Episode 13: What We’ve Lost and Found During Social Distancing
The COVID-19 crisis has ground everything globally to a near halt. Suddenly, in the span of weeks, how most people work and live has changed dramatically. There have been huge challenges to physical, mental, and emotional safety accompanying this shift. Businesses have scrambled to adjust their workforces and employees have been faced with a very different look to the workday. But it hasn’t all been bad.
In this episode of Employee Connectedness, Unitonomy founder Charley Miller discusses what things, personal and professional, have been lost and also found during the COVID-19 crisis with OnPlane consultant Martin Low and UofL researcher Dr. Brad Shuck.
In this discussion, they will examine changes in the work-life balance in the midst of sheltering in place and working from home. What positive things have been found as a result, and what work routines that needed to get lost have been discarded in this shift to a new way of doing things? Whenever the pandemic winds down, what positive changes should we take with us into the future?
Episode 13: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NALmbkxpB4
Employee Connectedness is live-streamed weekdays at 10:15am EST on the Unitonomy YouTube channel. You can join there and ask questions in the chat. You can also find previous episodes posted there and on the Unitonomy blog.
Employee Connectedness: What We’ve Lost and Found During Social Distancing
Charley Miller 0:02
Hello! Happy Louisville, Kentucky Derby weekend. For us three, this is a usually a day where the schools are closed. We’re talking Kentucky Oaks. We’re drinking our mint juleps. We’re just teasing about this here a second ago. These are a classic mint julep. Sadly with the pandemic, there’s no Derby this year so what is usually a crazy week in Louisville, Kentucky is like a just a calm, quiet spring. I’m joined here with Brad Shuck, Dr. Brad Shuck from the University of Louisville and Martin Low of On Plane Consulting. Thank you guys for once again jumping on to talk all things employee connectedness. So yeah we pour one out for the Kentucky Derby this weekend, which is really like a marker for the entire calendar year here in our community where we sort of come together, stop what we’re doing, and celebrate, It’s kind of a, it’s like our New Year’s like I’ve marked more of my life around this weekend, than I do with New Year’s or anything else right. It’s kind of strange, but I love that. And I think we’ll all miss it.
So that’s a nice segue into thinking about what have we lost with what’s going on with the social isolation, and what have we found. This was a subject idea from Martin. I think Martin you’re inspired by a driveway conversation you’re having six feet apart with one of your neighbors. Tell me about this just the inspiration for this idea of lost and found right now with COVID-19.
Martin Low 1:30
Yeah, well, so to me there’s, you know this interesting paradigm of, you know, there’s number of things that we’ve lost in these strange times. Some mourning for those things that you’ve lost, whether it’s a coffee shop where you like to go to in the morning, or a routine that you were in with your family your kids are a friend. And then, you know, so there’s a little bit of that. On the flip side of that is that there are good things that we’ve lost too. And to spend a little bit of time on the mourning and the grieving side, like let’s talk about the things that we’ve lost, then to worry about, but to then quickly start thinking about what are we lost that actually hasn’t been all that bad. And then I think that there’s things that people have found through this, that are really interesting to reflect on, and there’s a lot of really great things in that in that column too.
And when you’re in this time of uncertainty, anything you can do to give yourself a little bit of focus on some certainty I think helps a lot. And to start thinking about what have I found that makes me better coming out of this. What have I lost that makes me better coming out of this. There’s a lot of good things, I think that happened out of these tough times it’s just super hard to see them when you’re this close to the event. So it was really interesting though to start having that conversation. And then I think the other thing is those things that we’ve lost and those things that we found, set the stage for what life might look like or gives us a little glimpse of what life might look like when we get to the other side of this whenever that might be. So it was just an interesting conversation to start having it’s been really interesting to hear people’s responses to that. Because, you know, when you start to reflect on it, there’s a lot out there that can happen very very quickly.
Charley Miller 3:22
So when we think about losses like shedding some of the things that maybe we don’t need in our life, whether it’s stress and anxiety or just baggage and maybe putting too much effort towards things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of what makes us content. The richness we get from social connection in our work, Brad, you know, kind of love your lens as the researcher in these conversations and I’m always kind of curious of, from your perspective and the conversations you’ve been having the last few months with what’s going on from a business perspective, before we get on the personal level. What are you hearing in terms of this whole context of last as it pertains to employee connect us?
Dr. Brad Shuck 4:03
Yeah, so, you know, some of the things I think we’ve lost are our meetings that we didn’t need to have, which is kind of a good thing. I think we are realizing across the board that there were some things that we were just insistent on having because they were part of a routine or ritual that we did that we’ve had to shift and do this differently. And I think that’s going to be a good thing. So, I mean to Martin’s point, shutting down meetings that maybe we didn’t have, maybe projects we didn’t need to be working on because they weren’t a priority to the core of our business and that became really apparent as soon as we started to stay at home and have a shelter in place kind of order and we didn’t go into the office anymore. What I don’t think we’ve lost though is connection. That connection continues and it’s amazing that we’ve had this technology that’s that allows us to stay connected with each other across the board, within our organization. And, and that we can continue to work on projects together collaboratively even though we’re socially distant, we’re not emotionally distant from each other.
Charley Miller 5:13
I like that answer a lot. I’ll jump in here as a person has been doing remote work for many many years. There’s sort of an inside joke that you’ll see in people that are kind of like remote work ambassadors like myself, which is you know someone’s new to remote work if they think to maintain connection, they need to be on video conferences all day. Right, this idea that you still have a lot of meetings and everyone’s just jumping on Zoom after Zoom after Zoom. Before your dinner, after your dinner. Right? It’s one of the muscles you have to develop when you’re not all working the same office is understanding what it takes to be a good asynchronous communicator, being able to write up things you’re working on, things you’re thinking about, being able to share that around the team, whether using Teams or Slack or email. And realize that people don’t have to respond to me, people can respond two hours later, they can respond tomorrow, but like conversations can happen and things can move forward and decisions can be made once your team gets good at learning how to communicate asynchronously. And not doing the back to back to back meeting thing on video or Slack.
One of the muscles you have to develop when you’re not all working the same office is understanding what it takes to be a good asynchronous communicator: being able to write up things you’re working on, things you’re thinking about, being able to share that around the team, whether using Teams or Slack or email. And realize that people don’t have to respond…people can respond two hours later, they can respond tomorrow, but conversations can happen and things can move forward and decisions can be made once your team gets good at learning how to communicate asynchronously.Charley Miller, Founder of Unitonomy
Dr. Brad Shuck 1:23
Charley. Wait, I just want to interrupt you here for a second, like, I just want to make sure I understand you correctly. I don’t have to be on back to back to back to back to back to back to back Zoom meetings? That’s not okay? You’re blowing my mind here.
Charley Miller 1:39
Yeah! So if you…I’m sure a lot of people are doing that right now, and I know where they’re feeling, especially they’re introverted. They are exhausted, they are. I’m about one month into this thing, because we’re doing a live stream here, we’re kind of like doing a video conferencing, like it takes energy for me to kind of get up here and like talk to you guys because, hey, the cameras on my face. I’m camera shy, right, this is all kind of not my comfortable environment. I like doing it. But if I were to do this all day, oh, I’d be flat on the floor at the end of the day.
So the most important advice I have for people right here is just learn how to communicate asynchronously and be really careful about do you really need this meeting. Do we really need a video conference? Can this just be a phone call? Like even that will save some of your local energy. Alright so back to the core idea of “Lost and Found.” Let’s go around the horn real quickly and let’s all kind of name something else that comes to mind, maybe it’s even more on a sort of individual level here, of things that you appreciate that you’ve lost and something you appreciate you found. Martin I’m gonna swing it back to you to go first.
Martin Low 2:46
So, you know, the, one of the things that that I lost is we had an office, and I had an expectation that like I would need to go to that office or go to these different places to spend time. And I mean that requires drive time, it requires you know driving your car, parking, all this movement around. And what I’ve realized is that I don’t necessarily need to do that. And so that’s something that I’ve lost, I think, that’s resulted in me finding at least an extra hour a day. And that’s been great. And that hour a day because I’m here, and my kids are here. I actually see my kids like in the middle of the day and they’re so excited to see me right now. Like that’s super cool because I know that that’s not going to last. So, you know, that’s a big one.
I think the other thing that I lost was this lens that like everything we do has to be so complicated, and that we’ve got to do all this work, just to go find these things that were kind of sitting there anyway. And, you know, a lot of the conversations we’ve been having with customers or groups, like this, that we interact with, you know, they’re looking for something new and something fancy that shows them how they can respond to this brand new world of COVID-19. And what we found is, is that most of those answers were sitting there right in front of them, and had been for a while and they, there’s nothing really fancy or special that they need to do, that is all that different from what they should have been doing prior to this. It’s just more noticeable that it’s not happening.
So you know these good leadership behaviors around clearly have expectations, around making sure that people have purpose in understanding what that is, being a good communicator, spending time with the people that are on your team and showing that you care about them. None of that has changed. And, you know, it’s interesting to me that you’ve almost found like it’s this little back to basics thing that everyone can do that we probably all should have done a little bit more of coming into this, but we can all do it, do it right now. That’s been super interesting it’s like a lot of the stuff that you need is kind of sitting there right in front of you.
These good leadership behaviors around clearly have expectations, around making sure that people have purpose and understanding what that is, being a good communicator, spending time with the people that are on your team and showing that you care about them. None of that has changed.Martin Low, On Plane Consulting
Charley Miller 5:06
That’s interesting. When I think about loss for me, you know, this is back to my last comment I mean like I’ve been in remote for a while. Not a lot has changed but I will say I used to break up my days with coffee meetings, you know, Martin and Brad, you and I…we’ve all kind of, you probably had dozens of coffees with me and it’s a great way for me to break up my day, connect with someone because I am kind of isolated down here in my basement office. And I miss those and it’s not the same just pouring coffee by myself.
So I’ve had, the introvert here has to kind of proactively reach out to people and really like program a bit of more of connection, and especially the community because most of my team is around the world so I need in the little community. Where I want to be engaged I have to kind of proactively reach out to people and program things ahead of time. And that’s kind of this new muscle I’m developing to be social, virtually, and I’m sure a lot of people are doing that. Brad. What about you, what comes to mind?
Dr. Brad Shuck 6:01
You yeah so there are a couple of things that I miss that I’m excited about later on that I hope will come back and some things I think that will also on the, on the Miss side of this. You guys may not even know this but I’m, I’m a, I’m a semi-pro drummer and I play and I miss playing music. I’ve played a couple times a month and I play here locally at Southeast Christian and on the praise and worship team there and that’s something I missed terribly. It was a great group of folks that I got to play with.
What we’ve lost on both the personal side and the professional side is time boundaries. We have just lost all sense of time boundary. My family was scheduled. We were out the door by 630 in the morning, every day. We had meetings that we had to be at. My wife worked out at this specific time, I worked out at the specific time, we ate dinner at the specific time, we had bed time at this specific time. I don’t know man, was like 11:15 last night like wow, maybe we ought to go to bed because we got to wake up tomorrow and, and maybe do some things and. And so we’ve just lost our sense of kind of time boundary. Eating lunch sometimes it’ll be you know one or two o’clock in the afternoon, oh my gosh probably already lunch now, and I kind of think that’s a good thing. We are in the flow as a family and as a unit and same thing at work. Some things have ironed out over the last week or two. Regarding meetings, I was teasing Charley about the back to back Zoom meetings. But that was literally first two weeks, three weeks for me were nothing but back to back to back Zoom meetings, but that’s that’s ironed out. And I’ve taken back over that a little bit and saying I don’t think we need this meeting. Maybe we can do this in the email or maybe we can do this on a quick phone call together.
Charley Miller 7:51
All right, so now let’s shift over to found. What’s something unexpected perhaps that you’ve discovered in this period that maybe you weren’t thinking what happened? Martin what comes to mind?
Martin Low 8:05
We found a ton of family time. And it’s surprising how many we, we always felt like we didn’t have enough time. And they were chasing too many things. And that we couldn’t really get everything done. And it’s been interesting that as soon as we slowed down, we got a lot of clarity about what was most important, and we’ve been doing a lot of stuff that it felt like we didn’t have time for before, but we were able to really prioritize. Like, alright, now you know all this stuff is shifted, where should I really spend my time? And we’ve done that and it’s amazing how not only do I feel like I’m more productive because I’m actually getting things off the list but I feel like I’m actually doing the stuff that I want to do. That’s been great.
We found a ton of family time, because we’re not chasing as many things, you know, whether it’s kids sports or kids school or work for me or, or other things that my wife was in the middle of. That’s been fantastic and along the way we’ve seen, and this probably always was there and I just didn’t notice it as much, but a lot of like cool things that my kids are doing. So like, you know, my family, my kids and I started watching all the Marvel movies in order because we wanted to get caught up but we just haven’t done that and there’s a ton of them. But one of the best moments, this is a great moment for me, is there was a scene in one of the movies. There’s this cool song that comes on in the background. And it’s this big, you know, fight scene with Thor, and my nine-year-old daughter says “Oh, that’s a cool song,” and my 11-year-old son goes “Yeah that’s Led Zeppelin, they’re pretty great.” For me as a music lover, that was awesome.
Charley Miller 9:52
I can imagine that made you a very proud dad. So, I’m a dad to a four-year-old and a one-year-old. It’s been a little tricky here. My wife and I’ve had to discover a new balance of how we sort of take time so we’re making sure the other person has time to focus on work while the other person’s making sure that kids are engaged in one way or another. So we’ve had to find a new rhythm kind of like what you were talking about, just echo that. I’ll also say that I’ve found a new level of empathy, not only for my wife and her finding empathy for me with us kind of juggling each other being very good communicators and making sure if someone’s getting frustrated like we understand that will kind of adjust as we need to go.
But also, honestly through our conversations in this live stream, I’ve discovered new ways to be empathetic to all the other colleagues, whether it’s a single parent or parent with the, you know, to parents, even with young kids or parents with older kids, and how to do homeschooling, or it’s someone, you know, when Brittain Skinner joined us to talk about living alone with their dog right now and having to do the isolation. That’s gonna be really tricky. And on the Unitonomy team, we have all kinds of situations. And it’s interesting, as we go through this whole pandemic–it really is a global thing, right, that’s the definition of a pandemic and it’s probably the first time in my life I’ve ever experienced something that’s a global nature like this–it’s been neat to see people come together and hopefully develop that level of empathy. All right, Brad. How about you?
Dr. Brad Shuck 11:23
Yeah, so we have found it very similar so I’m gonna echo the, the family time. And, and just discovering new ways to hang out together and do things as a family which has been really, really cool. I found new frames of reference, and new ways to think about capacity in my own life, and personally and professionally and that’s been really healthy I think for me. I’ve been very clear about areas of focus things I want to do things I want to make sure that we accomplish. And I found different ways to think about productivity and how I define a successful day a successful week, and those things look very different than they did. Six weeks ago, eight weeks ago, a weeks ago, I would have defined success by being on airplanes and out and doing research and publishing papers and things like that and now. Success might look like working out with my wife, making sure we get our time together and sit down as a family have a little outside time and making sure my email inbox isn’t blowing up and that might be a successful day for me. So reframing that, rethinking about that it’s been terrific. It’s something we found.
Charley Miller 12:40
I love that answer. It’s almost like this whole period for us–to be a bit explicit–is like learning how not to give a fuck about the bullshit. Right it’s like–Martin, stealing your line here–don’t borrow your stress and anxiety from the future. Right, I think there’s a chance right now everyone is redefining what really matters in life, really connecting with their families, connecting with their loved ones, and making sure that like there really is the work life balance that we’ve been talking for over a decade about achieving, boom, this is really the timeout for everyone to find that balance. And I hope people are. I know it’s not easy. it’s, you know, we have our good days and bad days here in this house and I’m sure that’s true for everyone, but it has been really nice on the grand scale. Well, thank you guys this is another awesome conversation. Appreciate your time Martin Low, On Plane Consulting. Dr. Brad Shuck, University of Louisville. I’m Charley Miller, Unitonomy. Thank you all and we’ll see you next week.