Crossing the divide : Author Vicki Mcleod on how to be human in a technical world
Turns out developing your emotional intelligence can help you improve your interactions over digital platforms.
Vicki Mcleod, Vancouver based coach, consultant, entrepreneur and author of Effective Communication at Work.
As companies such as Google have announced in the past few weeks that their staff will continue to work remotely well into the year 2021, teleworking is beginning to appear less like a temporary measure and more of a permanent shift. After working remotely for over four months, the reality of telework is sinking in for employers and their staff. “I actually do think that we’re capable of it [working from home permanently] and I do think that this is going to be the new norm,” says Vicki Mcleod, author of Effective Communication at Work. “My prediction is that the move to remote work is not going to go backwards, we’re only going to be moving forward into what we’re already seeing.”
The back-to-back release of her two latest books happened to fall in the thick of the pandemic. Ironically enough, their release couldn’t have been more timely as we transition into a world where digital technologies have become society’s safety net. You and the Internet of Things is a “practical guide to understanding and integrating the IoT in your daily life,” whereas Effective Communication at Work is a resource for readers wishing to improve their spoken and written communication skills for the business environment both on and offline. What’s particular about Mcleod’s approach to technology is her emphasis on mindfulness when developing a relationship with digital tools.
Her work answers some critical questions that have arisen in the past few months. Our use of technology to minimize physical contact is affecting the way we interact with one another and with the world. In Mcleod’s perspective, that was the pandemic’s most important repercussion. In order for this new system to be viable, we all need to learn to be human in a technical world. “There’s a way that as humans we co-create and we get in each other’s vibes and we get in each other’s energy and it’s really difficult to create that in the flatness of the digital environment,” explains the writer, adding that she believes this goal can definitely be achieved, despite a thistle of obstructions in the way.
This change has already begun impacting office workers’ professional, as well as personal lives. “We are in this interesting situation where a lifestyle is being imposed upon us by circumstances beyond our control,” says Mcleod. “The pandemic is now forcing us to be at home in certain roles that many people never brought home necessarily before.” To varying degrees, we all assume different identities for different settings. Now that the various aspects of our lives are colliding, it is not so easy to compartmentalize them, and so we need to find new ways of achieving balance. “It’s not about work-life balance right now, it’s about work-life integration,” tells the author. “There’s one place where everything is happening, it’s at home.”
Developing keen communication skills over digital platforms has become absolutely vital for those who transitioned from offices to working from home. This can be especially hard for those who lack technical skills to even set up or use the necessary equipment. “For people now in their workplace there’s all kinds of pressure to both learn the tools of technology and then use them well and then to even feel comfortable with using them,” explains the writer. “You may now be forced to use tools at home or even to put tools onto your equipment at home, but you're going to have people with different levels of comfort.” Each of the stages described by Mcleod represent a potential barrier in our virtual interactions.
Even if she’s just as shaken as everyone else by the impact of the global crisis, Mcleod also admits her eagerness to see society fully benefit from the network of digital tools we’ve developed in the past few decades. As someone who lived half of her life in the analog world, she saw early on the possibilities made accessible by our advances in information technology. Her personal journey to help others incorporating these devices into their lives started when she worked as a communications consultant in the nineties, during the rise of the internet. “It really was, for me, based on the notion that this was a great tool, and that it needed to be adopted,” the writer explains the reasons she became an early voice for adopting digital tools.
Now that the process of integrating these devices into our lives has been accelerated, we can really begin to make the most productive use of them. “To me, the highest and best use of technology is exactly what we’re doing right now, it’s the connecting of people across time, across geography,” Mcleod enthuses. She believes the ability to connect with each other across time and space allows for the possibility of global connection and understanding. This prospect causes her excitement for the future, despite the disastrous way in which it appeared to unfold for the past few months.
The key to accessing this potential lies in recreating the synergy we get from positive face-to-face interactions and that starts with empathy. This is one of the principles discussed in Effective Communication at Work, noting that up to now, many people have exploited the anonymity of virtual platforms to avoid accountability in their interactions. “We need to recognize that although the environment is virtual, the people are real,” explains Mcleod. Since digital tools have become a more essential communication channel in our lives, conveying real empathy in our exchanges can improve their efficiency substantially.
The online environment will never provide the same experience we used to have in meeting rooms or working besides our colleagues, but that doesn’t mean we can’t feel connected. Working from home, the boundary separating our private and professional lives is rapidly eroding. While this may seem unusual, it could lead to more authentic and open bonds with our colleagues. “There is this opportunity now where we are being more real,” says Mcleod. Since it’s far too easy to take a removed, passive role in the context of virtual interactions, each of us will have to make an active effort to engage with our colleagues and collaborators.
After all, this is no more than how we’re asked to behave in civilized society. The mindset one needs to adopt in order to optimize their virtual interactions is not so different from the one recommended for real-life ones, only more deliberate. “To create a meaningful experience online, be present,” is the writer’s advice. “If you’re showing up to your work meetings, just sitting back in your chair and you don’t feel the need to engage because it’s virtual, you’re actually not participating fully and you’re not taking self-responsibility for the experience.”
Mcleod encourages people to take responsibility for their experiences, something she calls Uber-maturity.
The challenges of adjusting to the remote work lifestyle can be seen as hurdles just like they can be seen as opportunities. A lot of work and a lot of learning will be required to transition into our new reality, but it is comforting to know that human connection is one fundamental thing we can rely on. In the words of the infamous Dr. Ian Malcom, “Life will find a way.” When Covid-19 made it impossible for us to interact the way we have since the beginning of humanity, the digital tools we saw as gadgets and accessories enable our communities and our institutions to retain a relative degree of stability. We have means to carry on, as well as people looking to lend support.
Knowing that her work may be a useful resource during the quarantine but that people would probably cut expenses in the middle of a crisis, Mcleod made the content of her latest books available online through a podcast series. She organized a webinar with digital technology experts such as Steve Dotto to discuss ways to make online meetings matter. As a member of the Grey Swan Guild, she works in collaboration with a global network of over 300 thought leaders who aim to make sense of the post-pandemic new world. This Vancouver author is leading by example, and encourages you to do the same, so that you may fully connect with your colleagues and community.