Social distancing, closer relationships

Blog by Keira Oliver, Collective Leadership for Scotland

Like many others, I often start a presentation, workshop or piece of writing with “we live in unprecedented times of change.”  That statement, which I used only last week, seems too tame now.  We are seeing the web of our interconnectedness laid bare: stretched and heaving, even broken in places.  Before the virus, social isolation and loneliness had been recognised as public health issues and now the devastating impact of the virus is requiring us to distance ourselves voluntarily.

The heart of collective leadership is the recognition that to address our complex societal issues, relationships really matter.  How do we stay focused on this in a time of increasing pressure and when in the 48 hours, we’ve seen almost all meetings and gatherings cancelled or moved online.

Home Office – Photo by Norbert Levajsics on Unsplash

My work has shifted heavily towards working from home for a number of years now.  People often mentioned how lonely it must be. That always makes me laugh.  I often speak to more people a day at home than I do when in the office, averaging between 4 and 6 online meetings a day with people from the other side of town, to the Galapagos Islands! The ability to do this has enriched my life in so many ways, and I now have strong friendships with people all round the world who I very rarely see in person.  In amidst the uncertainty of the next few weeks and months, I hope that the pandemic allows others the opportunity to see just how powerful virtual forms of coming together can be.

I don’t claim to be an expert by any means but here are a few things I’ve learned.

In the early days, the focus will probably be on the practicalities of using the tech, whatever platform you’re using:

  • If you’ve never used the platform before, ask the host or a friend to test it with you beforehand.  I often open the meeting space 10 mins early for people to make sure they can get connected.
  • The mute button is everyone’s friend – anything more than three people on a call and every little noise becomes a distraction; especially if you’re typing at the same time… or have a dog who likes to bark at the doorbell (guilty).
  • Play around with adjusting your view and how it relates to the purpose of the meeting.  If it’s a large gathering or it’s a presentation style meeting, “speaker” view could work best so you focus on who’s speaking.  If it’s more conversational, it can be more helpful to see as many people as you can so “gallery” view might be more appropriate.
  • If the connection is sticky, turn off your camera. That often frees up enough bandwidth to work.  If not, ask everyone to turn off their cameras.

Careful consideration of how you’ll host your conversations is key:

  • Be clear on the purpose of the meeting.  Is it to provide updates which can be done quickly through an agenda?  Or is it to connect and check in with how each other are doing?  It may be a combination of the two but please remember that there will be strong emotions going on right now as we all adjust to impacts in both our work and personal lives at the same time.
  • Take this opportunity as a fresh start to think about how you would really like meetings to be and instil some healthier habits into how you hold your meetings.  For example, in order to pay particular attention to the care of people, perhaps experiment with a “check in” with an open question so everyone can say something early on and help become more present when the pull towards what’s going on outside of the meeting will be stronger than ever.  There are loads of experienced people out there who would be happy to help you explore what might be possible and support you to try something different.
  • Ensure someone (or a small team for bigger meetings) is able to step into the role of hosting the conversation.  There’s lots I could write on the role of a host as opposed to chair of a conversation but for now, relating specifically to the online aspect of meeting, it can be as simple as having someone to lead on the tech (muting/unmuting when people forget etc) and/or someone who can firmly but kindly step in when a participant can’t be heard
  • Online meetings are different – cues become more visual rather than audio.  While our tendency is to make encouraging noises like “uh huh” throughout a conversation, it can become annoying online as people’s attention can be flipped away from the speaker.  Try using other visual “active listening” cues instead.

Be creative:

  • How about using short meetings to practice a technique or approach together? e.g. mindfulness or meditation practice, or for a team member to share a relevant skill they have
  • Take your meeting outside – either sitting in the garden or go for a walk and get some exercise and vitamin D while you’re at it (master your mute button!)
  • Social occasion cancelled?  One of the best Christmas social nights I’ve had was on Zoom with us dressed in Christmas jumpers and reindeer antlers.
Writing – Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

In keeping with our working out loud ethos, over the next few weeks we’ll share some ideas we’ll be trying out while working at home, together online.

Our first offer is a half-hour call on Monday mornings to do a guided journaling practice together. 
The purpose of this short practice is to learn how to use Journaling as a reflective tool, access deeper levels of self-reflection & knowledge and connect self-reflection to concrete action steps. Hopefully, it will be a good way to start the week.
We will confirm the date, time and call details with you soon.

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