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We’ve teamed up with Virtual Not Distant to produce a podcast series looking at disconnection and connection within remote teams.
For the final episode of our short series Connection and Disconnection Within Remote Teams, collaborators Pilar Orti and Maya Middlemiss from Virtual Not Distant and Tim Burgess from ShieldGEO joined me for a reflective discussion of the series at large. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the previous episodes yet, I highly recommend starting from the beginning and making your way to this reflection episode.
“I feel very lucky to be an observer from the sidelines,” Tim says of the entire experience. “There’s so much that’s been covered”.
He mentioned that during our initial planning, we laid out the different topics we wanted to cover throughout the series, which on paper seemed reasonably straightforward.
“I didn’t really understand how long and big a journey that would be,” he admits.
He expresses how easy it would have been to simplify the issue of connection into using something like an app every day without addressing the various layers involved.
“I really, really love the way all of you and the guests have framed it as kindness and self-care,” Tim says.”
“But I think we’ve come to a much more nuanced, and hopefully, a much more helpful understanding.”
We found in retrospect that dividing the conversations into these seven, distinct episodes that it allowed themes to arise.
“What was really interesting was the consistency,” Maya says. “[The guests] all had different points of view about all of the different aspects that were discussed throughout the weekly episodes, but they were so unified and coherent [and] it just made for a really powerful consistent message coming out of the different episodes.”
“It felt very much like it was layered on top of the same sort of thoughts,” Tim adds, referencing the most recent episode.
But grouping these consistent thoughts into episodes wasn’t merely for clarity.
“It meant that we could role model the process of tackling the problem,” Pilar observed.
“First we look at the problem, why is this a problem, dissect it, understand why we’re tackling it and then look at what we’re going to do about it. Because I think so many of these questions are around, ‘oh what should we do about it” and we miss the whole journey of understanding what the problem is.”
It laid out very deliberately the steps we can cover within our own conversations around how both connection and disconnection plays out in our own teams. Which in some ways points to one of the main themes that arose from the series — that there won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution to this issue.
“The problem is huge, and the solutions are broad,” Pilar says.
And, by using seven different episodes to unpack this topic we, hopefully, we were able to show that.
“When you look at the whole picture, and you think about the ramifications or the potential impact, you can’t jump from there and think it’s a simple solution, or that it’s a one size fits all,” Tim says.
Interestingly, remote workers already utilise this way of thinking with our advocacy for location independence and flexibility around structuring workdays. So, while remote workers are at a higher risk for experiencing feelings of isolation, they may also be better equipped to overcome it if they are able to practice a similar approach to finding a solution as they did when deciding to work remotely.
“I do still think that people like to find a simple solution,” Tim says. “Hopefully for this issue in particular people who have listened to this series will understand that it’s not one of those problems. It is something that needs attention and effort.”
This theme goes hand in hand with the other common thread of the series — self-reflection practices.
“That cycle of noticing what’s going on in yourself then trying to work out what you need and ways to get that is so important,” Tim says.
“What works for you when you’re 25 might not work when you’re 30, 35, 65, 70.”
Implementing this act of reflecting and noticing changes in yourself is something that will be useful in many areas of your life. It helps you to discover the real root cause of your issues instead of impulsively responding to the symptoms.
“[It helps] to understand where that sense of disconnection is actually coming from. Something might have changed — it might be the role, it might be that our colleagues have changed,” Pilar says.
“It’s not just that, ‘oh I feel lonely or that I’m physically apart from people,’ but actually what is really happening because that will then determine how we approach it.”
By treating this issue as one that is as unique and evolving as people themselves, it not only allows for individualised solutions but also the various ways it may present.
“Managers would always be worried about people who lived on their own — they thought they would be the most isolated,” Pilar says. “But I also thought of people who might be on a team where most people might be on their own or in couples, but they might have a big family, and therefore the context was so different and the sense of isolation that could come from just your context being different from that of your team members.”
It’s not just people who are physically isolated that experience loneliness. In the same breath, making sure you’re always with people isn’t a foolproof solution either.
“Something that Julianne said in one of the episodes was that loneliness is the gap between the actual level of social interaction and connectedness vs that which is desired or preferred,” Pilar says.
“The series has helped me to really understand that there is a flip side also that it’s not about how many people but it’s about your preference.”
It showcases how we can’t just deal with this issue in our workplaces, that it encompasses so much more than that. And, while there is a considerable responsibility for companies to provide cultures of openness and managers who are diligent, resourceful and observant — individuals will always be a part of the solution.
“If we’re not used to admitting we have personal lives outside of work, a lot of this can’t be tackled. It’s not just about saying ‘what can we do’ but having a real look at our company and thinking ‘is this a space where we can really have these conversations?'” Pilar says.
We hope that this series can be a launchpad for further conversations online and within our own teams. We hope it provides some insight into this complex issue and some comfort if it’s something you may be currently struggling with.
“Emotional health needs generally, whether that’s in the context of loneliness, isolation, or mental health problems… we spent decades in the workplace pretending it didn’t exist, now we’re starting to have a more sophisticated way of looking at that,” Maya says.
“It can happen to anybody, it can happen to people who you would never expect it to, and that it’s just part of being human. There’s no judgment associated with it, it doesn’t mean you’ve passed or failed some sort of test,” Tim says.
Thank you for reading, listening and being a part of this journey. We really hope you enjoyed it, and maybe even learned something new.
I’d also like to finish by thanking our collaborators at Virtual Not Distant who provided ongoing support, an incredible sounding board and podcast expertise. Our editor Ross who mixed each of the episodes, and of course, our amazing guests who brought so much to this series. We quite literally couldn’t have done this without them.
If you liked this style of content and would like to hear us take on another topic — or if you’d like to be a part of a future series drop us a line — we’d love to hear from you.
– Bree Caggiati, May 2020
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