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Why need to work alone, together in order to be productive

In the early days of lockdown, when none of us were quite used to working from home, a certain type of YouTube video soared to popularity. Instead of opting for the same Spotify playlist over and over, YouTube ASMR music plays saw an increase in views. One of my personal favourites, with 8 million views, is entitled “Oldies music playing in another room and it’s raining (no thunder, fireplace) 1 HOUR ASMR”. As it sounds, it’s an hour of 30s and 40s jazz playing to a slightly animated image of Disney’s Wendy from Peter Pan.

For a while, these types of videos were the only thing that I could put on in the background to quiet the ambient agita of being holed up in a house with my big loud family as much as I love them! The comments on the video also showed that I wasn’t alone. Most people commented about needing the sound of nostalgia in such an uncertain, fast-paced time and many admired the ambience it gave. Arguably, this has influenced recent music artists to infiltrate such elements in their work – we think of Adele’s voice notes of putting her son to bed, Rosalia’s gun machine snare drills or Kojey Radicals poetic inserts and interludes featuring sounds of BLM protests. 

Now that the world is opening up, many of us, including myself, feel dreaded sentiments of loneliness having to still work from home. Instead, coworking collective places are seeing an increase in popularity. It seems that despite all the implied benefits of solitude for achieving focus, people still gravitate towards communal spaces when looking to get some work done. There’s the traditional office setting, sure, but these spaces can also take the form of restaurants, libraries, and even parks. For remote workers, that can often mean trying to replicate that experience when those spaces are not an option. 

Childhood psychologists have a term called parallel play, which describes when children play alongside each other without necessarily interacting. While it’s a key step for social development, it’s also something that we continue to come back to as we get older. Relatable, right? It’s easy to see how this kind of activity can also play out in our working lives, especially when we need to get into a focused flow and complete tasks.

Without the experience of these passive interactions, it can be more of a challenge to tap into a focused mindset. From the perspective of work, this siren call for alone-but-togetherness is not only just an urge to get out of the house (besides, hopping on a group Zoom call or listening to a playlist of background noise isn’t quite that); it’s also a reach for something else. For some, that’s better focus, productivity, concentration—or simply, just getting things done.

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