How to improve virtual connection

How to improve virtual connection

Sustain the messy, transformative work of real connection

One day last week, like many of you, I spent fifteen hours on a computer. This included four group webinars (one of which was a hundred faceless people), six Zoom meetings, and the normal transactional activity of small business. Closing my screen at 7pm, I felt strangely discombobulated. It felt tired (mental fatigue), listless, unsatisfied and dissociated. I call it “LIMBO”. I think you have experienced it.

This is a symptom of disrupted connection. 

Most of us have been locked down for six weeks. While a few lucky families and businesses share common space, the rest have to make do with digital communication. These virtual platforms are nothing short of miraculous. They have improved dramatically. We now expect a seamless flow of voice, face and digital gimmicks.

The efficiency gain is stunning. One can deliver a half day intervention with a group at 10% of the cost. Taxis, airports, hotels and endless downtime vaporised for multiple participants. Evaluations can match face-to-face. Three hours delivers the same net revenue as a two-day journey.

Organisations are just beginning to realise how effective and efficient virtual meetings have become. It is almost certain that many of us will continue to work from home and that much of our future communication will be digital and transactional. Training, sales, negotiation, planning and coaching will become predominantly virtual.

Face-to-face connection will reduce dramatically.

For millions of years, primates have evolved as social species. We could only survive the harsh ecosystems in small family groups and tribes with periodic inter-group exchange. We communicated in a physical cocoon of smells, touch, eye contact, grooming, posturing, grunting, seducing and dominating/submitting.

In suits, we follow formal protocols to book a time, place, dress-code and still we are close. We shake hands, gesticulate, and dance with our eyes, expressions, vocal tones and postures. Smell and grooming have dropped into the background but still play out.

Together in space and matter, we connect and transform each other.

On screen, it is very different. If lucky, we have an image large enough to detect eye movement and facial expressions. The concentration required to track this instinctive flow of information is huge. Delays in voice and image create interruptions in flow that trigger doubt, irritation and dismissive judgements. Feedback loops and trust fail.

Digitised on screen we transact deprived of meaning.

From a biological perspective, we are ripping apart the very fabric of what makes us human. We must be cautious, wise and deliberate in mastering this inevitable transition that Covid-19 has thrust into warp speed.

Take special care of intimate relationships.

In family and homes:

  1. Create shared daily rituals – meals, walks, games and conversations
  2. Share your daily work plan and respect each other’s workspace
  3. Make time for close, physical and intimate greetings – hug, listen, play
  4. Be tolerant, generous and quick to apologise when boundaries are crossed

In close friendship and work circles:

  1. Maintain your regular digital connections
  2. Meet fortnightly for a walk, ‘distance-compliant’ coffee or park-side chat

In digital transactions:

  1. Take at least 10 minutes to prepare for a call – rest, plan, anticipate
  2. Dress well and present yourself with good posture and comfortable surrounds
  3. Make sure your camera catches your face at eye height
  4. Check your appearance and surroundings before each call
  5. Keep your eyes steady and focused close to the camera
  6. Maintain good posture and breathe slowly through the nose
  7. Instead of interruption raise your hand for a speaking opportunity
  8. Train yourself in facial expression recognition (www.paulekman.com)
  9. Speak clearly and get to the point. Use stories.

Digital business is in the ascendant. We must adapt if we are to take advantage of this incredible opportunity. Remember that it is primarily transactional communication.

Do not forget the critical – albeit messy – connections required to give meaning, context and fulfilment to our lives.

courageous leadership

courageous leadership

A call for courageous leadership

From the perspective of ecosystems, biodiversity, and resilience, Covid-19 is a gift that no one expected. We have once in a century opportunity for creative leadership.

This camera trap photo at dam in the Timbavati (Greater Kruger), overlays the action. A leopard with two cubs, hyena bloated with an evening feast, porcupine, dwarf mongoose, baboons and spurfowl.

World-wide, the consuming monster of humanity has retreated. As 4.5 billion humans are restrained, nature is flourishing and demonstrating incredible resilience. Many have advocated, suffered, and prayed for this reality.

In our gardens, birdlife is noisy. Swans, dolphins, fish and birds are returning to our waterways. Sea-life is on the brink of a massive recovery. The skies are clear, pollution has dropped to levels that are saving millions of lives – countless billions if we consider our fellow species.

While human leadership presses for consumption and economic growth, we have been granted a precious opportunity to pause, reflect and respond with wisdom.

The biological resilience on full display around us, is good for us too. Our suburbs are quiet and clean. Traffic jams, manic flying and endless meetings have dropped away. We have precious time with loved ones. We can read, reflect and initiate a more contemplative path.

Yes, many are frustrated, lonely and afraid. What a good time to learn about and practice the innumerable resilience skills that we have not found time for – walk, breathe, stretch, sleep, read and debate. Rather than wailing and gnashing about mental health, perhaps we can appreciate, relax and allow recovery to take place. The very insanity you long for, is the cause of most suffering.

Environmentalists, biologists and physicians have begged the world for exactly what this media-hyped pandemic has delivered. Where have their voices gone? We should be celebrating, sharing and redoubling our resolve to lean into more sustainable solutions.

The Covid-19 pandemic is challenging us, but in comparison to the annual cost of preventable deaths, it does not rank in the top 20 for this year.

https://deathmeters.info

We will save and enrich many more lives, by grasping this opportunity to bring restraint, wisdom and deliberate stewardship to our planet.

Recommended Action

Re-imagine your life

  • Relax, look around, be curious, and apply creative optimism
  • Take this opportunity to become a better version of yourself
  • Treasure your loved ones and make time to deepen connections
  • Celebrate and support the resilience of nature

Re-imagine your lifestyle

  • Get rid of a gas-guzzling car or switch to an electric vehicle
  • Maybe you might consider solar power
  • Do you really need all that junk-food, drunkenness and revelry?
  • Commit to and lock-down your new daily practices

Re-imagine your career or work

  • Could you work from home more often?
  • What about testing the calling you feel?
  • How could you collaborate more widely through digital?
  • What might you do more actively in your local community?
  • Is this an opportunity for a family business?

As always, VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) times call for leadership. We know that pandemics, economies, politics and society are complex systems that will interact in unpredictable and chaotic ways. Leadership is already severely tested. Few political systems have the balance of authority, responsibility and freedom to ride this black swan.

Thus, we find ourselves in dogmatic short-term manoeuvring and grand-standing. For the real leaders, this is the opportunity of the century.

Congratulations to Macron for suggesting that we call a global ceasefire. The world could unite against the greed-fuelled violence that always punishes the poor. If the major powers agree to stop supplying, funding and stoking conflict, developing economies may recover.

Leaders and political systems get rich on weapons manufacture. Let’s call it. Enough!

If ever, leaders were to nudge our transition to clean power it is now. Oil demand has collapsed. High tech, clean energy is ripe to mature and replace fossil fuels. We could tax fossil fuels and incentivise clean power.

Leaders and political systems thrive on oil. Enough!

We are on the threshold of smart work and intelligent lifestyles. Virtual platforms and real-time global transactions could massively reduce travel. We know and can track the key lifestyle factors that help us thrive. Cars, late nights, flights, substance abuse and sloth could be constrained. Home-based offices and community centric work and recreation will expand. Smarter life at lower cost is already in play.

Leaders and political systems do thrive on excess and impulse. Enough!

We must protect the planet from ourselves. Some regions respect and treasure nature. Most exploit whatever they can. This Covid-19 pause is the perfect opportunity to stop waging war on nature. Might we co-operate to protect critical ecosystems and crush the scourge of forest burning, water pollution, wild-life trade and over-fishing. Ecotourism is the perfect opportunity for biodiversity, climate hedging and economic activity.

Rise up young leaders. Enough of pale and male dinosaurs. Where are the young people? Where are the female leaders? Where is your voice Greta? Jacinda? Erna? Katrin? Sanna? Reader?

If you fail to take this opportunity to re-imagine our world and our lives, you are abdicating to a century of regret.

Step up and lead. Many of us are ready to help you.

Rise, Phoenix, Rise

Rise, Phoenix, Rise

Easter celebrates rebirth, creativity and renewal. A man dies. A religion is born. This Easter weekend is a pivot for creative change.

A virus is causing suffering and death. Yet, compared with the WHO top seven (heart disease, cancer, injury, lungs, stroke, Alzheimers and Diabetes), Covid-19 is insignificant.

Our response, driven out of fear, has put the world on hold. While there have been 18,000 deaths in the US, there have been 16 million unemployed. Many countries are already in recession. Uncertainty is rife. Jobs, businesses and lifestyles will disappear.

Nature leads the way

Skies are clear. India can see the Himalayas. Water runs clean. Swans, dolphins and fish return to recovering waterways. Birds, including Tui, below, sing prolifically in our trees. Streets are quiet and safe. Auckland harbour glistens in perfection. Yesterday, a massive stingray. Today, a couple of diving kingfishers. Tomorrow, the dolphins or Orca may return.

Tamaki Drive (above) which runs along Auckland’s waterfront, usually a snarl of cars, motorbikes and buses, has transformed into a tranquil, family exercise venue. Families, couples and individuals from ‘our bubble’ wander all day.

Imagine a future where on weekends, cars are banned. Humans, birds and sea-life get to recover and enjoy some peace. Great opportunity. Who will step up to the creative work?

Easter. Phoenix rising. Shiva gives way to Brahma. Spring comes. The cycle of life.

We are in the crucible of transformation. As the old gives way, it is time for creativity.

Start with yourself

Can you feel a sense of relaxation? Perhaps a new rhythm in your day? Important reconnections at home? Maybe you feel the need for change? Are you asking what really matters? My top five creative focus points:

  1. Breathe slowly and smoothly; 4 seconds in and 6 seconds out
  2. Sleep long, regular and deep; connect your fitbit
  3. Get out in nature every day; walk, bike or if locked down, do yoga
  4. Counter grief with appreciation, anger with kindness, and fear with courage
  5. Be brutal with your thoughts; stay firmly in the present moment

Resilience is so much more than coping and bounce. It is growth, connection and flow.

Start with your breath, attention and presence. Inside-Out is available for less than a cup of coffee. Or start your Resilience Journey with an interactive dynamic Resilience App with assessments, recommendations, online courses, meditation guides, tracking and a chatbot coach.

Recreate your career

My wife has built her own website to launch a digital platform for her finance training. After years of procrastination, it is done. Traditional, workshop training – as well as school, retail, university and services – have already gone virtual and digital. Design, plan, digitalise and communicate your new offer.

Innovation is essential. You may have lost your job or your business. What are you doing right now to recreate a meaningful work and revenue stream? You have time. Use it well. Many gaps will open up. There will be a surge in demand. There is no time to waste. Execute.

If you are looking for a different way of working, isn’t this the perfect time to let go the past and recreate your future? Complete an online course, write, paint, photograph, network and explore what others are doing in your area of passion.

Realign your team

If you are still part of a team, make sure you connect regularly. Support each other to maintain optimal wellbeing and motivation. Brainstorm opportunities. Talk to your clients and see what they need. Come up with novel, timely and effective solutions.

Many businesses – travel, hospitality, airlines – have cratered. You may have lost many people. Get those who are still engaged together to re-imagine the business. Set up those skunkworks to break things down, mix it up and formulate new business solutions.

Perhaps this is the opportunity to refresh your board, leadership or teams. Who are the young, skilled and motivated people who can help your business thrive into this new world?

Community action

If you like the clean skies, waterways and resurging nature, what might you do to highlight some of the benefits and see if we can build them into the future. We are trapping the scourge of possums wrecking our trees and birdlife. What about getting together to have a “no cars Sunday” in your local parks? How about protecting certain areas from noise, drunken revelry and light at night?

The solution to our environmental tragedy is on full display. As we have seen over the past years, most people – especially the young – deeply care about our environment. We are running a stunning experiment in restraint. Nature is already celebrating. If you are a social entrepreneur and want a better future for life on earth, now is the time to organise, devise solutions, and get ready to counter the surge in consumption.

Please don’t let this creative window pass you by. The world seldom offers up such disruptive, rich and tantalising opportunities for deep change. Grasp it with resolve.

Be a better person. Forge better family connections. Recreate your life and work. Connect with those who share your passions and commitment. Make a better world.

Happy Easter😁

Ride the Black Swan: Part 3

Ride the Black Swan: Part 3

Bounce Deliberately

The stark reality of Covid-19 and its economic consequences are sinking in. This week, most opinions predict, will be hard. The health and life impact flashes red on our screens daily. Little evidence of containment is detectable. The world economy has slowed. Unemployment is soaring. Our lives have lost rhythm. Uncertainty and fear will rise. Anger and depression will surface. Rapid, skilled bounce is required.

Part 1 laid out the basics of caring for yourself and your loved ones. Part 2 urged for calm engagement and decisiveness. We must acknowledge and master freeze (sad/withdrawal), anger (fight) and fear (flight) reactions.

Here, I want to focus on bounce. McKinsey & Co (2020) advocate five leadership phases: resolve, resilience, return, reimagination and reform. It is the first two that are in focus here. In summary:

  • It is normal and natural for resilience to fail
  • Mental health challenges have already tested society
  • Crises can accelerate and compound resilience failure
  • Bounce is normal and natural – it will happen
  • Shock, denial, bargaining and anger slow the bounce response
  • Bounce accelerates when we confront reality with honesty and humility
  • Bounce can be a deliberate and disciplined process of action

Bounce Practice 1: Know how resilience fails

Confront reality, acknowledge concerns and feelings. Recovery starts with you. If you are calm and engaged, you will be able to support others.

Bounce Practice 2: Enforce routine/daily disciplines

Working virtually with leaders through last week, one common experience presented. Testing their daily routines, it became abundantly clear that their routines were chaotic. Working from home, you might expect we have more control. Not true.

Sleep timing was disrupted. Exercise routines were dropped. Meditation and prayer (not all) had stopped. Meal times were irregular. Webinars and team calls had become continuous. Many hunched over calls in the early morning and night. There was scant rejuvenation time between calls.

If you have not already redesigned your daily routines, do it now. This is the perfect time to reflect deeply on what you need to do each day to be the best version of yourself.

  1. Sleep well: at least 7 hours, regular wake up and sleep time, good quality
  2. Exercise every day: secure at least 20 minutes aerobic activity out in nature if possible
  3. Stretch, practice yoga and breathe deliberately every morning
  4. Agree regular meal times; eat well and connect with loved ones
  5. Lock in recovery after every call/webinar; minimum 10 minutes
  6. Make time to relax, read and enjoy a movie

Bounce Practice 3: Maintain your presence

Reality check your physical presence. Notice the stubble, the grey (or dark) roots emerging, neglected hair, dirty t-shirt or slumped shoulders. Without the daily trek into social circuits, you may neglect yourself. At very least, do what you can to present yourself to your mirror each morning. Your family will notice. Your colleagues will see it on webinars. Sit upright and alert or stand through calls and webinars. Most importantly, you will feel better.

Bounce Practice 4: Establish connection rhythms

Prepare well for each connection. Be calm, respectful and gently optimistic. If you are part of a team, try to connect daily by phone or visually. Remember your friends. We have started a regular evening connection with close friends on various platforms. Consider a daily walk with a loved one. Take time to treasure the rebound of nature. Our bird-bath has become a daily joy.

Bounce Practice 5: Work structure and discipline

While many are stretched, others are searching for things to do. Take a good, hard look at your work structure. Use your diary and schedule carefully. Discipline mindless media surfing. Be firm with meeting times. Diarise preparation and recovery time around calls. When you engage in a call, proposal or communication do it with 100% focus for a defined period. Drive for finished product or outcomes. Acknowledge and celebrate them.

Over the next two weeks, your Bounce must be your primary concern. Economic reality will sink in and we will all be impacted. The slowdown will continue and the challenges of restarting businesses, services, jobs and income will come into focus.

Remember there is no ‘bounce back’, only ‘bounce forward’. Post traumatic growth is more common than post traumatic stress (77% of cases). Bounce draws on creativity, resolve and new meaning. Expect and prepare for a new reality. It might be a significant improvement.

Use the Bounce framework to assess yourself daily. Commit to deliberate daily practices as above.

Resources you may find helpful:

Webinar: Staying well while working remotely

Webinar: Staying well while working remotely

Some of the topics covered include:

  • How can people stay well during the lockdown? We discuss sleep, exercise, diet.
  • What are some skills that can help families at home? We discuss maintaining boundaries, impulse control.
  • How can people stay productive at home, if they are able to work remotely? We talk about environment, rhythm, focus, monotasking.
  • Have you seen examples of remote working going well? What are companies doing?
  • As a leader, how can I motivate and inspire my remote team?
  • What can companies do to support people remotely? We discuss training and communication.

Infographic: Staying well during the lockdown

Download the above infographic.

Ride the Black Swan: Part 2

Ride the Black Swan: Part 2

Engage and Decide

After a turbulent fortnight, we are confronted with major life adjustments. Nearly one third of the world is in lock-down. Businesses are closed, streets are empty, skies are clear and most of us are hunkered down in our homes. Life as we know it has stopped. Dismal health and economic consequences loom. Read Part 1 here.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross named the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Denial, or a state of numb shock, is dangerous in a crisis. Moving rapidly to acceptance will prepare you for bounce. We have watched world leaders accelerate through these phases – some more skilfully than others.

US Leadership: Watch here. Swedish Leadership: Read here. Kubler Ross….

Regular daily challenges have dropped away – traffic, e-mail loads, travel, meetings. Some love the novelty of abundant time with family at home. In New Zealand, more people are outdoors and active. We have the gift of time, reflection and planning.

On the dark side there is health concern – particularly for older loved ones. Millions of jobs are at risk. Small and large businesses will fail. Social networks are disrupted. It is easy to find yourself streaming videos while you refresh your news or infection-rate site.

The goal is rapid bounce.

Before you can bounce, you must engage with clarity and be decisive.

Calm, Control and Connect

Denial, panic, anger, bargaining and depression are your enemies right now. It is essential to establish a regular daily practice of escaping freeze (denial and depression) flight (fear and panic), and fight (anger) reactions. Instructions here.

Name and tame emotional energy

When we confront acute disruption, emotional energy is high. Even when calm you will notice the physical impact of emotion. Each of us is different. Identify accurately and counter skilfully.

The sadness cluster is related to freeze reactions. Instead of engaging we withdraw. Energy is low and you are probably feeling isolated. Seek energy, activity, people and find some joy. 

The fear cluster (flight) ranges from niggling worry, to anxiety, panic and hyperventilation. You’re energised, distracted, and procrastinating. Breathe slowly, focus on one task at a time, and pay attention to the here and now.

The anger cluster (fight) is dangerous and ranges from irritability, to frustration, angry outbursts, rage and violence. Anger compromises your immune system, decision making and other humans you care about. Focus your attention on others and how they may be experiencing the situation. Be generous, grateful and kind. Apologise immediately and sincerely when you blow.

Scenario Planning

Make calls on what you expect and develop your plan. No-one knows exactly how this will unfold. Read widely from different perspectives. Develop three scenarios – best, likely and worst case. Hope for the best but plan for the worst. Engage your colleagues and family in this dialogue. Make sure you consider five essential ingredients:

  • Health: covid-19 and other conditions/emergencies as services are compromised
  • Economic: much of the consumption economy has stopped; job and business loss will follow
  • Social: some will respect, bond and pull through, others resort to violence and crime
  • Family resilience: physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, cash flow and love
  • Supplies: supply chains are already stretched, make sure you have basic resources secured

Be Decisive

Every situation is different so we each have to work through what decisions to make and how to evaluate them. For example, if your business cannot operate, do you close it and start again later.  Or, fund it though the pandemic and consequent recession/depression. If you need help from the bank, do it now and secure resourcing. Do not wait for funding to dry up.

If you want to upskill or advance your education, now is the time to get started. Online education will flourish.

If you want to start a new business or career, take this time and put your plan into motion. Prepare to meet the needs that will arrive once this has settled. A significant transformation is in play. There will be wonderful opportunities for those who engage, decide and move fast.

In Part 111, we will address Bounce in detail.

Start you personal Resilience Online Training.