Category: Change

Learning to re-think…blog #94

I love soda bread!

 For those who don’t know what it is, it’s the homemade bread I grew up eating in Ireland. Delicious warm, and even better toasted with lots of butter and marmalade. Sometimes Mom would add raisins, but even plain, it was scrumptious. It’s the one kind of bread I know how to make, and it turns out great every time. (Yes, this is a picture of my own handy work.

You can imagine my excitement when we turned on the TV and saw that the cooking challenge for the day on the Great British Baking Show was for the bakers to make their version of soda bread. 

Their version of soda bread?

When the challenge was further explained, and the bakers had to take the basic bread and make a savoury and a sweet version, my enthusiasm waned. My horror was fuelled when the creations included things like salmon, olives, blueberries, dried fruit…. How could they do that to Irish Soda Bread? Once the bakes were complete, and the judges did their tasting, I must admit that some combinations of ingredients actually may find their way into my next bake. 

I need to own the fact that I fell prey to the ‘that’s not the way we’ve always done it ’belief; I passed judgement before giving the ideas a chance to play out.

As I approach this research regarding proximity equity in hybrid or work-from-anywhere teams, my desire is to bracket my own beliefs and ideas, and adopt a posture of curiosity, inquiry, and learning. As noted in my previous blog, my learning journey includes interviews, reading books, examining research literature, listening to podcasts, and recording my learnings as I go (and probably several other things that will unexpectedly grab my attention over this next year). 

The book that is currently stretching my thinking is Think Again: the power of knowing what you don’t know, by Adam Grant. If you could see the amount of highlights I made in the book you would grasp the impact this book has had on my thinking! Here’s a quote from the author, 

“Thinking like a scientist involves more than just reacting with an open mind. It means being actively open- minded. It requires searching for reasons why we might be wrong—not for reasons why we must be right— and revising our views based on what we learn.”

Read that over a few times before moving on…I had to. Let me state again that I am 100% Irish, which means I was raised in a home where heated dialogue was welcomed and encouraged, and we learned how to argue our point and get our opinions across before leaving the table. Fairly respectfully, for the most part, but the winner was the one who’s ideas or opinion was strongest, not the person who was the most open to being wrong! The idea of embarking on research, looking for reasons to prove a hypothesis I had already bought into, was actually a refreshing concept. As encouraged by Adam Grant, I’m learning to recognize my cognitive blind spots and revise my thinking accordingly.

In the early stages of this research, I am already finding the need to ask more questions to gain insight into people’s experiences, to intentionally listen hard, to bracket what I think they may say about how a certain situation could or should have been handled. By learning to think again, I find I am beginning to watch and listen for the gaps, the pauses, the unspoken emotions—and to gently probe for what’s not being said. 

As I look for themes about what it takes to lead in this new context, I’m seeing the idea of leaders needing to be willing to re-think their positions, their beliefs; to be ok with admitting they’re wrong. I’m also becoming more aware of the need for leaders to be willing to provide honest, constructive, specific feedback, even if it’s not what their members want to hear. That takes courage and it takes a willingness to maybe not win the boss of the month award; it also demonstrates a deep desire to see their members succeed, to do what it takes to serve their needs, not the leader’s own needs.

A question I may be adding to the interviews going forward…

“If I knew then what I know now, what would I have done differently? How might that inform how I think and act moving forward?”

How would you answer? I’d love to hear about it.

There are so many more take-aways from the book, it is well worth the read! 

A big thanks to those of you who graciously subjected yourselves to an interview these past three weeks…you know who you are. I can honestly say, without folks like you, my learning  journey would be crippled! As would the final outcome of the research. And thanks to the many interviewees still to participate.

And so the new research journey begins…blog #93

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.”

– Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet (1887)

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s here! I officially started my extended study leave, great thanks to Okanagan College for the privilege of such an opportunity.

When I began planning for this back in February 2019, never could I have imagined how life would have changed by the time I flipped the calendar to August 2021. Every area of our lives have been touched with both joy and sorrow. We’ve laughed, cried, shaken our fists, embraced, accepted, and are learning how, on a daily basis, to not let circumstances define us. The ‘us’ is my husband of 43 years, and myself; together we are embarking on an exciting journey, unsure of what all will unfold, but ready to embrace the unknown.

As many of you may know, I am a business professor, and a ‘remote work’ consultant. I have appreciated the privilege of adapting a form of ‘work from anywhere’ for most of my professional life. In my early career, I was fully supported by my employers to work either in the office, or from home, whatever was needed. I have enjoyed having a co-located office, as well as a home office, teaching amazing students in face to face classroom settings as well as fully on-line, working from amazing coffee shops in North America and Europe, all the while ensuring that the way I work reflects the high work ethic I was raised with. These opportunities have been the impetus for my focus on exploring the people aspects of working from anywhere.

Now, as I embark on a new research project, I am excited to learn, relearn, have my opinions challenged, and in return contribute my findings to the many individuals, teams, and organizations who are facing challenging and exciting transitions in how and where work gets done. The first research, conducted with my son Nathan Sawatzky, focused on Competencies for Success in Remote Workers. This led into a research project with Ian MacRea as we looked at Personality Traits of Remote Workers. Looking back on this research released over the past couple years, never would we have predicted the importance and impact of our learning for a time of such disruption. 

What’s next? Where is my current focus? The overarching question I am seeking to find answers to is “What does it takes to lead successfully in a work from anywhere context, ensuring proximity equity for all”. I want to hear stories from both leaders and members regarding how they have experienced proximity equity, especially when discussing access to resources (support, training, data, promotions, collaboration…). And, as we all know, there is also much to be learned from those who fall victim to proximity bias, so those stories are also of great value. Many are still in the early stages of these new working contexts, while others have been living in a more hybrid or work-from-anywhere format for some time…the common denominator is people. As leaders we need to talk responsibility for self-leadership, while ensuring our members are supported and equipped to be the very best of who they can be.

So, vaccinations received, accommodations reserved, flights booked, my husband’s visa application submitted (I get to travel on my EU Passport as an Irish National!), all the biggies taken care of. The plan is to work from our home in Kelowna, BC, Canada from now through the end of October, then hop on a plane for Portugal to saturate ourselves in the Portuguese culture for four months. Next stop Valencia, Spain for another four months. Before heading home at the end of June, we will spend a bit of time with our son and his family in Finland. Of course, this is all dependent on the skies remaining open for travel! Knowing this may be a possibility, plan ‘B’ will still allow my research to continue, all thanks to the opportunity technology provides for working (or researching) from anywhere! 

However, our first choice is to experience first hand what it means to truly work from anywhere, and live in cultures not our own. I love this quote from Interactive Design Foundation (IDF):

“Research can be compared to interacting with the ocean. On the surface, we may see calm beauty or turbulence; however, we can only fully understand the bigger picture once we submerge ourselves and go much deeper. In order to gain a holistic, empathic understanding of [those impacted] and the problem we are trying to solve, we need to question everything, even things that we think we know the answers to.”

I invite you to follow along with, and participate in, our journey. I have a list of books to read, literature to review, podcasts to glean from, and most important, interviews to conduct with the experts…those of you who are living the reality of work from anywhere contexts.   

If you are interested in a conversation please reach out to me, Roberta Sawatzky…I would love to hear your stories!

It’s all about the people…blog #91

There are a lot of great conversations happening virtually about what organizations could look like moving forward. Remote work experts like Laurel Farrer, Rowena Hennigan, Lisette Sutherland, Candace Giesbrecht, Chris Kane, Pilar Orti, Tammy Bjelland, and Wayne Turmel to name a few, have amazing insights regarding what organizations can, and should do, to make their transition to a hybrid workforce a successful endeavour. No magic bullets, no quick fixes, just wise counsel and guidelines for those organizations willing to invest time and effort to do things right. 

These remote work experts know that 3 components or areas of focus are important in this transition: People, place, and process. Of the three, my passion goes deep for people. I will continue to be that nagging voice, reminding organizations of all sizes to stay focused on your people. Yes, where work gets done, and how work gets done is of vital importance to consider and create policies around, but don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s your people who actually get the work done.

We know that the transitions organizations are facing are no small feat, but we also know that individuals and teams are likewise facing incredible transitions. For some, this is an exciting new journey to embrace, for others it is the scariest thing they have ever encountered! Some may even choose to leave their current employment because of an organizational unwillingness to embrace what many are calling ‘the new reality’ (whatever that means).

So I wonder, how are you supporting these valuable resources? What on-going learning and development are you providing for them? How are you ensuring equity exists for each individual within your organization? Have your required competencies for new hires changed to embrace what it takes to be successful in a remote context? (Our research conducted in 2019 outlines specific competencies for success as a remote worker.) Are you working alongside your existing employees to help them grow their remote working competencies? Are you providing specific learning and development for those leaders who are now required to lead teams where some may work co-located, some remotely, and some a combination of both? 

What about self-leadership? The responsibility can’t lie totally with the employer. If you are now part of the hybrid workforce whether as a team member or a leader, what are you doing to grow your own competencies and skills? What books are you reading? What podcasts are you listening to? Are you exercising discernment regarding who you look to for expertise in this area? Were your sources working either remote or in a hybrid context pre-pandemic?

The future is exciting, albeit unclear. The amazing thing is that we have been given an opportunity to re-write the script. Don’t get lulled into longing for the day when things go back to where they were…the ‘good ole days’. Let’s take a world event that has been so devastating, and allow good to come from it. Your people have been through unimaginable challenges and heartache, as have you! Treasure those people, build into them, celebrate their greatness, and in return, you will have invested in our most valuable resources, and the ROI will be worth every penny you spend. 

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Photo by Airam Dato-on on Unsplash

Leadership in 463 steps…blog #86

View from the Duomo, Florence, Italy

I am basically an impatient person; a person of action. Multi-tasking comes easy and being in the midst of the ‘action’ is stimulating. My mind works fast! I receive information and quickly sort through it to get to a point of resolution. Making decisions is fairly easy for me. However; through the school of hard knocks, I have learned that impatience, action, quickly assimilating information, multi-tasking, and fast decision making is not always a good thing! In fact, it’s rarely a good thing when, as leaders, we are faced with making decisions that impact those we are called to serve and support.

Many people have heard of the concept ‘balcony view’. It refers to the mental (or physical) action of stepping back and gaining perspective. I first heard about it shortly after visiting the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo, in Florence, Italy. We had spent a few days visiting places like the Galleria Dell’ Accademia and were moved by Michelangelo’s David, an impressive 17′ statue of detailed strength and beauty. We leisurely walked through the Uffizi Gallery, awed by the magnificent paintings by artists such as Raphael, Botticelli, and da Vinci. And of course, we delighted in the many cafés with their delicious pastries and memorable coffee. We quickly learned the difference between al tavolo and al banco pricing! Exploring Florence was such an amazing experience.

After putting on many foot-miles, our final adventure was to climb the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo. The staircase quickly narrowed to a spiral climb – suffocating for a claustrophobic!   

However; once we broke into the warmth of the afternoon sun, we were rewarded with the most magnificent view…Florence from 114 metres! We could trace the path of our explorations, see each location in relationship to others, and even notice places we didn’t realize existed. I think you get where I’m going with this. 

We thoroughly enjoyed exploring Florence, but until we made the climb to the top – to the balcony – it was a series of magnificent, but isolated experiences.

Heifetz/Grashow, and Linsky added to the Balcony View concept by referring to the action of – “moving from the dance floor to the balcony“. We love the  dance floor. We love being at the heart of the action, enjoying the energy of everyone dancing to the same beat. It’s difficult to pull ourselves away, to step up to the balcony and be an observer rather than a participant. But as leaders, we must. But what are we doing on the balcony?

Heifetz and his co-authors suggest three activities in which we need to engage from the balcony: observe, interpret, and intervene.

If you were to ask what we saw from the top of the Duomo, each of us would have described something different — all correct, but different. This is an important part of observing. We look at things through the lens of our personal experience and bias, so when on the balcony our view or perspective is broadened a more inclusive view of what’s happening in the everyday workings of our team or organization. The authors encourage leaders to then move into the practice of interpreting what they have observed. Once more we need to acknowledge the fact that we interpret our observations differently than our colleagues. In my previous blog I introduced the importance of checking assumptions…this is a perfect example of how the practice of critical thinking will enhance how we interpret our observations. In our human desire to get to solutions, we may tend rush through this interpreting stage. Taking time to consider, to ponder, to reflect, will enhance our accurate deciphering of what our senses take in. This pause and will greatly impact the interventions or actions we put forth. Remember, action is the result of decision making. 

I appreciate how John Dewey approaches decision making. Following a close examination of the situation (as noted above), consideration should be given to possible alternative directions in addressing the matter at hand, weighing the evidence, choosing what is deemed to be the best path, and then taking action. But it doesn’t end there. Leaders need to identify when the decision will be reviewed and potentially altered.

We took 463 vertical, winding, narrow steps to get to the top of the Duomo, a very intentional climb. It would have been foolish to immediately do the return trip without taking time to pause and appreciate the view. And, once we got to ground level again, we discussed what we saw, what amazed us, what we missed seeing in our Florence walk-about, and what we would still do. In other words, we didn’t make the climb only to ignore what we observed. We observed, interpreted, and finally intervened with a new course of action. 

Leaders of people, are you ready for a Duomo experience? It’s truly worth it.     

References:

Heifetz, R. & Grashow, A, & Linsky, M. (2009). The theory behind the practice. A brief introduction to the adaptive leadership framework. Harvard Business Press. https://cambridge-leadership.com/documents/Ch-2-Theory-Behind-the-Practice.pdf

PSDP-Resources and Tools: Moving from the dance floor to the balcony. https://practice-supervisors.rip.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Moving-from-the-dance- floor-to-the-balcony.pdf

University of Massachusetts (n.d.). 7 steps to effective decision making. https://www.umassd.edu/media/umassdartmouth/fycm/decision_making_process.pdf

Photo of Duomo view by Chloe Xie on Unsplash

Leading and critical thinking…blog #85

In my leadership class this week we will be looking at the importance of critical thinking. We hear about it all the time, but fail to realize it truly is one of the most important elements to consider at this time.  I began digging by looking at Stephen D. Brookfield’s book, Teaching for Critical Thinking,and it has certainly created a deeper desire to more analytically consider my own ability to think critically. A word I learned during my Post Grad studies was metacognition. It’s a great word that is packed with so much substance.

“…thinking about one’s thinking. It refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one’s thinking and learning; and b) oneself as a thinker and learner.” Nancy Chick

When we put these two things together, critical thinking and metacognition, something really important begins to emerge. Consider these questions as you continue reading:

  1. Do I engage critical thinking during these times?
  2. What assumptions influence my decisions?
  3. Am I clear on my values?
  4. Who am I focusing on?

So let’s put this in context of what leaders are facing in our current leadership ethos. Not only do they face the challenge of guiding their teams through uncharted waters, but in the process they are expected to learn new tools, new terminology, new ways to motivate and measure performance…I could go on! However; perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of leadership today looks at preserving culture within an organization. Or possibly the question is more about whether there is a culture worth preserving? Or maybe the realization hits that it’s time to consider the health of the culture, or to examine if what was believed (stated) as being the organizational culture is in fact what teams and customers are experiencing?

My intent is certainly not to address organizational culture in this blog (perhaps at another time), but to look at what critical thinking skills a leader needs to employ when examining such matters.

In his writings, Brookfield suggests the purpose of thinking critically is “…so we can take informed actions…not just to survive, but also to live and love well”. Beautiful. In order to do this he states that individuals need to discover what assumptions influence the way they think and act. He then encourages the checking of those assumptions as to whether or not they are valid and reliable. Finally, Brookfield urges that time is taken to envision our assumptions from others perspectives and points of view. All this before any informed action is taken.

But (and there so often is a ‘but’), the ribbon that must run through all of this is: values. What values actually inform our critical thinking. As leaders, do our values encourage critical thinking that leads to decisions and actions that truly are in the best interest of those we are entrusted to serve?

Back to leadership ethos. The American Heritage Dictionary defines ethos as “The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement.

Moving that into the realm of leadership ethos, we learn that:

Leadership ethos is associated with actions which add value, honour commitments to stakeholders and society…leaders…choose service over self-interest.” Dr. Ken Kalala Ndalamba

Getting back to those guiding questions, let me once again ask, as leaders do we:

  1. Take time to think about how we are thinking critically when navigating and guiding our teams through uncharted waters?
  2. Do we stop to consider what assumptions are influencing our decisions?
  3. Are we clear about, and committed to, the values that guide our actions?
  4. Does the leadership ethos we create result in putting those we serve over self-interest?

Interested in talking more about this? Please feel free to email me, reach out via LinkedIn, or simply comment on this post.

References

Chick, Nancy. (nd). Metacognition: thinking about one’s thinking. Center for Teaching, Vanderbult University. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/metacognition/

Brookfield, Stephen D. (2012). Teaching for Critical Thinking : Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions: Vol. 1st ed. Jossey-Bass.

Ndalamba, Ken. (2017). Leadership Ethos and Culturally Oriented Strategic Management: A Conceptual Framework and Research Propositions. Journal of Values-Based Leadership. 11. 10.22543/0733.62.1216.

Photo by Marcel Strauß | @martzzl on Unsplash

Leading and adaptivity…blog #84

Photo by Ali Kazal on Unsplash

Have you ever been on your way to an appointment, perhaps with a client, or for a social event and were met with unexpected road construction causing you to be unfashionably late? Or perhaps you were set to make a presentation to a client only to discover the Internet gremlins had done their worst somewhere in the cyber space around your computer and caused the connection to be less than adequate? I have, and it was not a pretty sight! Adjustments, re-arrangements, rescheduling, and great apologies had to be made before things got back on track. Things happen, things outside our control, that call for change. It takes time to get our head into a different arrangement, to get over the frustration of the disruption, to recalibrate, to settle on what appears to be a less than outcome. But is it always a less than outcome?

Several years ago, when our kids were much younger, we set out on a family trip to Disney World where we would meet up with my brother and his family. We were all so excited! Our family was travelling from British Columbia and my brother’s family from Ontario. These times together were precious, and so much fun. Everything was packed, we boarded the plane, we were good to go. Until ‘it’ happened. Hurricane Gordon.

Our flight path was interrupted and forced an overnight stopover in Denver, Colorado. We were not prepared! Being the eternal optimists and dearly looking forward to the feeling of the Florida sun on our winter white skin, we were dressed in shorts, t-shirts, light jackets, sandals, and no access to our checked luggage (another reason to fly with only carry-on!). The excitement meter plummeted from extreme high to extreme low in a matter of minutes. Even though this turn of events was totally out of our control, the disappointment was palpable. Sitting in our hotel room, gathering our hotel supplied hygiene necessities, it was hard to fathom the ‘less than’ outcome could be anything but gloom. Until ‘it’ happened.

A forgotten shared memory was recollected by my husband. A memory I had shared but long forgotten. You see, several years earlier I had travelled throughout the US with a singing group. As it happens, at the time of my 19th birthday we were performing in Denver, Colorado. A forgotten shared memory was recollected by my husband. A memory I had shared but long forgotten. You see, several years earlier I had travelled throughout the US with a singing group. As it happens, at the time of my 19th birthday we were performing in Denver, Colorado. That’s when I was introduced to Casa Bonita the most exciting Mexican restaurant I have ever experienced. Food, cliff divers, mariachi band, caves, and sopapillas just waiting to be drenched in honey. Why I hadn’t thought of introducing this adventure to my family is beyond me! However, Rob was on it! Before long we left the warmth of the hotel, tip toed through the snow in sandals, climbed into a taxi and journeyed to Casa Bonita. It was amazing…maybe a little cornier than I had remembered, but well worth the thrill of sharing my former life with my family. And they loved it!

Café in Centrum, Amsterdam set up for working from anywhere

So where am I going with this. Some changes are totally beyond our control. Right now most organizations have been forced to make a change to their SOP. Life in the office as we know it is no more, but not because we chose it…the decision has been made for us. Some may think that the outcome will create a ‘less than’ result, however, I beg to differ. To be sure, a disequilibrium has been created in which we now need to live, but until ‘it’ happened, many organizations, or employees, would not have considered the opportunities provided by a work from anywhere concept. My intent is not to go into the many proven benefits to all involved with WFA, but rather put it in the context of change. To bring attention to how we, as leaders of people, have been handed a mulligan, a do-over. We have an opportunity to do business differently, to adapt rather than mourn the loss of how things used to be; to take advantage of an unplanned change and re-write the next phase of how we work, where we work, when we work, and what work we do.

I’m not saying any of this is easy…far from it. In fact, leaders are called to be the pioneers in this journey of discovery and transition. As leaders we are called to practice adaptive leadership. In other words,

To practice adaptive leadership, you have to help people navigate through a period of disturbance as they sift through what is essential and what is expendable, and as they experiment with solutions to the adaptive challenges at hand.

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky

Are you up for the challenge?

 

Approved for research!…Blog #82

On November 27th, at 11am, I received an email from the President of our institute that brought such joy and excitement I was stopped in my tracks! 

Dear Roberta, regarding your Proposal for an Extended Study Leave, I am pleased to advise that your proposal has been approved as follows:

August 1, 2021 to July 31, 2022, in Europe, for the purpose of conducting research that will examine what it takes to lead successfully in a new, uncharted context that has been coined a “new normal”.

It took quite a while to peel me off the roof, and needless to say, my eyes glistened with tears of joy. What this means, is that for a full year, I get to focus on an area I am very passionate about: remote work. My first research, conducted with my son Nathan, focused on Competencies for Success as Remote Workers. That initial learning introduced me to so many amazing people both in North America and Europe. 

Since the publication of that research early 2019, our world has changed in ways none of us could ever have imagined. We all became remote workers, or more accurately, ‘workers from home’. In a matter of days, even hours, organizations had to do a whirlwind pivot. No time for preparation, no time for analysis, no time for decisions…the move was pretty much instantaneous. Being thrown into the deep end (so to speak), has the tendency to result in either sink or swim; sadly we have witnessed both. Many organizations made the switch with reasonable success, but others were devastated. And we are still transitioning. It’s no longer organizations who operate remotely vs co-located, but rather we are seeing a growth in a hybrid option for work. Working from anywhere has become a concept organizations are getting their collective heads around as both employers and employees have witnessed the great benefits of a move from traditional co-located workforces. The narrative around remote work has changed, and continues to change.

I have always felt strongly about the role of leadership. I take it very seriously, and highly respect those who take the posture of a ‘reluctant leader’. Psychologist Dan B. Allender authored a book back in 2011 entitled Leading with a Limp: Take Full Advantage of Your Most Powerful Weakness. For the past year, many leaders have realized the way they have always done leadership no longer works. They have found themselves leading with a limp. And I greatly admire them. They have had to hit the ground running, limp and all. These are the leaders I want to learn from, and thus am super excited to meet them, chat with them, glean from them, and then share what I learn with the myriad of individuals out there who find themselves leading in an era of continual change. 

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

As I continue to learn about Adaptive Leadership, Appreciative Inquiry, and Design Thinking, I want to once again take an approach that seeks to integrate evidence based research with stories and examples from industry…I want to hear your stories, stories of how you have transitioned from co-located to working from anywhere leadership. I want to learn what you have found to be effective, and what just doesn’t work. I also want to learn (and share) the why behind what works, and what doesn’t, in leading work from anywhere teams. 

Please, reach out to me with your stories, or to arrange a video call, via roberta@samisremote.com or linkedin.com/in/robertasawatzky to share your stories and experiences.

 

 

Immigrants of 50 years!..Blog #78

It’s amazing how life happens, and great intentions get pushed aside. That’s what is happening to my blog…life! (be prepared, this is a long one!)

Bangor, N. Ireland (before my sister was born)

However, our family hit a milestone yesterday that simply screams for reflection. October 1, 2020 was our 50th anniversary of immigrating from N. Ireland to Canada. 50 years! I can hardly believe it. How life has changed over that time. And what a courageous decision for our parents to make – they sold everything and packed up 3 kids to fly across the ocean to embark on a new life. Landing in Ontario early October brought with it the most picturesque autumn colours…little did we realize that we were being lulled into the transition of Ontario winters.

I recall the first snowfall while living in Bracebridge, Ontario. We had never seen that much snow, 6 feet of pure glory (at least that’s what we kids thought). The downside was the freezing temperatures that came with that white wonderland; the gooey content in our noses froze shut as we walked what seemed like 10 miles to school.

There are so many stories I could share of the adjusting, adapting, re-learning, culture shock, missing family and friends back in Ireland. Still, it was the best thing that could have happened to us. That ‘starting life over’ decision made by Dad and Mum lay the foundation for such amazing opportunities for me and my siblings. We have all chosen different career paths, live in different parts of Canada, but share a common bond and love for all that Ireland instilled into the very core of our beings.

Obviously, this immigrant family of 5 grew over the past 50 years. Our parents started a clan of what now includes 3 amazing in-law spouses, 7 wonderful grandkids, and 15 of the most adorable great grandkids. Sadly, Mum developed early on-set Alzheimer’s and didn’t live long enough to meet any of her great grandkids…such a loss for her, and her grandkids. Dad hasn’t fared much better, vascular dementia and geographical distance presented a barrier we just couldn’t beat. He is now in a care facility.

Sadness and loss aside, life has been amazing! As I was reflecting on this major life re-direction, I was struck by the thought that while this immigration greatly impact my brother, sister and me, it might also have had an impact on our kids…so I asked three of the grandkids, ‘what difference do you think it made in your lives having a parent raised during their formative years in another country?’ I love their responses so thought I would share them with you (with their permission of course).     

Nanny McReady, mum, and me having a picnic at the sea.

Shannon (mother of the youngest great grandchild): My mom was born in Ireland and due to that I have always had a fascination and a small sense of pride for the country. It had always been my dream to travel to Ireland and experience the culture myself. I have now been 3 times, with the most recent trip taking me to the city where my mom was born, Belfast. At that time, I heard a bit of the history which created so many questions creating the need for a conversation with my mom; it left me wanting to know more from her perspective. Since visiting there, I have a greater sense of pride for Ireland; even though I wasn’t born there I feel Ireland is part of me. Having had a parent born in a different country, which they love and have many fond memories of, means I have two cultures to celebrate.

Nathan (father of 6 great grandkids): My mother’s Irish-ness was revealed to me in subtle ways as I grew up. Despite many attempts, I could never get her to talk in an Irish accent, and I heard very few stories of what her years in Ireland were like. Even still, I knew that her childhood was a deep part of her, even if it was a secret part of her. I’d later learn how much she felt a need to establish a new identity once she arrived in Canada, and how that sadly meant suppressing some of the very things that made her, her. It would be many years before I’d come to see how deeply Ireland was part of my mum.

As an adult, I moved to Ireland with my wife and children. Mum and dad’s first visit allowed me to begin to get to know my mother’s ‘secret identify.’ Whether it was in the way she approached the Irish Sea with holy reverence, or the way she cherished Guinness as only an Irish born woman can, or even in her deeply emotional reaction as we drove through Belfast and felt the deep fear held in memory by the murals depicting the fighters of “peace.”

I suppose for me, without really knowing it, Ireland has always been a part of me because of her, and I knew this to be true the first time I took in the rolling green hills and wild seas myself. I felt…home? No, not home, but at least I felt like I belonged there, just as she always will.

Alicia (mother of two great grandkids, and oldest grandchild): Growing up I really didn’t think anything of the fact that my dad had spent his formative years in Northern Ireland. It wasn’t like he looked different, or even sounded any different than any of my friends’ parents. I mean, I guess the red hair (what was left of it at that point), and the freckles that cover about 98% of his body did stand out, now that I think about it. And then there were the odd expressions…I remember going to someone’s house with him, and he told my brothers and I to go “knock the door”. My smarty-pants (can I say smart-ass) brother inquired where exactly we should knock the door to? And then there’s the cutlery. Heaven forbid you eat a meal without a knife! How on earth could you get food on a fork if not for a knife? I jest.

In all seriousness, having a parent raised in a different country informs so much of how we were raised. Going to Grammar School in Northern Ireland created in my dad such a strong work ethic. Schoolwork and grades were always something so important and such a priority for us. Thankfully, he didn’t adopt the strict rules he grew up with in school, and thankfully he never implemented the Ruler as a form of punishment either. For my dad, growing up meant soccer, or more accurately “football”, and seeing him instill his love for that sport, as well as rugby, in my brothers and myself, is something that has fostered in us a love of sports, and competition. Being born and raised in another country, and then as a family choosing to leave that country and come to a new one, starting a brand-new life is such a huge decision. While that wasn’t my dad’s decision independently, but rather his family’s decision, it is still something that informed so much of who he is, and how he and my mom chose to raise their family. I see that through that uprooting, family becomes so much more important, something not to be taken for granted. And while, we may not have always lived close to family, we have always been intentional about being a part of each other’s lives. It was also always so fascinating to see my dad refer back to his Irishness, his lilt if not a full accent, when we were with his extended family. It was like we got to see a bit more of his true self. My dad fought hard not to stick out when they moved here, his aforementioned flaming red hair and freckles, as well as the fact that he was tiny after having been skipped ahead a couple of grades made him stand out. And so, he tried to blend in, tried to fit in, tried to lose his accent. And while, as a teenage girl I totally got that – that need to assimilate – as I grew up, it also made me want to stand out, to be proud of being half-Irish. Perhaps as a result of that, and my love of that accent, it has pushed me to really embrace my Irish heritage. I am proud of the choice that my family made to leave Northern Ireland, but I am also proud to be Irish.

We are a truly blessed family, and even though we are spread out across the globe, there is a deep love for each other and an immense gratitude to Dad and Mum for their sacrifice. And we are, and always will be, Irish at our very core.

The shore of the Irish Sea

One on-line professor to another…Blog #77

That space between

I have recently learned a new word, liminal space. Indulge me as I share a definition with you.

The liminal space can be seen as a transformative space. It occurs when things such as our thoughts, knowledge or ideas are in some way challenged, when our understanding of something is unsettled rendering it fluid. That space of in-between is a state of liminality, a transition in the learning process, the crossing of a threshold. From here we begin to reconfigure our prior understandings, perspectives and conceptual schema. We let go of the conceptual stance we had. Once we reach this post-liminal mode the shift is irreversible and “alters our way of being in the world”. (O’Sullivan as cited in Meyer, Land & Baillie).

We are at the start of September, on the brink of meeting new groups of students who will bring with them life experiences, hunger to learn, need to challenge, and always the ability to push us to new levels of learning. We are in a liminal space.

Over the summer, as business faculty colleagues, we shared our learnings, with a great deal of focus being on the technology of making on-line learning most effective.

As we now prepare for classes to begin next week, making sure the course outlines are completed and submitted, assessments figured out, technology working, welcome videos created, and so on…I would like to invite you to pause for a moment. Let’s put technology aside and think about the humans we are preparing this material for. Who are they? Where are they from? What do they enjoy? What are their fears? What are their dreams and aspirations? What liminal spaces have they been experiencing as together we transition from the familiar to the unknown?

As professors, how are we going to discover this important information giving us a peek into the lives of these amazing humans? We have learned that teaching concepts on-line takes more time than in a face-to-face context, making it challenging to get through all the material we are accustomed to. We have also learned that content needs to be delivered both synchronously and asynchronously. And, we know that facilitating interaction with students on-line is challenging, but oh so very vital!

As you work on your lesson plans, can I invite you to intentionally build in 10 minutes to connect with the students, and help them connect with each other? Give them time to ‘arrive’ in the space. Help them to get to know who they are learning with, and help them get to know you as a person, not just a Prof. When students feel like they belong, are safe, and have a voice, they will engage and learn so much more. And remember to combine on-screen and off-screen activities…screen fatigue is a real thing (as you know!).

I trust your liminal space experience will result in exciting things as together we re-write the learning adventure.

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Then came COVID-19, and pivoting…blog #75

Pivot “to turn or rotate, like a hinge”

 

December 20, 2019 was the day life changed significantly for me. I had a total knee replacement. Believe me, the purported timelines for recovery are not to be trusted…nor is it wise to use other’s recovery milestones as targets for which to aim.

I was just starting to emerge into ‘the real world’, trusty cane by my side, when the second significant change landed bringing as much joy as an unwelcome guest. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was turned around by this global pandemic we soon came to know as COVID-19. My ‘coming out’ was quickly shut down, and the excitement of re-entry was snatched away. Conferences already registered for were cancelled, a greatly anticipated trip to Hawaii with our daughter and son-in-law was cancelled, and a scheduled vacation to Helsinki to visit our son, daughter-in-law and grandkids faded away before becoming a reality.

But life did not slow down, in fact it become busier than I could have imagined. Almost immediately I began receiving invites to present at virtual events; the answer to each invite was a resounding ‘yes!’ This remote community welcomed me with open arms when I began my journey into remote work research…this was my opportunity to return the favour. But the business went beyond that. You see, I’m an educator as well as a remote work advocate. I teach Human Resources and Management courses at the Okanagan School of Business, in Kelowna, British Columbia. We immediately went into pivot mode; face to face classes had to be transformed into on-line delivery. Within a week of the self-isolation announcement, every one of our students were fully engaged in a whole new way of learning (for them), and a new delivery platform for us (professors). Unbelievable to say the least.

Not only did our faculty have to reframe their delivery method, they were called on to facilitate learning in a manner that embraced synchronous and asynchronous learning in an effort to continue fostering impactful relationships with their students. And, they had to do this while suddenly working from home where a workspace had not yet been created. More pivoting.

I say ‘they’ in this reference, because I was not teaching in the Winter 2019 semester due to the assimilation of a new body part! However, I was able to fully engage in the facilitation of the transition and bring my expertise around remote work to bear on the situation. Ironically, it wasn’t until this event happened that many in our greater institution were even aware of the research I had conducted on remote work — research the College had funded. However, it was fortuitous that I was able to provide some support and insight to my colleagues and peers during a period of disequilibrium.

Remote work is not new to me, in fact, I have been engaged working remotely for quite a few years. However, as many of my remote work advocate colleagues confirm, working from home is not the same as remote work. By definition, remote work relates to those who don’t have to show up at a physical location on a regular basis. They are mostly location agnostic or location independent 

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Contrarily, COVID-19 turned the majority of us into location dependent workers — our homes. This was not a choice; time to prepare a home office was not afforded those used to going to a physical building to conduct their work. For many, the kitchen table, living room couch, or bedroom floor became their ‘home office’. Add to that the reality of a partner also looking for a quiet corner to work, while carving out space for newly homeschooled children to meet teachers on-line for the purpose of receiving their (and their parent’s) marching orders for the week. Our homes became co-working/co-living spaces. Major pivot.

In all fairness, this is not a clear picture of the realities of remote work. Sadly, for some, this experience has tainted their view of the value of remote working; being able to comprehend the benefit to individuals, teams, organizations, and communities has been greatly overshadowed by a working context that has caused overwhelming stress. I’ve heard some of your stories and can’t fathom the life challenges you are experiencing.

On the other hand, many are realizing a glimpse of ‘what could be’. Your work from home experience has opened your eyes to a way of life and work that decreases stress, allows for greater productivity, gives a sense of control over your time, and allows you to sneak extended moments to enjoy precious time with your loved ones (albeit in closer quarters than you would prefer). These pivots are positive.

We in BC, Canada are experiencing wWe keep hearing the phrase ‘the new normal’. Do we wait with bated breath for another year to see what the new normal will be, or do we start living that new normal today? hat is being called ‘stage 2’ of re-opening. What does this mean for you? Time to pivot again? Are your children heading back to school this week? Are you opening your ‘bubble’ to invite in friends and loved ones? Are you venturing out to the grocery store more often? Frequenting parks and beaches? Are you honouring social distancing? Are you feeling some anxiety…is this all happening too soon? Is this pivot more difficult that the absolute of self-isolation?

What does work look like for you now? For the organizations you work for? Will you transition back to working co-located in the office? Will you join the ranks of remote workers around the world?  Or will you and your organization embrace the many who are moving to a hybrid (some folks working remote while others co-located) approach to working?

We keep hearing the phrase ‘the new normal’. Do we wait with bated breath for another year to see what the new normal will be, or do we start living that new normal today? From what I see, much of the pivots we have been asked to take are actually behaviours that we should have adapted a long time ago. Granted, the results of not adhering to these certain behaviours come with serious consequences in these current days. But let’s think about some of these suggested behaviours:

  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Respect those around you
  • Take care of each other
  • Wash your hands
  • Respect other’s personal space
  • Work from home…if at all possible
  • Support local business
  • Stay connected with friends and loved ones using whatever means possible

This brings to mind the wisdom shared by Robert Fulghum in “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten

As blogs go, this one has found me rambling and wandering down some rabbit holes; Sunday afternoon with no virtual meetings, no marking, no schedule, tends to foster such ramblings. It actually ties into the name of my blog site ‘Probe and Ponder’. I would love to hear your thoughts; what is making you pivot, or causing you to stop and ponder life around you?