REVIEW: Diane Lennard/Amy Mednick — Humanizing the Remote Experience through Leadership and Coaching (BOOK)
Diane Lennard, PhD and Amy Mednick, MD’s new book is as definable by what it does, as by what it doesn’t do. Humanizing the Remote Experience through Leadership and Coaching: Strategies for Better Virtual Connections is both an advocate, and something of a conscientious detractor, regarding the pros and cons of the postmodern concept of the ‘remote’ workplace standard. Part of the most powerful aspects of the read are how Lennard and Mednick zero in on the sudden new elements one has to be aware of when operating in this domain.
A two-dimensional face on a computer screen, they argue, will never surrogate for the biological necessities of interacting with a three-dimensional one, in real-life. “Aloneness becomes a major stressor, causing stress chemical levels to increase and interfering with the first process of attention, alertness. For both extroverts and introverts, the remote environment can cause stress. It can feel comfortable or easy to work at home alone but ultimately all humans need social connection to thrive.
A lack of connectedness causes stress for the mind and body, interfering with alertness even if a person is not consciously aware of it,” they write. “Optimal alertness can be achieved only when the need for safety and comfort is met. You have to initially enter an alert state when you’re ready to start working on something. Then it must be maintained throughout the activity or else you will not remain at your desired level of sharpness and cognitive functioning. Alertness is a continuous process. Once you are alert, you are ready to move on to orienting. This is the second of the two preparatory processes of paying attention. Orienting gets you ready to direct your attention where you want it to go.”
Later, they elaborate on this phenomenon, writing: “Once you enter a new digital space, there is very little concrete information to be gathered about it. The space lacks relevant aspects of a room that would normally contribute to the ability to orient: the temperature, the furniture, the seating arrangement. In a physical space, a person’s location would automatically draw your attention, such as a person speaking from a podium at the front of the room. In a virtual space, none of this relevant information is available when you and others are confined to digital boxes. You must self-direct or push your vision to a location in space when it is time to orient to where you want to pay attention. In the remote environment, new faces quickly pop up at random all over the screen as people sign on to a meeting.
This gives your brain very little time to orient to the new faces and can quickly become over-stimulating. (Imagine how disorienting it would be if colleagues suddenly materialized in the seats next to you in a conference room.) When all participants are presented in a grid pattern of thumbnail images, the brain has too many faces to decode at once and is challenged to find a point of focus. This contributes to the feeling of disorientation that many experience in the first moment of a virtual meeting.”
It’s this unusual dose of compassion, along with an overall, elevated narrative style, that makes Lennard and Mednick not just stand out as experts in their field. It also makes them stand out as stalwart, quality literary talents too.