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Hello ladies and gents from the Coworking world! Here’s another Coworking Values Podcast episode for you to enjoy.

Our guest for this episode is Pilar Orti, director of Virtual Not Distant. She’s been podcasting for years now and she also has written books about Remote working and Collaboration like -Thinking Remote, Online Meetings that Matters and Hi, I’m Here for a Recording.

Pilar will be talking about the difference of collaborating physically and online. How that collaboration has many pieces and is made up of many kinds of communication and how it affects remote working now that it has become the “new normal”

How does collaboration work in a remote working setup?

I’ll go back to collaboration, and the tagline that I use when I’m introducing asynchronous communication which is — collaboration doesn’t only happen in meetings, and these are not new, but the first part is that, as you say, when we think collaboration. 

A lot of people think, oh, real time talking together and doing stuff together real time. That is not sustainable online. So the first thing is, yes people. A lot of people have resisted using the online meeting tools to their full potential, and even people will be using them like big global corporations will be noticing them for 10 or 15 years like I came across people oh no we don’t turn on the camera because of bandwidth, like what in 2019 or 2018 we’re not having problems anymore like we used to. 

So, there were people already using them but we’re using them like they were used 10 years ago. And then the people would never have to use them. And so they’ve discovered that you can have good conversations in neutral platforms that you can create some sort of energy, or different kinds of energies online also that groups and want to once you can you can have a conversation online now that is more uncomfortable than in the room but it’s pretty good, and sometimes that discomfort is offset by the fact that you don’t have to go to places. 

But I think a bigger piece is that we need to remember that collaboration is made up of lots of pieces and collaboration is made up of different types of communication to start to break down and then you see well one kind of communication we do meetings, and other kind of communication we do in our project management to another kind of communication we do through a shared Google Doc where we share our thoughts and other kind of communication by uploading a photograph of a sketch I came up this morning with.

So I think that’s been the first hurdle is like, you can still stay in touch and work together without being together real time.


Virtual, not distant

Pilar on Linkedin

Pilar on Twitter

Pilar on Instagram

Her Books


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Bernie J Mitchel  0:03  

Hello Ladies, gentlemen and welcome to the Coworking Values podcast, the podcast of the European Coworking Assembly. And we’re back for another exciting remote episode here. 


Zeljko Crnjaković  0:19  

Have we ever done a live episode like you and me beside each other? 


Bernie J Mitchel  0:24  

No, we haven’t. 


Zeljko Crnjaković  0:25  

So, everything is remote so far. Every episode was remote. So, we’re not back in the saddle. This is what we do.


Bernie J Mitchel  0:33  

We didn’t actually record together but we have recorded in person at Coworking Europe.


Zeljko Crnjaković  0:39  

Yes. I stand corrected.

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Bernie J Mitchel  1:27  

I love the way you say that every week.


Zeljko Crnjaković  1:30  

I trained myself to do exactly the same kind of tone, voice script, whatever.


Bernie J Mitchel  1:36  

I’m touched, moved, and inspired by your commitment to our sponsors. Here in the studio, we have Pilar. Pilar is one of my oldest podcasting remote working friends. And even before everyone went remote, crazy, probably like 10 years ago, was it? Where did we meet? Was it at a podcast event in London?


Pilar  2:31  

Yes, it was. I don’t know, I would say, five or six years ago, or something. I don’t know about 10, that seems a lot but definitely five or six.


Bernie J Mitchel  2:46  

Pilar does a podcast. I’ll let you explain it accurately in a minute. But what I’ve learned about remote working or whatever the word is nowadays, has come from following virtual not distant and that kind of area. I always feel like this is like your time now.


Pilar  3:09  

Well, yes. What I’ve realized over the last few months is that business was slow before and it was because we didn’t have a big customer base. And now we have a huge customer base, so business is booming, which is nice. But it has changed. What I was doing before the pandemic is not the same as what I’m doing now. I’m meeting people at a completely different point in the transition before they were about to transition now, they’ve transitioned already. I need to pull back and transition again. So, interesting times.


Bernie J Mitchel  3:45  

Just to be really clear if I was going to hire you, what would I hire you for?


Pilar  3:49  

Mainly to work with managers of your organization or the manager of your team to have a look at how we need to change; one the leadership style because we know that we need slightly different leadership styles in the remote space, but also to look at the collaboration practices for the team. How that has changed, which there is a big component that needs to change if you’re working online.


Bernie J Mitchel  4:23  

When you say collaboration, just to go off-topic, we used to do a podcast episode every year which was the bullshit words that people are throwing around like global collaboration and community and does that still happen?


Pilar  4:40  

No, we do. It depends on what’s happened during the year. Sometimes we’re about trends, sometimes you’re about words and words is always nice. Why did you want to pick up on collaboration? What it means or you just thought that it reminded you of that episode? 


Bernie J Mitchel  4:56  

What do people understand of that? Because there are two groups of people in our lives. There are people who are used to working online or working remotely. And you can define that a little bit more after this. One thing that really struck me at the beginning of the pandemic back in March, and I was invited to, I was like the only person that some people knew who knew about how to work remotely. I could have just ridden the wave as the remote work expert, but I know so many other people that are genuinely remote work experts. I thought I’d get a kick in from the community if I did that. I just thought people knew how to run calls with Google meet and Zoom and do stuff from their phone. But there are millions of people that don’t, and I don’t mean to sound rude there. But I was just amazed at how many people didn’t know how to run a remote team.


Pilar  5:54  

Well, I’ll go back to collaboration and the tagline that I use when I’m introducing asynchronous communication, which is collaboration doesn’t only happen in meetings, and these are not new. But the first part is that as you’re saying, when we think collaboration, a lot of people think, oh, real time talking together and doing stuff together real time, that is not sustainable online. So, the first thing is, yes, a lot of people had resisted using the online meeting tools to their full potential. And even people who’d been using them, like big global corporations who’d been using them for 10 or 15 years. I came across people who were like oh, no, we don’t turn on the camera because of bandwidth. Like what in 2019, or 2018, we’re not having problems anymore, like we used to. So, there was that. There were people who are already using them, but we’re using them like they were used 10 years ago. And then the people would never have to use them. And so, they’ve discovered that you can have good conversations in meeting platforms, that you can create some sort of energy, or different kinds of energies online also. You can have a conversation online. Now that is, it’s more uncomfortable than in the room, but it’s pretty good. And sometimes that discomfort is offset by the fact that you don’t have to go to places. I think the bigger piece is that we need to remember that collaboration is made up of lots of pieces. And collaboration is made up of different types of communication. So, you start to break down and then you see well, one kind of communication we do in meetings, and other kind of communication we do in our project management, another kind of communication we do through a shared Google Doc, where we share our thoughts and other kind of communication by uploading a photograph of a sketch I came up this morning with, so I think that’s been the first hurdle. You can still stay in touch and work together without being together real time.


Bernie J Mitchel  7:51  

Well, in your session that I attended it was about visible teamwork. And that’s I’m finding pretty hard. I’ve always been in remote teams, but not being around each other. And then people are saying about how they’re missing that chatting at the watercooler kind of thing. And they’re  just not really sure where everybody is. Can you say a bit about that?


Zeljko Crnjaković  8:31  

I am going to jump in here, sorry. But bumping into each other at the watercooler is a topic that is not just for people that are missing contact and chit chat, and stuff like that. So, we noticed and actually, that is what we personally noticed in our space and in several organizations I’m in touch with. You have collaboration and you have project management on one side and communication on an existing project but what people are missing in remote work is the innovation ideas that come from, well, basically informal talk or chit chat that you come by near a water cooler, or during coffee, or during breakfast, or lunch breaks just by asking somebody, what they are working on today. You may say a solution, or you may not, but it may spark an idea in your head about something that you can implement later on, maybe, or just root an idea in your mind that later on sparks something different. And that is what people are basically telling me they’re missing in remote work now. I’m just going to ask you to also comment your views on innovation in a remote environment.


Pilar  10:09  

I’ll put innovation to one side. But visible teamwork, which Bernie was talking about is made up of three sets of principles: deliberate communication, work visibility, and planned spontaneity. So, talking about what you’re talking about, what organizations are missing, because I’m getting that same sense that teams are figuring out how to work together. But there’s the code across the organizational piece that’s missing, either how to work across teams formally, or how to bump into people informally. I’ll say that again, plan to spontaneity. Spontaneity is very difficult to come by in the remote space. And we just have to accept that, but that’s okay. And what we need to do is plan things that will allow us to have those conversations, but it’s also a mindset, because that’s one of the things with asynchronous communication,  if we as an organization have put a space online, which could be one channel in slack if we’re not too big, or it could be a document that’s easily accessible by anyone at any point, and you have something that you want to share, you don’t need to wait for a real time conversation, you find the space in that moment that you have that idea and you put it there. The only thing is that you have to wait some time until someone else comes and checks that document. But if you have laid down a process, agreed to that, if people are doing it, which is the problem, because these habits are very difficult to start again, because we’re used to bumping into each other, but we’re not used to having to go and check a document to see if someone left something for us. So, you have a process. And then you have to change your behaviours and go inside and do that differently. So, this is also not a new problem. There’s something called Mr. Rogers, that trailer, the company now part of Atlassian does and they’re still doing, where they have a system by which they pair up people. And randomly you’re paired every whatever, two weeks to talk to someone in the organization. And then you come back to that Trello board and you write down a few things that you talked about, so that that conversation which was only had between two people is amplified. Now whoever wants to go and look and be nosy they can do that. So, we’ve got apps like Donut and Slack that do this. So, it’s really about how can we do this, but we’ve got to do it differently. We can’t pretend that this is like a co-located space. And then if we want people to come up with ideas and share them, if we’re looking at innovation, okay, what do our people need for that? They need stimulation. So, are we bringing outside speakers? Are we giving them sessions that are not just a virtual coffee water cooler, where you come in and talk about anything, but we theme them? Are we giving enough variety so that the people who thrive on purely social interactions have that? There are people who actually really just want to talk about work, but informally and outside of their tasks, or talk about the industry, that they also have a space, but you’ve got to plan for it, it’s not going to work otherwise.


Zeljko Crnjaković  13:18  

So basically, you mentioned a lot of planning, and I’m going to just ask out there. Does remote collaboration and remote work require a lot more planning than just office work? 


Pilar  13:34  

You need to build the ecosystem and that’s where the planning is. It’s not that you constantly have to be planning, but I’ll go back to an example I’ve been using for ages, and I saw it used the other day in an article. But the famous example of Pixar building, the long corridor, so you had to go through a lot of people until you got to the toilet, that is planning. It’s just that we planned it when we built the building. So, now we need to plan our new workspace, which is online. And I think that people think, oh, I work from home. No, you don’t. That’s like your city. But actually, your work is on your computer. And I think maybe it’s that shift also. So, planning has to happen. But once it’s there, that’s it, then you develop new habits, everything becomes second nature, and then you can be spontaneous. But there’s going to be that period, especially of adjustment where you’ve got to say, well, this is different.


Zeljko Crnjaković  14:30  

We are mentioning a lot of apps, a lot of software, a lot of things that can help you within remote work. Does that mean that you need to use a ton of them? Or is there a set or a few of them that that work for everything that a company needs? I’m guessing that each company is different, but considering that we need to, in most cases, train a lot of the employees or get them used to using one app or another or you do project management, you do collaboration, we talk on zoom, we write in Slack, we use Google Docs, a ton of them. So, how are people accepting that fact on multi app ecosystems?


Pilar  15:31  

You need as many different apps as with as many different interactions that you’ve got. I think we need to be thinking about what are the interactions we want to have. And then you start building. If all you need in your team is real time interactions, and that’s enough. So, if we do a quick stand up in the morning, and then do a quick debrief in the end of the day, because we all have the same schedule, then maybe all you need is a video collaboration tool, and a video meeting tool and some kind of project management tool. And that’s it. But if you have flexible schedules with people in different time zones, and you want to capture some of those informal conversations, and then you’ll need more.  I think that we really need to pull back. And this is why I went into the space because this is when it gets interesting. We need to pull back and go, what do we need? How do we work? How do we want to work and what kind of interactions? This is, of course more at a team level, because that’s where you get the detail. And then you probably need a handful. I think if you have a meeting platform conversation, a synchronous open conversation platform, some kind of simple project management tool like Trello, and then a suite where you can work like Google Docs or Microsoft, that’s enough. And that shouldn’t be a lot of work. But some of the companies I’ve been working with, or I’m working with, they’ve already been using Google for ages, well, you just need to add one or two things, and you’re done. But maybe you need to adjust to how you’re using them. I don’t think you need to use lots, but you need to understand what kind of interactions you’ve got and then decide what you need to use.


Bernie J Mitchel  17:19  

I’m asking on behalf of a friend, say you just started a company in this time, is there anything different from what you’ve just explained? Like, if you’re forming a team during this enforced remote work.


Pilar  17:52  

I think if you’re forming a team, then it might be good to think about how to build that ecosystem from scratch. I think it will require more imagination than dissection of what you’re already doing and what you need. Because you might second guess a lot of the stuff. So, I think then think about the nature of the work. There’s this thing about task interdependence, which is people going to work in a pooled way, which is five people are going to work together, but actually, they’re going to do pretty much independent tasks from each other. Is it going to be sequential, by which I do something, then Bernie does something, then Zeljko does something, or are we going to be reciprocal, where there’s more of a backwards and forwards. Maybe you can start there and from there, you can start to see what kind of ecosystem you might need. Because if everyone’s going to be doing pretty much their own thing, maybe you just need two tools where you can have some conversation, some virtual coffees, and some  strategic planning, and that’s it. But if you’re sequential or you are reciprocal, then you might need something a little bit more sophisticated. Just think about what different people might be doing and the kind of interactions that they’re going to need to do their job and to feel connected to each other.


Bernie J Mitchel  19:07  

Did you trademark virtual coffee?


Pilar  19:09  

No, I didn’t. In fact, the first time I came across the term was with Happy Melly, now Management 3.0 when I joined them. I think I’m going to ditch the term virtual coffee because I think some people are going to be allergic to it very soon. They’ve had too much.


Bernie J Mitchel  19:27  

The other thing that has always come up in this conversation is about, remember Doula sets workshop in London years ago, it’s about knowing when to be on and when to be off. Because if you’re in here in a physical environment, there are ways to avoid interruptions and you can go and sit in a deliberate quiet space. But when you’re in Slack or WhatsApp or Yammer. I think my question is, how do you set boundaries because if you like being WhatsApped by three different people three times an hour, it’s always breaking your conscious concentration. So, how do you set boundaries?


Pilar  20:04  

So, I’m going to become very, very serious advocate about this, because I’m hearing so much stuff that I think it’s time to say, individuals have to take charge of their own notifications. You have to take responsibility of how your device is communicating with you. Someone I know the other day, he works from the sofa in the morning, she sends emails in the morning to his team, and his boss complained the other day and said, can you stop sending emails in the moment? And my friend is like, well, don’t check your email so early. And then he says  but it’s pinging my phone. Oh, well, can’t you stop the pinging? Yeah, but I also have my personal emails on my work email. So, that is one, the other is like you say, well, you can mute some channels, Slack and Basecamp have times during which you can set them so that they don’t ping you outside of the hours you want to. I’m also going to stand on my soapbox and say, WhatsApp is a great instant messaging tool, another collaboration tool. And also, it’s also used a lot for personal stuff. And that’s where I’ve actually been. I’ve said to people don’t use WhatsApp. WhatsApp me for emergencies, there’s 10,000, other tools that we can use, that I can leave in my desktop, or that I can put in a different screen on my phone, so that my personal time WhatsApp is where I talk to my mother. So, there’s that. I think phones are the problem. I don’t think it’s remote work. And so, by agreeing how we’re going to do this together in the team, and then taking personal responsibility to understand if you’re going to add, talking back to the point about training in a platform, if you’re going to learn one thing about the tool you’re using, you have to learn how to switch on and off the notifications. I think it’s the team’s responsibility to talk about how we want to work and where our boundaries are going to be, and then the individual to make sure it’s working for them.


Bernie J Mitchel  21:58  

I’m a bit upset because I do everything through WhatsApp.


Zeljko Crnjaković  22:03  

Bernie, we need to close all those WhatsApp groups.


Bernie J Mitchel  22:07  

I just shut it off. There are very few people I answer after six o’clock.


Pilar  22:16  

At the end, it’s what works for you. But I think it’s a conversation, especially for people who’ve had to transition to remote. Because WhatsApp is something they already knew. They’ve used that, so I think it’s worth revisiting, not for you. But you know, I don’t know what you’re doing. But it’s always worth revisiting.


Zeljko Crnjaković  22:37  

When we talk about WhatsApp, I’m just going to say that depends on which country you’re in, because right now I have about four different messaging apps. WhatsApp is only for communicating with Bernie and DCA because nobody here is using WhatsApp, at least not on that level as for example, Viber, which everybody is on, and every school group, or children’s group, or whatever we need to be on is the standard here in Serbia. So, when I last talked to my friend in Australia, and she talked to me, well, let’s talk, do you want to use WhatsApp or Viber? Viber? What’s that? Oh, my kids use Viber. And then everybody after the age of 12, is using WhatsApp, unless Serbian, but then you have Telegram, then you have Messenger, then you have, I have no idea how much I have. But for each client, for each person in a country where they’re using, you need to be adaptive.


Bernie J Mitchel  23:43  

Why is Viber so prevalent in Serbia?


Zeljko Crnjaković  23:47  

I have no idea. So, in Poland as well. But by using all of these, I’m actually liking more Telegram and WhatsApp. But you need to be on Viber because everybody else is. And the groups that you need, are actually there. So basically, it’s the same thing. So, I have no idea, apart from the graphics involved, the difference between them, and of course, the person behind them or the company behind them, you know.


Bernie J Mitchel  24:23  

When I said resist entering another topic, the messaging platform is going to be for another podcast. I mean a knock on the head there because I can feel myself inching towards dissecting the merits of each platform. Where can we find you online?


Pilar  24:43  

I’m going to say something about that, though, Bernie, because it’s always much easier to talk about the tech and about the interactions we want to have with each other and how we’re going to work together. So, it’s a very important thing to look out for, especially in teams. It’s so easy to talk about tech. Virtualnotdistant.com is where you can find me. @PilarOT on Twitter.


Bernie J Mitchel  25:06  

Do you want to say about your podcast?


Pilar  25:15  

There is. Get your pens ready. So, this 21st Century Work Life, that’s the virtual not distant podcast and we look at leading remote teams, online collaboration, and working in distributed organizations. So, that’s the flagship where we’ve gone past 250 so, I’m very proud of that show. I also co-host facilitation stories with IAF, England and Wales so that might be of interest also to people. And My Pocket Psych which is all about thriving in the world of work, which is part of Work Life Psych.


Bernie J Mitchel  25:58  

That’s great. Oh, it was great to have you. I loved your workshop at Read People, and we’re going to find some more excuses to podcast with you. Any final words, comrade Zeljko?


Zeljko Crnjaković  26:08  

No. As far as I think, this was a very interesting episode and everybody who missed it should listen to it again.


Bernie J Mitchel  26:16  

There we go. So, ladies, gentlemen, if you fly over to coworking assembly.edu and count to eight seconds, a little banner will pop up and say, would you like to join our email list, do that and every week we will email you what’s going on with the podcast events around the world. We have events around coworking in Europe. The next big thing coming up is the Research Group for Collaborative Spaces event at the beginning of December. And the Coworking Library is running a big, I want to say hackathon, but I think Joe’s not going to be very happy with me. The Research Group for Collaborative Spaces is one of the most exciting groups of people in the world. They are people who run coworking spaces. And there are a lot of people researching workspaces, maker spaces, how we work, how we learn off each other, from universities all around the globe. Link in the show notes to that and have a great week and stay safe. Thank you.


Zeljko Crnjaković  27:10  

Thank you.

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