Clown costumes, Water cooler chats, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam are joined once again by Katriona Lord-Levins to discuss collaborative planning. How has the pandemic effected how we collaborate? Has office life changed forever? Plus, Adam speaks on how we need to question any collaboration’s worth.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast.
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Welcome to another episode of the School of School podcast and one of our favourite guests is back again. Kat, how are you doing?
I'm doing great Adam. Thanks for having me. I guess I'll let people know that I'm Kat Lord-Levins and I'm the Chief Customer Success Officer at Bentley Systems, which is a software infrastructure company.
Brilliant, thank you. And it's not just... We sort of one office software infrastructure company is that, Kat, it's massive, right?
Yeah, no, we are about four and a half thousand people in the company and across 176 countries, we have 200 plus products and used across anyone doing any sort of infrastructure, be it building roads or bridges or buildings, sewer lines, fixing, getting the... Mining. We have some mining in there too. So it's a little of everything.
One of the things that I was really interested in, and it's a topic that's come up is planning collaboratively and obviously in an organisation of yours that will be happening every second of every day, I imagine, sort of 24/7. And I was wondering, well couple of things really is what makes successful collaborative planning in your experience and has there been an impact and a change in the way that we plan and work collaboratively with the impact of the pandemic?
Yeah, there's a couple of sides to that too, Adam. For sure, we have to... So there's a couple two pieces that came out of that. We all miss the water cooler moments. We miss the opportunity to innovate together. And so we had to be more intentional about meeting up and setting out goals, objectives and the purpose of what we're doing. And so to some degree we actually accelerated some projects because we stayed very focused and had to chase that down. We did miss the moments that may be colours outside the lines. So because you're not on the room together, innovation is a little stifled. You go in with a certain plan, you lay it down, you got your hour long meeting and then everybody gets out. So there are unfortunately opportunities missed to think differently perhaps about a solution that you are collaborating on.
So what are some of the communication? So Adam, what about in schools? Because this is true in schools too, right? Maybe in a different way, but collaboration. So even the relationship that teachers have with all kinds of stakeholders has changed. So obviously, they're still, hopefully, still in contact or now back in contact with the students in a collaborative environment, A.K.A. the classroom.
But I haven't met any of my kids' teachers in a long time now. Well any of my kids, only one of my kids really whose teachers I should be meeting, which is she's in high school. I've met any of her teachers. So that's interesting. So I can't collaborate with them and my child's futures, that's a manifestation in school but also in our own business... Yeah, it's pretty lonely around the water cooler. I'm the only one. Well, me and Amy are the only ones who regularly come to the office while before, there were 30 of us crammed into a small space. A lot has changed and the dynamic has changed and communications become much more, I don't know that it's more difficult, it's just very different.
It's the relationship building that's slightly missing. I mean, you know well Andy from reading the Noah Yuval Harari books where he talks about the key differentiator for homo sapiens over all the other races that lived on the earth around the same time was one of them was that they were great storytellers, so they could paint the vision of immensity of the sea without actually having to get there and that's a great way to mobilise people.
But the other one was that we were very social creatures and so they built communities together and the pandemic has broken apart our communities and our ability to build those relationships and strengthen collaboration. So collaboration happens. I think today, there's benefits from the virtual collaboration, but it's become more tactical as opposed to strategic. And the strategic one is the one where we get to innovate together. There's a danger of that. Now, you can use tools to brainstorm and again use the digital connection, but I don't know if we're realising that there's a potential that we might be losing that.
I suppose there needs to be so deliberate that there's some of that planning that I guess, or some of the collaboration that works. We're talking about we can't rely on chance clearly because it's just failed too often. But the collaboration must be very deliberate. And going back to what you were saying Andy, about schools and parents and those things, I think that where it has been deliberate. So the flip side of say meeting the parents is as a head teacher, I used to stand out the front of my school every morning so I could see everyone coming in and a lot of it I would have those conversations. So it was always accessible. And if I need to speak to someone, it didn't matter what it was.
I think that when you take that away, then everything has to become more deliberate. But we also have to question the worth of some of these things and what am I going to make that deliberate effort to collaborate with and how do we do it? And I think that some schools, and I'm sure true of organisations have done it really well and found processes and structures that are really good and will stay forever, regardless of the circumstance. But I think we've also seen where it's been really flawed and perhaps those collaborative planning moments were left a chance to often.
But there's a flip side though, which is that although we've lost something... So I think that the notion of the office as we knew it is never going to, is probably never going to exist again, right? Because the pandemic forced technology 10 years ahead, at least, when it comes to virtual collaboration. And in organisations now what's happened is that barriers that existed before proximity to the office are now gone. Kat, you're working for a company that's in a different state. You lived in California, but you're in Arizona doing your job. I've seen you be all kinds of places in the world doing your job at any point, you're always moving around. You can be anywhere. And I know other people who do stuff like that as well. And I also know that in our business right now, we are literally, we have people working 24 hours a day around the clock in different places.
We have people in Vancouver, we have people in Ontario, in Canada. We used to have people in Quebec, we've got people obviously in Great Britain, we've got people in Singapore, we've got people in New Zealand. At any given point in the day, there's people working and I mean we were doing a little bit of that before the pandemic, but now it's just made it really crystal clear, it doesn't really matter where you are. If you got qualifications and you can do the job, you're welcome, we're welcoming you, we want you in the organisation. All you need to do now is have the right skills and it doesn't matter where you live, it doesn't matter what time zone you're in. And if somebody here says, "Well, before..." If somebody said, "I want to go to Japan for six weeks, can I work from there?"
Before I was like, "Ah, okay, well maybe we'll see how we can make..." I was like, "Yeah, maybe go in Japan. Hang out in Japan for six weeks, that's fine, it's great. Enjoy it." Right? We'll figure out a way to take advantage of the fact that you're in Japan. Use the time zones to our benefit and that's great. So all kinds of different types of collaboration can happen now. So barriers that existed before have been taken away. So we've lost some things, but we've opened up a whole bunch of other stuff. We just got to figure it all out.
And I agree with you Andy. I think we have to always be asking ourselves the question as well of are we missing something? And I say that because absolutely there's people who are revelling in the fact that they can work anywhere, do anything. But I go back to the tactical job versus this strategic job. And to some... So I've got great parallels on this. I ran a workshop virtually doing the little sessions that I do, which is all the sticky notes up on but I did it virtually on the computer. It was tedious. We got it done, we got it out the door, but it was very sterile in how it happened.
So I'm doing exactly the same kind of a session here with people face to face in Arizona and the conversation and the aggravation that gets bubbled up in there, I guarantee you that if I look at both of those projects in the rear view mirror, this one will have propelled forward faster because people got a sense of togetherness, people got a sense of challenging each other, talking over each other, which is harder to do virtually. And in the virtual world, you're not in the atmosphere that's around you when you're doing strategic things. Again, tactical things, that's great. Stay on track, focus, get this done. But for strategic big box thinking, I think we want to be careful about... Be choosy. And I think that's what it gets down to, use the pandemic as a time to forget some things and not forget some things, so learn some things, learn the things that I can make more of my time at home. I can get more done from a tactical perspective, but don't throw away the face to face because it's an important element to us as human beings, I think.
No, you're absolutely right. And I know from... And Kat, you know me very well and Adam and Robin obviously know me very well too. But we've worked together closely and had those heated discussions about what's right and what's wrong and whatever. And it happens because we're in the same room and you'll say something and I'll go, "I don't know if I agree with that." And then we wrestle and it's great because we both get to hear our points of view. We both get very passionate about it. And it's like we get somewhere and both of us walk away winning from that situation. I remember having lots of those with you, Kat, but then I'm not going to ping you a Slack message and say, "Hey, Kat, have you got two seconds? I want to argue with you." That's not going to happen, right? It's not going to happen. So those things don't happen.
I have heard you two. I've heard you two in the room having a heated discussion, both very passionate about your viewpoints and there is no way you could recreate that.
No, but the whole point of that is that I always walk away with those kinds of conversations. I can't have them with everyone. I know I can have them with Kat, but I can't have them with everyone. If I tried to do that with my kids, they won't speak to me for a couple of days. But when I walk away from that situation, I feel invigorated. The next day I'll be writing things in my agenda, "We have to do this. We have to blah, blah blah." And that becomes that what might seem like to you, Robin, if you're sitting in a room watching me and Kat go at it, you think that, "Oh my god, they hate each other. They're never going to speak again." But for me, that's the catalyst for my next six months of vision has come from that argument that I had with not Kat... Not argue... We don't argue.
A very passionate discussion that we have.
But that's fuel for me. That's my fuel. That's what drives me to do better all the time, is to have everybody challenge everything I say. And that's really hard to do virtually.
And I did on that note, have a good conversation with someone in our company the other day and she was so energised because the sales team in the UK had an onsite and they hadn't been together in quite a long time. She said, "I left that two days of being together so energised and so ready to just get out and do my part." And I said, "Wow, that's great feedback. I'm sure they'd love to hear it." And more so there's no way that she would've walked away had she just left a call virtually. She might have been energised in her own way, but she said it was the group being there on site. So collaboration, sitting down together is different. It's that different sense of energy.
The only thing I'd say about that is don't stay too... I always go back to my be comfortable being uncomfortable, but don't get too comfortable with your slippers on at your computer. Make sure that you dress up and go talk to people face to face.
And that's a real danger from working from home. And that's why I come into the office, even I'm in here by myself. Because for me, I need that separation. I need to be able to... Because otherwise what I will do, especially because we work cross time zones is not unusual. Actually, it's quite normal for me to get up in the morning and within a few minutes of getting up, be in a meeting and then be talking to someone in a completely different time zone at the end of the day. That's just normal. And the problem with that is that you can come down in your PJs and make a cup of tea and jump on a call and then find yourself in the same PJs having had change at the end of the day.
At dinner time
At dinnertime because everything just becomes a big blur and the day's kind of melt. And to me that's really unhealthy. So even some days... Because funny because a conversation with Amy, I'll say, "Some days you'll see me come in with a dress shirt and fully dressed for a corporate job and there's no reason." Sometimes it's because I'm talking to the bank and that's kind of what you do when you talk to the bank. But sometimes it's because I just need to put on a costume, that's like my clown costume for the day and I'm a clown for the day and then I stop being a clown and I go home and I take off the clown uniform and now, I'm Andy again and I need to do that. And some days I just need to do that. I just need to do that because I need that separation. So because otherwise my life just blurs into this big, I don't know. Does anybody else feel that way?
Oh yeah. I have to be dressed. I change.
Please the answer is yes, Robin.
Because I get up.
... That's good stuff.
Well, yeah, we're kind of assuming that being dressed is kind of like the baseline, right?
Well I'm mean...
You're not wearing your PJs.
Yeah, let's get the check. I'm never wearing my PJs to work. My workday starts, I am dressed. So dressed for work. Let's-
Just for work there?
... add that in there. Yeah. Oh boy. I get abused here, I'm telling you. But that's okay. And actually bringing it back to the classroom, what about that teachers can't wear their slippers to the classroom now. And do you think that would change how they work with their students if they were teaching online at home, which they did at one point and they're still wearing their PJs. Does it change how they relate to their kids?
I think it does. I think it does because it's such a difficult skill. It's such a difficult skill. I remember I was listening to a solicitor who was talking, and this was at the time where they weren't actually, all the court sessions were virtual. And he was saying he didn't even know whether or not the rulings would stand further down the track because there is so much in seeing other people and how they react and the conversations away from it is so vital to our communication. And for all of us, we're all just shoulders up, that's all we're seeing of one another. And there's no real movement and all those sorts of things. So I think a teacher would've been absolutely desperate to get back into the classroom as would've the children. But I do think that it's a skill set that needs to be developed and utilised because it's going to be with us and we need to be prepared for that which I think for schools you would never think in a million years of doing it that way as a general.
So I think that the thing that we all need to be mindful of now is that it's unlikely that the world's going to return to what it was like pre-pandemic. Or if it is, it's going to take an awful long time. Well, the world always... History always repeats itself, but it's going to be different and technology's going to play a role. And this remote working is a reality that we were talking about a long time ago and saying that the future might look something that now it's happening. A good portion of the workforces is remote. A lot of the relationships that we're close are, but some aren't. If you're a social worker, not a social worker necessarily, but like a doctor or a teacher or any of those types of professions, you're still going to be working in an environment face to face for a while, I believe.
But for educators, I think the thing to be mindful of is that the skills that children need moving into the new workforce are going to be slightly different and they need to be both able to work in a virtual collaborative environment, a real collaborative environment and on their own a lot and self-motivated. We need to make sure that we're not producing factory workers for the industrial revolution and that we're producing knowledge workers and knowledge managers for the new world.
Yeah. I would say the one key thing to do is always keep a sense of self because I think that's what maybe gives you your own North Star.
And take off your slippers
Or wear really fancy slippers that look like shoes. All right, everyone, thanks once again for joining us, yeah.
Thank you. Thanks guys.
Thank you for joining us on The School of School Podcast.