Distance, place and time in a connected world

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In the movie Toy Story, when Buzz Lightyear joins the team, the whole world of the toys is thrown into turmoil and change. They must find a new balance and way of working, even though their world is ultimately expanded and changed for the better.

In this blog, I want to look at some of the remote teams I have worked with for 15-plus years with members all over the world. I personally believe that having remote teams provides benefits and new ways of thinking that help teams develop different perspectives and better solutions.

We all know that certain places in the world inspire certain thoughts. Mention Silicon Valley, and a sense of place is already established in your head. Mention the Eifel tower in Paris, and another sense of place comes to life. And our perceptions change as we learn more about the world around us.

For me, distance and space have become extremely important since I live in the remotest city in the world, Perth, Western Australia.

So what are the benefits I’ve seen working remotely with global teams?

  • Communication – You have no choice but to communicate more frequently and clearly.
  • Innovation – You have no choice but to do things differently.
  • Empowerment and Ownership – You have to own what you are doing as your manger may be sleeping or unavailable.
  • Trust – You have to trust people to do a good job, as they are further away from you and cannot be easily micromanaged.
  • New Perspectives – Distance from the problem gives your team a new perspective to solve the problem. Distance enhances a thinking mentality
  • Agile and Lean Approach – Remote teams work well with this approach, and quick and visual works extremely well.

All of us want to have a team, to belong somewhere. The more we belong, the more willing we are to collaborate and learn. Does our ability and capacity to learn increase when we are happier with our teams? And what can a happy team accomplish when working together? Is any of this linked to our location and sense of physical place?

In my opinion, it is.

Our willingness, as humans, to belong can depend on how deeply we resonate and interact with a physical place or with a physical group separated by the bounds of time and space. How we identify with our place and our home depends on what is happening at any point in time, and the patterns change as our lives change.

But “home” does not have to be a physical place. It can be a source of comfort at work or a sense of belonging with a team. How do we know when we have found our home? Both from an organizational perspective and a locational perspective, I think it is when we become our happiest.

Our “place” is often the second question — after “What’s your name” — that people ask when they first meet. “Where are you from? Where do you live?” My next response will be from the planet Earth, the galaxy, the universe.

I’m at home with my remote team, with members representing places around the world. And I’m at home in Perth, under my favourite thinking tree, in my thinking chair and finally every time I pick up a book with a new place to go to and a new thing to learn.

The key to it all is knowing when to go to your place and ensuring that our teams have a chance to build that “home” and go there as well.

Sarah James was ANZ lead for Authentic Leadership in DXC and an advocate for DXC’s Women in Leadership and STEM. Prior to leaving DXC in September 2017, Sarah founded the Empowering Future Leaders blog and was its primary author. With over 15 years of experience in the world of IT, Sarah’s specialty is spatial information and includes integration on projects as diverse as mapping volcanoes in Hawaii to delivering high-tech police vehicles.


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