How well people cope during difficult times is dependent on the quality
of the relationships they have with friends, family and even
relationships in the workplace — especially now in the time of lockdown. Just as our core
muscles need maintaining so do our core relationships. As we seek to
adapt to the crisis, clear communication from leaders is essential but
it is our relationships that will sustain us.
Your core social circle
The Oxford University Professor Robin Dunbar found that the size of a
social network is estimated to be around 150 people. He also
observed that we have two smaller circles of relationships — intimate
and close friends. We tend to have up to five intimate friends and up to
15 close ones. He found that when we suddenly have a new intimate
relationship (especially a romantic one), then the intensity of that
relationship shakes up the broader social network — almost a case of one
in and one out.
He estimated that we typically dedicate 40% of our emotional time and
efforts towards our tight five and a further 20% to the next circle of
ten friends. In other words, our core 15 always have 60% of our
Today, as our social worlds shrink, hopefully it is comforting to
recognize we get the majority of our emotional sustenance from just 15
people. These people deserve our focus and for now we can suffice with
using online platforms like Facebook, TikTok and Instagram to keep in
touch with the rest of our social network (the remaining 150).
How to maintain your core relationships in the workplace
How does the Dunbar model apply to our work organizations? We know that
the people we work with — our teams and departments — determine both the
quality of our work and also our experience of work. His three groups
are identifiable: those that we work with the majority of the time, the
second circle of people we engage with regularly, and the third circle
of occasional contact. In our new remote working world, how do we ensure
that we continue to build, support and nurture these relationships we
know are critical to our businesses?
How do you identify your core 15?
At work, these are the people who you are interdependent with. Think of
the people that are most critical to you and your work. Some may be in
your own team, others in different departments. Don’t forget about
people who challenge you as well as those that support you – there is a
danger we will all retreat into silos and lose the valuable insights we
gain from different viewpoints.
What's the best way to maintain a personal relationship with your coworkers?
It’s not just about the work you do, but also your personal
relationships. Ask them how they are feeling and how they are coping
with working from home. Have social calls and chat in the same way you
would have if you went for a coffee. Share a joke with them or a funny
story. Laughter is a great way of connecting with people, even when we
are physically distant.
How should I take responsibility for my work relationships
Organizations should consider giving someone the role of being ‘head of
relations.’ In families, there’s often one person that plays the role of
‘maintainer’ — one that takes it upon themselves to keep in touch with
everyone and let everyone else know their news. In organizations, this
could be an internal comms role or a person that drafts internal
newsletters to share news throughout your department or across teams.
This will help keep the broader group (the 150) more connected and
Connect, connect, connect
Whether it’s a business-critical function or a personal relationship, in
the end, it’s about our ability to connect to those that are most
important to us. Though we may feel like we’re alone during this period
of remote working and social distancing, we are all still
connected. The relationships we’ve formed are still there and can be a
real source of comfort.
We're here to help
Friday Pulse is designed to help teams stay connected even when working
remotely. Each week, our people platform provides an opportunity for
team members to share their experiences as well as publicly appreciating
colleagues who have supported them.
During the current crisis, we are offering companies and teams (50 -
1,000 employees) free access to Friday Pulse for 12 weeks. We are here
to help you get through this time. If you are interested in learning
more please contact Clive Steer, Head of Helping People,