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The outlook is… meticulously informal

The recent launch of ReclaimEDU has got me blogging… always a good sign. 

Now, working with the team at Reclaim has many perks, one of which was to learn more about this new offering before it was even launched. Jim talked us through it in the way only he can, and although I am learning more about the technology that makes this all possible what really did grab my attention immediately was the artwork

I love the work Bryan has created with Reclaim Hosting for nearly ten years now and this ReclaimEDU launch is a great example of why it is so powerful. You don’t really need the words to get the idea. ReclaimEDU feels like a long way down the road from the origins of Hippie Hosting more than a decade ago… but many things remain constant. And one of those is that it continues to be is meticulously informal. That’s the bit I am particularly interested in. 

Meticulous informality is a phrase that Martin Weller coined in 2019, in relation to the ALT Annual Conference. In the years since, and as our professional relationship turned into a personal one, we have often come back to the concept in our conversations and found it helpful in describing something we both value about a certain way of working, particularly since a lot of our interactions are happening online nowadays.

So what does it mean to be meticulously informal, and why do I think it matters? Let me try to explain what it means to me:

In the context of event planning, for example, I would describe it as a result of planning ahead so well that on the day you can lean back and enjoy it, knowing that you have most eventualities covered and can deal with any impromptu things that come up. It also means treating the individuals whom you work with not as generic actors in the event (the keynote, a panel speaker) but take into account their context: someone coming from far away who’s not been in the country before, someone who’s never given a keynote before, someone who’s nervous… and so on. It’s also about being present. Walking the walk. And that takes a lot of emotional energy.

I’ve been lucky enough to be at some events that really encapsulated that balance perfectly (yes, I am looking at you, wonderful OER Conference) and yet events aren’t the only place where meticulous informality matters. 

When it comes to hybrid working, it really makes a difference, and it’s not something you can fake. When it comes to meticulous informality, people can tell whether you are going through the motions or truly making an effort. Effort is the operative word here as a meticulously informal workplace takes a lot of it. It’s no accident that one of the flex courses Reclaim’s Edtech team ran was all about hybrid working. I came on board to work on this course because we were interested in exploring all the different ways in which we can foster those interactions and habits that create a sense of meticulous informality in a team.

Which brings us back to Reclaim Hosting itself, where this kind of thing is not only valued but also shaping force that is reflected in everything the company does. After all, how many hosting companies do you know who get their team to sit around a drawing pad with Bryan Mathers as a first step to launching a new service (a service, incidentally, that as far as I can tell is needed because clients want to put more and more high level sites onto infrastructure they trust working with people who get it – people who are meticulously informal not only when they answer support tickets or chat about blogging on Discord, but also when it comes to designing new flagship services). 

We get it! More artwork from the ReclaimEDU page.

Incidentally, Visual Thinkery, where the process is in many ways more important than the eventual (amazing!) output, is another example of meticulous informality at work. What makes it work in both cases is a mixture of incredibly hard work (and a good measure of genius), as well as that all important understanding of why the informal bit matters. When I saw the ‘We get it!’ image above that Bryan created with the team, I immediately thought ‘Yes! They do get it!’. Yes, they are really good at what they do and they work very, very hard to constantly improve the infrastructure and support, and they also treat you like a human being, they care, they get it. (And, as an afterthought, they are human beings, too, which nowadays probably isn’t a given when it comes to supporting you with your hosting.) 

It matters to me that I get to work with people who share that sense of what I think of as meticulous informality. It matters because I am more than a metric. Being more than a metric, more than a data point was the focus of my keynote for the ETUG Conference in Kamloops, Canada, in 2019 and it’s been a theme I have come back to again and again since. I see meticulous informality as a way to create that all important space needed to relate to each other as human beings, be that at events or at work or hosting your domain, and not give in to technologically determined transactional behaviours.