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Digital social distancing

2nd April 2020 by Luke Morton

On the irony that social distancing has brought us all together more frequently. I think I'm going to need to create some digital social distancing for myself too.

Sign in Manchester city centre displaying 'Stay Home'

Is this how fully remote companies always feel?

I don't know about you but I've spent more time on video calls in the last two weeks than I ever have before. Whether it's close to 8-9 hours of back-to-back calls for work, or catching up with my family in the evenings – I'm finding myself exhausted with all this connectivity.

In a moment where we are socially distancing from each other, physically we are being drawn together through digital mediums. It's lovely in a sense that we do indeed cling together – that's another tune that rings in my ear as I write this. I get warm fuzzies thinking about the love people are generally showing each other right now. My faith in humanity is rewarded by the kindness in my neighbours eyes – even if they have got their mouths covered as we exchange glances in the hallway. What a weird time.

I have questions, as you probably do too. I've been fascinating over why all this digital connectivity is so tiring. Why is it more tiring to spend time on calls than in the office? Why is my diary even busier than usual and why am I dialled into more meetings now, even though my workload hasn't exactly increased? If anything, it’s decreased. Weird.

Another weird thing I've noticed is that we have less time for novel side chats and small talk. There’s no way to turn to a colleague and whisper something to them. I'm sure most of my colleagues are happier that I'm unable to disrupt meetings in that way – silver linings?

I've also found larger group meetings are more like one direction webinars. It's weird talking into a silent void. I love feedback, I thrive on it! I've also found that some interviewees really don't open up unless you give them audio cues that you're listening and engaging with them. "Everybody, go on mute" doesn't work for everybody.

Anyhow, I'm tired. And I can only move as slow as my diary lets me. It's time for some digital social distancing.

My measures for digital social distancing

I was sitting at my desk frustrated at my calendar looking busier than ever. We had our quarterly leadership planning scheduled for Monday and Tuesday – and full-day workshops, at that. I decided to send a message on Slack to my colleagues.

In the first instance I asked Rory, our CEO, if we could limit our sessions to 08:30-11:30 and then 13:30-15:30 to ensure we had big enough breaks and weren't spending more than 5 hours of the day on calls. He approved and I'm so grateful that he did; my brain felt all the better for it this week and we still achieved all our goals for the two days of planning.

More generally I've put the following measures in place:

  • I've set my Google Calendar office hours to 08:30-15:30 – I'm not accepting any meetings outside of these hours
  • I've set my Google Calendar events to only show if I've accepted them in my email inbox – this means I need to have explicitly said yes for me to attend a meeting, stopping last-minute invites that I'm not aware of
  • I'm only accepting meetings of up to 2 hours per week for each service area of the business I'm involved in
  • I'm continuing to provide 30 minutes every two weeks for all of my line management/career development 121s
  • I'm only accepting 10 minute coffees for anyone else who needs my time

The aim of these measures is to force myself and others to respect my time. It is also a way of prioritising. Much like agile delivery teams using timeboxes to constrain and force prioritisation, I'm using the same technique with all of my commitments.

Anyhow, trial and error, next week is my first full week with these all in place so I'll let you know how it goes. I hope I can continue moving slow.

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone else who is experiencing similar exhaustion from calls and what digital social distancing you might be doing to give yourself more space. Let me know what you think on Twitter @LukeMorton.

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