Going virtual – thriving in remote spaces

Man typing on a Macbook with view of beach through adjacent window

This article was originally published on LinkedIn 10th March 2020.

As travel restrictions start to take hold in the Spring of 2020, and organisations across Europe, the US and the rest of the world look for ways to stay relevant, I want to share a story of hope.

My first attempt to set up remote working in my software business – back in 2008 – was a great learning opportunity: slow VPNs and dropped connections were the least of our problems back then. Building trust in our remote team members felt hard: real-time(ish) communication between team members in different offices, or at home, was hard to adapt to; remote working practices had still to be explored; ISP connections were slow and less than reliable; and who would pay for it all?

So what drives this need to increase and embrace remote and virtual working practices? It could be seismic events like the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull in 2010, which disrupted multiple international flights, making travelling to conferences, or training events impossible. Or perhaps the boom and bust cycles that are a part of many economic systems, putting pressure on whole industries to cut investment for expensive training events.

For us, the need was much closer to home: we needed to adapt so that we could better support our people as their personal situations changed.

To start with, our young teams began to need more flexibility, to commute less, and to spend more time with growing families. As we adopted new tools to help with this change, we discovered we could work more flexible hours, so we could support our families and lives even more. With more flexible hours came the reality that now we could work with people from further afield, and so the talent pool of our team grew quickly. As we became more geographically spread, our team’s diversity grew, bringing ever more value, adaptability and resilience.

Alongside my current role in Sea Salt Learning, since 2016 I have taken remote working to different places personally (excuse the pun!), living in new cities in Europe, travelling and working often from the road, and currently, ‘long-terming’ in a Classic Hymer. The technology has now caught up, along with unlimited data roaming internet packages introduced in 2019.

Communication platforms and software has also converged for office and remote workers alike: Slack (chat), Zoom (video), Fuse (learning), and Microsoft Teams (all-in-one platform) are all used by colleagues in the same office, or continents apart. Teams and organisation are becoming comfortable in using these platforms, no matter where they are.

At Sea Salt Learning, we help organisations get fit for today’s lived reality: The Social Age. We are remote and virtual to our core, getting together in person when we can, but thriving in these virtual spaces. The certification products we have developed over the past 2 years are aimed at developing skills in individuals and teams so they can thrive in this space too: from Social Leadership to Community Building, to Modern Learning and Storytelling (one of my favourites!).

I believe we will see many more organisations turning towards virtual learning offerings in the coming days, weeks and months. And companies like Sea Salt Learning are stepping up and offering excellent training programmes right now.

And this is at the heart of my message of hope:

Investing in individuals and teams, so they can thrive in remote and virtual spaces, will take us all beyond

 the immediate need to upskill through virtual channels.

Having lived the life of a remote worker for years now, I’m pretty sure there will always be a need for face to face contact and in-person training/delivery. And if we see the current move towards virtual training as more than just a sticking plaster, more than a short-term fix, then we have a great chance at building more resilience and value in our futures.

If you want to find out any more about the virtual certification programmes, or other offerings from Sea Salt Learning, drop me a line.

Spoken words remembered; stories from the past

Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of listening to my grandad telling stories.

Every Sunday, we would return from the pub – the smell of warm beer, whisky and cigar smoke on our clothes – with the rest of the family, to a huge roast meal cooked by my Nana.

It would begin sometime between dinner and before an afternoon nap. Usually with a sparkle of Jameson’s in his smile and cheeks. One after another he would recite the poems, tales and yarns he learnt by rote as a boy, back in a craggy coastal village in North Donegal.

Stories of hope and celebration, of sailors and treasure. Tales of love lost, of broken hearts, of cruel deaths, of long departed heroes. And of migration and hunger, valour and skulduggery. I loved them all. Each and every one.

It didn’t matter to me that my grandad was profoundly deaf in one ear from an explosion back in the forties. Or that he was entirely tone deaf so that The Dubliners songs he reeled-off all had the exact same rhythm and sing-song poem-reading style without any tune whatsoever. His stories were magnetic, bawdy, rude often. He would be swept away with it all. Taking us all with him – his children and grandchildren, wrapt and encircling – he would journey to the past and to forever away …

I suppose he may be the reason why I have such a deep love for stories. From time to time, I have even been known to tell a few myself. I love that the power of stories binds and unites us. Especially when told with the practised skill of an old Irish rogue.

At around same age I also began a 15-year practice of violin playing. School taught me to play classically and with ‘correct’ technique. And how to read music score, to be conducted, and how to pass exams.

My grandad, on the other hand, gave me my love for folk music (jigs especially) with his encouragement and appreciation. I learnt to play ‘by ear’ and jam with others. The school’s violin teacher didn’t think much of my grandad – or folk music, come to think of it. But I now had a foot in each world and was the richer for it in lots of ways.

Finding a balance between the formal and informal is something I have found myself doing ever since. At 17, despite having good grades and a clean sheet, I had a moment of enlightenment and realised (for the first time), that I was in control of my own life. I walked out of school that day – half-way through the term – and changed the direction of my own life. Years later I would find myself struggling to pass A-levels. Later still I achieved a first class honours degree. When I was ready to apply myself, the hard work and application needed came naturally.

As I sit here and reflect on my journey to today, I wonder what my grandad would make of his English grandson now. What would he make of the stories I would tell him? Of the need for both a tolerance and tension between formal and informal power? And the importance of stories today more than ever in this faster-changing world?

I’d like to think he’d imagine that even an Irish peasant immigrant with a gift for storytelling and a love of life, with a glint in his eye, could have changed the world.

But I expect what would have really happened is this. He’d have poured himself another wee Jameson’s, have relit his cigar. And we’d all settle back into our chairs and each other, ready to listen to another great yarn.

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