March 19, 2020: Healthcare's 7-day Transformation; WFH, Loneliness, and Disconnection

Good morning,

I’ve adjusted the timing on these updates to come out earlier in the day. Hopefully, those of you in Europe and Asia can benefit from this new schedule. Thank you for subscribing!

And as I’m sure you’re aware, this newsletter is free, so feel free to forward it to your teammates, friends, family.

On to the update.

Healthcare’s 7-day Transformation

From what I’m hearing from my doctor friends, clinical care in the US has been completely transformed over the past week. Video visits are now the norm, patients who can self-treat at home are told to do so, and non-urgent care is canceled. Moreover, physicians who couldn’t dream of being able to work from home are now able to do so, at least in theory.

Obviously this is all happening as hospitals prepare for an overwhelming number of COVID-19 cases, and many of these same physicians will need to work in-person to treat these patients. But even as we brace for what could be 6 months or more of COVID-19 impact, it is helpful to remember that eventually there will be a peak in new cases, and eventually we will move on. What happens then?

The Editor-in-Chief of NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery remarks:

I first heard this notion from a physician who was just starting the ordeal of deciding which patients did not really need to come in for their next appointments. After she was at it for a little while, her observation was, “Isn’t this the way it always ought to be?” [emphasis added] In other words, shouldn’t we be trying to figure out how to take care of patients without making them come into the office if we could?

Yes, it is the way that it always ought to be, and yet often legacy structures persist. These structures are now crumbling around us, and we have the opportunity to create a new set of structures in their place.

Obviously some work requires a person being in a physical location, but a conversation between two humans (even in contexts like healthcare!) is no longer one of them.

The WFH revolution is just getting started.

WFH, Loneliness, and Disconnection

As many of you newly-minted WFHers may have noticed, it’s easy to feel lonely and disconnected when working from home. The physical workplace has traditionally been one of the great opportunities for human connection, and suddenly that has been ripped away for many of us.

Not only that, but organized religion, on the decline for many years, is also hamstrung by the closures of places of worship already enacted here in the SF Bay Area and quickly coming to the rest of the US (and possibly globally).

Humans are hardwired for connection, and so I imagine that as more of us WFH and LFH (learn from home), something new must emerge to satisfy our need to feel connected with other humans.

I don’t know if this will be online or in-person, with family or friends. I don’t know if this will be huge centrally-organized groups with local chapters or tiny self-governing groups. I don’t know how people will find these connections, or how they will break apart. But I’m convinced that a huge change is coming, and COVID-19 might be remembered as the match that started the blaze.

Ok, so enough theorizing, what can you do about loneliness and disconnection today? Broadly speaking, this is a good time for two things:

  1. Be on the lookout for disconnection (from other humans) among your friends, family, and yourself.

  2. Consider new connections you can form and existing connections you can strengthen while WFH over the next few weeks and months.

How to spot disconnection

The good news is that our brains are already highly evolved to spot connection and disconnection, we just need to pay attention. Look for changes in mood, behavior, and listen to how people (or yourself) respond to others.

Two common strategies that humans employ to deal with connection trauma are pulling back (avoiding connection) and making ever more desperate bids for attention (anxiously connecting). Go read Attached to learn way more about this (and yes, it happens between friends too, not just lovers).

If you see these signs, don’t stay silent, speak up! A simple “you seem off today, what’s up?” works wonders.

How to cure disconnection

As far as I can tell, the best cure for disconnection seems to be actively doing things to help another person. Both people end up feeling more connected to each other, and especially so the giver of help. I suspect that Vivek Murthy’s new book Together will focus on this, and I’ve already preordered a copy.

How to do this while WFH

This all becomes a bit more challenging when many of us are stuck WFH. If you live with other people, say, family or housemates, you can help them in-person during these times. Make dinner together! Listen to their challenges! You know the advice.

It’s a bit more tricky to help people who don’t live with you, but it’s still possible. First, it’s important to understand that from what we know about human connection, text is an awful substitute for in-person interaction, and yet video and audio are pretty good. Not perfect, but curiously good. So, consider this list as a way to get started:

  • Video chat with a friend who is living alone and ask them how things are going.

  • Do research for an elderly family member to help them figure out how to get supplies. Perhaps even order or deliver groceries for them.

  • Create something and share it with the world (maybe a newsletter!)

  • Call a nursing home and see if they have any residents who are lonely and might want to chat with you on the phone.

  • Help a friend with a digital project that they’ve been talking about for a while.

  • Make a youtube video to teach someone a skill that you know.

Of course this list is infinite, but hopefully this is a decent start. I’d love to hear from you, there is a comments feature of substack if you visit the webpage (rather than just reading the email).

Just For Fun

This thread has some great ideas for distributed games that your team can play. Give them a try and leave a comment to let other WFH Times readers know how they work!


That’s all for today, now go help someone!

See you tomorrow,

Andrew