Virtual Team outtakes: using voice recognition for reflection

Since we started this monthly blog series openly sharing our approach to leading a virtual team,  Martin and I have often talked about how useful the process of writing the monthly posts in itself has become: it makes us make time to focus on things we may not otherwise dedicate as much time to, it prompts a joint process of reflection and improves communication.

I’ve often written about how important reflection is to my professional practice, and I use different tools for different types of reflection: this public blog, a private blog, some drawing/making activities, walks and conversations and I value each one for different reasons. But recently I have found that I have struggled to write down/type everything I have on my mind, and so I have started to use the dictation tool on my phone – with interesting results.

Mobile instead of laptop: First, using dictation allows me to use my phone rather than a laptop to write my reflective posts. I much prefer that, particularly at weekends or in the evenings as it makes it feel less like work. Although the interface for one of the blogging platforms I use isn’t optimised for mobile, I still find this way of producing a reflective post much more convenient and comfortable.

I talk faster than I can type: and thus, I now add a lot more than I did before. The posts are longer and more spontaneous because instead of carefully constructing sentences, I speak my mind more. It’s a different tone and takes less time than typing the same amount of narrative would have done.

Less self-editing: although most of what I use dictation for ends up in a blog which I don’t share with anyone else, I find the process of talking about my day or week is far more frank now than when I was typing. Not something I had expected, but it is an interesting by-product of this way of working.

More like a conversation: one of the real benefits of writing collaboratively is that it is more like a conversation. But not everything I reflect on lends itself to being shared and I find talking to my blog rather than writing in it is much closer to the kind of dynamic that I might get from having a conversation or telling someone about things on my mind. I say more things that I may not have expected, realise that things are important or have bothered me more than I would have done when I was typing the words. I have hundreds of posts to compare from the past few years and the tone of the voice posts is very different.

Saying it out loud: for me, reflective blogging has always felt quite similar to writing a journal and over the decades I have written many journals in different formats. But sometimes being good at writing things down can make it harder to talk about something, to say it out loud. Dictation like this can really help you practice articulating your thoughts to someone else as well as to yourself. It also improves self realisation in my case. The other day I felt angry about something and when I said it out loud I realised how angry I really was. It helped me better reflect because it helped me understand more fully how I felt – to pause and realise, that is how things are in my mind. The feelings dissipated quickly, but the realisation stayed with me.

Some pitfalls: dictation does require privacy. At least in my case there would be no point doing this if I felt someone else might be listening. Also, the voice recognition in iOS, which is what I am using, is pretty good – but it’s not perfect. It’s worth reading along or reading through the text afterwards as there can be some funny mistakes to correct. It takes only a few minutes, but still effort.

It’s actually recording a podcast episode earlier this year that made me try voice recognition for reflective blogging and I am curious to see how future editions of the joint series may develop as we revisit that format. For now, I am going to keep experimenting in my own practice.

‘Learning Technology in Higher Education – challenges and opportunities’ – SEDA Conference keynote

I was delighted to be invited to speak at this year’s SEDA conference. It’s a special honour this year, as both SEDA and ALT are celebrating their 25th anniversary and my talk followed inspiring keynotes by Pauline Kneale, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Teaching and Learning, from Plymouth University and also Julie Hall, Professor of Higher Education and Deputy Vice Chancellor, Solent University Southampton as part of the conference programme.

Here is the abstract of my talk:

This talk will address the major themes of the conference – ‘meeting challenges’ and ‘supporting staff’ – from the perspective of learning technology, exploring recent developments in this area and discussing their relevance and implications for educational development and for the work of educational developers. For example, my review of initiatives and key developments from the work of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) will include exploration of our new pathways to professional recognition and accreditation and discuss how these are mapped to other frameworks, including the UKPSF, QTL and Jisc’ Digital Capabilities. There are significant strategic challenges facing the sector and this talk will critically reflect on how we are solving these, sharing examples of research and practice from the ALT community and relating these to the  larger questions they pose in relation to ethics, student welfare and the future of technology in education. 

As well as looking at some of the challenges, my talk explored how we meet them and how things are changing, specially in relation to how we engage students – and how that has changed professional practice.

One of the other areas I explored is how we are developing professionalism in Learning Technology through openness, using examples from across the ALT community, from the Open Education Special Interest Group, to the Open Access research journal and the forthcoming OER19 Conference.

You can access all the slides and references from m talk here https://go.alt.ac.uk/SEDA18. 

Preview: SEDA Conference keynote ‘Learning Technology in Higher Education – challenges and opportunities’

I am really looking forward to speaking at this year’s SEDA conference and I wanted to share a preview of my talk ahead of the event. It’s a special honour to be invited to speak this year, as both SEDA and ALT are celebrating their 25th anniversary and I look forward to hearing Pauline Kneale, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Teaching and Learning, from Plymouth University and also Julie Hall, Professor of Higher Education and Deputy Vice Chancellor, Solent University Southampton as part of the conference programme.

Here is the abstract of my talk:

This talk will address the major themes of the conference – ‘meeting challenges’ and ‘supporting staff’ – from the perspective of learning technology, exploring recent developments in this area and discussing their relevance and implications for educational development and for the work of educational developers. For example, my review of initiatives and key developments from the work of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) will include exploration of our new pathways to professional recognition and accreditation and discuss how these are mapped to other frameworks, including the UKPSF, QTL and Jisc’ Digital Capabilities. There are significant strategic challenges facing the sector and this talk will critically reflect on how we are solving these, sharing examples of research and practice from the ALT community and relating these to the  larger questions they pose in relation to ethics, student welfare and the future of technology in education. 

As well as looking at some of the challenges, my talk is going to explore how we meet them and how things are changing, specially in relation to how we engage students – and how that has changed professional practice.

One of the other areas I will explore is how we are developing professionalism in Learning Technology through openness, using examples from across the ALT community, from the Open Education Special Interest Group, to the Open Access research journal and the forthcoming OER19 Conference.

Virtual Teams: Remote crisis

This post continues the series on openly sharing our approach to leading a virtual team – a joint project with Martin Hawksey (cross-posted here) for which we write a monthly blog post.

October

This month we discuss ways in which we could develop our approach to virtual team leadership including dealing with critical incidents when you have a distributed workforce. Rather than sharing what we found works, we open up some of the questions we have and consider how we might find solutions that support sustainable development for a small virtual team.

Maren: We received some really thoughtful comments in response to our last post which touched both on the discipline it takes to work from home (your own and everyone who lives with you) and also the challenges of leading a virtual team. I’ve been thinking about how we might develop our approach to that kind of leadership and there are a couple of ideas I’d like to explore: first, I’m wondering if we should open up leading team meetings. As I meet with everyone one to one my way of leading online meetings dominates in our team and more diversity might be a good thing. Also, I’m curious about tools like Jamboard we recently looked at, a virtual notice board, to mix up how we work synchronously. Different tools may also open up new ways of interacting with each other as a group.

Last, inspired in part by this tweet I’m curious about how our team would respond to trying out new things, now that we have nearly a year of virtual working under our belt.

Martin: Having had the experience of leading team meetings in the past the proposition of having to do this on a regular basis isn’t one that personally appeals to me. In part I think it is because there are some subtle differences with leading virtual team meetings compared to when you are face-to-face. For example, as often everyone is staring at a monitor the temptation to check on the various popup notifications increases, plus with virtual meetings I think there is a tendency, because you are not physically co-present, to feel that when you are not speaking no one is watching you. I find I often have to remind myself to pay attention and not get distracted, something I don’t think happens as much when meeting the team face-to-face. Consequently, I feel you need a strong individual to lead virtual meetings, someone who is skillful in keeping everyone’s focus and energy high, something you have in abundance. This is something perhaps Paul Hollins was alluding to in his comment on our last post when he mentioned that team directorship is a challenging area.  Would you agree different qualities are required to lead virtual team meetings compared to face-to-face?

Maren: There are definitely differences between face to face, blended and fully online meetings or webinars, and additional skills that need to be developed incl. technical capabilities. I, for example, learnt a lot from seeing many different people lead meetings and facilitate webinars – but I also gained experience in different contexts that helped me build skills and confidence. It’s important to see different people’s approaches in order to find one that works, but there are some commonalities: listening, giving everyone the chance to participate/speak, keeping to time, preparing an agenda, being clear about the purpose of the meeting and its outcome. You describe traps that we can all fall into, a temptation to be passive or distracted, to rely on others’ momentum. Having seen plenty of people doodle, eat, doze or lurk their way through meetings whilst sitting around a table I think that particular aspect of communicating or working together is always challenging. But coming back to Paul’s comment, I’ve reflected on the challenge of managing crisis recently, something that came up in a series of posts I’ve written with my mentor, Margaret. Margaret commented on how using different ways of working together affected the quality of our interaction. For example, we would plan strategy face to face, work on procedures in shared docs or speak on the phone in an emergency. One of the biggest challenges in managing a distributed team lies in building confidence in managing a crisis and to continue to communicate in an emergency whether that’s staff illness, systems failures or external issues. It takes time and, unfortunately, experience to build trust in ways of managing a crisis when meeting in person isn’t an option. Initially, I found it really difficult that my Line Manager or mentor were a remote presence only. Sometimes I still do. On the other hand, that perspective helped me identify and develop the skills I need to provide support or manage an emergency. You and I have a lot of experience in managing different types of emergencies, but scaling that up to a bigger scale, to work for everyone in the organisation is a continuous learning process.

Martin: It’s interesting to reflect on critical incidents and whether being a virtual team hindered our response. An incident that immediately comes to mind was last year’s ALT Online Winter Conference when the European servers for the webinar platform we use went down. My experience was the combination of chat and video Hangouts worked well and don’t think hindered our response in any way. Fortunately we also had a great support from our webinar provider which resulted in minimal impact. In some ways I think where it gets harder are moments where you are tackling a slow burn rather than an immediate crisis, like a server failure.  In these situations the danger is they are not perceived by everyone as critical but can quickly escalate to be critical if not addressed. This is where continued communication becomes essential and like you I think it can be easily forgotten particularly in a distributed environment. This is perhaps where online tools can help. At the beginning of this post you mentioned we’d been looking at Google’s collaborative meeting tool Jamboard. This basically gives you a virtual whiteboard you can collaboratively contribute to. As someone who likes using post-it notes a virtual place for sticking these is immediately attractive. I can see Jamboard and tools that have similar functionality as a way to avoid slow burn incidents, providing a way for everyone in the team to get an overview of useful information. Creating workflows or using tools everyone is happy with is always a challenge, not just for distributed teams, and creating a culture of continuous learning is very important.

Maren: I agree with that. On the one hand it’s important to manage change by providing some continuity, like some of the strategic and operational planning tools we use and in a year full of change keeping some things the same has been a necessity. On the other hand, we’ve learnt a huge amount in the transition to operating as a virtual organisation and it makes sense that we learn from that and try out new ways of doing things. We’re already learning a lot from an interim virtual audit, and improving our new financial and payroll procedures and checklists. You point to some advantages collaboration tools could give us when it comes to managing a crisis, and there could be other upsides such as simplifying communication, creating an easy to access overview of progress and giving greater support for our team outside of meetings. I feel the additional support structure a new tool or maybe a new way of using an existing tool could provide would help give us confidence in the long run and support more learning and agile working. I’d really like to find a way to incorporate a stronger sense of progression into our weekly team meeting notes and I’d like to see whether our operations plan could become more practical day to day. I’d like a better overview of areas I don’t have active involvement in. What’s on your wish list of things to try?

Martin: I came across an interesting series of posts by Zapier in which they’ve documented the tools they recommend for remote teams as they have grown from 6 to 20 to over 110 employees. The first two posts aren’t date stamped but I’m guessing they hit 6 employees in 2013 and 20 in 2015, and the over 110 was posted in 2017. Some tools that were mentioned in 2013 that caught my eye were iDoneThis and Sqwiggle. With iDoneThis “everybody on the team checks in daily; either in their browser or via email”, which is turned into a daily digest or analysed in a report. I can see the benefit of such a system but fear, depending on how it was implemented, it might be perceived as too draconian. Another service that was mentioned that got my attention for different reasons was Sqwiggle: “Sqwiggle is a persistent video chat room, but instead of having a live video feed on all the time like you might do with Skype or Google Hangouts, Sqwiggle takes a picture of you every 8 seconds”. We’ve previously talked about the importance of trust within remote teams and whilst I can see why people might like Sqwiggle to me it appears like surveillance technology and a shortcut to eroding trust. Sqwiggle was closed in 2016 but both Sqwiggle and iDoneThis didn’t appear in Zapier’s posts in 2015 and 2017. One tool that appears in all of Zapier’s posts is the project management service Trello. Trello is a tool I often hear about in the developer community and there are lots of posts and resources that promote it as a tool to support remote teams, including Trello’s own Trello for Remote Teams. Having had a quick look a Trello an immediate thought is can we replicate it with any of the existing tools we use like Google Keep. Ultimately I think it comes back to one of our core principles, the appropriate use of technology. Unpacking what it is we want to achieve will go a long way in helping us decide how we continue to develop remote teamwork at ALT.     

Other things we’ve been reading:

 

Missed a month? Here’re previous posts:

  • September – The serious upsides of working in pyjamas
  • August – Pizza and virtual team dynamics
  • July – Special podcast edition: Reflecting on the first six months leading a virtual team
  • June – Virtual team, face to face team day: putting our blended approach to the test
  • May – Opportunity knocks: Using GDPR to strengthen virtual teams
  • April – 3 months in… hitting our first milestones as a virtual team
  • March – Developing collaboration as a virtual team
  • February – An open perspective on organisational transformation?

 

Virtual Team outtakes: Smartwatch & homeworking

In our most recent post on leading a virtual team Martin and I talked about the upsides of remote working and many of the comments we received highlighted ways in which people find balance between the demands of home and family life and work. That got me thinking about what makes a real difference to me day to day and took me back to contributing to David Hopkins’ Edtech Rations book, in which we shared what the most important things are, those you don’t leave home without. But when you don’t really leave home to work, what is it that makes the difference when you work from home?

Martin mentioned wearables in the post and that prompted me to think about how I use my smartwatch when I work from home. I do have concerns about the way the watch can track so much of my activity and I have switched off some more advanced/sharing functionality because of it, but there are certain things it can do that I find really helpful:

Alarm clock: When charging and put on its side, the watch is a great alarm clock and I use it both at home and when I travel. It’s motion sensitive so the display only comes on when needed, which I like. It shows you the time your alarm is set for and it starts to get brighter as that time approaches, helping you to wake up. All of that could easily be accomplished with a regular alarm clock of course, but I like that I can make use of the watch when I am not wearing it and travel with it without having to carry along another bulky item of technology. It also means that I can leave my phone out of reach but I can still check the time. 

Move reminder: another aspect of the watch I really like is that you can opt in to it reminding you to move if you have sat still 50 min of the hour. Whilst I have other reminders to move, like wanting a cup of tea, or the phone ringing or a delivery arriving, this function really helps me on days when I have a lot of work to get through. It reminds me to take a break from staring at the screens as well. On a long journey it’s not always possible to take a break, but I find long train journeys much more comfortable when I move about a little regularly. With enough awareness and self discipline there is no reason why one shouldn’t naturally take breaks regularly, but I don’t always have that when I get lost in a complicated piece of work.

Phone system: our phone system puts calls through on my computer as well as my mobile phone during work hours (I have chosen for it to do that, it’s not required). However, I am not always at my desk and I don’t always want to carry around my mobile phone either. So glancing at my watch when the phone rings gives me the chance to check whether it’s a work call or a personal call. I can answer the call on the watch, but I rarely do.

Planning time to go running: there is one other way in which I use the watch during the week, particularly in the colder months when it gets dark early and is cold in the mornings. I set the watch to display the temperature and the time the sun sets, helping me decide when to best find time to go for a run. I don’t run every day, but for my work life balance to work I want to be heading outside once or twice during the week, and I find it frustrating to forget, finish work and realise it’s nearly dark. So having a way to remind myself of what time the sun will set (provided that it is shining to begin with) is a useful way of planning the end of my working day and I have the flexibility to finish an hour early to catch the last bit of daylight.

Senior CMALT: Open Access research & promoting equality in Learning Technology

Part of my professional development for this year was to take part in the pilot schemes for new pathways to CMALT, ALT’s accreditation scheme for Learning Technology professionals. I acted as an assessor for the Associate CMALT pathway and updated and submitted my own portfolio, which was originally accredited in February 2016, for assessment for the pathway for Senior CMALT. Now that the pilot has been concluded, and I have been awarded Senior CMALT alongside colleagues who also took part in the pilot,  I am updated the openly shared version of my portfolio here as well as on the official CMALT portfolio register. 

In contrast to others, I did not choose to create a new portfolio in order to take part in the pilot, primarily because it is due to be updated in February 2019. Instead, I have added additional sections to my portfolio as follows (the other sections remain unchanged as they are already in line with the requirements of this pathway):

  • Specialist option(s): second specialist option added, Open Access research publishing in Learning Technology
  • Advanced area: new advanced area added, Promoting equality in Learning Technology

As this is a pilot of the scheme, it remains to be seen what the finalised guidance for this new pathway will say, but my portfolio will help provide a baseline of examples for future candidates.

For the first new section, I drew on an area of my work that I had previously not included in my portfolio:

I have led and worked on a number of Open Access projects supporting research in Learning Technology including establishing the ALT Open Access Repository in 2009 (the wALTer Project), overseeing the transition to Open Access for ALT’s journal Research in Learning Technology (for which I contributed to the report on “The Transition to… Open Access”) and in 2017 the second and third transition of this journal from its Open Access publisher, Co-Action, to be sold to Taylor & Francis and subsequently taking independent ownership of the journal, which is now published by ALT in partnership with Open Academia. Since 2012 I have had responsibility for the journal, working together with its Editors and Editorial Board. In 2018 I led the establishment of a new strategic working group of the journal. The new group will help steer the development of the journal with representatives from other scholarly bodies including ascilite, ILTA and the OLC alongside our Editors. The group is chaired by Prof Neil Morris, who also chairs the Editorial Board.

Over the past 18 months I have negotiated the contracts for both transitions, first from Co-Action to Taylor & Francis and then from Taylor & Francis to ALT in partnership with Open Academia. I have project managed both transitions, supporting Trustees in their decision making as well as the Editorial Team. During this time ALT has had to suspend operations of the journal for several months and I regularly communicated with Members and other stakeholders during this time (including a transition announcement, publisher news, re-launch update and thank you). As part of my work with the working group, I have researched current practice for Open Access journals around journal impact factors and alternatives to these, including altmetrics, h index and Eigenfactor, some of which I have shared in blog posts and at the ILTA Annual Conference, EdTech2018, at IT Carlow, Ireland, in June 2018.  Under my leadership, the journal has adopted Open Access best practice and has recently been awarded the DOAJ seal and has also resumed steady operations and is now publishing regularly including a recent themed collection on Playful Learning.

The other new section I have added is the advanced area of practice, and for this I chose to focus on how my practice contributes to promoting equality in Learning Technology. This is something I have written about before and also presented as part of my keynote at ALT’s Annual Conference in September 2018.

From this section, I’d like to share the reflective element in particular – relating how my work addresses the core principles of the CMALT framework:

Reflection

I have not only chosen this advanced area because I think it is really important to the success of my practice, but because in my view it has a particular relevance to Learning Technology professionals. Reflecting on the core principles of CMALT, here is how my area of advanced practice, promoting equality, relates to them:

  • A commitment to exploring and understanding the interplay between technology and learning: Learning Technologists are often at the centre of negotiating an organisation’s, or a group’s, relationship to technology, for example students relationship to a social network or staff engagement with a cpd course. We are able to inform the perspective other, less expert, users have of how technology is used, understand how it affects our lives and our identities. How the data or content we create affects our work. At best, Learning Technologists empower staff and students in their relationship with technology, help them gain a more critical, reflective and thus effective long term engagement with the tools and platforms they use – and hopefully shape or create in future. It is a big responsibility and a big opportunity at the same time. If our practice, my practice, is shaped by values that prompt us, me, to promote equality, create greater equity and so forth, then we can make a real difference.
  • A commitment to keep up to date with new technologies: for me an important aspect of keeping up to date with new technologies is to understand their context: how they are financed and by whom, who has developed or tested them, or what kind of data sets informed their working, whom are they aimed at and what do they promise? What is their business model and how is it sustained? One piece of work I did this year is to collaborate with startups on a guide about how Learning Technologists can work together with start ups and through that project I had many useful conversations with CEOs of edtech startups. They were all young, white males and invariably the conversation about organisational culture reflected the pressure of moving at the speed they needed to whilst trying to have a more diverse team being in conflict with each other. It was an interesting first hand experience of how keeping up to date with technology and the constant need to catch up and adapt does not foster a culture that promotes equality. It is also an example of how our perception to need to keep pace with innovation, to move ahead, is used an an excuse, either consciously or subconsciously, not to diversify.
  • An empathy with and willingness to learn from colleagues from different backgrounds and specialisms: This is the core principles which most closely relates to promoting equality. In my own team I have led to establishing a strong practice of weekly meetings that include a show & tell element for example, enabling everyone in the team to ask questions, share ideas or show each other new tips or tricks from spreadsheet shortcuts to new tools we could use. Together as a team we take part in online cpd courses such as 23Things or a GDPR course on Futurelearn and I value the opportunity to learn alongside my colleagues, gain a sense of their perspective and understanding and to reflect this in my own.   
  • A commitment to communicate and disseminate effective practice: Lending your voice to raising issues around equality is not a task for women, but for everyone and I am grateful to have many male colleagues who play an important part in this. But I don’t think you need to explicitly reference equality at all to effectively promote it. Simply taking a balanced view in whom you reference, whom you include in your perspective, can have a most powerful effect. For me, the OER Conferences are a good example of how to promote equality in Learning Technology, how to amplify the voices of those less often heard.

There is a lot more I hope to achieve when it comes to promoting equality in Learning Technology. I leverage what I have to make a difference and I do my best to take every opportunity I can to do so, but whilst I have a growing network of inspiring allies to work with, there is a multitude of indifference who will ask “So what?”.

For many, equality is something that doesn’t have anything to do with them. It’s not something they want me or people like me to go on about. It’s not a an issue because…”women can participate if they want”, because “no one is stopping them”, because “I haven’t experienced discrimination so it doesn’t exist”, etc. etc. Insert any number of cliches!

CMALT is a peer-based accreditation framework that retains its value because there is a continuous cycle of developing our understanding of what it means to be a Learning Technologist and what we understand to be good or best practice through being assessors and updating our portfolios. I think promoting equality is a big part of what makes me a good Learning Technologist and I hope that this new section of my portfolio demonstrates that.

If you would like to have a look at the full version of the portfolio I submitted for the pilot, you can access the Google doc version and the evidence folder.

Mentoring unpacked III: mentoring through tough times and sharing our reflections

This is the third and final part in this series on mentoring. This time, Margaret and I focus on our experience of mentoring through tough times and also reflect on what we have learnt working together over the past six years and how this has changed our professional practice.

If you have missed our earlier posts, go back to:

The last six years have had many ups and downs. Margaret has been a constant presence in my life and together we have worked through many personal and professional crisis, anything from when I had to take on the responsibility of being a carer for my mother, who has cancer, to problems at work that encompassed everything from finance and governance to management and staffing, the sad passing away of a serving President of the organisation and major restructuring. Being a CEO can feel like every month brings with it a new insurmountable problem, a steep learning curve or frustration.

It’s important, I feel, to acknowledge that there have been tough times and explain how mentoring has helped me through them. For example, when I was new in my role and had very little support or sense of what kind of support I would need or want, having a trusted mentor at my side could feel like a lifeline. Or times when we worked to identify specific issues and worked out how to address them. Making changes was successful at times, but painful, too, when things went wrong. I worked hard to grow my own network and become more resilient. Some things that used to be difficult have become easier as I’ve gained experience and I have learnt how to manage them without Margaret’s support. But even once I needed less practical support day to day, having a mentor continued to be important: it helped me face difficult questions and to be honest with myself. It instilled in me a reflective approach that prompts me to put the good of the organisation before all else, even when it’s hard to do. It seems like an obvious point to make, but I find it helpful as a guiding principle that I keep coming back to.

Margaret adds:

A key issue now is to make sure that Maren or the organisation isn’t just coasting along or that Maren isn’t getting bored. She is someone who thrives on challenge but appreciates that organisations need periods of consolidation. What is the next step for ALT, what is the next step for her and are they the same or different? Difficult questions but ones we need to come back to again and again.

Over the years, we’ve had so many conversations that I don’t even need to speak with Margaret at times as it’s enough to write and reflect on a situation and I know what she would say or ask me to think about. It’s a bit like the voice of a driving instructor in your head, reminding you to check your blind spots. I maintain a private blog, which has grown to hundreds of entries charting my professional life and that writing forms a cornerstone of my reflective practice. Margaret has helped me devise other strategies, too, to cope with problems and become more resilient – giving me the tools to navigate difficult days.

Yet, even with practical tools and the support of a mentor, there are always some things I am not prepared for, like when a journalist asked me in an interview about education policy why I don’t have children.
Or when I didn’t get to speak in a meeting as the Minister leading it didn’t know my name.
Or when someone burst into tears in response to something I said.
Or when I had to speak at a funeral in my professional capacity.
Often, it turned out to be quite a mix of personal and professional factors that made some situations unexpectedly difficult.

From working with Margaret I learnt how important it is to build trust and be able to share the highs and lows of working life with someone – but in a leadership position that can be difficult. Many things are too confidential or too personal or simply too raw to talk about with most people

Margaret adds her perspective, reflecting on a particularly tough conversation:

Probably the most difficult mentoring session we had was when Maren was dealing with a very difficult issue and felt very pissed off with her job. Maren was angry with the situation and the lack of support she was getting at the time. The issue was taking up all her time and energy and stopping her moving the organisation forward as she had planned. It was the only time, I ever saw Maren wanting to give it all up!

This all came up in a phone conversation which was very tricky to handle. More than anything Maren needed a hug but I was 150 miles away. I was really not sure what to do to help. But I can remember feeling that bad myself and looking back I realised that these difficult situations do come to an end. You just have to stick in there as a CEO and realise there is light at the end of the tunnel even with the most difficult people or problems.

So I gave Maren reassurance that her feelings were valid, that she could and would get through the issue and things would get back to normal. I remember walking round and round my sitting room while on the phone, listening and reassuring. And it worked! I was very relieved. Maren went away and sorted the problem brilliantly so she could take forward her plans for ALT.

Even reading this now, years later, I recall that moment, that phone call, as clearly as Margaret does. And yes, a hug would have been good.

But, more importantly, I learnt a lot from getting through that particularly tough spot: I learnt to trust that eventually things do go back to normal, that I am able to get through it and that I was glad indeed that I chose to stick with it.

Reflections

Having a mentor and working with Margaret has been a formative experience for me. Similarly, Margaret’s approach to being mentor has been informed by our work together. Over time our relationship has changed as our practice has developed.

Margaret reflects:

Is a Mentor a critical friend?

I have heard people say that a mentor is a critical friend but I don’t agree in our case. Maren is more than critical enough in her practice and as a CEO has lots of criticism to deal with.  I think I am definitely a friend but not critical at all. Supportive, non judgemental and maybe inquisitive are better words. I am less involved in the day to day so can help Maren step back and see the bigger picture or encourage her to be really creative in finding solutions but my role is not to criticise.

In addition, here are some reflections I want to share:

Being a chief executive is a privilege. No matter how difficult things may be at times, working with Margaret has made me realise again and again that it is a huge privilege to serve my organisation as chief executive. I love what I do and an inspiring mentor who has kept challenging me has helped me do my best for the organisation.

Most of the time, I already know the answer. Often Margaret has made me see things in a new way, and has made me realise that I already know what to do to solve a problem but maybe I haven’t realised it or hadn’t wanted to face it or was afraid to do it.

I choose my own path. Margaret has helped me gain confidence in my own judgement, in my values and myself. Being a chief executive is a lonely path and you need to be able to rely on your own instincts. That’s not to say that listening to or learning from others is not essential, of course it is. But realising my own potential is something I have to do in my own way. It always comes back to asking myself what kind of chief executive I want to be. I choose my own path.

I’m a human being. Be kind to yourself, give yourself a break, reflect on how you feel, look after yourself… I am not very good at those things. A combination of high expectations, a strong work ethic and a love for my work can result in a sincere lack of empathy for myself. Margaret has reminded me again and again to do all those good things that help restore balance, perspective and calm. Over time, I’ve become better at taking into account that I’m a human being with feelings and needs and moods and to afford those around me the same consideration. It still surprises me how much of a difference it makes.

And for all these things as well as everything I haven’t mentioned I am extremely grateful. Thank you, Margaret.

We have written these three posts with the aim to reflect on and share our experiences of working together for the past six years. We have unpacked our mentoring relationship so that you can explore our perspectives and use our insights to inform your own approach to finding, working with or indeed being a mentor.

As you can tell from the narrative we have created, we have enjoyed facing the highs and lows together and we are fortunate to have had much laughter along the way.

Maren and Margaret, November 2016 Image credit: Sarah Caroline Photography

Mentoring unpacked II: A ‘blended’ approach to mentoring

Welcome to the second part of the story, for which my mentor Margaret Bennett and I have collaborated to share our insights into what it’s like to work together as mentor and mentee. Looking back at six years of working together, here we share our insights into the process. We have already recounted how we first met and got started and also discussed the benefits of having a mentor in the first part of the story. Next time, in the third and final instalment we’ll be looking at mentoring when things are tough and reflecting on what we’ve learnt.

Maren and Margaret in conversation, November 2016 Image credit: Sarah Caroline Photography

This post is about how we found an effective ‘blended’ approach to mentoring, how we have worked together using technology to bridge big distances, creating safe situations to work together on some of the biggest challenges and achievements over the past six years.

One of the defining characteristic of the mentoring approach we have developed is that we are not located close to each other. We live hours apart and with busy jobs and limited funds there was never an option to meet up in person frequently. Most of our communication is via email and phone calls, and we use online collaboration tools or shared documents if we need to work on something specific together. Meeting in person has been more or less frequent depending on circumstance and also the kinds of things we were focusing on. As I was already used to working remotely with colleagues and had previously had a Line Manager also working remotely, this was in some way not a big adjustment to make, but there are specific characteristics of the way in which Margaret and I work together that made a real difference to me:

In the early days in particular my mentoring needs could feel very urgent at times: in those instances email or phone were often the most immediate way to get help or support when a crisis arose. The responsiveness that a call afforded was much more important to me than the personal presence meeting Margaret in person could have provided. It gave me more confidence to know that help was at hand should I need it and it helped us build trust more quickly.

At the same time, things were always very busy and I rarely had the opportunity to step back from my day to day responsibilities. Thus, I came to value having the chance to have a few hours to think and to spend time with Margaret more highly. I prepared for or thought about what I wanted to talk about – sometimes leaving really hard conversations or more strategic, abstract thinking for those occasions whilst dealing with more practical matters remotely. Leading an organisation the way I like to work, in a very collegiate manner, takes a lot of thinking and time with Margaret constituted valuable pockets of inspiration.

Working with a mentor also gave me a chance to see what it takes to make a blended working relationship work from a new perspective and that helped me become a better line manager for my distributed staff team in later years. It was good practice for building trust and establishing a rapport using a blended approach. Some of this thinking still informs the work my colleague Martin Hawksey and I are doing on open approaches to leading a virtual team.

I wonder, Margaret, how typical it is in your experience to take this approach and how well it works from your perspective?

Until I worked with you all my mentoring had been face to face and so it was new to me. But as we had so quickly developed a good rapport together it became very easy to talk on the phone or via email or Google docs.

I think there is a big difference though in the type of discussions we have.

When we talk on the phone there is always an immediate practical issue that we need to work on. So our phone calls are very practical and solution focused. And while they involve a lot of moral support to they are very focused.

When we use email or Google docs, we are at our most practical: I may comment on a document, article or letter or may be sharing a risk register template or business plan structure that might work for Maren.

Sometimes we just send very short messages to each other – messages of support or congratulations, celebrating success or commiserating when things don’t quite work out.

And I think the blended approach has really helped that as by using phone calls and emails to deal with current, more practical issues, we have been able to focus our face to face time on the big picture.

So that is how our work together took shape after the first meeting we described in the earlier part of the story. We put a lot of effort into building a working relationship that fit the organisation as well as each other. We adjusted the balance of working together in person or remotely depending on circumstances over time.

When I look back at the last six years, I divide my experience of mentoring into what we worked on in pivotal moments when things were going well and how we dealt with things going wrong.

For example, ahead of the biggest changes I’ve led or milestones the organisation has reached, Margaret and I spent sessions on strategy and vision, on planning for the future and on preparing for change. That element of our work I’ve come to value a lot: Margaret got me thinking ahead, planning for the long term.

Most of the people in my working life are necessarily focused on the task at hand or the current year. But doing too much myself that’s concentrated on the here and now made me less effective in my role, less able to make a plan for what’s ahead and steer in the right direction.

There’s a degree of that strategic thinking I would do with colleagues or Trustees or horizon scanning with external input, but having a mentor really prompted me to make time to think about and nurture my own vision. And at the rate things were achieved it was constantly important to do that afresh. To be more ambitious, to challenge myself rather than to rest on whatever was achieved.

Margaret describes it here:

When we meet face to face we usually have the time and the headspace to take a step back, looking further into the future and explore long term objectives. We usually spend about three hours together and that is hugely valuable. We have the time to tease out where Maren wants to be in five years time or what difference ALT should be making on the world!

We’ve always had long term goals that we come back to over many seasons and it is so great that Maren has achieved those over the six years we have worked together

To me, in whatever manner we work together, mentoring acted as a catalyst at pivotal moments.

Another important part of our work that shaped how I work and lead has been to figure out how to be myself in my role. It’s not always been about what to achieve, but also how. So for example we talked about what kind of professional image I wanted to have, what I wanted to look like, what would be acceptable to wear in certain situations and how to have fun with it! I bought a very serious, dark blue suit when I went for my job interview and during the first year or so I often found myself in situations where wearing the most formal outfits I owned felt like the only acceptable option. That’s changed over time, as my own ideas about being a leader have changed.

Margaret adds:

I think the best leaders are those that are truly authentic. When people are new to the leadership role they may feel they need to copy someone else, or follow in the footsteps of their predecessor etc. And people don’t always realise that this needs to be thought about and proactively managed. It’s a kind of brand management but the ‘brand” has to be genuine too if a leader is going to inspire trust.

There is also something about being confident in yourself, what you believe in and how you do things rather than trying to be someone else. So when Maren and I have talked about chief executive shoes that hasn’t just been a distraction from her leadership role but about building confidence in who she is and how her image can support that. And a great pair of comfortable shoes can really boost your morale!

That’s a good point to pause our story and draw this post to a close. In the next  and final post we will be looking at how we worked together through some of the toughest times and what we learnt in the process.

Mentoring unpacked I: How it all began…

Maren and Margaret in conversation, November 2016 Image credit: Sarah Caroline Photography

Ever since I started working in a leadership role in Learning Technology I have had a mentor. My mentor, Margaret Bennett, has been a big influence on my practice for the past six years and I have come to value the relationship we’ve built and the work we have done together very highly.

As part of my commitment to an open approach to leadership, I’ve asked Margaret to collaborate with me on this three part series to share our insights into being a mentor and what it’s like to have one.

We’ve divided our story into three parts:

There are a few reasons why we want to unpack our experience and share it more widely: for us it is a useful way to reflect on the work we have done and a way to better understand each other’s perspectives; and we also hope these posts will provide inspiration for your own mentoring journeys whatever shape or form they make take.

A note on what we haven’t written about: Many aspects of mentoring, particularly in a leadership position, are around sensitive issues – both personal and professional. We have tried to find a balance between sharing insights that illustrate our experience, including the ups and downs we have worked through, and avoiding sharing details which are confidential or too personal.

Now that you know what to expect, and you are still reading, let’s go back to the very beginning, the start of our story.

How it all began… meeting each other for the first time

Margaret and I started working together in 2012 and as I had never had any formal mentoring before that, I was not entirely convinced that I needed or wanted a mentor when we first met.

Indeed, I was about to start a new and exciting job at the end of a gruelling recruitment process that had taken months and included extensive psychometric testing, practical skills exercises, presentation and interview, so I wasn’t sure whether the suggestion to have a mentor didn’t reflect a lack of confidence in my ability to succeed.

In addition, I had practical concerns, such as how we would build trust, how often we would meet or talk, what kinds of things we would discuss and to what extend I would really get something out of it. In short, I was highly doubtful whether a mentor would really be on my side and whether I had time to invest in something I didn’t see the value of when there was so much to be getting on with.

Despite these doubts I knew that I had a big challenge ahead and that I wouldn’t be very effective in my role if I didn’t listen to advice or make use of help when it was offered. So I decided to at least give mentoring a go, to at least go to the first meeting. I was also curious to meet the person whom my predecessor had recommended. That, actually, made me more doubtful about working with Margaret initially, because I felt impatient to stand on my own two feet, but the recommendation turned out to be excellent and six years later, I am still extremely grateful for what led to establishing one of the most important relationships in my life.

Back to late February 2012, when after an initial email exchange I was on my way to meet Margaret for the first time. I can recall that early morning train journey from Oxford to Sheffield very clearly. I was nervous and apprehensive, trying to decide what I would say or do if things went well and if they didn’t work out. I had nothing except a brief email exchange to go on, so I had no idea what to expect.

That’s what it was like when we first started working together from my perspective. Margaret, thinking back to that first meeting and how we got started, how did you prepare for that? What stands out from your perspective?

When I first met you, Maren, I did not know anything about you but I knew I could give practical help as well as hoping to provide emotional support. Having run some small and larger charities I have lots of practical tools and templates that I can share with Maren. Not having to reinvent the wheel and finding out how other people do things can save Maren a lot of time and energy. It isn’t essential but it meant our relationship had some quick wins.

I’d been a chief executive of a charity so knew how lonely it could be with a voluntary chair as my line manager and where I could only share so much with the staff I managed. I knew how valuable having a safe space where I could admit doubt, anger or pain could be so I wanted to provide that for Maren. And a place to celebrate and laugh without being judged.

I’d had an excellent mentor when I’d been a chief executive and later a very helpful coach when things had been very hard. I knew what good looked like for me so had an idea of what it could be for Maren too.

So that was how things started with a meeting in the Winter Gardens in Sheffield over a few cups of tea that turned quickly into a couple of hours of intense conversation. Until that meeting I had no idea how much I had to say, share and reflect on – but talking to Margaret it quickly became apparent that there was a lot to discuss.

How we made it work… and some of the benefits of having a mentor (in a small organisation)

Once we got started, it quickly became clear how many benefits having a mentor can have, particularly if you work in a small organisation. Some of these were obvious from the start, but others only became apparent over time. To some extend the benefits of having a mentor will depend on the individuals involved and the relationship you can build, but many positive aspects are more generally applicable.

From my perspective, working in a small organisation in which I was the only or later one of two senior staff, gives me limited scope for dialogue with or support from someone who is not either reporting to me or someone I report to. Particularly in volunteer-led organisations, small charities or membership bodies, it’s often difficult to provide effective support for senior staff like me.

Working with Margaret had the advantage of me being able to share ideas or concerns without the constraints of another (reporting) relationship. As an external person to work with, Margaret prompted me to step back from day to day work and look at things from a different perspective – to get out of the mindset within the organisation.

Another benefit of having a mentor when you lead a small team or organisation is that it can be difficult to advocate for yourself at times and having a more independent, external voice when negotiating for yourself can be really helpful and also provide support for your Board or colleagues. Carrying out the annual appraisal process and collecting 360 degree feedback is an example of when having a mentor proved extremely useful.

Over time and through the annual appraisal process and more strategic work, we identified a number of areas in which permanent support was needed, HR for example, and put that into place. Other areas that we worked on together resolved themselves and didn’t require permanent action or support. In that manner, mentoring helped shape my role and the support required for it for the benefit of the organisation and in a manner that would not have been possible with only input from other staff or the Board.

As well as the practical advice and support that mentoring provided for me, the sense that the organisation I work for is prepared to invest resource into a mentor for me has also made me feel valued and better supported and that has made a big difference, in particular during difficult periods.

Margaret, what do think made a difference for us, what helped us make it work?

Having the same values is really important – valuing staff, empowering people, making a difference,  exploring new ideas, having fun and being creative.
We are both quite similar characters (same Myers Briggs, I think) but that is not as important as sharing the same values. And we love working collaboratively.

We quickly found a way to be reflective and questioning – happy to share emotions and feeling and reflecting on what works and what doesn’t work.

Maren does a lot of thinking in between sessions and writes things down even if she doesn’t share it all with me. So things move on quickly even if we don’t meet for several months. It is very satisfying to mentor Maren as things get taken forward and implemented brilliantly after our sessions.

We also share a willingness to try out different ways of working together – mentoring while we walk in the park, sitting on a bench in the sunshine, or in a sauna planning strategy! You can say some things much more easily to someone you are walking beside than when you are face to face. You can be more tentative, more playful and so creative over a nice meal (and a good French red!)  Some of Maren’s bravest decisions came after some more informal chat while we were admiring the Botanical Gardens or warming ourselves in front of a roaring fire.

It’s not always about having an answer immediately but trusting that together we can find an answer if we talk things through. In the early days, I sometimes thought I have no idea what to do or say in this situation but by the end of the session we had always got to a good solution or a better place.

Sometimes just listening is enough.

Your perspectives really chimes with me and I clearly found having someone to talk to crucially important. Leading a small organisation or team can be really challenging and in particular when I first started in the role I found it difficult to find the right balance between being a leader and line manager whilst getting support from colleagues. I didn’t have the network I have now and I often felt lonely or isolated. Having a mentor meant that I could explore the more difficult, personal aspects of my work in a safe space, reflecting on how I felt, but also having someone to talk to who had experienced similar challenges for themselves. Margaret made me see commonalities with her own and others’ professional journeys, in particular how other women have succeeded in leadership positions.

One of the questions we came back to again and again is what kind of chief executive I want to be. In other words, what do I aspire to – and that is a very interesting question to ask yourself in relation to your own role. What do you want to be? How do you want to work or lead? What kind of example do you want to set? What do you want to communicate, to get across?

I have never stopped asking myself that question and as I have developed in my role and gained more experience and a broader perspective, I find that my values remain pretty constant whilst my aims keep moving on.

Having a mentor who keeps challenging me and encourages me to grow my vision has been a big influence on my practice, but also on how I support and work with others.

It has, over time, helped me to build a diverse and supportive network, find like minded people to work with, identify role models to be inspired by and to invest time and energy into building relationships that have enabled me to accomplish far more than I could otherwise have.

This is the end of the first part of our story. In the next post we will be looking at how we created a ‘blended’ approach to mentoring and our experience of mentoring when things are going well.

The serious upsides of working in pyjamas

Title image saying: The serious upsides of working in pyjamas

This post continues our series on openly sharing our approach to leading a virtual team – a joint project with Martin Hawksey (cross-posted here) for which we write a monthly blog post, some of which are special podcast/conference editions.

September

This month we discuss some of the more serious upsides to home working.

Maren: We’ve previously talked a lot about all the strategies we’ve adopted to support home working and the challenges it brings with it. But at the end of a few weeks of working as long and hard as we can the upside of working remotely, of not having to commute or be in an office is at the forefront of my mind. It’s the first time in ten years that I’m not heading out to work at this time of year (just after the largest event we run) and I’m finding it much easier to get on with things from home. As we are a small team, even one or two staff being absent has a big impact and that easily happens in cold & flu season. Being able to take short breaks, eat, walk around and even have a nap has enabled me to work better than I was able to in our office in previous years. In addition it’s easier to catch up on life after a week away from home. Laundry is easier to hang up when your desk is only a few steps away. Whilst I always prefer staff to take time off when sick, working from home seems often much more possible and productive when working in an office wouldn’t be. For instance, being able to wear warm, comfortable clothes, have tea, look out of the window… every small advantage of home working helps with being exhausted and I am finding that an unexpected bonus. My cat is a great home working companion and he helps get me through the day. How about you? What home working upsides are you finding helpful just now?

Martin: Being already at home for deliveries or tradespeople is a big win. It also saves money on childcare as I’m at home to see my daughter in from school. Usually I’ll get her setup with her homework and she is fine for the last couple of hours I need to work. Where it gets tricky is school holidays and when I need to travel. This has recently got harder as up until last year my wife was either doing her PhD, which gave her a lot of flexibility. Whilst her current full-time job has some work flexibility it’s not to the same degree. One of the nice things about working for ALT, even before moving to a distributed team, is its responsiveness to changes in personal circumstances and commitment to being a flexible employer. Something I was aware of when I started working from home, mainly thanks to my interest in wearables and fitness trackers, was the lack of activity I was getting each day. Whilst my office is in the attic and I get many trips to the kitchen for cups of tea it still falls short of the recommended daily activity. My solution for topping this up is to replace what would have been my morning commute with 50 minutes of exercise. As this is a mixture of a aerobic and weights it turns out it is actually better than my old commute which was a 30 minute walk to and from the station so you could argue working in a distributed team has helped me have a better lifestyle and overall wellbeing. Have you found you’ve replaced your own commute with anything?

Maren: In the past few years my personal circumstances have become a lot more complicated as I’ve become the carer for my parents. Working from home full time means I am now more easily able to juggle work and other commitments although travelling etc can also be a logistical challenge. Everyone has stuff they are trying to balance and being a distributed team makes that more possible in the long term. Regular exercise meanwhile is more of a recent addition to my lifestyle as I never found an activity I really enjoyed until I started running to raise funds for cancer research a few summers ago. What began as an attempt to give back to those who saved my mother’s life turned into an unexpected love for running. The balance and headspace I get from heading outside and clocking up miles has become very important to me, but when I was still office based the only time I could fit it in was very early in the morning and that became harder in the winter and less safe. Now, thanks to being home based, I can fit in a run more flexibly and keep active more regularly. To keep moving during the day, I also have a smart watch and one of the features it has is to remind me to get up every hour if I have sat still for too long. Other upsides for me are saving money not having to commute, eating better food and more cheaply, and being able to nap! I’ve become very good at napping and a half hour nap at lunchtime can make my afternoon more productive. There’s something here around not abusing the trust and freedom that comes with being a distributed team, about how personal and professional sides of life mix. We hear a lot about how work is starting to become more and more pervasive, but over the past 10 years I have also developed a healthy respect for how much the personal impacts on professional practice and performance. Working in a distributed team gives me a greater sense of empowerment to manage my time, but also responsibility to look out for my own wellbeing and work/life balance.

Martin: Trust is an interesting topic. When people find out I work remotely often the first question is how do I get up each morning. Some of this is actually enforced on me as I would need to get up anyway to get my daughter to school, enjoying my work is also a great motivator. My usual response to the question is it’s often not an issue to start work, the problem is to actually finish at the end of my working day. So as well as not abusing the trust in being in a distributed team, there is a degree of trust that you as an individual will look after your own wellbeing. The next question I often get asked is whether it is hard to work when the weather is sunny outside. Living in Scotland I immediately benefit from it being nice outside less often removing that temptation. When it is nice I will try and take advantage of this when I can. Our Wi-Fi extends to parts of the garden and we have various garden tables and chairs I can work from. The time I spend working outside is however restricted by tasks I can achieve on a single screen, at my desk I’ve got a 4 screen setup:

Even if I can’t work outside nicer weather is often the cue for me to have lunch outside or at least in our conservatory. Spending so much time at home I do occasionally find myself experiencing cabin fever. I only recently discovered that apparently even brief interactions with nature can go a long to ease isolation-induced depression. Unknowingly perhaps my body already knew this because as well as being a long time runner last year I bought my first road bike and often go on evening bike rides. As winter draws in these are curtailed and I find myself already trying to mentally prepare myself for the long grey winter days. What are the questions people ask you when they find out your work in a distributed team? Have you experience cabin fever yet?

Maren: The first question about working remotely I get asked is how I manage staff without supervising their work in person. How can I trust things are being done without seeing it, without being there etc. I rarely get asked how I myself cope with working culture, motivation or work life balance partly because I am a CEO and partly because of the assumption that I have it sorted (‘you are SO organised…’). My answer to the remote working question is that being part of a distributed team is a two way street. Staff need to want to do it, adjust or learn how to do things in a way that works for them AND the organisation. Everyone needs to be willing to make the most of the opportunities that being part of a virtual organisation offers, we can’t do that for them.

I struggle with loneliness and cabin fever and my mental well-being just as everyone else does, but ultimately I find working remotely liberating. I like the freedom and responsibility that comes with it and that is the biggest upside for me. The mentoring I’ve done over the past six years has shown me how important it is to me to be able to make things happen, to change a bit of the world (as cheesy as that sounds) and I feel more empowered to do that as part of a virtual team than I did when I was tied to a desk, managing an office space. Running virtual operations may take just as much effort, but there’s far more scope to improve and innovate than our previous working environment ever offered. That in turn really motivates me on dark, grey mornings or when I feel isolated. It also helps to have a bit of inspiration – which hangs above my desk:

That brings me to one last question for you: any tips for making the most of your physical work space at home?

Martin: In terms of physical space I’d certainly recommend trying to have a permanent corner in your house that you call your office. My office at home is also the spare room so I occasionally get turfed out when we have guests and whilst I can work on other parts of the house I find it hard to beat the comfort of my desk and office chair, plus everything is setup for me so on the morning I can just turn on my computer and I’m ready to go. Creating your own space is also an opportunity to think about the space/setup that’s going to work best for you. Given the rise of flexible and home based working there is a growing list of options for desk and clever storage systems that aren’t beige or grey. I know some remote and office based workers who are big fans of standing desks and treadmill desks. These aren’t options I’ve ever considered and would recommend talking to someone who uses these setups first. One of the big advantages I think of working from home is it’s an opportunity to create an environment that’s going to work for you. When I’ve been office based I’ve often encountered restrictions on how much personalisation you can do and being a home worker is an opportunity to perhaps say goodbye to that clean desk policy, restrictions on what food you can eat, or the noise you make – an opportunity to crack open the garlicky pasta, switch on the radio and keep comfortable in your PJs.  

Things we’ve been reading:

Missed a month? Here’re previous posts:

  • August – Pizza and virtual team dynamics
  • July – Special podcast edition: Reflecting on the first six months leading a virtual team
  • June – Virtual team, face to face team day: putting our blended approach to the test
  • May – Opportunity knocks: Using GDPR to strengthen virtual teams
  • April – 3 months in… hitting our first milestones as a virtual team
  • March – Developing collaboration as a virtual team
  • February – An open perspective on organisational transformation?