Speaker 1 00:00:06 I've kind of pivoted from this model of using stress as the motivating force to get things done and looking at how to create environments where people actually feel calm, connected to others around them, then they're able to, you know, achieve their goals. Maybe sometimes they also don't always achieve their goals and that's also okay.Speaker 2 00:00:24 Welcome to the Remote Culture Club podcast. On this show we inspire and equip leaders to build remote culture that works. I'm your host Alex Dunn and even though I've been leading remote organizations for over 10 years, I'm always learning more. It's really nice to have you here and without further ado, welcome to the show.Speaker 2 00:00:47 Think back to the last time you got a notification and then got another notification and another notification in your remote worker collaboration and you just felt, um, a spite of stress or anxiety. There's so much to do, you're never gonna be able to do it all. You're looking at the clock and you've got a meeting starting in five minutes. And I think that's a sort of setup that's quite common in remote spaces where we feel really pressurized and like we're on the treadmill of stress that's driving us to do more and try and make everything better all at once. In this conversation I'm gonna be talking to Faith Bosworth who's someone I've worked on and off with for many years and we're gonna be discussing the role that stress plays in remote spaces. And this is a topic that I think about a lot because I think remote work has the possibility to structure things so that we're much less stressed in our work life. But I also think paradoxically it also can be way more stressful than in-person collaboration if managed poorly. I hope you enjoy this conversation where we unpack the role that stress should play in work, the way that leaders can model best practice, sort of create spaces where staff are allowed to de-stress their work environments and some tips for reframing issues that might be coming up. Um, if you notice yourself experiencing stress or high stress environments consistently or in a sustained way in your remote team. So without further ado, faith Bosworth.Speaker 2 00:02:18 So welcome Faith. It's really nice to have you here. In this conversation we're gonna talk a little bit about the way that individual stress and sort of psychological elements of ourselves show up in our work and how that connects specifically um, to challenges in remote work environments. But faith, before we get started, do you wanna talk a little bit about your background, sort of the work that you have done, the work that you do? Why you do it?Speaker 1 00:02:45 Hi everyone. Yeah, glad to be here with Alex who's also an old friend and yeah, I've been actually I'm just realizing I've remote worked my whole life out. My first job was a remote position and that's also how Alex and I met. So it is what I've always known and I never really realized it was a thing that was just work. So I guess everything I've learned has been through that and yeah, for the last eight years I've been facilitating a very intense uh, process called a book Sprint. Um, which is kind of based on the model of like high productivity under stress. And then I started to myself get involved, become a practitioner of meditation and mindfulness because I was dealing with a lot of personal issues in my life, which often tends to happen kind of in your thirties where maybe you had a bit of a crisis in your life if things start all your defense, all your strategies for coping kind of start revealing themselves to not be that effective. So I started looking into different practices and meditation, mindfulness was what stuck and I decided to train to teach as well and I've kind of been infusing my facilitation with that ever since. So yeah, and I've kind of pivoted from this model of using stress as the motivating force to get things done and looking at how to create environments um, where people actually feel calm connected to others around them, then they're able to, you know, achieve their goals. Maybe sometimes they also don't always achieve their goals and that's also okay.Speaker 2 00:04:06 Yeah, that's super interesting. I had a conversation yesterday with a friend about the distinction between sort of executive functioning in your brain where you're like actually thinking meaningfully about where you're trying to go and what you need to do to get there versus the sort of fight or flight mode of thinking. And we were reflecting on he wants to sort of shift the proportion of his time spent in the executive function rather than the stress function. And it really struck me that in remote spaces so much of what happens you're incentivized to be in that sort of fight or flight mode. The sort of way that we think about presence in the little green dot saying I'm active, I'm here, I can like I can answer that question for you. Um, and then it's like, it's a factory of stress and stress is the motivator. So I really like that as sort of a way of thinking about how things don't have to be that way for people. <laugh>. Yeah, that seems like a really good shift for you and sort of in general, I'm wondering, do you wanna talk a little bit about the unique aspects of remote work that might lend to stress and sort of change the dynamics of stress and sort of individual management of stress? Yeah, I meanSpeaker 1 00:05:08 I'd be interested as well in hearing what what you found. Of course like our experience online we're missing all those physical cues. There's something about being in a space with someone. It's also like the way that we've lived our whole lives is we learn to read and understand read cues and understand people by being near to them. And I think it's really easy when you're working purely remotely to get stuck. I mean we already have this tendency as humans, like I remember hearing this quote once, which is like we have no way of knowing how someone else experiences us and we have no one no way of knowing how someone else experiences themself. That's something I reflect on a lot because we so quickly come to assumptions and in normal life, just in day-to-day life, like with your partner, with your boss, with your colleague, with like the person at the post office, all of a sudden it's like oh my god, they didn't do that thing because they have something against me. And we don't even stop to reflect like what could be going on in that person's life. I've had days where I don't treat someone so nicely where I slip up and don't get a job done. It's really easy for us to fall into our own mental narrative of what's happening. And so I think when we're working purely online, that's just turned up a hundred degrees.Speaker 2 00:06:16 Yeah, that, that's super interesting. That really resonates on that post office point. I've been working with a coach this year and she has this great question she encourages you to ask yourself, which is what am I making that mean? And like how much meaning we project onto situations. Um, in addition to sort of not recognizing that there's information we might not have, there's context we might not have, there's all kinds of interpretation that takes place in every exchange we have and sometimes we confuse interpretation with information in fact. Um, and then we kind of react to our interpretation rather than what's actually happening. Which I think is another, yeah, it's heightened in remote spaces and I think that point of pressurized experiences that remote really makes it all way worse. Um, like after you connect in an intense environment in a remote space, you're oftentimes either going straight to another pressurized space or you're alone. Neither of those is really a good place to like unpack what just happened. And so you end up like stacking, like sometimes I see people's calendars and it's like pressurized intense conversation, pressurized intense conversation code switching between lots of different roles and like responsibilities and it's just one thing after the next af and like there's no, there's really like no meaningful space I think to just like beSpeaker 1 00:07:29 Yeah and I think we haven't yet calibrated it, you know, we sort of maybe have our gauge offline of like oh this is a high pressure thing like going to a meeting, having a important meeting with you know your boss or with a client that you're trying to pitch to. That's something that's like quite stressful and probably like in if you were working in an office or whatever, that would just be the one thing that happened in your day. But I feel like now we don't have that anymore cause it's just like all online so it's just like oh you could just have like seven of those in one day and re not even realize that you've done that to yourself. And I think the other piece is that well there's also an expectation, right? There's just like I know you Alex as well, you often work in different time zones and I've had that experience where we used to be able to go away into a different time zone and then we could not answer our emails in the night because we weren't expect it to be on European time zone. But now there's just the kind of with the normalization of working remotely, um, there's a tendency to expect that.Speaker 2 00:08:20 Yeah and it's like this treadmill where when you're resting the work is piling up, which I also think is kind of a back to that pressure point. I think there's like a real, it doesn't ever really stop because there's always someone on your team doing something and I think that that must have an effect on being able to really switch off. Cuz even if you're not on your computer, you may still be thinking about work, you may be thinking about what that person needs. You may be thinking about what that person's doing. You may wake up in the morning and you know, rather than having a nice, you know, relaxing morning to sort of get you ready for that big meeting, instead you're like trying to clear that backlog so that you're not the bottleneck for people that have like piled up stuff in the morning.Speaker 2 00:08:58 Which I think is the, yeah it feels global in this way. That means always on. And I think that can be very stressful if we don't manage it well and manage our own expectations of ourself. To your point about people expect that you're gonna be able to go ding, ding, ding, ding, ding all day long and that you aren't a person that needs rest and things. I'm wondering, I mean when you think about teams, so obviously there is me as an individual managing my own needs and being mindful and listening to what I need and making sure that I get what I need. And then there's the sort of teams we work within which obviously have sets of norms and practices and like systems in which I'm an individual operating, but also in which as a group we have the power to make changes if we know what changes we should make. So how do you think about those two levels of responsibility and sort of possibility for managing stress in work?Speaker 1 00:09:45 I mean the individual level it's like a, it's more of a psychological question I guess looking into, you know, you were talking about that pressure of feeling like, oh everyone needs me to answer, people are relying on me but everyone will have like a different thing that's, you know, stress is really just a symptom. It's like you can have a lot to do and you can do it without experiencing stress and it's the same with isolation. And so then I think it's about looking into what is driving that like underneath the stress, is it the, yeah fear of letting people down. Is it the fear of letting yourself down? Is it you know, that imposter syndrome like I'm gonna be found out to be like a total fraud, you know, do I need to please people? Like all these different, there could be, everyone has their unique flavor of what is the thing that's what's driving them, what is the need that uh, they're trying to fulfill And then like when they get stressed, what are they're afraid of? So that's like at the individual level I think starting to inquire a little bit into like well where does this come from? Am I invested as well in an identity of being a super busy stressed, exhausted person? Which is a hard question to ask.Speaker 2 00:10:51 I mean wait, before we move on to the team side of things, I have two, so one stress is a symptom I wanna hear more about then what's the cause I think that point about are you invested in an identity of being a busy, busy person? I think that must connect a little bit to the fact that most people think that's the way work gets done. Like if there was someone that you knew that wanted it to be different or thought maybe it could be different but didn't quite know what that would look like and they were invested in that identity because it made them feel, I see people that are like that usually they think because busyness is the road to impact. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you would ask a person, tell a person, encourage a person to think about, sort of help them see that that's not necessarily true. I'd love to hear more about that and I'll remind you of the stress as a symptom cuz I know that's too many things to ask you to talk about. OneSpeaker 1 00:11:39 Time I think already starting to ask that question. So asking at the kind of counterintuitive way which is like what is right about being stressed? And at first someone would say no, nothing because they're trying to solve the fair, the fact that they're stressed. But if you keep asking the question, probably you're gonna get to the, to that maybe core belief that like if I'm exhausted that means that I'm working hard. And then we can start like asking the question. But like is that really true? Do you know anyone who you think is having an impact but it's not stressed? Have you ever come across anyone? And it doesn't also have to be in set in the conventional way, right? Like, you know, it doesn't have to be the CEO of a company. Maybe someone had an impact on you in a different way. Maybe it's a book that you read it made, it's an article that you read.Speaker 2 00:12:21 I really like that prompt of basically what it, what's right about being stressed and exhausted. Yeah, it's kind of a bitSpeaker 1 00:12:27 Of a mind bender because we know that it's not right but then we're like, but that's how the world is shaped.Speaker 2 00:12:33 Yeah and I think it's provocative because underlying this I think is the presumption that stress adds value And I think if you strip it away from context and you say independent of context, what value does stress provide? And the answer is zero. Like it like it like it doesn't on its own. There are certain situations in which stress is a useful motivator probably, but divorced of context, it's never a positiveSpeaker 1 00:12:58 Wonder actually, even if it is because you could ask the question then like okay so what's motivating you? Okay it's stress but like what, what actually is, it's not that you're stressed like what is it? Oh it's because this thing's important to me because it's gonna have an impact on a lot of people. It's I'm helping people by doing this, this is why I'm stressed about it. So yeah, ISpeaker 2 00:13:16 Think I might be right. I mean I feel like I've come along this a long way this year in terms of being a parent where it felt, it felt like there were moments or a confluence of factors where stress was both unavoidable and that the endorphin or adrenaline from stress made it possible for me to continue to sustain a level of things I do care about around work even when I wasn't sleeping very much or I was like frustrated because of for whatever reason basically the more I've been at maximum capacity through things that were outside of my control, I think I've started to more appreciate the fact that stress isn't actually necessary. Like it is a, it's almost a choiceSpeaker 1 00:13:54 Like a learned response but I think it's a choice that you can learn to unlearn itSpeaker 2 00:13:58 But with intent I have been able to sort of redirect my own responses in a way that makes me much more effective at navigating difficulty and also makes me more all of the work that I do way more sustainable because I'm not, I very rarely dip into mental reserves now and I find that really like powerful, it makes me more focused, it makes me more effective. It's really interesting.Speaker 1 00:14:20 I think that's the thing is that we don't really realize that the stress piece is actually so draining of our energy. So we've got this to do and then we're adding our constant stress and our anxious thinking, you know, our bodies in, as we were talking about fight in flight earlier, that's like our body, we have a, you know we have a nervous system response to what's going on. So our body's stressed, our mind is stressed and that's taking energy away as well. So we can't even do the things that we need to do or we are doing them but we're having a terrible time.Speaker 2 00:14:48 Yeah and like what's the point of that? AndSpeaker 1 00:14:50 It means that you're uh, less prepared for whatever like other calamity might come hurtling into your life.Speaker 2 00:14:56 So back to that phrase, stress is a symptom, you just articulated it as a cause of energy drain and like a little gremlin that we wanna maybe not activate for ourselves but in what way then is it because symptom to me implies there's a deterministic relationship between something happens and then there's a symptom of that thing happening, which to me implies that you're not quite able to have that moment of intention and redirection. I tried to get a toddler dressed this morning in a house that was under heated because I have British in-laws who are experiencing winter in a poorly insulated house and are adamant about uh, not keeping the house warm, which means my child has valid reason for not wanting to take her clothes off when she is very happy to exercise the same amount of frustration on other days when she doesn't have a valid reason. So the stress of chasing a small child around the house to force her to get ready for the day is the most recent um, deeply stressful experience <laugh> I've had.Speaker 1 00:15:57 And why it was stressful. Why was it stressful? Because you didn't have enough time?Speaker 2 00:16:00 No, it was more um, I mean I reflected on it in the moment as it being stressful and then I de-stressed it by making it like fun and made it relaxed and basically was like there's no consequence to this not happening.Speaker 1 00:16:12 That's exactly what you've just pinpointed it. I mean this is the main thing that we learned to see that the, the state of our mind completely determined to be experience of our life. You could go through that situation feeling really stressed or you could go through that situation with yeah as you said you, you pivoted and you turned it into something fun. So how to symptom I guess is like looking at why did you need it to happen another way?Speaker 2 00:16:35 Yeah, I think this is that question of what was I making it mean and I think I was making it mean like I don't like making my child do something that she doesn't wanna do partly because sometimes it's a time factor partly because I find it she acts like it is the worst thing that has ever happened to any human being that she has to change her clothes and it's not nice to have an experience where your child is being like how dare you do this horrible thing to me. Um, and I think you know, put putting it to your point like putting it into context. Like I know that 45 seconds after she's dressed it's gonna be like nothing happened. So it's sort of like zooming out and saying I'm not in a rush. This isn't really that big of a deal. She's fine the faster I do it the faster she's gonna be back in a state of like calm and fine and ultimately like I'm not inflicting something on her. And like having that sort of internal dialogue as like a reframe. Cause I like that idea of like what's happening in your mind is actually your realitySpeaker 1 00:17:28 And it always sounds like from the way that you were discussing it, what it was touching maybe is like a concern or a fear that like you're not a good parent, which is like the number one parental fear and every single parent faces about that and there's so many different situations which triggers that, that belief. YeahSpeaker 2 00:17:43 There's also something in there about like control and like the desire to be able to make the thing happen the way that you would like for it to happen. And I think parenthood is an exercise in basically accepting the fact that there's a lot that you can't control and that if you fixate on that then it you find it quite stressful. So then back to this question of teams. So when you think about, so this is all like kind of the individual work that someone can do to depressurize situations that are within their control to depressurize. I imagine though that there's some teams or organizations are more effective at shaping environments that are less likely to trigger that stress response or are more likely to be supportive of more intentional kind of management of individual needs around these kinds of things. But could you share a little bit about how you think about what teams can do or what's within a team's responsibility to do to create spaces where people can show up in this way?Speaker 1 00:18:35 Yeah, I know there are many people who would say it's an individual's choice, but at the same time when you have like leader your leadership doing it, I think it's very hard especially for like more junior, junior staff to hold their own boundaries and say like, no I'm I'm I'm not gonna work outside of my my regular office hours. Yeah. The other one is just around are we normalizing that like people have feelings, we're all feeling creatures and that our work culture in general is probably psychologically unsafe most of the time. And so what are ways that we can support people to communicate their needs, communicate their boundaries and have their, and know that their boundaries will be respected in the workplace.Speaker 2 00:19:15 Yeah, I think that's super interesting. So essentially the more responsibility and power you have in an organization, the more likely you expressing stress in situations with colleagues. The presumption being that that is an important component of you exercising your power or driving work forward or getting things done is like one big thing. So if that's happening, if you're in a position of power to not do that anymore or try and at least work on yourself at that individual level so that that doesn't manifest in front of colleagues.Speaker 1 00:19:49 Yeah, I mean I think for example, you know in facilitation I always, I think since I started always started with what do we wanna wanna agree on in order to create a space that is both productive and safe, a space where we can collaborate. So the same thing kind of needs to happen at the organizational level. Like what is our shared agreement or code of conduct that we developed up to cater for each other's needs and prioritize set boundaries around work and yeah create spaces where we can also talk about authentically about like what's going on with us and what we might need.Speaker 2 00:20:20 I really like the shared agreement idea and it's one that we talk to partner organizations about a lot in terms of remote work practices. Interestingly, maybe dovetails to another question which is I don't think there's any one way to run a remote organization. Like I don't think there's a universal like everyone should do it this way. There's a lot of people that talk about it as though if everyone worked in this way remotely, everything would be great. And I think they're driving towards improvements around particularly I think asynchronous working cuz peop that's like seems to be the biggest thing that people struggle with. But I think that there is no one size fits all, which means teams have to intentionally connect and talk about their individual personal preferences, compromise basically say in an ideal world, this is how I would like everything to work. When you hear your colleagues say, well in an ideal world I would like for everything to work this way and in these ways those two things conflict and we need to actually come up with a shared agreement where we can commit to a way of working that accommodates us enough, accommodates the things that are necessary and sometimes also preferred.Speaker 2 00:21:23 Um, but also when there's conflict the things that are necessary are prioritized and then hold each other accountable to that shared agreement and way of working and revisit itSpeaker 1 00:21:34 In the traditional model of the organization, you worked your way up to leadership position, you're like deemed a good manager because you know what's good for people like you define the agreement, you define the practice and you are supposed to kind of know what's going on with people. And it's not a very collaborative approach. It's not actually saying like how do we want to create the culture that we work in and acknowledging that each person is everyone's different, everyone has their own psychological um makeup and therefore everyone has different need and also, you know, different life context. Like some people are parents and some people are just starting out their careers and they have more time and more energy. Um, so how do we find a way to cater all the people's needs and also allow that to like evolve with time as the nature of the work changes and uh, the nature of our own life context change,Speaker 2 00:22:21 We call it ritualizing review. How do you actually ritualize the process of reviewing the shared agreements? Because I think oftentimes the how we work is only dealt with when we come together in retreat environments or sort of infrequently or something blows up and then there's a, you know, you need to get to the bottom of changes you might wanna make or what actually happened. I like to think of it as like meta work in the same way that you have metacognition like thinking about where's that space and that time for you to think and discuss how you work, not just what you're working on. Cuz I think if you don't do that it just becomes these, it's like values documents, it's like oh I have a PDF that says this is what we think and do and none of it's true And <laugh> over time it becomes less and less true and we all kind of joke, oh you're a new person, this is how we do things. Kind of not really at all actually just completely ignored. But it's hard. I think that that iteration and evolution and support for metabolizing experiences and incorporating them into those shared agreements is a really complex process that requires a lot of leadership.Speaker 1 00:23:22 I find that modeling piece very important. It's not only about when you work but it's about like how it's a thing of like you can't just say it and then it will be true. Like oh we really value best and we really intrusive, you know, if you're not actually doing anything then it doesn't mean anything. Yeah, I think that piece of like how do you actually communicate to the people who you work with that rest is actually valued And that's not just like, oh yeah okay, everyone gets a like gym membership. It's like more than that you know, it's about like yeah we wanna, we wanna talk about this and what it means to you and uh, we wanna know when you feel like you have a need that's not being met that maybe we could readjust to meet.Speaker 2 00:24:01 And that's something we see a lot when teams recognize an issue, they will announce that it is a priority in that dissonance between reality stated values and what you value. The more you have that then you end up I think also sort of breeding cynicism, um, and apathy where there's a less of a willingness to engage in meaningful conversation about the how because it feels like there's disingenuous attempts to sort of say it's like this rather than actually make that true. Because making that true is much more complex than making a statement that it is true <laugh>.Speaker 1 00:24:36 Yeah, and I think the other piece as well is that empowering people so that they feel that they can actually also proposed solution. Like if a workflow is not working and it's just super clunky and frustrating for everybody who's involved in it and someone feels like they can change that or they have an idea or they wanna brainstorm around how to change it, like that should be invited, encouraged and welcomed. Cuz often you'll get this kind of defensiveness of like, oh well that's the way Susan develops it and we're not hot to touch yet because Susan's been like refining it for the last five years or whatever.Speaker 2 00:25:09 Yeah, and I think actually it's one of the reasons why when you start working on remote culture intentionally, I think all of this stuff comes to the surface. Um, but I think it, it's basically you start talking about like, are we gonna, should we introduce a new knowledge management system as part of our remote work or should we build new workflows because we want more asynchronous work becomes a conversation about who gets to make decisions in this organization. Where does power lie in this organization? Who, who are you to tell me what I'm supposed to be doing? Let's make a, a guide or like a a a manual in our organization of how things are done and then all kinds of things when you start like hard coding it, you're saying this is how we want to do things. All kinds of stuff comes up and I think in-person settings, office settings, we lean so much on implicit communication and power communication that you can hide all that stuff And I think remote work forces you to be explicit both because in remote environments implicitness is confusing and stressful and frustrating and creates all kinds of other negative effects that it doesn't necessarily create as obviously in in-person environments.Speaker 2 00:26:12 But yeah, I think it makes people really uncomfortable to like raise a lot of these things up to explicit and explicit level and I think that's actually really necessary when you don't have the texture and the connection that you get from sitting in person with each other. Yeah, I think it's really, we find it a lot where people think they wanna work on remote culture when really they wanna work on organizational communication and communication about power and communication about like who makes what decisions and communication about hierarchy and roles and all these things and they kind of I think sometimes get flummoxed, uh, cuz it's becomes this like can of worms that they've opened. Uh, and it can be challenging. Um, I'm wondering, um, just finally, I mean it sounds like you've already said a few examples but um, as a last question, like what would you encourage teams to either reflect on or try if they feel like it's not working well for particular individuals, all the individuals or sort of at that team level? And feel free to sort of repeat some of the things that you've said cuz I think there's already been some good examples you've shared.Speaker 1 00:27:09 Okay. So yeah then I think the first thing is do you value stress as a mode of getting things done? I think that's like a really big one and making that really explicit as well, that that's not what that you want to do or that we want to do as an organization. And then finding ways to have those conversations to, to brainstorm around strategies. So whether it's, you know, embracing the idea that we probably actually can't do everything we need to do and we're not going to reach this optimum place of productivity where we're able to do everything and not ever neglect anything, what would we be willing to neglect? Like normalizing that it's actually also okay, I think Oliver Berkman has that idea in his book 4,000 Weeks about like deciding what it's okay to neglect is a, would be a really interesting conversation to have another piece that's really important as well as finding ways to check in with your team about cuz I also think that the piece about stress is often also that we get disconnected from why we're doing the work and where our enjoyment in the work lies. I'm a big fan of check-ins still. Like I just find doing regular check-ins with people even though it can feel sometimes kind of forced something that we can just like, let's slide. Having those moments where we just check in as a team with how are you doing and normalizing that it's okay to also share it.Speaker 2 00:28:26 Yeah, I'm a fan of the check-in as well. If someone listening is like, wow, this faith person, she's got a lot of really good ideas and this sounds like this is an important topic. Um, I might wanna learn more about how to connect with her and learn more about how to maybe work with her, where should they go?Speaker 1 00:28:41 So I've got a website, common connect.com and yeah, I'll be sharing any, you know, offerings that I've got coming up. Um, I'm still developing this work, so yeah, I'll be sharing anything on the website and you can always get in touch with me to have a conversation.Speaker 2 00:28:54 Cool. So calm and connect.com. Well this has been great. I feel like I've learned some stuff and also you're making me see some things I've been thinking about differently, which is really nice and refreshing. So thank you Faith.