“I’m sorry… we’ve never met.”
“I’m sorry we’ve never met.”
Same words, subtle difference. The first suggests an opening, and offer to introduce yourself, a chance to make a connection.
The second could be true of many people in my network. Many of mine are spread all over the world and while we may have exchanged messages digitally to the best of my knowledge we’ve never been in the same room at the same time. Probably not even in the same city. Perhaps not even on the same continent. That’s global life for you.
But there is a worse scenario. That phrase can increasingly be used by people who work in the same organisation, in the same country, perhaps even in the same team or department.
One of the things that we have noticed as a few more organisations start to organise in person events again after the pandemic is that the two-year hiatus in team activities and the rise of remote working has resulted in massively reduced connection. On practically every event that we have put together for clients since September 2021 the consistently heard phrase is “we have a lot of people who have joined the company in the past two years who have never met with the other members of the team in person”.
Oh, I know what you’re going to say. “But we connect through Teams/Zoom/insert-video-conferencing-app-name-here now. We don’t need to meet in person.”
Yes you do. Perhaps not every day in the office, but video calls are no substitute for actual human interaction. Those of you that know me – and have actually met me in real life – will know that amongst my passions I have an interest in body language and a pathological dislike of conference tables. The two are linked.
Communication is a whole-body activity. From birth you start processing non-verbal signals that radiate from all parts of your body, particularly from the waist down.
No! Not like that! Get your mind out of the sewer…
A huge amount of information about how engaged people are comes from things they do with their legs, feet and hips. You aren’t consciously aware of them, but these subtle signs are instinctively registered when you talk in person. Unless they’re hidden under a table. Or out of vision on your laptop camera.
The first thing we will try to do when we are organising an event is to get rid of the conference tables. You don’t really need somewhere to put your glass of water, or your complimentary event notebook, or your bowl of boiled sweets. It’s much more important to allow people to easily interact, and the removal of a useless big wooden barrier between them is the first part.
Don’t get me wrong. If there is one thing that has come out of enforced remote working it is that people have accepted that turning your camera on is at least expected, and to leave it off is unusual… but don’t think you are engaging with the person on the screen. You’re not looking at them… you’re looking near them.
When you take to the image on your screen, despite the distraction of seeing yourself in the corner of the screen, you’re not looking the person in the eye. You’re not even looking into the camera. You’re looking below the camera (assuming that the lens is at the top of your screen. I once had a laptop with the camera in the bottom left-hand corner, which made it look like I was permanently gazing off into the middle distance, but that’s another story.)
So don’t think that the new members of your remote team have met their new colleagues. They’ve seen them, but they don’t know them. They haven’t worked out the subtleties of their communication styles or their personalities. And don’t think that the team members that you have kept through the past two years are the same people that you interacted with before March 2020. A lot has gone on for a lot of people. Values have shifted. Expectations have changed. Opinions have morphed and been refined.
Another of our mantras is “information is not engagement”. What you get through a computer screen is information. You have to meet in person to experience true, multi-faceted human engagement.
So… “I’m sorry if you’ve never met.”
I’d love to engage with you personally about this article, but, as we’re all working from home at present the wait times are longer than usual.
Sound familiar? From my experience this kind of response has become the business equivalent of “the cat ate my homework” or “I left it on the bus”. I tried to get a passport in a hurry the other day… and guess what? That’s right. Covid said no.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the changes in working practices that the pandemic has necessitated have been wide-ranging in their impact and legacy, but a convenient excuse is one that has elements of plausibility and that can be trotted out in any challenging situation. In the same way that “I’m sorry I’m late, the traffic was terrible” can mask your lack of organisation or punctuality, changes in how we are working can provide a smokescreen for a reduced commitment to delivering a good service.
To be fair, I don’t spend that much time ringing customer service lines, but I wonder if the excuse of the pandemic is exhibiting some scope creep. Long before anyone had ever heard of Covid-19 we wrote an [article] on the phenomenon of “ghosting” in business. Again, this behaviour was scope creep from online dating apps that we saw easing into business interactions.
So, if I can tear you away from the important business of you reading this article, have a quick look in your email inbox. How many unanswered emails do you have in there? Not just ones where you’re copied in to keep you updated, but actual emails that require a response? How many of them require a detailed reply, and how many of them just need a one- or two-line acknowledgement? But you’re busy right? And you’re working from home probably, so… yeah. Later. Or never. Whichever works. Probably never.
My contention is that – like the myth that being “busy” is a good thing and somehow equates with “successful” and “productive” – people have just got ruder because everything has been dislocated somehow and that is a convenient excuse that means it’s sort of OK.
When everyone got email it became the default communication channel for everything and people forgot to get up from their desk and have conversations… or even pick up the phone to speak to someone. Email proliferation took hold. Now, when everything is a Zoom call or a virtual meeting on Teams I think people have gone a stage further and prioritised manners and common courtesies out of their lives.
In our brave new world of only physically coming into a shared workspace occasionally the risk is that we lose connections. Digital conversations are just the new Space Invaders that fill our screens and as we knock out the dozens of advancing tasks that press on us we neglect to shoot the spaceship that drifts across the top of the screen, even though it might carry a high value reward.
This article, however much I care about the content, is just another passive element that drifts across your screen. How much richer, and different, and personalised would the conversation be if we were having it face-to-face?
That’s what I fear we might all be losing. A lack of connection to clients, suppliers, colleagues. And each one of you is the only person that can reverse that trend. Through a word, a comment, an acknowledgement. We can all do it.
But, oh… the pandemic… I remember.
Ever since we began our Colour;Noun journey, we’ve always said that we’re sick of boring conferences and events. And that’s true.
Events are an investment – they cost money; they take people out of the business for sometimes several days at a time – so what’s the point if it’s boring?
We’re continuing to design and deliver engaging and impactful events for a range of businesses, as well as partnering with event destinations to shake up more events across the country (and beyond!).
So, if you’re looking for impact at your conference, want to take your event to the next level, or just want permission to try something new, here’s how we can support your events in 2022…
Team building sessions
We don’t really like the phrase “team building”. It suggests that a team can be built in a day…but they can’t. They’re not rafts.
Our “team building” sessions are far from pointless (or forced!) fun, injecting business relevance into enjoyable exercises that unpack relevant themes and challenges that teams face. It’s always fun, always relevant, hands-on, and helps build relationships in ways that "team building" never could.
These sessions are a perfect introduction to doing something different at your next event, so whether you’ve got an hour to fill or a whole afternoon, we’ve got a catalogue of exercises and activities for you to choose from.
Check them out here: https://www.colournoun.co.uk/team-building.html
Event design and facilitation
When it comes to conferences, we often hear the phrase “we’re looking to do something different”. But we know that ‘different’ is a sliding scale, so we help teams and businesses design events that work for them.
We'll work with you to help you to create a memorable event from start to finish, collaborating with you to ensure the event is valuable, impactful, and full of energy. Whether that’s looking at the event structure, giving creative suggestions on venue or theme, providing interactive sessions, getting your messages across or facilitating the day, we’re here to support you.
More here: https://www.colournoun.co.uk/conference-and-event-support.html
If you’ve got everything sorted for your event, but want to make it run smoothly, have you considered hiring a facilitator?
Event facilitation takes some of the pressure off you and your team, so you can have the confidence that your event will go to plan.
Smaller meetings, whether they’re strategy meetings, team updates or even those where you’re communicating something tricky, can benefit from someone with an unbiased eye to steer the conversation. For larger conferences and event, facilitators are invaluable in handovers, Q&As, interviews or awards ceremonies.
More on our event support page here: https://www.colournoun.co.uk/conference-and-event-support.html
With everything relaxing back into some sort of “normal” over the last few months, we know that lots of teams and organisations will be looking at getting their people back together, reconnecting, catching up, or even meeting in person for the first time.
Get in touch – we’d love to chat about your upcoming events and see where we can help you make them memorable, engaging and valuable for your whole team.
Phone us on 01926 941747, email firstname.lastname@example.org or book a some time to chat here: calendly.com/colournoun.
This is article Number Three in what I am tempted to call “why do people do what they do and what would it take to make them re-evaluate what they are focusing their energy on?”
So, today, I would like to ask you… do you have Stockholm Syndrome for capitalism?
First of all, don’t get triggered by my use of the C-word. This isn’t going to be a Trotskyite polemic about the power of the workers and the oppression of the bourgeoisie. Unless you are reading this in North Korea – and I am fairly certain you’re not – I think we can all agree that we all are operating under an economic and political system that has held sway over people’s lives in one form or another since the fifteenth century. I am going to suggest that it has changed the way that people think, operate and interact, and has permeated many life and lifestyle choices that influence you and the way you run your business. But, as we are very fond of pointing out, “just because it is, doesn’t mean it has to be.”
Now that I have hopefully stopped some of you from foaming at the mouth in fear of me wiping the value off your share portfolio, I should explain Stockholm Syndrome. It was coined in 1973 after a botched bank raid in… guess where… yep, that’s right… Stockholm when, over the course of a six-day stand-off the hostages that had been taken developed a close bond with their captors, to the point that they became concerned for their welfare.
My suggestion is that many of you, reading this at work, while you perform the tasks that you need to do to live, might, possibly, be in a similar situation. I’m not suggesting that you are being held against your will, but I contend that you might be making excuses for what you do and how you justify it that are, well… curious… and deeply ingrained. I suspect that the beliefs wrapped up in them may be affecting how you interact with your teams. And if there’s one thing that we want to do, it’s to make teams feel more valued, more listened to, more seen – and perhaps the dominant force behind all of our lives has a bearing on things in ways that you might never have considered.
Let’s have a quick crash through western European history seen through the lens of the United Kingdom. I apologise for being so UK-centric here, but It’s what I know. I would love to hear how things developed in other countries, and to hear the differences and similarities. It’s rough, but here are the broad strokes.
A long time ago people worked in small, self-supporting communities, based on agriculture and predominantly organised into small settlements. The community worked to produce what it needed to live, with any surpluses being used to buy things that the community could not produce for itself. As farming techniques improved fewer people were needed to work the land and this freed people up to provide ancillary occupations and services. People could move from just surviving, to creating things.
Having things became a measure of how successful you were. Bigger house, nicer clothes, better food. It was always thus, but with the rise of a powerful mercantile class in the sixteenth century the marks of success became more apparent and extreme and made status symbols open to people other than monarchs and the nobility. As the Industrial Revolution increased the ability to create a wider range of products and the number of roles that began to make up increasingly urban societies grew, so people stratified along layers that were defined by what they had acquired through their roles.
Fast forward this to the 1970s and 1980s. By this time, in the UK, success had become delineated by home ownership, the car you drove and where you went on holiday. Increasingly it became necessary for households to have two incomes to support these important badges of lifestyle. At this point I should pause and emphasise that I am not advocating a gendered split in work-work and home-work. I don’t care who does what – all I am pointing out is that one income became increasingly insufficient to keep-up-with-the-Joneses.
So far, so what? People want nice things and they are prepared to work for them. What’s wrong with that?
Nothing, but look at what develops beyond that if you pause and consider what this entails.
In a previous “what the hell?” post I questioned the chimera of measuring Employee Engagement and how that wiggly line of how much people like their work bumbles along at 70-80%. People want to be somewhere else at least some of the time while they’re at work. I’ve also considered how businesses occasionally try to infer a familial bond with their employees to ameliorate the time they spend away from their real families.
Both of these factors could be seen as manifestations of a desire to mask that very human trait of work-as-necessary-chore. Generally speaking, if they didn’t need the money, people would rather not be at work than be at work. To make up for this people reward themselves with things that they can only get by putting up with work. New clothes, new gadgets, holidays… the list goes on.
Ask yourself… how much do you look forward to and enjoy your weekends? (The weekend of course, like the beginning of the four-day working week, is a relatively recent development, so things can, and do change if you question the logic that claims to underpin the behemoth that is The Way Things Are.) How much do you look forward to Monday and getting back to work?
But there’s more to it than an exchange of time and freedom for money to buy things, hence my contention that many make excuses for the thing that holds them in its grasp. As an example, I give you the personalised number plate.
Once I point this out you won’t be able to stop seeing it. (That’s called The Baader-Meinhof Effect if you’re interested… but more of that another day.) Next time you are out and about, just check out how many people are driving very expensive new cars with personalised number plates. Aside from the environmentally damaging and toxic desire to demonstrate how well you are doing by driving the latest car or rocking the newest model of mobile phone, at what point did it not become enough to drive a car that costs more than some people’s homes? I can only conclude that by shelling out several thousand pounds on a registration plate that contains your initials, or a reference to your name, on top of your top-of-the-range Range Rover, you are wanting to show that “you are winning at capitalism.”
I can almost feel the furious typing that is going on from some quarters right now, defending their choices and explaining why they have done it. But isn’t that the essence of Stockholm Syndrome? Defending the thing that has imprisoned you?
I could go further. I live in the sixth richest country in the world. We have homeless people and food banks and children who don’t have enough to eat. We also have people living in vastly over-priced houses and individuals and organisations that try to game the system any way they can to reduce the taxes they have to pay. In between those extremes we have a great swathe of the population who could do something about it, but won’t… because, because, because. Because they might have to give something up. Because they’ve worked hard for it. Because why should I, nobody else will.
Despite what I said earlier, this does sound like I am calling for you to join me on the barricades. I’m not. I’m just putting it out there for debate. As an unanswered question if you like. Why are you doing what you are doing is one aspect of it, but for me, the more important aspect of it is “what are you expecting other people – in your workplace, in your teams, amongst your stakeholders – to do so we can all keep playing this game?”
As with much of the work that we do with teams, it’s only by asking the questions that challenge the accepted norms that you can create something different. Perhaps asking a big question like this will give you pause for thought.
Now, get back to work. Someone else might be winning.
Colour; Noun (Vicky Holding and Howard Karloff)