What Is It About This Distance That Is Bringing Us Closer?

By Vic Bryson 7th May 2020 Personal Impact

Prof. Robert KellyAbout a hundred years ago, when we at Maynard Leigh facilitated workshops in person, in a room, with groups of in-the-flesh participants, a comment used to come up again and again in the feedback – ‘I’ve got to know more about my team in these 2 days than in 5 (or 2 or 7) years of working alongside them’.

Over the past few weeks of remote working, it’s a comment I’m hearing from many people again as they marvel at how they’re seeing and understanding parts of their colleagues’ characters that they’ve never seen before. And this seems to have happened, ironically, from not being in the same building as them. So what is it about this distance that is bringing us closer?

First, we get literally to see into their private lives. We see their Billy bookcases, their magnificent kitchen-island, their junk-shop-find pictures. We may even see their surprised-looking partners backing away in their dressing-gowns. We see their pets, their kids, their CD collections. Even the most carefully curated background gives us information and a window into their personal choices. One genius has coined it ‘bringing your whole shelf to work’.

And it’s nice. One of my favourite clips ever (I snigger like a spin-cycle whenever I re-watch) is Prof. Robert Kelly and his failure to separate family reality from professional veneer.


We like knowing that They are just like Us. And isn’t it a relief to show your backstage, more of your picture, and still be accepted?

Which brings me to the second reason. Pretty much all of us have got more caring, more curious, more genuinely concerned about the welfare of those we have a connection with. Perhaps we’ve always been that caring, and there was just stuff that got in the way; stuff such as being too busy, or not wanting to appear nosy, or fear of crossing some professional line. A genuine crisis, and our protective and dependent instincts, push these little concerns

out of the way. We’ll enquire, and we’ll listen, really listen. And more often than not, empathise. We are prioritising the personal over the transactional.

And thirdly, we have lowered our guards. In the face of sincere care, we fear judgement less and we give ourselves permission to reveal more of ourselves, our feelings, or, in the case of BBC Weatherman Owain Wyn Evans, our talents.


The psychological confidence that comes from showing ourselves and being accepted is immense. It’s a priceless service that we can do for each other.

What I’m hearing – just as I did after those workshops – is that people like this stronger personal connection; it lifts our spirits, it deepens the meaning and purpose of our work, it raises our respect for each other and it creates a world that we want to engage in. It’s one of the gems in the rubble of the Covid-19 devastation.

If this is something we want to hold onto, and not let dissipate in the stagger back to business as usual, then now is the time to take note of what we’re doing, celebrate the hell out of it and build it in permanently to our leadership and management practice.

Vic Bryson is a Client Director and Executive Coach for Maynard Leigh Associates where she works to unlock the potential of individuals and organisations.

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