Reflections

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

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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?

 

 

 

Coming to terms with the unexpected…blog #74

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Photo by Tjaard Krusch on Unsplash

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

Photo by Raphael Andres on Unsplash

The power of words…blog #73

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“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?…Blog #72

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“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!)

Picky Pool

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?

Settling in and moving on in uncertain times…Blog 71

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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.

I am so impressed with how remote work experts have stepped up to provide free resources to those ‘work-from-home’ newbies: videos, articles, how-to’s…Remote work advocates like Distribute Consulting, Workplaceless, Nomad City, Remote Work Association, Running Remote to name a few. Amazing!

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.

May I offer some advice from a remote work advocate and researcher (that’s me)? In the midst of this norming, please remember the importance of communication; its value cannot be overstated…professionally and personally. Those with significant remote work experience state that good communication is a vital competency for successfully working in this context.

Don't forget the phone still works
…and yes, the phone still works

Here are four guidelines for both good communication:

  1. Communicate clearlywe, 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.)
  2. Communicate often…err on the side of over-communication.
  3. 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?”
  4. 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.

We’ll get through this…together.

Remember…wash those hands!

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

Recalculating: How should I then live?…Blog #70

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Warning: Coffee Has Given Me Unrealistic Expectations of Productivity

I cannot lie — sometimes I take a different route to a destination just to see if I can frustrate my dashboard companion. Who of us have not, in the midst of directional challenges, imitated the impatient GPS voice letting us know that we have taken a turn not laid out according to the infinite wisdom of Google Maps?

If it’s not the GPS warning us we need to recalculate, it could be a health scare, a global virus, a job loss, a new baby…you name it.

I’m currently in the throes of a graduated return to work plan following a surgical medical leave. In my last blog you would have read how my mind basically turned to mush, obliterating any plans I had for ‘enjoying’ my recovery time. However, as the fog cleared I began to think about life pre-surgery, and how it truly felt like running full out, but on a treadmill. I knew something had to change, I knew a recalculation was in my future.

To be honest, only a short six month previous my doctor informed me that the exhaustion, lack of focus and ambition I was experiencing was the result of burn out. It took me a while to get to that point, and he cautioned it would take a while to fully climb out of the hole I dug for myself. So the extraction began…I made appropriate small changes that really did make a difference, but the journey is not over. Soul searching is still in its infancy.

What does it look like to recalculate? I’m not totally sure, in fact I’m still exploring that deep mystery. What I do know is that while my home bound recovery didn’t go as smoothly as planned, mostly because of my unrealistic expectations, it did give me time to think through how I want to emerge from my cocoon and reintegrate into life in a manner that is not only sustainable, but fulfilling, impactful to those I interact with, and with an even deeper curiosity to learn…a curiosity that is contagious

How Should We Then Live?

I don’t know at what time in my life I was introduced to this phrase by Francis A. Schaeffer (American Theologian), but it seems to be ingrained in my very psyche; however, it has recently crept its way from the recesses of my mind to a still, small voice begging to be heard. I do believe it is patiently awaiting resolution…yearning for me to pay attention and recalculate.

I have finally come to terms with the fact that I am a researcher (for whatever reason, this term or concept has always conjured up some less than desirable images). However, I will only engage if the research has practical application and is accessible to those who can most benefit from the resulting discoveries. I am an advocate for remote work and care deeply that is it done with excellence. While policies and processes are vital, my passion lies with people. I am concerned that we prepare students for the unknowns of their future careers, and I am concerned that those already experiencing the joys and challenges of remote work have been correctly selected and are being well supported. I also am impassioned to ensure those providing leadership to remote workers are doing so with integrity, empathy, and selfless support. I care that they are being selected effectively and provided the training necessary to be true champions of those entrusted to their supervision.

Knowing my passion, how should I then live? In what direction does this query point me? What precisely does this path look like for me as I reintegrate into the world of academia, research, and remote work? Good questions – and that is exactly where the new adventure begins!

Hibernation is over…blot #69

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I don’t do hibernation well, but that’s what I feel I have been doing since December 20 when I was gifted with a new knee. This ‘Christmas present’ came with unexpected packaging. 

“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” is an old Yiddish adage meaning, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.”

Michael Chabon

I totally get that. Despite my plans and intentions for medical recover, the past ten weeks have been nothing short of life controlled by…not me!

Imagine ten weeks of reading for the joy of reading, journaling everyday to capture the healing process, time to catch up on Netflix series a hair back kind of schedule doesn’t afford, afternoon snoozes, and crafting well researched blogs that would encourage and challenge remote workers in their exciting contexts. Imagine was exactly what I did; none of this actually materialized.

I think when the anesthetic was administered it not only knocked me out for the ninety minute surgery, it also contained a time release drug that lasted for at least eight weeks! Seriously, I’d pick up a book and not remember the story line from one page to the next. Game of Thrones? I managed five minutes of viewing before being overwhelmed, and I had previously read the first book!

Many of you share my love for roller coasters — crawling up an impossible vertical 250+ feet at a snail’s pace, then plummeting down to the bowels of the earth, only to hit a turn that just about propels it’s screaming riders into outer space. Fun on a roller coaster, not so much when this describes your emotional state. Name an emotion and I’m pretty sure I lived it. Rational? Logical? Not necessarily, but very real and very exhausting. For example, one particular interaction with another knee replacement patient left me feeling totally shamed when she commented that I wasn’t as far along the healing process as she. I’m an adult, but the power of peer pressure hit me like a ton of bricks. 

But today…ten weeks later, I actually feel that one day in the future I will once again engage in most of the activities I was missing out on, pain free, and ready to take on the world.

At one point in the post surgery days, I signed up for an on-line writing course tutored by my friend Karen Barnstable. This one thing I could do; there was no pressure to complete within a given time frame. I could write, maybe day dream for a time, or reminisce on life experiences that led me to this point in life. Each lesson submitted resulted in thoughtful, constructive feedback that informed my next attempt at telling more of my story. And the writing continues.

You see, I’m working on a memoir that focuses on my life and learning in the realm of remote work. It may take a while to complete because I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning about, and living this phenomenal approach to work. The discipline of writing is also helping me to focus on my next research topic that builds on what we’ve previously completed (still needs work to clearly articulating). 

My understanding is that the path to full recover is not a short one; however, the good news is that day by day, I’m getting there. And the great news is that the roller coaster has slowed down to more resemble a bike ride through the dunes connecting Zandvoort and The Hague; hills that still make you breathe hard, but reward you with moments allowing you to catch your breath and appreciate the journey.