Learning through the Rectangular Window

Categories: blog, Winnthinks

“Here’s a house, here’s a door, windows 1 2 3 4.
Ready to knock? Turn the lock – It’s Play School.”

Play School was essential teatime viewing when I was a littl’un. Who else remembers it? Rebecca age 5: favourite toy: Little Ted. Favourite presenter: Brian Cant. Favourite window: Arched.

Ah yes, the windows: Square, Round, Arched (Triangular was added after my time). They were portals to discovery about everything from how a factory makes bread, to being a zookeeper, to road safety. Beautifully crafted little learning experiences through an educational shape.

In this past year we’ve found ourselves firmly connected to each other through a rectangular window. Zoom, Teams, Hangouts… for many of us the learning curve has been so steep, at times it’s been difficult to cling on.

The PM’s announcement of the first lockdown in March 2020 thrust my business, like so many others, into a Darwinian battle for survival. It was easy to move my coaching clients online – we would often use Zoom anyway. But as a workshop facilitator, interacting with up to 30 people in a physical room, how was I going to make this work?

Before we all move on, and I forget how seismic it’s all been, allow me to jot down a few observations to mark what has been an extraordinary chapter. As a facilitator, what will I keep from this new way of doing things? What do I yearn to get back from the old? How will I take forward the best of both worlds?

Some stuff I’ve been missing…

I’ve missed visiting other people’s workplaces. The informal chit chats at reception desks and over cups of coffee, seeing the way they do things, sensing the vibe of a place.

I’ve missed ‘real’ training rooms too. Reading other people’s body language and adjusting the delivery accordingly. Catching up with the quiet ones in the tea break. I miss hearing everyone laughing at once and the to-and-fro of healthy discussion. Zoom can feel too controlled at times, and it’s impossible to read people if they’ve switched off their camera.

Also, the physicality of flipcharts, pen-on-paper, props, playthings, music and sweeties. The space and equipment I work with at Shedquarters doesn’t easily allow for a standing arrangement, and I miss standing up, using my hands, walking around and changing the view. I also miss wearing something that isn’t jeans-and-trainers below the waist. (Yes, I know I could do that anyway, but somehow, I don’t).

On the other hand….

Weighing against that are some gains that are undeniable. After 25+ years of honing my skills, I’ve been rudely challenged to completely relearn what works and what doesn’t in a medium I had failed to explore sooner.

So, get me! A whole new skill set! Live facilitation online has proved enjoyable, stimulating and surprisingly… human. It’s done me good to approach my craft with fresh eyes. I’ve had to unpick the way I do things and rework them. I’ve had to get interested in alternative platforms and plug-ins. And it’s paid off, thank goodness. People are enjoying our sessions as much as ever, getting the same value and positive outcomes – and coming back for more. Phew!

Mixed feelings about the travel…

During the last nine months of 2020, I fuelled up the car twice. Before lockdown, it was twice a week. I have been delighted to reduce the financial and environmental cost of my work so significantly.

Goodbye also to the stress of delayed trains and traffic jams, with a choice between stupidly early mornings or overnight stays away to ensure being on-site bright and early.

Yet there is a side of me that misses the journey home, which is a time to decompress, reflect on the day and enjoy listening to the radio.

In addition, the stress of travel has been replaced by the fickle nature of rural broadband and some of the less helpful traits of Microsoft Teams. Teams, I have found, is brilliant to work with when you’re part of the organisation; it’s a tricky beast when you’re an external Guest.

My superstar clients…

When the first lockdown happened, like so many my work diary emptied overnight. Working from home is now so normal it’s easy to forget how radical and unknown and frankly shocking those early days were. All I could offer my clients at that time was a phone call, ‘a quick check in’ as I would put it. Most of those ‘quick’ chats lasted an hour or more. It seems all our hearts and heads were full to bursting.

Then around late June, my brilliant clients came back, with a realigned focus, confident that I could add some value in this strange new world. What’s more, I was found online by several new clients, all of which have been a joy to work with.

…and wonderful participants…

In my first fully online delivery of the Springboard programme, several participants told me they had wanted to take part for years. Turns out that travelling to a physical venue for the day didn’t fit in around their parenting and caring duties. By putting the programme online in half-day segments, we could welcome in a whole new bunch of women. The programme we set up immediately afterwards was also fully subscribed.

Learning from home, however, particularly in the difficult days of full lockdown, took its toll on people. Dodgy broadband, home schooling, lack of privacy, inadequate devices, job fears and health scares. In a pandemic you can’t offer people a hug and a Kleenex.

A flexible future is looking good!

As I reflect on running a business during Covid-19, I am grateful to the many, many people who have given their time, knowledge and skill so generously to help see us through. We have all had a different experience of these times, and none of us will have come out of this unchanged.

Winnthinking has also been changed – for the better, I believe. I look forward to meeting with you in a more flexible, accessible, lighter-on-our-feet world, whether I’m up at 4.30am to travel to your workplace, or whether we continue to raise our mugs to each other through a rectangular window.