We are in this together, whether we like it or not. And yet we need to not be together. What kind of togetherness are we talking about?
Hey, it’s Andrew, and this is Safety on Tap.
Since you’re listening in, you must be a leader wanting to grow yourself and drastically improve health and safety along the way. Welcome to you, you’re in the right place. If this is your first time listening in, thanks for joining us and well done for trying something different to improve! And of course, welcome back to all of you wonderful regular listeners.
I usually try to make episodes that are as timeless as possible, in as much as you might listen the day it comes out, or a year or two later. Today’s episode is both very timely today, because it is the 17th of March 2020, amidst the exponential growth of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, or SARS-COV-2, NCOV, or any other name people give it. But even if you are listening to this in a years time when I hope things are drastically better, keep going, because whilst what you’re about to hear is sharply relevant today, it will still be in the future too, because this is about the future we seek to create.
I will not try and give you my own summary of the facts, or the current news, or hypotheses about where this is heading or even what to do about it. For that, I don’t want to risk being another source of quasi-news, quasi-facts. Suffice it to say, it’s getting out of control, as epidemics tend to want to do, there are lots, and lots of deaths and sickness. The tensions between freedom and liberty, basic human needs, and commerce, are tight. There seems to be no argument that social exclusion is the best form of control, and yet individuals, organisations and countries feel pressure to water this down because of the trade-offs, mostly to do with the economy, which is not an evil thing, but a very real consideration for all of us.
So here is the single biggest matter I’ve been seeing over the past few weeks, and sharply the past week. Social distancing is the primary control measure to reduce the spread of this virus. It is the highest in the hierarchy, as of right now. And at the same time, it gives rise to great risks and challenges, when social distancing means social isolation or exclusion. Social distancing also means a global scale disruption to the usual ways of working, whether that be entire workforces working from home, the need to telecommute or tele-connect with customers or clients.
And at the same time, the flip side is that there has never been a more important time for us to be together. I have a few stories from the past week to share with you, and I an offer of togetherness.
Story 1: A lovely colleague gives me a call last week, kind of in a panic. They have had one of their big clients ask them to show how they will cope when 20% of their workforce is not available. The confusion begins with the number, where did this 20% come from? How does the client know this and we don’t? This coaching conversation helped hose down this left-field request from the client and make sense of it. Things like, what was the client really asking about? Does the number 20% really matter, or are we talking about a risk maybe less specific but still equally material to their contract? If this business is not prepared to answer questions like this, how can the health and safety team help to use their risk-based and collaborative skills to respond? I got a message back at the end of the week, with a huge thank you saying after we spoke, they had greater clarity on what to do, how to pull people together and come up with a collaborative response, and readiness plan.
Story 2: I spend most of my time enabling learning. In the first of a series of face to face workshops around Australia, last week I was in Perth. The workshops are on marketing health and safety properly. This was a great workshop, not a huge group so the dynamic was bubbly and the togetherness was high. Now I do learning, which I don’t want you to confuse with teaching. Teaching can be a part of learning, but it’s only a small part. I enable learning through reflection, through learner-centered practices, tapping into individual experiences, and lubricating the way a group of strangers can interact to help each other learn socially. I realized halfway through the workshop, I was grinning like a Cheshire cat. The reason was that I had started a learning process, which this group took over. If at that point I had left the room, they would have kept learning with each other, and not have noticed I was gone. That is successful learning. Tony Robbin’s voice came to mind, a quote from him and the name of a documentary about him, which seemed appropriate. I am not your guru. I merely created the time and space and motivation and enablement for learning to happen and performance improvement to flow.
Story 3: I was part of a conversation recently involving a few safety professionals talking about working from home. ‘You know working from home is going to explode’, one said. ‘It’s already happening at my work, people are being given the choice when and where to work to get them out of the office and off public transport’ said another. Then the conversation turned to systems and processes. ‘Do you have a working from home checklist’ asked one, which fuelled an interesting conversation for quite some time. Sharing the checklist was at the centre of this, and all the usual discussion of ergonomics and fire extinguishers, etc. And I wondered, is that it? Is that what we do? No question those things are important, but what about the social and psychological risks of social distancing? How might anxiety increase? How are supervisors and managers equipped to connect and lead people at the other end of a phone of messenger chat? Will we anchor to old ways of thinking and working, or will we see and embrace the new risks and opportunities this time brings?
I see the need for us to be together at this time, but in a way which doesn’t create more risk for anyone, and in a way which both meets our deep down desires and day to day practical needs to be together.
If you want to be together with your professional colleagues, in a way which offers you help and support, which lessens your information gathering efforts and improves your learning curve, if you want to know that you are not alone, and you are so very close to colleagues one town away or across the globe, we can be together.
As I said at the beginning, I don’t have many answers and definitely won’t be trying to wedge my way into being another channel for information. The internet does that just fine. We need connection, a virtual, safe, and effective time and place to be together, to learn together, so support each other. I am the Chief Connector at Safety on Tap, and my entire working life coalesces into three purposes, three ways of acting in the world.
First, I connect people with new ideas to learn and grow.
Second, I connect people with each other, to learn and grow and support each other.
And Third, I connect people with their better future selves, making you tomorrow more effective than you today.
If ever there was a time for us to engage in our work and learning and networking differently, now is it. So two days ago I decided to build a togetherness machine. It has two parts, both pretty simple.
First, I’m calling ‘Office-Hours Together’. This will be an open, free, virtual online meeting where anyone and everyone in our professional community can join together. This is a container for good things to happen. It will be shaped by what you want to fill it with, as it changes day by day and week by week. Your challenges, your concerns, your requests for help. The way to picture this office hours session is to imagine if an online video conference and a webinar had a baby. During this time, we will have live Q&A, we may have guests, we will share information and stories and might even do live coaching. So every week starting Thursday 19th March, we will have a virtual realtime place to be together. Timezones will obviously be a challenge, so I plan to get this started and expand to have multiple timezones available around the globe, for the same kind of office hours session.
Second, will be a place for asynchronous, slower, togetherness. An online space, a forum for dialogue, which will be better suited to reflection, resources, and information sharing. This is another container, it will not be full of stuff when you arrive, we will co-create and co-curate it together in a way which not only helps ourselves but is giving and generous to others. If you want to work on a problem, this will help you find others who want to as well. A little project team might form, and you have the ways and means of creating a better result because you are working together.
Both of these things will only work well if we have a few ingredients. First, we need people to be there, to be together. Second, we need people to be as generous as they are self-satisfying. If you have a good story, a news update, a helpful process, interesting use of technology to solve a current challenge, share it. But equally, if you are struggling, if you are seeking people with similar challenges, ideas or resources, seek those out. Some of this will be free, a gift to the world, in the same way, I think about this podcast. Some of this will be an investment, which reflects the time and cost which goes into making something like this work, and an investment that should give you greater returns than what it costs you. Think about how much value you might derive if you go from confusion to clarity, from unsure to specific, tangible improvements for your business. That’s the promise.
There are many of you already connecting in small numbers, mostly 1:1, sometimes within your small community or network or organisation or email distribution list. Mostly it’s about information sharing. But learning is far greater when we augment information with experiences, reflection, and engaging with each other. This togetherness machine being built is merely offering to help you leverage your existing amazingness, to connect with less friction and with more people, and give others who don’t already have great networks or support a way to connect.
Social distancing is important for a viral epidemic. Social togetherness is vital for our adaptive and resilient response. It turns out that we can do both. Both of these involve change, some of which are challenging, some of which present an opportunity.
I would like your help. Let’s get together. All the details about how to get together are at safetyontap.com/together
We begin Thursday 13th March. Tell your colleagues, spread the word. We need to be together.
Until next we meet virtually, seeya.
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