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.
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.
It’s amazing how a term quickly gains global adoption…zoom fatigue. Who among us hasn’t used it, or at least heard it – and we all know what it means. But lately I’ve been wondering if it hasn’t become a scape goat of sorts. Let me explain.
Besides coming alongside organizations learning how to effectively work with remote or hybrid teams, I’m also a business professor. I’m part of an amazing, supportive, collaborative faculty…no complaints there! Most are on-line teaching 12 hours a week, and that doesn’t include the additional student meetings, and other faculty related meetings, the above normal preparation, and an audience who are on-line up to 18 hours a week taking classes. Outside of work, many choose to hold social gatherings on-line in lieu of face to face…but my gut says those social events are lessoning. This is life as a post-secondary educator…for now, and we get that. However…
The common theme I hear, not just from my professor colleagues, but others I speak with, is ‘we are just so tired!’. Enter ‘zoom fatigue’…thus my question; are we really tired from being on-line too much? For me, I really don’t think that’s totally where the blame lies. The bottom line is that life is challenging right now. Everything takes extra effort. We are less active, but more worn out.
I find myself longing for the ‘good old days’…the good old days of summer 2019 when we relished our sojourns in Europe with family and friends, or even Christmas past! Remember the days when we could call up a friend to go for a coffee or a glass of wine at our favourite hangout? Or when we could have a bunch of folks over for a games night, that was really an excuse to gather and share food, good wine, a newly discovered craft brew, and of course, lots of laughter. Ah yes, the good old days.
Business is adapting, we are moving past triage and settling into how business operates in a pandemic inflicted world, and beyond. We are learning new ways to communicate, to collaborate, to lead, to follow, and to deliver services to our valued customers. Most are saying they will never return to business as usual…so much has been learned about productivity and efficiency that new practices and policies have replaced more traditional approaches. We have truly hit a crossroads; we can no longer do things the way they’ve always been done.
But some business aren’t able to adapt due to the nature of their offering, and for them I truly feel pained.
Along with a new context comes the need for upskilling and reskilling around what it takes to lead an unfamiliar team construct; leading hybrid teams probably offers the greatest challenges, but also presents amazing diversity opportunities (more about that in another blog). As humans we were created to learn, grow, adapt..and we will.
But we are still tired. We, most of us, have focused on ensuring the needs of our students, customers, and children have been met. All good! However, what has fallen by the wayside is figuring out how to maintain our own life balance and sanity. ‘Normal’ activities, plans, escapes, or rejuvenators are no longer as accessible. As already mentioned, spur of the moment meetups, in public or in our homes, takes extra planning, if even possible at all. Planning weekend getaways or vacations seem to lie more in the realm of dreams and wishes than actual concrete possibilities.
I don’t know about you, but my default is simply to work more. Not a wise alternative, but a reality. Bad habits are setting in, work time is slowly seeping into what should be down time. The self talk of ‘just hang in there for another month…’ has been replaced with even greater uncertainly about when ‘it’ will end and the world opens up to once more enjoy physically being ‘there’, as in actually visiting the Louvre vs taking a virtual tour.
While I am no psychologist, I’m starting to learning that the way to survive and thrive in this crazy period of time, starts in the mind. We can’t change the reality of what life looks like, but perhaps we can reframe how we look at it, and let a cognitive change influence how we act from an emotional and behavioural framework. My friend keeps harping on the importance of a growth mindset vs a fixed mindset…she’s got something there!
So, that’s the challenge I need to work through, and invite you to join me in the journey. We all have many precious humans in our lives, and we never want to stop caring for and supporting them. Because of each one of them, we need to adapt more than our business practices, we need to adjust our outlook and mindsets to making life now and in the future something extraordinary.
Sounds easy…hmmm, not at all! But necessary, and possible. One tiny action is where I need to start…what might your one tiny action be?
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.
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
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
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?
It’s almost the end of the week. One more day. Actually, it’s the Victoria Day weekend and I long for even two days to shut down and be totally off-line. How quickly life has changed from truly enjoying connecting with folks virtually, to being so screen weary that the thought of settling in with a real, hold-in-your-hands book is ripe with anticipation.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the times I get to visit and work with individuals across physical distance. I am truly blessed to participate in thought provoking, encouraging, challenging, and stretching conversations with amazing minds around the globe. But I miss going to a coffee shop for a visit with a good friend, or simply having dedicated, productive time working while sipping on a rich americano created by a favourite barista.
It’s the small things I miss. Happy hours on a patio catching up on the happenings of life around us, bike rides that end with a dark beer at a local brewery, hugging friends at will, holding a new born baby without fear of endangering their fragile life, sitting by the bedside of a dad who still remembers me…but for how long? Planning weekend getaways to…anywhere!
Still, I have much to be grateful for. I am still working, enjoy health, have a safe home in which to dwell with an amazing husband, have a loving family who are committed to staying connected without compromising health, have a great community of friends who make the extra effort to reach out and share life, I have amazing colleagues with whom to create and plan, live in a town/province/country where residents respect the need to ban together to fight this crazy virus, and I have purpose.
But it’s tough. I have deep empathy for those who must live life in compromising environments, not always of their own choosing. I struggle with isolation even though my days are filled with virtual conversations, and I long for the days when we can confidently plan to meet up with loved ones who live in far off lands. It will happen again, I know that. But for now, life is not what any of us expected, or even dreamed of.
It’s…well, it’s life! Let’s pray for a brighter tomorrow.
“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela
“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”
James Earl Jones
There are times in life when I so desperately want to have something profound to share…like right now. You know what I’m talking about…some way to offer comfort or encouragement to family, friends, neighbours, or colleagues. Those whose experiences during these days vary from sadness to fear, despair to frustration, from loneliness to exhaustion, appreciate to being totally overwhelmed. Some are even expressing gratitude for the forced slowing down of life. Even the simplest comforting touch or high five is not an option. All we truly have to express our love, concern, empathy, praise, appreciation or whatever, are our words.
All we have is words? All we have? Perhaps we need to remember how powerful words actually are. Remember the old saying’ “Sticks and stones my break my bones but words can never hurt me.” So not true. How many of us have been hurt beyond measure by the words spoken by friend or foe? Then again, how many of us have been ministered to by the power and beauty found in a thoughtful, genuinely crafted message offered in a time of need. Words have the power to hurt, yes, but more important, they have healing power that goes beyond what we can imagine.
“Beautifully crafted words have the power to captivate the mind of anybody.” Sam Veda
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
“Good words are worth much, and cost little.” George Herbert
“Kind words are a creative force, a power that concurs in the building up of all that is good, and energy that showers blessings upon the world.” Lawrence G. Lovasik
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth
“Go inside where silence is. Stay there. Let words bubble up.” Maxime Lagacé
Words are powerful. When time is taken to connect with what we want to express, to identify the feelings, the emotions, then paint a word picture that expresses those deep thoughts to someone who needs to hear them, the outcomes are nothing short of magnificent. What’s more, the beauty of the written word is in the reading, and re-reading, prolonging the joy or affirmation received by the ‘other’.
I’m not a great orator, nor am I capable of orchestrating a magnificent symphony with words, but I want to learn. Not for self-edification, but to put into words–spoken and written, what I have lived, what I feel, what I am learning, and offer them up as a gift to bring meaning and edification to others.
Perhaps together we can create verbal touches and virtual hugs offered to others through the sharing of thoughtful, genuinely crafted words, seasoned with a healthy measure of empathy.
“What if…?” is the great crippler. Think about it, how many people use this question in the positive sense? What if I win the race? What if the sun shines for our wedding day? What if I don’t get sick on this trip? What if I don’t make a fool of myself? Rather, we worry about losing the race, having a special event rained out, getting seasick, or being humiliated over a poor performance.
These questions of ‘what if’ can consume us to the point of paralysis. As a young girl, I remember standing on the second highest diving board of the local outdoor, sea water fed swimming pool in Bangor, Northern Ireland. Frozen (not just because of the Baltic temperatures), I rehearsed all the horrors that could mark the outcomes of a failed landing. Or even worse, the humiliation of retreating to ground level. “It’s now or never!” I remember thinking just before taking the step of no return. Nose held tight by shaking fingers, it was the longest fall of my life—but it wasn’t the last time I stepped off that platform! The positives what ifs won. What if I make it? What if my friends are totally impressed with my bravery? What if the water is bathtub warm by the time I land? (nope, that didn’t happen!)
As I write this blog, most of us are living in self-isolation due to COVID-19. The what ifs are very real. Our concerns around elderly parents, pregnant daughters, children living in other parts of the world, family members with health issues, friends losing their livelihoods, are very real. No one should be shamed for obsessing on the what ifs in such a reality.
It would be reasonable if our doubts were limited to such global pandemics, but they are not. As we consider a temporary leave from the life we really do enjoy in British Columbia, trading it for a year traveling with me working remote, many ‘what ifs’ bubble to the surface. What if one of us gets sick? What if we can’t find suitable accommodations? What if we can’t stay within our budget? What if we can’t rent our home out? What if we don’t get to see our daughter and son-in-law and new baby for a year? (He/she will be one by then). What if another pandemic strikes? What if my dad passing away while we’re gone? What if a family member or close friend has a crisis? What if I go through all the planning and my funding proposal is rejected? What if…? I get depressed just thinking about all the possible catastrophes!
“You’ll never get anywhere if you go about what-iffing like that.” ― Roald Dahl
But…what if we pass up such an opportunity? What experiences and adventures might we never have, never get to share with our family and friends when they come to visit (and they will)? What new learning experiences might we lose out on, or new relationships never built? What if the funding approval is given enthusiastically and all this planning actually becomes a reality? Now I’m starting to feel giddy with the possibilities!
Interesting, nothing about my current situation has changed, I’m no closer to having the trip planned or approved. However, my outlook, my state of mind, my level of excitement has brought a smile to my face, and added a few BPM to my heart rate.
What if we chose to face each day, each adventure, or each challenge, from the perspective of positive potential. What if we face life with expectancy—like a child on Christmas morning, rather than channeling Winnie the Pooh’s dear old friend Eeyore?
A year of travel and remote work would be both influenced and impacted by how we choose to face the joys and challenges presented. What if it turns out to be the greatest year ever?
I’ll be the first one to acknowledge that this blog feels a little willy nilly, a true representation of my mind these days. Can you relate?
We have just come through a week of firsts in varying degrees…first time working from home, first time in self-isolation, first time feeling like that your skin is crawling with dryness from all that hand washing! And to top it off, all this is happening in a true coliving/coworking space…your home! Your new coworkers are partners, spouses, kids, pets, and whoever else may be sharing your abode. Not only has your world got noisy, it’s gotten cramped! So much for having a door to close so work can get done. Those noise cancelling headphones have become worth every penny you spent.
This is reality, and we, the world, is in it together. COVID-19 has become the great equalizer.
However, the weekend is upon us. It’s been a long, trying week, and now your social plans are cancelled! What to do? Have you thought about a virtual happy hour? We use video platforms for meetings, FaceTime for connecting with our grandkids and families, so why not try out a virtual platform like Zoom, Google Hangout or GotoMeeting and instigate a video meetup or morning coffee with your friends? Take screen shots and save for those ‘remember when’ moments. It’s also a great way to practice for the many virtual meetings that are now part of daily life.
We all know Monday will hit as the weekend becomes a distant memory; remote working and learning will resume (look how far you’ve come already!). I trust the calm after the storm soon settles in and your confidence and comfort around these new working arrangements will grow.
Here are four guidelines for both good communication:
Communicate clearly…we, you and I, are responsible for making sure our messages are received and interpreted in the spirit in which they were send. (Hint, if someone reacts in a way that surprizes you…it would be safe to assume the message did not come across clearly. Reword, rephrase, resend.)
Communicate often…err on the side of over-communication.
Communicate using appropriate channels...even without the privilege of face-to-face, we have options: email, video calls, (Collaborate, Zoom, Google Hang out, Slack), phone calls, posting on discussion boards, or chat lines. Before hitting ‘send’, pause and ask, “Is this the best channel to use for the message I’m sending?”
Communicate 360 degrees…who is in your circle? Your boss, co-workers, those you lead, internal and external customers, students, family, friends… make a list of people with whom you communicate on a regular basis and set a plan to continue to build those connections.
And most important, when communicating, wrap every message with empathy. If you are feeling the pressure, remember that others are also feeling the pressure with challenges you may not even be aware of.