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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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Jun 6, 2019

Nearly 200 episodes in, we have seen plenty of our own transformations both at Virtual Not Distant and the 21st Century Work Life podcast - and today we explore how organisations are adapting and changing, as the digital landscape does the same.

First, a quick follow up from previous episodes - we found this great article about one of our frequently-used collaboration hubs, so make sure you check this out: 30 incredibly useful things you didn’t know Slack could do.

And Pilar has been tweeting a lot lately, which was how she connected with today’s guest Euan Semple via his book Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do. Within this book she found many resonant quotes, including “where possible sharing as much as you can when you are able to do so means that people are more likely to respect you when you say you cannot share some information,” and “Blogging can help people to understand themselves and their work better and by doing so help them to change at a profound and fundamental level” - these words were written in 2013, but resonate so well with our visible teamwork approach in 2019!

Do look out for our anniversary episode up next, where we celebrate 200 podcast episode by exploring celebrations in remote teams! And look out for a special offer just for our listeners then.

09.55 21st Century Work Life: Euan Semple, author and speaker on the impact of technology at work

Euan has been blogging for 18 years, and shares his words on LinkedIn, Facebook and Medium. He started blogging as a ‘memo to himself’ about the impact of technology at work, but found it resonating with a wider audience. Back in the day you had to know how to use Moveable Type in order to blog, but much has changed in the blogging world, and Euan’s career has spanned most platforms in this fast-moving landscape’s history! He now writes and speaks globally on the impact of digital transformation in the workplace.

As Euan says, "It's easier to digitise our dysfunctions than to deal with them." Sometimes we need to fix things at a more fundamental level, before trying to find the right app and fix the tech, and you can’t simply leave it to the IT department to sort out organisational issues.  Consumer technology preferences are very personal but organisations make broader choices, and Euan talks about ‘shadow IT’ and how fragmented the work IT landscape has become, with individuals and teams going around official procedures to get things done, and the unforeseen consequences of change.

Many users too are struggling to keep up, it’s not generational, it’s about individual transformation and development, and lots of organisations don’t help people enough - then limit the extent to which they can take initiative for themselves.  Euan’s work at the BBC has exposed him to a wide range of platforms and apps and the way they are marketed and implemented, and finds it unsurprising that people sometimes buy overpriced and over-engineered systems and then try to fit the organisation to the platform instead of the other way around.

An ecosystem approach empowers the user and the organisation, putting the tech in its proper place - and we usually get this right more often in personal tech than at work, where we don’t like to question the way things are done. Hierarchies are inevitable in organisations, but decentralisation is an important trend, and designing that ecosystem requires input from those actually using it, a group which may be forever in flux anyway. Euan likes the phrase ‘an ephemeral meritocracy’ - power and influence in organisations should be relevant and timely, rather than acquired for all time. Changemakers can come from anywhere, and any level.

Embracing the advantages of remote work and digital collaboration can also be overlooked, such as the effectiveness of online communication in overcoming introversion and social anxiety. The online conversation can become very polarised, but, it can also be enlightening and amazing, representing the very best of human nature.

And we’re all fully rounded human beings with more to us than our online personas… which is why Euan also drives trucks as a sideline (while listening to podcasts and generating creative ideas of course) - giving him a different perspective on roles and authority and collaboration for sure.

Ever an optimist, Euan likes to leave people with a sense of infinite possibility - there are opportunities everywhere, so grasp them while we can!  So do connect with, @euan on twitter (a handle that length is proof of an early adopter!)


42.49 What do you mean by that? Ethical Walls

We spoke to Justin Morris, global strategy director of Modality Systems, to explain this idea:

Sometimes in business there can be conflicts of interest when two parts of an organisation talk to one another, and this might apply particularly in highly regulated industries. This might have been managed physically in the past - such as by keycard access. Now this phenomenon is mirrored in the online workspace in Microsoft Teams, where information barriers called ‘ethical walls’ can be inserted, to stop specific teams and individuals communicating with each other.

Pilar’s initial reaction to this update was instinctively negative - what about trust, integrity..? However as Justin points out in this conversation, there are very real compliance needs in many circumstances, to avoid possibilities of breaches like insider trading or client confidentiality, and organisations have to be able to demonstrate they have addressed the problem structurally to the best of reasonable ability.  The flatter hierarchies that Euan talked about above can over-facilitate conversations which are not appropriate to specific kinds of highly regulated work.

Creating a trustless environment actually protects the individuals as well, both from temptation and easy accusations - while such barriers can presumably be circumvented, this would have to be deliberate and overt.

Look out for a bonus episode with Justin shortly for more on this subject, and meanwhile you can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn, and his website


49.33 Wellbeing: Beyond work-life balance

Knowledge workers have so many tools and devices, it can be difficult to disconnect and unplug. It was easier when we could leave it all behind in the office, as we did a generation ago.

But do we feed that always-on mentality, and risk becoming addicted to our continual conversation with and about work? Does it make us feel valued and connected?

How easy do you find it to avoid checking your phone in the evenings or at the weekend? Are you the master of your alerts - or is it the other way around?

Everyone finds their own preferred balance, but you need to decide for yourself and be intentional about it, instead of letting default notification settings or the expectations of collaborators dictate what you are thinking about and dealing with in your own time?

We need to talk about how we feel as well as what we think, and be conscious about our boundaries.

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