challenging-but-doable project. Tasks were relegated, projects got shifted, and everything got done. I’ve never had so many people race to my aid and ask what they could do, and it was truly moving to see it happen in person. All because of a hug.

The Power of Proximity
There are definite upsides to working remotely that I genuinely cherish—the freedom to wake up and decide where I’d like to work that day is certainly welcomed. I like having my own space and often find that sharing an office can be distracting; at home, I’m rarely pulled away to explain something to my colleagues, and certainly never distracted by overhearing conversations. But by never overhearing chatter, you lose the ability to forge more nuanced connections with people.

When it comes to getting to know someone, becoming close really is in the details. And that’s what’s often lost when you aren’t physically close with your coworkers. You can’t realize that someone is stressed, or happy, or feeling zoned out, and in turn, you can’t reach out and offer to help them in any real way. Going beyond just personal relationships, you also miss the opportunity to learn about the company—when you overhear discussions on business topics, even ones you’re not responsible for, you gain awareness about what’s going on outside of your own little bubble. You may ask a question here and there. Or maybe you know something they didn’t know to ask you, and would never have found out if you weren’t there. The benefits of proximity are varied and endless, but suffice it to say, being close helps.

So what did we do when we finally got through all the 1000 Tiny Tasks? You guessed it, we hugged. After I spent a week in person, asking favors from everyone I interacted with, I banked social capital and know I can ask for that help in the future, be it remote or in person.

Interested in joining the Redox team and getting your own hugs?  Check out our Careers page to see current openings and learn more about working at Redox!