In this bonus episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast, Dan Neumann and Christy Erbeck discuss the work impact from COVID-19 and share some of their coping mechanisms.
Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and not completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar]
Intro [00:02]: Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought, the podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes.
Dan Neumann [00:14]: Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner. I’m Dan Neumann and joined today by Christy Erbeck, one of my colleagues at AgileThought.
Christy Erbeck [00:24]: Hey Dan, how are you doing?
Dan Neumann [00:27]: I think like a lot of people, there’s a lot of weird stuff going on so this is a bit of a, a bonus content if you will. Not our usual release cycle, but um, partly inspired and driven by this COVID-19 Coronavirus thing that seems to have turned the world upside down lately. So I know we often see each other remotely, but I know now my wife is home cause school is closed. My college-aged son will be leaving campus soon because they’re not forcing the kids off of campus, but they are refunding some of their, um, tuition room and board, uh, to leave. So they financially incented the kids to leave. And I know your situation’s a little different now too, right?
Christy Erbeck [01:15]: It is working from home. No travel. I’m normally out at our clients wherever our clients are. I’m used to being on an airplane in and in a hotel and at a client site, and now I’m home and having to connect with them remotely over video, phone calls and, and it’s different. It is very unusual. I am out of my comfort zone, certainly with not being with our clients because that’s what I love to do. That’s where I love to be. And it, and so it’s, it’s, it’s unsettling.
Dan Neumann [01:50]: It is. No, I, it’s, you know, when I met, when I’m at a client site, I can get into a flow. I hear things informally and it’s like, Oh, that’s, that’s interesting. Um, and now we’re doing a lot of things. Uh, remotely. Uh, Zoom is one of the platforms we use and it’s, it’s fairly effective still. You know, we have the analogs for the whiteboard. Um, I gently encouraged people to turn their videos on and uh, was pleasantly surprised when I got really, I don’t, you know, say even got pushed back. It was, you know, it was the second call we had and one of the people was like, alright, you know, I’ll, I’ll do it. And so I’ve been pleasantly surprised how quickly I’ve seen people adapting to a different reality.
Christy Erbeck [02:36]: I have seen that as well. And it’s encouraging that we are willing to adapt in this way. And it shows the power of the human spirit that regardless of the chaos, regardless of the challenge that’s in front of us, we always figure out a way to make it through and to come out on the other side better. And, um, it’ll certainly be different. The other side of whatever this is for however long it is, it will absolutely be different. And I believe there’s tremendous opportunities for it to be better.
Dan Neumann [03:15]: Yeah. So let’s, um, when we were talking before this, this isn’t so much a how-to episode, but maybe a little bit of a sharing, like how are we, uh, adapting? So this isn’t prescriptive, if you will, but more, uh, more some sharing. I like, I liked your phrase, kind of the humanity of it. So how are you, how are you surviving at home?
Christy Erbeck [03:38]: Well, I am. I’ve had to really like lean back, lean into and back upon, Oh my gosh, 20 years ago when I had a brand consultancy, a boutique brand consultancy up in the Chicago area. And I had transitioned from a corporate world where, you know, incredible hours, very high demanding, lots of travel and everything. And then suddenly I am now transitioning into having my own business, having to set my own hours. And so I’m leaning into a lot of the lessons that I learned back then. And I’m also incorporating some of the newer things that I’ve learned since I’m coming to AgileThought and just since evolving my agile practice and personal journey there. So it’s been, it’s been interesting. And the first thing I had to do is go back to setting a schedule for when I’m working and sticking to that and letting everybody around me know, here’s my work schedule. Even though I might be in a different work uniform, I might be in a, you know, my favorite Mickey Mouse tee shirt and my Dare to Lead hoodie instead of, you know, my Robert Graham blouse and you know, some, some dress pants or something like that and a pair of high heels. All of that is like way back in my closet right now. And I’m enjoying a different work uniform, and creating the schedule that’s helping me stay productive, stay focused and still take care of myself, take care of my clients, take care of my family, um, in a way that is healthy and way that is, um, feeding my work and my spirit.
Dan Neumann [05:35]: Yeah, I liked, yeah, you said setting your own hours and I’m not going to lie, I may or may not have taken a phone call with sweat pants and a collared shirt on today. Right. It is interesting. There’s a book called, My Year Without Pants that’s on my reading backlog. It’s about a guy who for a year. Um, and so it just, I that the title always comes to mind anytime I think about telecommuting. So, um, but yeah, you’re there at home. Yeah. You have what, a couple 70 pound Labradors.
Christy Erbeck [06:11]: I do. They’re nine months old and 70 pounds and just, you know, filled with energy. So while I don’t have children at home anymore, I have two dogs who are very, you know, I wish I could create a working agreement with them like I did with my husband and I and my team, uh, they, they are, when they’re ready for time to go outside time to play they are, Anchor especially he is in my lap and in my face and has often showed up on the computer or video screen, um, out of nowhere. And it provides a lot of joy and laughter for the video call. Um, and it reminds me I have to get up and take care of him.
Dan Neumann [06:55]: Yeah, it’s interesting to see. I did this web call that I was talking about earlier. You know, somebody’s little person showed up in the background. Um, and you know, there was a, at one point, one of the participants became distracted by what was a, apparently a small child making some noise. And, and I think there are people who say, Oh, we just go to home and stay productive. I’m going, yes, but it’s different. You know, it’s, you can’t expect people to go home and be distraction free. Like there’s the, you know, the news cycle is going on where there’s legitimate concerns about, about what’s happening, uh, kids are out of school. And so really I think extending a little bit of a grace to yourself, you know, to, to be distracted or, or, um, focusing back and forth on different things as well as to other people on the other end of the phone or the other end of the email or, or however people are communicating.
Christy Erbeck [07:58]: And I actually believe that it takes not just a little bit of grace, but a lot of grace right now. And this the willingness to not…
Dan Neumann [08:12]: That’s wonderful to me. We won’t even edit that out.
Christy Erbeck [08:21]: It’s not just a little bit of grace, but a lot of grace for ourselves and for others because we are in a time that we’ve not really seen before. And just allowing for this space to learn from each other and learn from this human experiment and this, um, and see it as an opportunity to connect and to learn and to let go of and to lean into a different way of working that we may still use as we go back to the, what we used to have. Um, or we may see that we have a new normal and this period, how we handle this transition from our old way of working through this muddy middle and into that new normal will really set the tone for how that new normal is embraced and adopted and made room for in the future.
Dan Neumann [09:33]: Yeah. That whatever emerges, those, the new normal will be interesting. Cause you know, my, like I said, my college son, they’ve transitioned all of the learning to remote learning, which I understand how they can do that with lectures, but I don’t know what that means for labs and things like that where you have, you need equipment you need access to, whether it’s chemicals or computers or, or, uh, car parts or whatever you need. Um, it’ll be interesting. So how do you handle, uh, blocking out, let’s say some of the noises around the house, if you do, I know I find for myself, I find I need to at times just block out noises. What’s your, what’s your approach?
Christy Erbeck [10:11]: Well, bully sticks work really great to keep the boys quiet. They are these uh, I would say meat-based chewies that I give one of them and they will go and be quiet for a little bit of time. Um, I also use inspiring music in the background. So I, I was raised with a lot of classical music and I happen to adore the Baroque period of music with Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and others. And I know that that also stimulates my brain in its thinking and creativity. So I often have the classical radio station on Apple music playing in the background. Um, and when I need something different then I just change the station. If I need to lift my mood, I’ll put on the cruder station and start singing. But that helps create some white noise that is non verbal and is uplifting. And this is really important from a standpoint of when we’re home and we’re working alone. A lot of people like to play the TV in the background. And if you think about what is being played on the TV right now and the negativity and the doom and gloom alongside, you know, some of the cautionary stories, you know, there’s a, there’s some balance there. However, there’s more negativity than there is positivity coming from those airwaves. And so if we choose music and it’s at the very least, music is neutral and more often than not, it is a positive influence on our lives. And you know, studies have shown it helps your creativity, abstract thinking, um, critical thinking, focus, attention and, and it uplifts our spirit. There is a vibration that happens in our body when we are listening to certain types of music and we need as much of that positivity in that, um, uplifting as we possibly can to at the very least balance out the negative talk that’s happening online and on the TV and elsewhere.
Dan Neumann [12:33]: I’ve become a big fan of the white noise app on my iPhone. Um, and, and you can change, there’s the white noise or it’s just that shhh sound, but they have different colors of noise, but then they also have something like, um, like a bustling cafe or it’s just that chatter in the background and there’s one that you can put together though the thunderstorm thing with the rain forest rain and you get these interesting things. And so, uh, that’s my go to because I will get fixated on, uh, you know, my wife’s home. And so sometimes the TV’s on while she’s doing whatever she’s doing and I’ll just get fixated on like that noise or, um, we live in an old house, which, um, it sounds like it’s a cave. There’s like one restroom and it’s right outside where the, the, uh, offices that I work on. And so like, she’ll, uh, obviously needs to use the facilities periodically. And that noise, like just the door opening or somebody walking by, I get distracted. And so I, you know, headphones on and zoning out is, that’s one of my favorites cause I’ll get caught into the, even with nonverbal musics, I’ll get caught into the do do do kind of humming along or whatever. Sucks my brain into that.
Christy Erbeck [13:43]: Yes. And the noise canceling headsets also are awesome. We have a team member who has started using them to just minimize the background noise of his children, even though they’re on a different level. You know, as a father, he always has an ear out for anything that’s going on with his kids and what a wonderful paternal instinct and that can be distracting. There’s that, that pull and tension between his fatherly duties and what he needs to do as a remote worker. And so he has found that the noise canceling headset helps him focus in. Um, and then when something really needs his attention, they have a way of, you know, throwing up the flares.
Dan Neumann [14:35]: Nice. And you’d mentioned some newer techniques too. So some of these, you know, uh, the, the music’s obviously a time honored tradition there and having a schedule, but you’d mentioned trying some new techniques too, what are some newer things you’re trying.
Christy Erbeck [14:50]: Well, as you well know, I am a personal Kanban fan and, uh, so I’m, I’m in my husband’s office right now and where I sit is a little bit out in the open and I use a door in that particular room for my Kanban board and I, I have my stickies. And so that physical visual board helps me stay focused on what am I working on, what’s up next, what do I need to plan for and gives me fantastic satisfaction, uh, moving the stickies from doing to done. So that’s a new technique, a one that I’ve picked up in the last seven years or so.
Dan Neumann [15:33]: I love it. I use an app called to do ist. So there are times when I will write out the physical sticky notes, but I used to do ist. And I have my items in there and some of them are recurring daily things. And I find that, um, sometimes I just, I have a hard time getting going, but as soon as I remember, Oh yeah, there’s the thing I do in the morning and I go in there and I checked that one off. I’m like, okay, what’s next, what’s next, what’s not? And, and then, um, I’m able to kind of focus in on here’s the next thing I have to do. So in fact, when we’re done, I get to check off, record the podcast and then I’ll need to publish it and then my list is clean for the day. So I’m very excited about that. I do find that the Kanban board, whether you do personal Kanban, uh, as, as kind of prescribed by the book personal Kanban or whether it’s just writing the sticky note down and sticking it on the monitor to say, this is the thing that I need to get done right now. Tremendous, tremendous value and power in that.
Christy Erbeck [16:31]: Yeah, that visual reminders is fantastic. And then the other thing that I have recently adopted, and there’s a couple of different ways I do it, is um, time boxes as you know, in Scrum time boxes are everything. And that learning Scrum really helped me see and apply the value of time boxes. Um, I have focus keeper on my phone for when I don’t have my microwave oven timer to use and I use my microwave oven timer often in the house because it forces me to get up and move at the end of that time box. And it’s loud enough that I can hear it wherever I’m at. Um, and it continues to go off until I cancel it. So it really forces me where as the, the focus keeper? Um, oftentimes it’ll just roll over into the next 25 minute time box. And I find that having that focused effort in that time, whether it’s 30 minutes or 60 minutes or whatever it is really helps create that sense of deadline. And as a type A high achiever, I have to have deadlines. And so I really, I’ve really loved that newer approach to just keeping myself on track and giving myself the space to exceed the time box if I need to. But let’s just laser in, let’s focus.
Dan Neumann [17:57]: Are you, are you using that as a like focus on the thing for 25 minutes or do you say here’s the increment to use the Scrum word, here’s the increment I want to have delivered and I have 25 minutes to get it done. How, how are you doing that?
Christy Erbeck [18:11]: Both. I’ve used it both ways. So I used actually when I was writing, um, so I’m creating a Sketchnote on this topic. And, um, for me when I write my sketch notes or when I create my sketch notes, I, I am creating it from something I’ve already written or something that I’ve said and then I’m going back and listening to it and drawing it out. And so I set a time box for writing at least the skeleton of what I wanted to share and that helps tremendously. And I feel so good at the end. The timebox is over, even if it’s not fully completed. I have gotten so much more so much further than I would have without the time box.
Dan Neumann [18:53]: I love it. I love it. I sometimes I use the time box to um, kind of make a commitment of sorts to like sit there and work on the thing cause Oh man, it’s so easy to be like, you know what I would like, I would like some more coffee now. Oh Hey, I would like a snack. Oh I would like whatever you name the thing. Um, it’s very easy to just go run off and do the thing. Sometimes it’s like, Oh dear God, I literally, okay, I’m going to sit here for half an hour and you know, come hell or high water, I’m going to do the thing and really focus on it. So that’s, that’s usually my go to on that term thing. Yeah.
Christy Erbeck [19:27]: I’ll say the other fun thing that I recently started is kind of like a spontaneous virtual drive-by video call. And I did this with one of our colleagues yesterday. I pinged her and she was in a meeting and she pinged me back and then she spontaneously video called me and I was available. So we spend about 15 minutes just catching up and checking in on each other and we talked about some work things and collaborated on something and that really, I actually happened to have coffee with me at that moment and it really just felt filled a void that’s missing of those water cooler conversations and those, um, just spontaneous drive by, Oh my gosh, Hey, I need to talk to you about this. You don’t get that unless we actually reach out. And it helped alleviate a sense of loneliness that I was feeling in that particular moment. And, um, I know I’m not alone in feeling lonely even though I’m surrounded by people technically, you know, with Teams and Slack and all of that kind of stuff. And there’s just something about connecting face to face, even if it is on video and having that personal connection.
Dan Neumann [20:46]: Yeah. I do find that the video just adds to the conversation. You know, voice is great. It’s way better than email and you need in the texting cause. But yeah, that’s cool that uh, you just kind of reached out spontaneously and, and uh, they reciprocated and you guys were able to do that.
Christy Erbeck [21:03]: Yeah. And it’s something that I want to, I will do going forward with other people and I think I’m just going to kind of randomly choose people because I heard even from some other folks that you wouldn’t think that they were feeling lonely and they, they are and, and so, yeah, that’s really important. Reach out and let people know that you’re there and that you need that connection point.
Dan Neumann [21:32]: No, that’s fantastic. Yeah, definitely, definitely valuable. And then maybe the last thing to touch on, kind of keeping an eye on the speaking of timebox is keeping an eye on our time box. Um, turn off the TV. Oh dear God. And get outside. For me, I was uh, uh, right before we recorded this I was saying, you know, I went and ran around, uh, one of the local high school tracks here. It was 41 degrees Fahrenheit, which is cold and it was raining and it was a little windy, but ah, it felt great to put in a few miles on the track.
Christy Erbeck [22:04]: Absolutely. So I’m fortunate enough to live in sunny Florida, uh, but for, you know, the majority of my life, I actually lived in Chicago and we had a forest preserve across the street from my house and I would use that when I had my company. I would use that to get out and just be part of the universe and have my feet on the ground and look at the trees and breathe in that fresh air. And, and today I go outside and I, you know, put my feet in the ground and I look out over the water and I, you know, just look up into the sunshine and really feel so much more connected to the bigger picture than when I am myopically focused on my laptop and what’s in front of me. And yes, so, so much, so much awesomeness in stepping outside and um, taking a break and being in nature.
Dan Neumann [23:04]: Yeah, no, it was a, it was a mixed blessing. I had some of the, uh, I was going to do a couple of marathons last week. I got one done and then the other one was canceled, but I spent the better part of that Sunday then going up and down a mountain trail. So I got 21 miles in, I got 4,500 feet of elevation gain. I have a nasty sunburn that really hurts to wear shirts right now. Um, but it was, Oh yeah, it was, but it was wonderful. It was great. I, I kind of hurt in a bunch of different ways when I was done, but I was like, yeah, that was, that was kind of fun, you know, got out and uh, covered some miles and uh, suffered a little bit but not too much, you know, it was, it was good times.
Christy Erbeck [23:43]: We need that.
Dan Neumann [23:44]: We do. Yeah, for sure. Well, hopefully folks enjoyed listening to our survival strategies as we are. Uh, you know, fortunately I have not come down with, with the bug that’s going around and I know some people have, so this is not intended to be lighthearted in, in any particular way or dismissive of, of the, uh, challenges that some people are facing.
Christy Erbeck [24:09]: No, certainly not at all. And it’s what I wanted to share is the humanity of, and 1, It is okay to laugh and we do need to find humor where we can stay connected and compassionate for ourselves and others as we go through this transition and this process in this crisis. Um, and you know, be brave, be courageous, reach out when you don’t think that anybody wants to hear from you or needs to hear from you. They do. Just like you need somebody to reach out to you. That’s, that’s how we’re going to get through this together. We are going to get through. Right.
Dan Neumann [24:53]: I love it. And there’s, you know, there’s some good videos, whether it’s the penguins running around in the Chicago aquarium. I know, I’ve seen that. Or uh, I think Spain or Italians randomly singing and things like that. So yeah, there’s, there’s some good stuff out there.
Christy Erbeck [25:07]: There is and I’ll just share real quick, my 76 year old mother used FaceTime for the first time the other day and she used it because she said, Christy, I need to teach violin lessons to my students and some of them don’t want to come to the music house. So will you show me how to use an iPad and FaceTime so that I can give them a lesson and Oh my gosh, talk about ingenuity and adaptation at any age. And she’s given those lessons now and they have been very well received and she’s learning how to do something new and connect with people in a way that she never thought possible.
Dan Neumann [25:47]: That’s wonderful. And it helps those students who I’m presuming most of them are youth kind of keep some of the routine that I’m let’s say, so lots of routines have been disrupted and that can be very unsettling for adults as well as as kids. So that’s awesome. Super cool. Thanks for sharing that.
Christy Erbeck [26:05]: One more thing I wanted to share, Dan, is that you know, as agile coaches and consultants, we work in a variety of ways all the time and I actually have been remote coaching or consulting for 20 years in one way or another. AgileThought has a tremendous amount of expertise in remote teaming. Coaching people one on one through situations, helping set up team working agreements, things like this that in this day and age and this moment may be really helpful for people out there. So I would invite them if they’re, if they need help, reach out to us because we’re here to help people get through this time and we’ve got blog posts, we’ve got podcasts and then of course we can coach them. Like if they need actual coaching consulting that can be done remotely. We have the tools, the technology and the people and the expertise to offer that to folks.
Dan Neumann [27:15]: I second that invitation. We really are in a position to be able to help people through this and eventually this will be behind us.
Christy Erbeck [27:23]: Sure. I want to come out of this with all these great stories of how we evolved, how we adapted, how we created happiness and connection,
Dan Neumann [27:33]: How we made toilet paper from lawn clippings. So with that we’ll skip the continuous learning part cause I think we’re all just on a journey right now. So. All right, well thank you for joining Christy and I enjoyed making some bonus content for the Agile Coaches’ corner.
Christy Erbeck [28:00]: Thanks for having me Dan. It was fun and insightful. As always.
Outro [28:07]: This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions, and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips from this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.