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The future of the workplace, as many have noted, is going to be hybrid — with most companies opting for some combination of in-person and remote work. Knowing what this hybrid workplace will look like is, in a sense, the easy part. But more important, and more complicated, is the how: How are we going to work together effectively in this hybrid world? How can companies set people up for success and create environments that foster creativity, belonging and a sense of purpose when their workforce is distributed? It’s going to take a more human workplace, centered above all on relationships — with our colleagues, with our friends and families and with technology. Companies that realize this, and act on it, will be poised to win the future. 

Our collective experience of the pandemic has taught us so much about the importance of relationships — in every aspect of our lives. As so much was stripped away, we learned what we truly value and what we can live without. For many of us, human connection was what we missed most — a non-negotiable pillar of our happiness and well-being. And as we emerge from the pandemic, we have a renewed appreciation for how central our relationships are in our lives.  

This centrality is backed by ample research. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal study that began following Harvard sophomores in 1938 and is still running, found that close relationships are the single biggest factor in our happiness — more than money, fame and other outward forms of success. According to Gallup, employees who reported having a close friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. And perhaps not surprisingly, our relationships directly impact our health, with studies showing that our social ties boost our immune system and increase our longevity.

But the new hybrid world poses challenges around putting relationships at the center of the work experience. How can we build and maintain connections when so many are struggling with what Arthur Bregman, a psychiatrist, calls “cave syndrome”? (A lingering anxiety about venturing out that can even extend to socializing and grocery shopping.) And how can we foster deeper relationships when so much of workplace communication — and work itself — is mediated through screens? Technology has been an indispensable lifeline during the pandemic, but our reliance on it has further eroded work-life boundaries that were already crumbling. As Jen and Anh Phillips write in Work Better Together, “we are quick to adopt technology, but slow to adapt to it — and the gap is causing real harm to our bodies, minds, relationships and organizations.”

Technology is just a tool — it can be used in ways that interfere with our relationships, or it can be used to augment our humanity and allow us to deepen our connections. As they put into place new technologies to support their hybrid workplaces, companies can also use this time to reassess their relationship to technology, and encourage their employees to use technology in ways that support their essential human qualities. Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab recently released research showing that virtual fatigue begins to set in just 30 minutes into a meeting. But they’ve also shown that taking even small breaks can effectively counter virtual fatigue and stop stress from becoming cumulative. This is especially important given that, as Cisco research shows, the percentage of meetings in which someone is attending remotely has jumped from 8% before the pandemic to 98%. To help companies support their employees’ relationship with technology, Thrive Global has created Reset, which allows workers to take 60- to 90-second breaks between meetings, or even during virtual meetings.

Ultimately, the quality of our relationships — both at work and at home — is deeply connected to our well-being. Companies are realizing that human qualities like empathy, compassion, creativity and collaboration are increasingly essential. They’re also the building blocks of relationships. But they rise and fall along with our well-being. So making a more human-focused workplace is about designing well-being into the fabric of work itself, and moving away from the idea of well-being as an add-on. Leaders and managers who role-model a more human-focused way of working by being open and authentic about taking care of their own well-being will give permission for others to do the same.

The pandemic has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way we work. We can create a more human-focused workplace centered on what we know makes us both happier and more resilient: our relationships. 


  • Arianna Huffington

    Founder & CEO of Thrive Global

    Arianna Huffington is the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, the founder of The Huffington Post, and the author of 15 books, including Thrive and The Sleep Revolution. In 2016, she launched Thrive Global, a leading behavior change tech company with the mission of changing the way we work and live by ending the collective delusion that burnout is the price we must pay for success.

    She has been named to Time Magazine's list of the world’s 100 most influential people and the Forbes Most Powerful Women list. Originally from Greece, she moved to England when she was 16 and graduated from Cambridge University with an M.A. in economics. At 21, she became president of the famed debating society, the Cambridge Union.

    She serves on numerous boards, including Onex, The B Team, JUST Capital, and Gloat.

    Her last two books, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder and The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night At A Time, both became instant international bestsellers. Most recently, she wrote the foreword to Thrive Global's first book Your Time to Thrive: End Burnout, Increase Well-being, and Unlock Your Full Potential with the New Science of Microsteps.
  • Jen Fisher

    Human Sustainability Leader at Deloitte and Editor-at-Large, Human Sustainability at Thrive Global

    Jen Fisher is a leading voice on the intersection of work, well-being, and purpose. Her mission is to help leaders move from the legacy mindset that well-being is solely the responsibility of the individual to the forward-thinking idea of human sustainability, which supports the long-term, collective well-being of individuals, organizations, climate, and society.  

    She’s the co-author of the bestselling, award-winning book, Work Better Together: How to Cultivate Strong Relationships to Maximize Well-Being and Boost Bottom Lines, the Human Sustainability Editor-at-Large for Thrive Global, and the host of the WorkWell podcast series.

    As the first chief well-being officer of a professional services organization, Jen built and led the creation and execution of a pioneering holistic and inclusive well-being strategy that has received recognition from leading business media brands and associations.

    Jen is a frequent writer on issues impacting the workplace today, including the importance of mental health and social connection to workforce resilience, happiness, and productivity. Her work has been featured in CNBC, CNN, Fast Company, Fortune, Inc, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Harvard Business Review, among others.

    She’s a sought-after speaker and has been featured at events including TEDx, World Happiness Summit, Out & Equal Workplace Summit, Acumen Global Gathering, WorkHuman, The Atlantic Pursuit of Happiness event, and more. She’s also lectured at top universities across the country, including Harvard, Wake Forest, Duke, and George Mason.

    Jen is passionate about sharing her breast cancer and burnout recovery journeys to help others. She’s also a healthy lifestyle enthusiast, self-care champion, exercise fanatic, sleep advocate, and book nerd! Jen lives in Miami with her husband, Albert, and dog, Fiona.

    You can find her on LinkedIn or on Twitter and Instagram @JenFish23. You can also receive her personal insights and reflections by subscribing to her newsletter, "Thoughts on Being Well" @jenfisher.substack.com.