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21st Century Work Life and leading remote teams

Brought to you by Virtual not Distant, the 21st Century Work Life podcast looks at leading remote teams, online collaboration and working in distributed organisations.

Join Pilar Orti, guests & co-hosts as they shine the spotlight on the most relevant themes and news relevant to the modern knowledge worker.

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Feb 6, 2020

Welcome to our new series of 7 episodes on the theme of “connection and disconnection in remote teams”, in association with Virtual Not Distant partners Shield GEO.

Shield GEO help businesses employ people globally by taking care of all the associated administration, legal and financial - supporting truly global remote work, in a way that’s a great alignment with everything we value at Virtual Not Distant. So we’re very excited to be expanding our podcasting repertoire with this new collaboration.

Our host for this series is Bree Caggiati, and for this inaugural episode she is joined by Shield GEO Tim Burgess, as well as Pilar and Maya of course. The chosen theme began as a conversation initially about loneliness in remote teams - a natural part of the maturing of the remote work conversation, as more and more people open up to the possibilities it offers. But this evolved into an exploration of both sides of the coin: connection and disconnection. 

Tim reflected on a research they had conducted with Sydney University students about the remote work community and what their needs were - what questions were being asked online, and not being well answered. The idea of disconnection due to distance emerged strongly there, as part of the context of greater awareness of emotional well-being more generally in the social and business discourse (and let’s remember as well that people in traditional colocated workplaces can also feel isolated and disconnected).

The extent to which hirers and employers are responsible for the mental health of their team is also under the microscope, but perhaps not all managers are comfortable talking about it at any stage (and this too is not an issue limited to remote work). Where do the boundaries emerge, between duty of care, self-sufficiency, privacy, and productivity, in these sensitive conversations, as people emerge from the ‘honeymoon period’ of a new role?

Bree herself is physically isolated from the rest of the ShieldGEO team, being based in Canada while the others are in Australia - making this a truly global, 4-country collaboration, incidentally. Bree has found using a co-working space more regularly has helped overcome isolation. But the issue is very polarising, and early adopters of remote work (especially advocates, and dare we say, podcasters in this space…) are highly self-selecting. Many of us have never experienced loneliness, working in the way we chose - but as more organisations ‘go remote’, it inevitably becomes less about individual choice for every remote worker.

Disconnection can come from many sources in addition to loneliness. It can be related to trust and autonomy, and the visible teamwork activities we consult on in Virtual Not Distant are all about connecting through the work itself by making that manifest. And this is important because sometimes we feel more connected to our colleagues at work, than those in our local communities and social networks. In the mainstream conversation, often technology gets blamed for alienation and disconnection, but actually it can play a really positive role, if we use it in the right way, and remote work can lead by example on this.

Perhaps it’s easy to blame the factor of remote work, particularly working from home, if we feel disengaged from other people generally, but there could be many causes. Work can provide structure and tangibility in our day which might be absent in our personal lives, and maybe we need to better tune in to our own emotional and physical needs, when there’s no manager or colleague to reflect off in our immediate environment. We talk about great remote workers having personal attributes of resilience and flexibility, and emotional self-awareness is a part of this - the ability to understand our own needs for self-care or rest or exercise or space, and ensure they are addressed before a crisis happens. This includes knowing how and where you work best, and constructing that environment around you.

Recruiting for these personal qualities, instilling a culture during onboarding that these issues are for real, these are challenges for any onboarding process. Tim and the Shield GEO team have recognised that in training new hires generally, that there’s a difficulty in taking on board large amounts of complex information, so finding the right time to bring up these issues of how they’re really feeling emotionally needs a lot of thought. But by planting the seeds with new people that the organisation cares how these concerns might at least make it easier for new colleagues to explore more openly when the time is right.

And with so much to explore during this series, we’re really looking forward to hearing from listeners about how these issues are impacting you, what your concerns are with connection and disconnection our remote teams. Please do join the conversation in any way you choose, including anonymously/confidentially if you prefer, via email or our contact form.