Futures Friday: International Woes May Apply
Remember when international work calls used to be fun? OK, fun maybe a stretch. Poor connections, hard to understand accents, and 3AM meetings are not what I would generally consider a good time, but there used to be a silver lining — the sharing of cultures and the feeling of connections to real people on the other side of the world.
While there is still a sharing of the local news and happenings, there has been a recent change in many intentional Zooms, calls, conferences, Slacks, and emails (yes, some people still use email). You might think you know the cause of this too (rhymes with Wovid), but that is only one hyper-focused new reality. Over the last few years there have been a number of high impact events that have drawn the attention of people worldwide, and that number seems to be growing rapidly. These events and topics of international concern have one main cause — Climate Change.
I am not going to try and convince you that climate and environmental change is real. In fact, if we cannot agree on this, we are probably not going to agree on much since two of the tools I rely on in Futures Friday, science and simple observation, are probably not in your toolbox.
OK, if you are still reading, then hopefully you will appreciate this reflection, and it starts with this — a story.
Last summer I was living in Santa Cruz, CA when late one night we heard a strange noise outside. It woke me up and I went to the porch to see what it was. It was a strange low sound like a jet engine, unceasing, and growing constantly in volume. The sky was an odd orange and the air pressure dropped suddenly as if a balloon was deflating. Soon there was lightening and a strong smell of ozone. That was the start of the CZU lightening complex fire that led to our evacuation for two weeks from our home. We were lucky and only our trees suffered from all the ash. Others in the community lost a lot more. During this time as I chatted with international colleagues, they would ask about the California fires and how I was affected. I suppose it was nice to talk about something other than Covid which had been the opener of pretty much every other call in 2020, but it struck me how people from South America, Micronesia, China, Japan, and Europe all were concerned. Earlier this year when friends and colleagues in Houston were hit with a severe winter storm, that became the topic of international concern. And just before Covid many of us were talking with colleagues about the Australian bush fires. These concerns were not just about our colleagues, there was an unspoken understanding that we were all in this and any one of our communities could be hit next.
This summer, while Covid dominates our chatter (thanks Delta), we are still sharing stories of woe regarding fires, smoke, heat waves, floods, droughts, hurricanes, and… rising sea levels. Some of the people I work with live in beautiful island communities that may not be there in 50 years due to the effects of the rising sea. Others are yet again undergoing severe water shortages. These increasingly tumultuous events have become a shared phenomenon much like Covid. And as humans, even at work, we feel the need to share. We want our connections half way around the world to hear our stories, our fears, our hopes, our concerns. Much like Covid, these stories of climate events are overtaking our collective conversations, and it is a massive bummer.
I have been on several calls where after an international “share sesh” (usually while everyone is logging on) there is a long pause and an almost collective sigh. Much like that sudden storm that caused the CZU fire, the air pressure on the call drops and a collective woe sets in. Part of that woe is a feeling of helplessness, and part of it can make it seem like the reason for the call, the business at hand, is not so important any more. In fact, in many ways the point of these calls is to check in with each other, to hear each other’s stories, and to try and move forward with our work and lives in the midst of what can seem like a movie trailer for the apocalypse.
So will the future of meetings be doom and gloom? While sharing concerns and anxieties are important, we must also remember to share the stories that bring hope and light. Some days those may be hard to find, but they are all around us. A puppy lifted up to the Zoom camera, sharing about a child’s acceptance to college, even recommending a great movie on Netflix. These are also the stories that connect us.
By sharing our stories we realize one important thing, we are not alone. Not alone in our communities, and not alone in our countries. The flattened world where we can see and hear around the globe instantly has allowed us to do what we have always done. Storytelling. We literally share ourselves and become closer.
The future of work calls may actually be the future of our personal selves.