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Young Entrepreneurs Find a Powerful Advantage by Encouraging Human Connection Loneliness is a pervasive problem for both individuals and companies. Working in a culture of connection provides a powerful boost.

By Michael L. Stallard Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Tetra Images | Getty Images

Step through the doors of a Craftwork Coffee Co. location in Fort Worth, Texas, and you'll find inviting aromas and friendly baristas working in a beautiful, welcoming space. On the surface, it looks like a perfect place to meet a friend, spend time reading the newspaper, or talk through a work project with a colleague. And that's true, but there is more going on than meets the eye…especially if you are one of the workspace members who have found a home in Craftwork's coworking space adjacent to the coffee shop.

Related: How to Combat the Growing Epidemic of Loneliness in the Workplace

Addressing today's epidemic of disconnection and loneliness.

Many Americans are lonely and longing for connection today, according to research by Julianne Holt-Lunstand as well as the insurance company Cigna. Loneliness is a mental health problem because it leads to greater feelings of helplessness and threat, it decreases effectiveness of sleep and impairs cognitive function, among other negative outcomes. Many people are coming to the workplace each day with a connection deficit -- whether they are in a traditional office or they work remotely -- so leaders need to pay attention to the relational side of work.

In our research on the effects of different types of work cultures on individual health and performance, we found that working in a culture of connection can provide a powerful boost. Matthew Lieberman, a prominent neuroscientist goes so far as to describe connection as a superpower that makes individuals smarter, happier and more productive. In addition, organizations with greater connection benefit from five performance advantages: employees who have a cognitive advantage, higher employee engagement, tighter strategic alignment, better quality of decision making and a higher rate of innovation.

I'm encouraged by conversations I've had with several young entrepreneurs who are tapping into the power of human connection and creating ways to bring people together. They've identified market segments that could benefit from better connection and crafted a customer experience using products and services to meet that need.

Related: Don't Let the Loneliness of Entrepreneurship Kill You

Creating a culture of connection around coffee.

Craftwork's founder, Riley Kiltz, landed a position as a real estate analyst at one of America's premier private equity firms straight out of Texas Christian University. For the next three years, he frequently experienced little connection at work, he told me. The tall, trim Texan with striking blue eyes parlayed his own longing for connection at work into a vision for a workplace where he would experience a sense of community. The result was Craftwork, a Fort Worth-based coworking space and specialty coffee retailer created to combat the isolation epidemic facing the next generation.

Developing and maintaining a culture of connection is easier said than done in coworking spaces where people tend to be independent contractors or remote workers without a company office to go to each day. While standard coworking spaces address the issue of social isolation that people working on their own would experience,the groups hosting the spaces do little to address our need for human connection in our work life. Craftwork's unique model is able to provide connection in ways that the coworking giants are unable to.

From a physical space standpoint, Kiltz believes that fostering connection requires configurations of smaller spaces and a more intimate member community (fewer than 50 members). Many of the coworking players have large footprints with 300-400 members where it's easy to get lost in the crowd. Craftwork locations are designed to provide a mix of public space (on the coffee shop side) and bookable rooms where people can work in the presence of others privately or collaboratively (on the coworking side).

Fostering connection also requires people who are adept connectors and community builders to be present in the local subculture (i.e. each location). Craftwork empowers its team of baristas to intentionally connect with coworking clients by simply asking questions that invite a greater level of depth in conversation, tapping into the benefits of connection.

Kiltz and his colleagues, including Craftwork's president, Trevor Hightower, have identified practices that boost connection in their /setting. Their coworking clients receive free coffee from a person instead of a machine, drawing them out and into relationship with a barista. They use a thoughtful weekly email that encourages regular coffee customers to engage with their baristas or share their opinions in return for free coffee. For example, they shared a compelling poem by Sarah Kay (If I Should Have a Daughter) and invited customers into a conversation on her words. With each interaction, people who work at Craftwork get to know their coworking clients and coffee customers, and become better-equipped to connect and develop community.

Apparently, Craftwork Coffee has cracked the code on developing culture at a coworking space. In three short years, Craftwork has become profitable and recently secured funding from a group of private investors to expand across Texas. Craftwork's Connection Culture is its competitive advantage.

Related: Conquering Loneliness at the Top

Bringing people together around reading and serving.

After working for various social sector organizations, Allison Trowbridge became committed to publishing because she saw how a few books ignited interest globally in the anti-slavery movement. Her first book, Twenty-Two, was published in 2017 and she has since founded Copper, a technology platform for in-person and virtual book clubs, to counteract the loneliness and superficiality created in the wake of social media. With Copper, anyone can easily host and organize a book club, and thought leaders can curate meaningful content for their followers, generating revenue from direct sales, affiliate links and partner sponsorships.

Rob Peabody, co-founder and CEO of VOMO, a web-based platform and app, is out to "power a movement for connecting people to existing needs in their community and around the world." When we serve others, it connects us with those we are serving plus those we are serving alongside, whether it be through the shared experience or through casual conversations. Serving together is an effective team-building endeavor and organizations benefit by being able to quantify the service done by their members. Social sector organizations benefit by getting more volunteer help. It's a win-win-win all around.

Related: Everyone Is Getting Lonelier. Here's How Entrepreneurs Are Helping

Assessing connection

So, what does the connection landscape look like in your life? Here are three actions to stimulate your thinking about actions you might take to boost connection this year:

  1. Get your team together, share this article and have a discussion about whether there is an opportunity to bring greater connection to your customer experience.

  2. Think about the level of connection (or disconnection) on your own team. A connected team is one in which people are united by an inspiring vision for the work, they value one another as unique individuals and they feel they have a voice. Which area(s) need strengthening?

  3. Consider your own level of connection. You've likely heard the adage, "You can't give what you don't have." Are you running on a connection deficit? Do you have trusted confidants who act as a sounding board for you on both business and personal issues?

As people become aware that connection helps them thrive and disconnection is unhealthy, look for more entrepreneurs to create organizations that tap into the power of connection. And as connection in society rises as a result, we will all be the better for it.

Michael Stallard is an author and speaker with expertise in how effective leaders boost human connection in cultures to improve the performance of individuals and organizations. He is the author of "Connection Culture" and "Fired Up or Burned Out," and president of Connection Culture Group.

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