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The Great Remote Work Experiment- What I have learnt to date

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

10 months ago I started designing training for managers, remote workers and organsitions in the area of Remote Work. My experience as an Organisational Psychologist and consultant had been on a path to understanding this virtual way of working for quite awhile.

As a remote worker I had encountered and overcame many of the challenges I now see people grappling with. No structure, little process and dodgy communication. For me this had led to opening a co-working space in Kerry where I live and getting to operate on a daily basis with individuals who understood and harnessed the opportunity remote working presents.

We had just begun rolling out our Remote Work Training before our lives were all turned upside down by Covid. We realized quickly that the content that we had was useful and that our knowledge as consultants in change, crisis management, resilience and leadership could by intertwined to help people manage newly remote teams and to help individuals manage this massive shift in ways of working.

We adjusted our content to virtual delivery, a medium I had little experience with previously. 6 weeks later Im a convert (but we will get back to that in another post!).

So 6 weeks in to delivering virtual training for managers of remote teams, support workshops for newly remote workers and insight for organisations HR and senior team in meeting new demands, what have I learnt.

  1. Ripping the bandage off: The last few weeks has taught us a lot but for me the biggest thing it has taught me is what is possible. How many of the obstacles that we place in front of ourselves are made by ourselves. Organizations and individuals have risen to the challenge of Covid and exceeded all expectations they had around their own capabilities to adapt and change. The remote work bandage has officially been ripped off! One organsition shared how they were collectively reeling at the fact that they were still functioning and had surprised themselves at how well they had adapted given that their organization was traditionally extremely slow to change. The question emerged naturally as to how they could harness this new found ability to manage change when they return to whatever the new normal will look like?

  2. Remote Work is effectively a communication challenge?: Don't get me wrong its still a big one but so much of what we struggle with when adapting to remote is linked to communication. Over the last few weeks what has struck me is the communication fatigue people have been feeling- hours spent on zoom and Skype with what feels like little to show at the end of it. Black holes of emails that when you finally look up from your fit only for bed (and try sleeping at the end of all that!). What is starting to emerge from this haze of anxiety driven communication is some structure. Slowly, effective teams are learning the difference between communication and collaboration. The importance of time for focused and productive work in all the noise. Communication norms are being established and more importantly communicated. We are learning how to effectively communicate remotely. Will remote communication ever replace face to face interaction? Not in the same way. But effective use of some of the great tools that exist along with conscious honing of our basic listening and communicating skills can certainly provide an adequate substitute for now and going forward.

  3. Necessity is the mother of invention: Im a psychologist because people amaze me. Truly ye are all amazing! This last few weeks working with groups across sectors and industries. Private, public, small and large, the innovation and creativity of people in rising to a challenge has reminded me of this amazingness on several occasions. The ways people are finding of supporting and caring for each other has been humbling. Teams rostering a ring around with a different team member each week just to check in and catch up and maybe get to know each other a little better on a human level. Organizations setting up virtual 'kitchens' on slack because all the best conversations and parties happen in the kitchen! Virtual birthday cakes, quizzes, stitch and bitch sessions all springing up across channels. Who knew that given the challenge of working remotely, managing our homes, health and mental wellbeing we would still have the energy to prioritize finding creative and inspiring ways of connecting with, minding and supporting our colleagues, families and friends. Amazing!

So thats it for today. A few more weeks ahead of adapting training and supports to try and meet the needs of the evolving situation. Its not an easy time for many but it is evolving and if we have learnt anything over the last few weeks its that we can adapt and evolve too. Maybe we can take confidence from the ability we have shown thus far into whatever changes may lie ahead.

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