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Ep. 18 – Wellbeing & Productivity

Mich Bondesio and her 6 guests are exploring the pandemic lessons they’ve learned about wellbeing and productivity, and what they will be doing more of going forwards.

Any resources referenced in the episode are listed below the transcript.

Season 3 features the following people:

Catarina King is a dynamic and passionate community builder, and one of the co-founders of coworking space called Society1. https://www.society1.co.uk/

Rashmir Balasubramaniam is an executive coach and strategic advisor to current and emerging female leaders of social innovation and systems change. https://www.rashmir.net/

Amy Young is a senior account manager at ICG, a well-established, award-winning creative agency in the North West of England. https://www.icg.agency/

Garth Dew is a video producer and business owner who helps brands and companies to create marketing and event content. https://www.gdvideo.co.uk/

Ed Matthews-Gentle leads a creative business support programme in Lancashire, and he’s also a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. https://www.creativelancashire.org/

James Taplin is an ecologist and innovation consultant for a national innovation agency https://www.ukri.org/ and a writer and bladesmith. https://www.broadcloth.co.uk/

Creating Cadence Transcript – Ep. 18

Welcome to Episode 18, the second episode in the third season of the Creating Cadence podcast, and as mentioned in the last episode, I’m experimenting with something different for this season.

To recap, I invited 6 creative thinkers from my network, who work in a variety of different sectors and situations, to share their thoughts and experiences based on a set of specific questions relating to hybrid working, digital wellness and productivity.

My guests are Catarina King, Garth Dew, Amy Young, Ed Matthews-Gentle, James Taplin and Rashmir Balasubramaniam.

In the last episode, Episode 17, we looked at hybrid working, current trends driving the future of work, and the impact this may all have on these people and their work.

If you haven’t listened to that one yet, I recommend doing so first, as it will give you a fuller introduction to my guests and it sets the tone for the bigger picture surrounding this ongoing conversation over the next few episodes.

So now, in episode 18, we’re exploring how the pandemic has created and influenced new ways of working for my guests, and the personal lessons they’ve learnt about their wellbeing and productivity during this time.

Please note, these conversations and responses have been recorded in real-world situations, so you may hear the sounds of traffic or roadworks, people chatting in the background, creaky chairs, rustling headphones or random internet connectivity issues.

If you’re ready, let’s dive in…

For this episode I asked my panel two questions:

Firstly, I wanted to know what changes they or their companies had made in the way they were working during the pandemic, which they’re now choosing to continue using or developing further, as we go forward into this next part of life and work.

Secondly, I was interested to find out what their biggest learnings have been from working during a pandemic in respect of their wellbeing, their focus and attention, and their productivity and performance.

These two areas of inquiry may sound unrelated, but you’ll hear from my guests responses just how inextricably linked they can be.

Mich: First up, we have Catarina King, co-founder of Society1, a coworking space in Preston, Lancashire which is where I’m based, and for my listeners in other parts of the world, that’s in the North West of England. Catarina introduces us to what turns out to be a central thread in our new way of working.

Catarina: I think the adoption of video calls has been a game changer for many people. I think it will become a more common occurrence and save a lot of unnecessary travel for meetings that can be held online. It also makes a lot of learning more accessible too.

Mich: As Catarina continues, while being online has opened up new ways of living, working and connecting, there are downsides which can affect our wellbeing too.

Catarina: The last year has been like roller coaster of emotions on so many levels. I have definitely learned that it’s important to find time for myself and family. Finding ways to escape and switch my off mind have been very high on my list, which hasn’t been easy when we are surrounded by news and updates and changes all the time, but I think that space and downtime is super important.

Mich: Next up, Garth Dew, a videographer, entrepreneur and owner of GD Video, shares an excellent example of the benefits of incorporating video calls into the way we do business.

Garth: So the biggest change was client management. And I think what I will continue to do is work via video call and collaboration, using collaboration tools in the cloud, to get pre-production done. And post production. Obviously, I’ll still be going out to film with clients. And as long as we do that, within the rules and do it safely, there’s no problem with that. And I see video work continuing to be very popular.

But I think the pre and post production for me is where I can save time by not having to go out and meet people, and we can do it remotely. And I’m definitely gonna carry on with that.

Mich: Garth also shares the opportunities that lockdown presented to build a stronger connection with his daughter and to change his work cycle to fit his wellbeing and support his relationships better.

Garth: Living through COVID and lockdown has changed my mindset massively. I used to think that I needed to be working all the time.

Filling my pipeline, selling, selling, doing, doing all the time, and I think what locked down, forced me to do initially was step back and realise that my daughter, who at the time was just turning three, is only young once and I basically went into a month or two of almost full time childcare, when my production work was all cancelled. And I really enjoyed that, and we’ve got a much better relationship as a result.

So I think it’s made me assess work life balance. And I’m less interested now in being busy all the time and more interested on working on projects I want to do, and having some balance in my life.

So the way that’s affected me during COVID is I might now work really hard for three or four weeks on a certain amount of projects. And then I might feel like taking two or three weeks to relax a little bit more and spend a bit more time at home or doing other things.

Mich: Personally, this style of working resonates with me. As someone who works themselves, I’m fortunate that I get to design and decide how most of my days run, and I find that 3-6 week sprints of more intensive work, followed by a slower cycle for a week or two, works very well to create a supportive work-life cadence for me.

And during lockdown I got the chance to really implement and cement that style of working so that it’s now an embedded, routine. But obviously everyone is different and you need to find a pattern and cycle of work that works for you.

Mich: Next is Amy Young, a senior account manager at ICG, a marketing agency based near Preston. Amy shares how video calls have become central to how they work and how they have enabled more inclusive meetings.

Amy: Well, we admittedly didn’t do lots of video calls before we went into lockdown. It was kind of like we did them, of course, and we had like conference calls, you know, back in the day, conference calls and things. But I think the video calls allows us to get in front of clients and show various members of the team as well, which, you know, before you quite restricted in sometimes how many people go to a meeting and you know, travel in and time out of the office, and that and those kind of scenarios.

So for us, continuing with video calls, although I know a lot of people have got video call fatigue, but for us, continuing with video calls, you know, will still be key for us as an agency.

Mich: Amy also mentioned that video calls also mean there are no geographical barriers, whether that comes to hiring opportunities or to communicating with remote team members and clients. For communication, ICG have also become more reliant on digital tools such as Slack and WhatsApp for when more reactive internal communications are required.

For those not working in the office, Amy confirms that the digital options have been an effective alternative in ICG’s fast-paced work environment. But she also observed that while these tools can help to create connection, the experience is different from the sociability of gathering around someone’s desk or popping over to see a colleague to chat through a problem in the real.

On the productivity and wellbeing front, Amy’s biggest lesson has been around setting boundaries and learning how and when to stop working, so that work doesn’t eat into other parts of her life and affect her other responsibilities.

Mich: I think it’s knowing when to step away from from work, and, and understanding that not everything needs to be done in that moment? I think that’s the danger, obviously, of being when you’re kind of at home full time, you know, fully full time working. And you might walk past your computer and go, I’ll just quickly reply to an email or I’ll quickly do that.

And it’s kind of like that it’s not it’s always not just a quick reply, then something else crops and things. So I think it is knowing when to kind of, you know, step away and and understanding what, what can be left until the next day, or doesn’t have to be done in that exact moment.

Mich: Having to adjust her workflow to fit around her lifestyle and other responsibilities has made Amy more cognisant of respecting other people’s situations too, as they may have needs which affect the pace at which they can work so that they can accommodate the other parts of their life as well.

Mich: Next up is Ed Matthews-Gentle, the programme leader for a business support organisation called Creative Lancashire.

This organisation used to be based in an office at Lancashire County Council in Preston, which Ed commuted to regularly. But for the past year, Creative Lancashire’s HQ has been a two metre by one and a half metre square space in the corner of Ed’s dining room. So his commute has changed dramatically over this time, as has the idea of having a permanent HQ in this new low or no touch world.

Ed: Physical constraints have made it unlikely that I’ll ever sit with my colleagues, again at County Hall in the way I did before, you know, it just won’t happen, you know, the way that building used to function, with 1000s of people coming in and out the building every day, that just isn’t gonna be a thing in the future.

So, tech going to be part of the solution for that, but it won’t be the only solution, but it’s gonna be a big part of it really.

Mich: Ed’s sense of the intensifying fast pace of the world, with things always being ‘on’ and paradigms shifting rapidly, has also encouraged him and his colleagues to slow things down and be more considered in their decision making and action taking, because in his words “the constant making of plans and changing of plans, also takes it’s toll.”

He also raises a good point about the whether it’s necessary to be geographically bound to a specific location if everything continues to be done online.

Ed: I kind of guess, you know, one of the lessons I’ve learned or considered in though is that if I can work from home, you know, and be more productive from home in many cases, but I can’t do everything, but I can do a lot of stuff. And I can do it fairly well. I mean, can home be anywhere? You know, where do I have to be, you know? But I do naturally, sort of feel that urge to have a connection with the organisations and individuals who we’re here to support and work with.

So, prior to lock down, you know, out frequently be looked at co working spaces like Society1, as a way to sort of enhance the ability to have a connection, you know, and I still sort of need that. But I’m still sort of, you know, working a lot of this stuff out in terms of how it’s going to be the future. I mean, I’m going back to that thing about volumes of work, you know, and demands on time.

Mich: Like Amy and Catarina, Ed also highlighted the need to switch off and the challenges he experiences with trying to do so when the boundaries between work and home life are so blurred. We’ll cover his response to that in a bit more detail in the next episode.

Mich: Which brings me to James Taplin, an ecologist and lead consultant for Innovate UK.

James’s first observation around productivity is about how the rhythm of our work has altered to the extent that there seems to be no space in the day, and how that’s not necessarily a good thing. His thoughts are a lament for the loss of novelty, unexpectedness, and serendipity, all things which influence and support creative thought. But his point is also a warning about the dangers of polarisation.

James: There’s something terrible now about but the the constant purpose of every single minute of the day like if you’re planning something in, if the if you’re not travelling anywhere, you’ve got no gaps in between anything.

You’ve got no downtime, you’re not Doing anything unexpected, you’re not meeting people randomly on the streets, you’re not buying coffee and having overhearing conversations or coffee or whatever else it might be everything is purposeful, like my calendar is built in from nine o’clock to six o’clock or whatever else it is. To do do do, chunk, chunk, chunk, I know exactly what I’m doing all the time.

There’s no space for any kind of novelty and unexpectedness.

And there is a real problem actually, in this in that, and I think encouraged us all to be a lot more polarised and we’ve always been a bit polarised, we’ve always been stuck a little bit in our own filter bubbles online. And that used to be countered a little bit by the fact we’d go out and we’d see real people in the street. And maybe that would change their opinions.

But now, if you’re all you’re doing is working with the same people all the time, I’m thinking the same sorts of the time that that filter bubble becomes ever more intense. And the polarisation between people potentially becomes even more intense as well.

Mich: James also mentioned how removing our commute from our workday has had some unrecognised impacts, and may continue to do so for people who continue to work from home, if they can’t find ways to build that space back into their day.

James: I think there’s also something that has changed. And I’m sure you’ve seen this as well, people have been talking about travel itself as an integral part of actually an unrecognised, but integral part of the success of a day.

So people generally would think the classic example is the commute. And people have always been moaning the commute. And I’m sure there’s lots that’s terrible about the commute. But I think, actually, for me, my commute was a 10 mile ride to a station, which was lovely, you know, that was quite a nice commute.

But I think even for those people who used to remember community, what what, what that travel used to do was give people a bit of a kind of a mindful space to get themselves sorted for the day to work out where they’re going just to kind of get their head settled.

It was a signifier, the day was starting, you know, there was a transition from the home to the working and that’s a problem. I think, with that kind of that the home working, distributed, working, you know, what, what are those barriers?

What are those cues that tell you you’re starting or stopping?

And there’s also something about the mindfulness of just doing something like driving or like cycling that allows your brain just to kind of tick away on other problems nowhere even really realising it until it gets things settled in your head.

Mich: Other more personal learnings that James has gained over the pandemic, have to do with connecting with his family more deeply, and incorporating more intentional creative activities into his day-to-day to help set the tone for his days.

For James, his specific creative activity was forging knives, waking early in the morning to develop a skill that he intends to continue mastering even as we come out of lockdown.

Mich: Now let’s hear from Rashmir Balasubramanium, an independent leadership coach and advisor to women. Like James, Rashmir has become even more intentional about how she works as a result of her experiences this past year. And here’s her response to my question about whether she had made any changes to how she is working.

Rashmir: So the answer to this one for me is yes, and no, because I was already working remotely. And from home, there’s many things that haven’t really changed.

What has changed, though, I think, is the intensity of the time spent on zoom. And, and so I get it, the first couple of months of lockdown, I was quite cognisant of the impact on, you know, my eyes of looking at a screen for so many hours in the day.

And so it made me it made me I suppose, a little more disciplined about trying to get out into nature, and get away from my screen, you know, even if it was just a little bit at the very beginning of the day, this is harder in winter, of course, than in summer, but it just brought an increased emphasis to finding and maintaining balance, because I’ve worked very hard over many years to, to move away from being something of a workaholic to having a more balanced lifestyle, and it’s very easy when there’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of need to fall back into that.

Mich: Like many others, this time has enabled Rashmir to reflect a lot more on what’s truly important. She notes how this search for meaning globally encompasses more than just our lifestyle or work style.

Rashmir: I’d say many people are also thinking more not just about environment, environmental impact, but also about social impact. And so that enables ensuring that there is ongoing time for reflection around what is important.

And what is purposeful seems to be something that is very important to people and to myself, and actually, for me, given my tendency to fall into workaholic kind of modes and practices, just emphasising having fun and building time into my life to you know, get out into nature, to try new things to, to just do things where where I have fun, and where I laugh, has has been something that I’ve realised is incredibly important.

And of course, I think for a lot of people to just the awareness of recognising and investing in building strong relationships and more diverse relationships is another thing, I think has been an important. I don’t know if it’s a lesson so much from the last year or two, but it’s just certainly something I’ve, I’ve made a conscious choice to do more.

Summing Up

So, the questions I asked my panel for this episode revolved around what they’d learned about their wellbeing and productivity during this past year and what they’ll be doing more of in their future of work.

The central crux appears to be that as we continue to spend more time connecting and working online, we’ve also identified the need to embed practices that support and protect our creativity and our wellbeing. Because without those, we are less productive.

We can benefit from slowing things down, creating more opportunities for pause, and being more intentional in how we live and work.

We can benefit from creating stronger boundaries between work life and the rest of our life (even if those boundaries aren’t physical and even if our office happens to be at our dining room table).

We can benefit from incorporating activities that can substitute for what we get out of a commute and being in a real world office.

We can benefit from building fun, joy, laughter and play into our day.

The key is intentionality and having a real desire to live and work in a better way, rather than being dragged along on autopilot. It requires some thought and it takes practice. But that’s how developing any new habit or ritual starts.

Try, experiment, give it a go, and keep coming back to what’s important. Hint: it’s not the deadline or the client project.

We have one life. If we choose to look after our bodies and minds first, they will be more resilient to the challenges we’re likely to face ahead, and they will enable us to continue to create and deliver in our work and support others in our relationships and communities for many years to come.

If we don’t put wellbeing first, we’re likely to crash and burn in this new future of work.

In the next episode of this 3rd season, my panel will be commenting on what they struggle with most about online working. They will also share their personal tips for protecting their attention, maintaining focus and supporting their wellbeing and productivity.

If you have thoughts about this episode or you have a question relating to productivity, wellbeing or hybrid and distributed working, then I’d love to hear from you. You can write to: hello at growthsessions.co

Thanks for listening. If you’re liking the Creating Cadence podcast, I’d appreciate you rating or leaving a review via Apple Podcast or you could email me a testimonial. This all helps other people like you to find the podcast.

Until next time, please take care out there. Be brave, think big and keep moving forwards, one step at a time.

© Bondesio C&C  2022. All Rights Reserved.

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