Crash course in flexible working from home

All my adult life I have worked in “normal” employment. When I was younger often this was part time, sometimes split or strange working shifts. As I got older this changed to full time, 9-5 or a variation of it. This had been the norm for a long time and then it all changed.

I changed jobs and started to work from home!

Shock to the system

I awoke on the first day of my new job, I put on some jeans and a t-shirt, went into my kitchen for tea and breakfast, I then went back to my room and sat down at my desk for work… It was bizarre and felt alien to me.

Environment

Due to having lodgers I couldn’t dedicate a room in my house to be an office. The desk in my bedroom was where I would be working from.

However my bedroom is the place where I escaped from a long day at work: it is my Netflix cave; my gym; it has my computer and I have escaped reality for many an hour in a computer game or watching so many YouTube videos you wonder how on earth you got to watching a about a cow singing the national anthem. This was rarely a place for focusing my mind on business and work issues.

This was the first big hurdle I felt I had to deal with. I got a new desk, larger and less cluttered. I made space for work items and decluttered all non-work items so that they were out of sight whilst I was “at work”. I made a new user profile on my PC for work and spent some time pinning programs, getting shortcuts setup and making my PC more like the computer I had in my previous work place.

Work environment

When working ‘normally’, many people don’t think about the full social construct of what it means to be “at” work. You are hard wired to be in work mode: with work colleagues and expected to be professional. In my case I would be wearing business clothes and using a computer just for work. I acted differently around my work colleagues and had a different mindset.

Colleagues might chat away about non-work items but not to an extreme amount. Most of the time I was ready for a business conversation or meetings. I was at work and in work mode.

The ring of Gyges

If you want to become invisible and effectively do anything you want without being caught then the ring of Gyges is the tool for that job! Plato the Greek philosopher used the story of the ring to ask about human nature.

Generally we are good people and do good things, or at least not bad things. Do we do this just because people can see us and will judge us? If we could do whatever we want and not get caught, would our actions be the same or somewhat more nefarious, as the story suggests?

This is how I felt when I first started working from home. I had the ring on! I had given myself tasks that needed to be completed but nobody was going to look disapprovingly if I picked up my phone and went on Facebook; ask me to turn off the sound on a YouTube video; or complain that my lunch break, instead of being 60 minutes, had started to become two or three Netflix episodes long (don’t watch Breaking Bad on your lunch break when you work from home…).

If you have never worked from home or for yourself before then try and imagine the next time you are in the office, what you would be doing if you had the ring of Gyges on? Would you look at those funny Facebook notifications more often? When you felt a bit distracted would you just go do something else for a bit? Would you turn up at work at all?

Motivation and drive

If I was lying I would say it took me a week to get over the ring of Gyges issue. More truthful would be two weeks and more accurately would likely be three weeks!

I am not trying to scare anyone thinking of doing what I have done but I am giving an account of how I felt and the mindset I needed to change and overcome to be productive. You might be very different to myself and on day one might be there, I am suggesting it might take some time to settle into this.

It took me three weeks to realise there was no ring of Gyges, it was just me, I was stopping myself from working. Perhaps I just needed the novelty of my Breaking Bad siesta sessions to get old but it is something to consider and delve into your own personality and traits.

Work when you want and how you want

Now the good bits! For example, I decided to do this blog at about four in the afternoon – I thought about it a bit but couldn’t really start it.

My creative brain had switched off and so I decided to switch off, I went out for a walk, saw a friend, had dinner and then returned home. I would have loved to see my old bosses if I walked out of work over an hour early and just said, “going home, not feeling creative”.

I got home at about 7.45pm and sat back at my desk, spent some time going through my emails and then had some ideas for this blog and others. I got an outline for a few of them ready and 9.15 came round so I decided to call it, I know I am more creative in the morning and would use the outline I had done to work from when I got up.

I have started to realise when I work best and when I don’t, when I can be productive in different situations and work around that. This is something in “normal” work that can be very hard or impossible to achieve.

To take the plunge or not?

I can’t answer that question for you, the only person who can is you and even then, you might not be able to answer until you are in the position and see how you react to it.

I can honestly say after a shaky start and, I will be honest – a few days, *ahem* weeks – where it can slip and be hard to motivate yourself, in the long run I would never go back. I can now balance my life and work how I see fit within reason. Of course there are busy times but you know you can take time elsewhere when it becomes available.

When you get into the zone and work your socks off, it’s for you and by you. It’s not because some overlord has told you to do so.

If you are thinking of taking the plunge, I wish you well. If you aren’t in that position perhaps you can take some comfort that you might still be in the best place for you.

Reflection Friday – working out loud

This morning was the first Lightbulb Moment Reflection Friday! Mike and I started it after attending the Modern Learning Leader workshop where there was a healthy dose of reflective practice.

That experience, and the conversation Mike and I had about communicating and working together, prompted us to set aside some time every Friday morning for reflection.

Today was our first one that we could schedule in some weeks after the workshop and we wanted to share our approach and reaction as part of working out loud, giving other people ideas if they are beginning this same journey and prompting the wider conversation.

Do as I say, not as I do…

Probably we all know that reflective practice is a good thing to do. A lot of people are really invested in it, perhaps writing journals, blog posts, drawing or other artistic endeavours, part of a conversation group, meditation or a myriad of other options.

I’ve done various reflective practices in the past, found them good and useful, but usually only stuck with them as part of a project or programme.

The reason I wanted us to start doing this at Lightbulb Moment was to improve the already good communication and working relationship between me and Mike, focus on our individual and joint creativity and positively impact our business.

Agreement

Mike and I were both invested in finding time in our week to do this, as we’d been through the experience together on the workshop. Had that not been the case, one of us might have been more reticent and we wouldn’t have had a common language or experience to draw upon to get started.

This was the case with the workshop in the first place – Mike was very honest during the two days, saying that I’d basically signed him up as a “good thing” for his personal and professional development and he wasn’t as invested in the programme as I was. I had made the classic manager-training mistake of sending a direct report on training that they weren’t really interested in.

Luckily the workshop was really good and Mike soon became invested in the process and as the outcomes for our professional relationship were revealing and insightful it was an obvious thing to do to continue this.

Structure

We set aside 90 minutes mid-morning on a Friday to do this. I thought this would give us time to do some bits and pieces in the morning before coming together before lunch time.

Mike and I work geographically remote from each other and use Skype instant messaging and voice call a lot. We planned to use Skype video call in this instance to get the visual feedback and feeling from each other. In future weeks we’ll plan to be working in the same location to do this together.

Both of us had thought a little bit about what we should discuss but hadn’t put any rigid agenda in place. In another instance, with different people, this might be more appropriate.

We decided to continue the conversation and approach from the workshop, which was to reflect on our working week – what we had been working on and achieved – then move into focusing on our communication and working relationship, finishing with some wild writing.

Practice

Mike and I chatted through our working week in summary to update each other. This segued nicely into our communication and working relationship. It was a bit of a meta analysis really – revisiting some of the discussions we had and understanding what we thought the other person thought and how we handled it. In most instances we were spot on with what we were picking up and how we dealt with it. It was good to revisit though and make sure.

Mike comments on this part of the process that:

“It was very interesting to discuss the working week but with a mindset of the goal we had in place for the reflection; analysing working tasks and focusing on the aspect of our communication and relationship floated some thoughts to the surface. These were how we could improve – that otherwise would have remained out of sight”.

One of the elements we discussed during the workshop was our communication, bearing in mind we are working remotely from each other. We already had great communication, but there’s also always room for improvement. Certainly on my part I’d made much more effort to explain my thinking and give more detail to any tasks I’d asked Mike to do. We think very similarly and that strength can be taken advantage of and turn into a weakness.

The focus turned to more of the relationship and how we work together. Largely it was all fine and positive with no major issues. What was interesting is that it was an hour into the conversation of “this is fine, this is good, this worked well” that we actually got through some layers into a fundamental assumption that was manifesting in a certain way.

Virtual team communication

With regards more regular Skype instant messaging, and the type and tone of conversation there, Mike had made the assumption of “Jo is busy, so I won’t bother her” whereas had he been sitting next me, he would have seen I wasn’t on a call or a virtual classroom session and just said “hey, what do you think of this?”. It might have been a two minute conversation – this is something we were missing out on by working remotely.

Without having this Reflection Friday we might not have had this conversation or got to this point of detail. It allowed me to understand why there was a very small but pertinent barrier in our communications. It gave me the opportunity to update Mike’s thinking to explain how I like to work and then we discussed trying a different way of working in the future.

This is the reason this reflective practice is so important, virtual team or not. 

Wild writing

We got to the point where we had talked about doing some Wild Writing – where you just keep writing and see what comes out. We’d done some in the workshop and I thought it was a technique we should continue.

Mike had suggested he felt that we’d had “wild conversation” and that we’d pretty much covered what we needed and didn’t feel that the activity would be of great benefit. All well reasoned and very reasonable.

I made the suggestion that this time was for building reflective practice, trying new things, that we’d gotten benefit from it on the workshop and we should try it. If we decided it wasn’t working, we didn’t have to continue.

So we did! We mute ourselves but left webcams on and tried it out.

Mike wrote on paper, I used Notepad on the computer and typed (no spelling or grammar mistakes would be highlighted with red squiggles to distract me!). I found I was typing a lot of “and now what else shall I say”.

I also found it interesting to do this typing whereas last time I was writing with a pen. This was part of my wild writing: “it’s almost like I want to think of it before I write it maybe it’s because I’m typing… that I can type quicker than when I think and write with a pen”.

We had some discussion after the writing. Mike had reiterated the conversation we’d already had, which I saw as good confirmation that he was happy and there wasn’t a lot else going on.

I had some things I reflected on personally, plus focusing on the work I say yes to and how I focus on the best work and projects for the business moving forwards.

I found it useful to go through a short version of this activity – just maybe five minutes writing and five minutes debrief between us. It’s taken me longer to blog about it than do it!

Mike’s thoughts on it:

“After initially thinking I had already covered everything in the conversation I was dubious what extra value would come from the wild writing. Once done it quickly highlighted the main points and stressed the need to move through with them. It was also interesting that Jo had come up with some personal reflections that also helped my understanding from her side.”

Next steps

We’ll share more as our practice develops. So far, it’s been a nice way to start rounding off the week. It’s been personally insightful, as well as for the working relationship with Mike.

I’d love to read your thoughts and comments on what you can take away from what we’ve shared, and also perhaps what you are doing too!

Reflections on modern learning

I’ve written a few blog posts about being a modern learning leader (links at the end).

This one is some reflections on what a modern learning leader is, which has been prompted by attending the Modern Learning Leader workshop, hosted by Sukh Pabial.

Humour – your superpower?

The two day workshop was a lot of collaboration, sharing and supporting each other. It actually got quite deep, personal and meaningful. An excellent balance for this was humour, so there were lots of laughs too.

This started well in the day, as you can see these tweets:

Topics

There were a range of topics that the cohort looked at in webinars ahead of the workshop. What we remembered were added to post-it notes and formed a great place to look back and prompt conversations over the two day workshop.

The discussions

What we covered and how we covered was fascinating. We started with what Sukh referred to as a “contracting piece” on how we wanted to work during the day. This wasn’t a simple “rules for how we communicate”, but was actually a conversation over an hour, relating to some of the things we read in the books as part of the programme, about how we can help each other.

As Sukh commented, this was two days and we had the time do this, in other programmes that might not be appropriate. We also had a very small group of four people, all experienced professionals.

The conversations were broad and wide-ranging, sometimes focusing on the topics from the knowledge webinars, sometimes on questions we had where we wanted to understand or learn more knowledge either from Sukh or each other in our respective specialist areas and with our experiences.

Above shows one of the questions I offered to other people to think about when discussing with their stakeholders about learning solutions.

Another powerful question that came up at the end of day two was “is there actually a problem?” and from that things like “who is it a problem for?” and more.

Reflection

Sukh built reflection into the programme, including this flip chart as a starting prompt for us:

People thought and made their notes in their own way. I did mine as a blog – a pretty raw one at that. I gave myself the liberty not to read it back nor worry too much about the technical issues of blogging. You can read it here if you want.

This is a Periscope live video broadcast reviewing the end of day one:

Go wild

On day two we began with another reflection piece, utilising the technique of wild writing.

This was a great technique, where you just keep writing without stopping, to see what comes out. Not worrying about spelling, grammar or even making sense. It’s useful to get out what’s in your head, sometimes without even realising what you knew or where thinking.

Green space

Part of the programme was to work on some projects that were top of mind for us, different for each person.

Michael and I work together at Lightbulb Moment, so we worked together on this. We started with one project, that was a specific part of the business we are building and working on. After working through some discomfort, I soon realised our project should be something different and that focusing our discussion elsewhere was, actually, more or less what we had done most of the time.

A Periscope live video broadcast of Michael and I discussing our thoughts:

Kevin has his own revelations, including see some things in the space where we are which resonated with him:

At the end of the day, after more in-depth discussions around what we were working on, we highlighted what we had got out of such an in-depth discursive programme:

And a group Persicope rounding it up:

Sukh ran a light-touch programme in terms of his design and facilitation, which gave us the room to use the time as was right for all of us.

The things I’m taking away for Lightbulb Moment is more focus on my own self-development, and that of anyone associated with the business, and time for creative thinking and reflection.

Let’s see how it goes!

The human condition – faces and social learning

As part of the Modern Learning Leader Programme from the first webinar was about “The Human Condition”, with Emotion at Work expert Phil Willcox. You can read my post about ‘what is the human condition?‘.

“A mask tells us more than a face” – Oscar Wilde

There was a 45 minute video that Phil prepared specifically for the programme, which talked about “face”.

A google of “facework theory” shows a general purpose description on the Talk About Talk website as “the maintenance of one’s perceived identity”.

The website goes on to state that “this theory is concerned with the ways in which we construct and preserve our self images, or the image of someone else”.

Wikipedia tells me:

The sociologist Erving Goffman introduced the concept of “face” into social theory with his (1955) article “On Face-work: An Analysis of Ritual Elements of Social Interaction” and (1967) book Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior.

According to Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective, face is a mask that changes depending on the audience and the variety of social interaction. People strive to maintain the face they have created in social situations. They are emotionally attached to their faces, so they feel good when their faces are maintained; loss of face results in emotional pain, so in social interactions people cooperate by using politeness strategies to maintain each other’s faces.

Interestingly, the Talk About Talk website also states that “face can be built, changed, or lost during communication exchanges that may threaten the way we want to be seen”. This is an important part of communication with others, about how we portray ourselves and other’s perceive us, as well as interplay of communication between the two – which could be explicit or unspoken.

In his opening video Phil highlights that when you move to a new organisation, you can choose what images you want to portray and therefore how people perceive you. This resonated as I recalled moving from a technical training role into a people training role.

In the office, I didn’t want to jump in to all of the Excel problems etc as I didn’t want to be seen as “the IT geek” or “the person to ask all the software problems”. It felt very mean at first not to immediately help people with everything, but I knew it wouldn’t do me any favours for that to be my “face” or, as Phil introduced me to, “stuck in face”.

This also relates a bit to a podcast chat I had with Phil about, in my terminology, the different ‘persona’s’ we have, most specifically on social media.

Faces reflection

Phil gave us a document to think about our different faces, from a specific time we were communicating with others. I picked a particular client meeting to think about and started making some notes about my “competence face”, which is my ability to do the task or job that is requested of me, my “company face” which represents or takes on the identity of my organisation and others.

I was recalling the meeting and making notes of my thoughts about how I showed my technical competence in the meeting about the learning solution, which I thought I did pretty well. I reflected on the company face, about the crossover of personality between myself my Lightbulb Moment, being my company and my approach to business.

I wrote some more notes before seeing a Slack notification. Slack is a communication platform that Sukh Pabial is using for the Modern Learning Leader programme. We also use it at Lightbulb and I’m considering it for my programme delivery, but that’s another conversation…

Another member of the Slack channel, on this topic, included this in their post: “Certainly going to be watching myself this afternoon and evening for when my words aren’t in time with the face I think I’m adopting and that which others are seeing.”

This made me really think again about my reflections – I was hoping for self awareness but, if I’m really honest, they were heading towards self congratulatory. The comment above made me look at this again and realise where I was forgetting my conflict.

Specifically it reminded me of where my “company face” (at it’s most basic, wanting the business and the biggest value possible) and “competence face” where in a little conflict, of understanding the client, their needs (including budget) and wanting to recommend the best solution for the learners and organisation.

The need for social learning

The last piece of reflection from this comment was how important the Slack conversation was to get to this point. This person’s comment is the bit that gave me my lightbulb moment.

Without that comment, through that social learning channel that was collaborative and external to the specific learning event, I wouldn’t have had that insight. That’s why the conversation around learning is so important.

You can read my other Modern Learning Leader blog posts

  1. What is a Modern Learning Leader?
  2. The human condition
  3. The human condition – faces and social learning
  4. Instructional design – reminder notes
  5. What sUX about L&D design?

The human condition

As part of the Modern Learning Leader Programme, the first webinar is all about “The Human Condition”, with Emotion at Work expert Phil Willcox.

What is “The Human Condition”?

Other than understanding the actual words, I’m not sure what that means. Obviously, the place to start is Google!

I thought I might start with an overview of some quotes that have been curated on the topic, including:

“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”
― Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

“Our behaviour is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.”
― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

“Humanity is lost because people have abandoned using their conscience as their compass.”
― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

So it looks like the focus is on us as people, individuals, team members and, ultimately, leaders. It’s about how we investigate, communicate, come to conclusions, make decisions, take people on a journey with us…

Wikipedia has this to say on the subject:

The human condition is “the characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of human existence, such as birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict, and mortality.”

This is a very broad topic which has been and continues to be pondered and analysed from many perspectives, including those of religion, philosophy, history, art, literature, anthropology, psychology, and biology.

As a literary term, “the human condition” is typically used in the context of ambiguous subjects such as the meaning of life or moral concerns.

The most fundamental element of us is our humanity, for all of us. However, looking even just at that Wikipedia introduction, that can encompass so many things – where I am in my life and career journey, my gender and health, my religion, or lack of, what philosophies or values drive me, what I read, how I see other people from my perspective and so much more.

It must also, therefore, be about how we relate with other humans, either those that mesh well with our perspectives, or those that don’t. Perhaps especially those that don’t, as there are always challenges in life and some we don’t have an easy choice about walking away.

The human condition and learning

In his PGCE documentation ‘Different perspectives on evaluating lessons and developing as teachers‘ Richard Denny’s opening line is “education is a fundamental aspect of the human condition.”

Without development and education, over thousands of years, we wouldn’t be the humans we are now, and in the society we are now. As well as then the huge focus on the jobs that we do in learning and development.

Part of the pre-work is a TEDx video shared by Phil:

One aspect I especially liked from this was about public understanding, that people generally think of it as “a blank slate” and as communicators we can make things that make sense to us and drop it into them. The speaker states that “it’s neither correct, nor is it productive. We have to understand that culture always complicates our jobs as communicators”.

We have to take culture into account in our L&D roles – both the geographic culture of the country and specific location we are in, the make up of the people within it, and that of the industry and the organisation itself.

You can read my other Modern Learning Leader blog posts

  1. What is a Modern Learning Leader?
  2. The human condition
  3. The human condition – faces and social learning
  4. Instructional design – reminder notes
  5. What sUX about L&D design?

What is a Modern Learning Leader?

There are two main components to think about, “modern learning” and “leader”.

Being a super leader

You could argue there’s a crossover subset here, of “modern leader”, though I think by tackling “modern learning” I hope to cover that.

There’s volumes and volumes written on leadership and what I present here are only my personal thoughts.

There are different aspects of great leadership, depending on the individuals, the context, the organisation, what is trying to be achieved and much more.

One example of a great leader is Christopher Reeve, the actor of Superman The Movie fame. Yes, I’m a huge fan of the Reeve Superman movies. Aside from my childhood love of Superman, part of my admiration is how Reeve behaved and performed after his terrible horse riding accident that left him as a paraplegic in May 1995.

Christopher Reeve photo by Andre Queiroz

Reeve was put into a situation which most of us can never imagine, how his life changed and was severely physically restricted. However out of that horror came strong leadership on a personal level. Reeve campaigned for rights of the disabled, stem cell research for spinal chord injury victims, became a beacon of hope for the physically challenged and a well known campaigner. He also managed to continue to act and direct films.

To me this is about leadership through adversity. Reeve was highly active in his campaigning, being a visible leader for people to follow. He was also personable and approachable as a normal human being and not a Superman.

You’ll have your own aspects of leadership that you see and admire in many different people and situations you’ve been in. Feel free to share those in the comments below, it would be lovely to read about a leader that is personally relevant to you in some way.

Modern learning includes…

This phrase is one that many of us in learning and development use a lot, though probably isn’t used in businesses and organisations that much. I use it because I want to differentiate myself from the poor ‘chalk and talk’ lecture-style delivery that is more traditional in some areas of training.

“Modern learning” highlights:

Jo Cook presenting at a 702010 session at Online Educa Berlin 2016

The world of work has changed and is constantly changing.

What we deliver as part of our role in HR, Organisational Development and L&D needs to keep up and, ideally, be leading the way forward.

We need all the skills mentioned above, and many more, in order to be leading our businesses towards a modern learning and performance culture.

Learning about being a modern learning leader

It’s a question that Sukh Pabial is tackling through a series of webinars, social learning through a Slack channel, and a two day workshop in London. I’m attending these as I want to confirm what I already know and do, share what I’m doing and m approaches to help others, to see what others are doing to update my own methods and learn things I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

Sukh, who is a brilliant and prolific blogger, has a particular post on modern learning and productivity here.

You can read my other Modern Learning Leader blog posts

  1. What is a Modern Learning Leader?
  2. The human condition
  3. The human condition – faces and social learning
  4. Instructional design – reminder notes
  5. What sUX about L&D design?