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Insights from the edge …

In this communique I have chosen to share a few of the insights gained since commencing the interesting professional lifestyle of working from both a beautiful remote farm in the Eastern Cape and my offices in Cape Town, commuting between the two each month.

Whilst it has had its challenges, as does everything in life, I have learned a great deal on all levels.

Three of the most powerful business related insights gathered in the past 12 weeks revolve around:

  1. the use of technology;
  2. the management of working hours – and;
  3. the vital role of exercise.

All have added tremendous professional value in different ways. Let me explain …

Technology has changed the way in which we engage with the world, whether at work or in our personal lives.  One hears and experiences how the art of communication has suffered as a result and how the skills of engaging and listening have become diluted by constant distraction.  There is also the complaint that the value of the investment in relationship building has been undermined.  We argue that perhaps we have allowed technology to take charge, when it is we who ought to be in charge. It simply requires consciousness, awareness and the installation of boundaries.

As said by the Norwegian politician Christian Lous Lange – ‘Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master’.

The extensive, virtual daily use of Skype consultations when working in the mountains has proven to be nothing short of fantastic; highlighting all that technology should be in enhancing business operations.  Although I have used Skype consultations with clients for some years, this was previously only a handful of times per week and not every day, as it now is – and it has highlighted a number of positive attributes

These are a few things I have learned from the daily use of Skype:

  1. meetings start on time;
  2. there is 100% engagement on the screen – nobody tries to send a What’s App message or check their inbox on their phone, while pretending to be present in the meeting;
  3. focus is excellent as there are few (if any) distractions ;
  4. people make actual eye contact;
  5. there is active listening by both parties;
  6. meetings end on time.

Although the human touch and atmospheric energy generated by people working in close physical proximity to one another is missing, the use of Skype is efficient and effective. It would probably be productively beneficial to expand on the use of this platform in the workplace.

The management of working hours has been one of the greatest surprises in-so-far as I have found myself able to leave my desk by the late afternoon / early evening on most days, having worked ‘normal’ office hours and achieved all that was on the day’s list of action items.  This has created the reality of an evening, something of a new experience.

Having not experienced much short of a 10 – 12 hour working day in decades and with an increase in workload since the move, it has struck home how much we get sucked into spending time on other activities during working hours, only one of which is commuting.

A little while ago a local farmer (who is also a business man) shared his experience of the ‘buzz’ of city life having been like a drug, one that keeps us caught up in the addiction of being busy.  I did not agree with his view at the time, but have since come to understand it rather well.

As with technology, our work outputs ought to be our servant, not our master.  Quite an insight for a workaholic!

The vital role of exercise has been extensively researched; is well known and is not a new concept to anyone.  The role it plays in improving mental health has also been widely researched and it has been determined that regular exercise can be as effective as taking anti-depressant medication for those suffering with certain kinds of depression.

Given that there are endless kilometres to be run in the mountains, some of which are a little taxing at high altitude, there are also endless opportunities to exercise.   Without going into any personal detail, I can vouch for the vital role that exercise has played in managing the success of this professional transition. Between operating in an incredibly cold winter; a sense of collegial isolation and managing an office and specialised consulting business in two provinces, there have been a few difficult moments.  Exercise – quite a bit of which has been in sub-zero or only slightly above zero temperatures – has never failed to take the edge off a tough day.

It has become clear that the inappropriate use of technology; the addiction to busy-ness; and the impact both have on our ability to find time to exercise, pose a threat to the health and productivity of our working world.  It is in taking charge of our personal sense of vision, and in changing our picture of what functionality really means that we become fully functional.


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