Distance Learning: What we can learn from each other while working apart
Published 22 April, 2020
I'll admit it. It has been a struggle to figure out what to write to a business audience during a pandemic that hasn't already been said. But I was inspired this past week by Saturday Night Live's first episode shot during self-isolation. I think the cast did a remarkable job of communicating the tension between the idea that we all suddenly have more time, and the reality that we can't spend that time together. We saw some revel in total creative freedom and control (I'm looking at you, Kate McKinnon). And we saw how some were clearly missing the usual collaborative process.
In that spirit, I asked some of my GXG team mates to share what they were doing with their "free time" or "whitespace". Personal or professional. I've included snippets below and, in true GXG style, capped them with a key takeaway. My first piece of advice: make your team write to you! Every time I got a new note was delightful. I got to hear each person's voice through longer and more personal writing that we've never had an occaision for in our day-to-day work. I think there is unbeatable value in this kind of authentic, personal communication.
Challenge people to write down their thoughts in an organized form, but in their own words. Many of us are used to working as a group, but the results of those meetings can be too narrow, constrained by time and a desire to find consensus. See what happens when everyone is able to submit their complete thoughts individually.
Megan Kogan, Chief Operating Officer
"I’ve been using my extra time during quarantine to work on some of the things on my “ought to do” list. This list includes things that are personally rewarding to me or in-service to others, but they don’t have a pressing deadline, so they tend to get pushed to the side.
On the professional side, I’ve chosen to tackle one “ought to do”: my personal brand. I found that once I started to scribble out a draft introduction, it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, the exercise ended up being a lot of fun! Now that I’ve done the hard part and gotten started defining my brand, I’m looking forward to the second piece of this “ought to do” – sharing it. I know what I'm working on may not rival the transformations some folks are choosing to undertake, but it’s been fun and rewarding to get started on so many of my “ought to do’s”. I’m hoping I’ll have the grit to continue these even after things start to return to normal!"
Look at the list of things you've been meaning to tackle and consider whether you currently have time to complete one (or more). If you don't keep a list, start one! This kind of idea parking lot can be a great way to acknowledge moments of inspiration without getting sidetracked.
Laura Cunningham, Chief of Staff
"Aside from appeasing the incessant urge to see how quickly I can consume all items in the fridge/pantry, I’ve been using this ‘extra time’ to 1. Take advantage of the beautiful weather going on multiple walks per day, and 2. Be more intentional about connecting with friends and relatives around the world who I normally don’t speak to either because I’m ‘too busy’ or ‘too tired’. It feels great to refresh and reconnect!"
Enjoy any wiggle room you find in your work day schedule. Take advantage of the ability to interject some physical movement or catch-up conversations.
Ted Sullivan, Chief Marketing Officer
"I have a new circle of life created by the unimaginable situation in which we all find ourselves today. In the evenings I have time on my hands in-between dinner dishes and walking the dog before bed. So, I began the shelter-in-place watching re-runs of TV drama series with my wife and old golf tournaments. This quickly failed to keep my interest, so I had to find something else to occupy my time. I am not into gaming, cooking or gardening and my golf course has been closed for weeks. Therefore, I decided to look to my social group for ideas and garnered insight from the countless memes and GIFs being sent around by various group texts. I deduced that people are improving or damaging relationships, drinking or on the wagon, exercising or couch surfing, getting fat or dieting, selling or buying stocks, etc. Therefore, I decided to eat better, exercise more and invest time in my relationships at home. After only a few weeks I have lost weight by exercising and eating healthier, but my family thinks I am stranger and dumber than ever – 50/50 is not too bad. Tonight, we are starting the board and card game phase of our quarantine, which is sure to fizzle after my lucky daughter destroys the rest of us in any game of chance. Soooo, if we don’t get back to normal soon, I anticipate ER re-runs and past Ryder Cups in my near future - the Circle of Quarantine!"
Look around and learn from others. What was important before will be important again, so take some time to invest in the things that matter to you.
Steven Lemasters, Client Management Associate
"Ah, you work from home now, eh? Tell me, are you teaching yourself oboe or cello? Are you painting with watercolors or are you more of a sculptor? Have you finished your Pulitzer prize winning novel yet? How goes the journey towards mastering every Massimo Bottura dish down to each individual strand of home-grown oregano? Oh, you’re not a foodie – you lucky dog! No food to drag you down on your path to running the 2021 Sahara Desert Ultra Marathon!
If I were to hop up on my ivory tower for moment, I may begin to rant about how this is likely a byproduct of social media’s prevalence in this post-modern world of ours. Or maybe this is the brainchild of widespread corporate mistrust that has poisoned breaks and calendar whitespace in our minds. I won’t go there (even if I sort of already did), but here is my point: having to spend more time at home does not fundamentally change us as individuals, and we shouldn’t feel pressured to change.
Before the outbreak, I spent my time reading, running, dabbling with the guitar, playing some Nintendo Switch games, streaming trashy guilty pleasure TV, and bothering my family on FaceTime. After the outbreak, I did the same, but more of it. I have the same hobbies, interests, life goals, 3-5 year plan, and passions. Having to spend more time indoors is not going to change those things.
I get that this won’t be the case for everyone – people are different. As chance has it, the people this has a greater effect on (looking at you, extroverts), also happen to have the loudest voices on this subject. For those people, I commend your venturing into new hobbies and finding creative ways to replace the time you once spent out and about. But I implore you extroverts and champions of personal progress not to assume all of humanity is in the same boat."
You don't have to make dramatic changes just because you theoretically can.
I hope you enjoyed this peek into the team's time working apart as much as I did. As always, we hope you'll let us know if there's more we can share about what we're learning.
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