Distance working goes against creating “Intelligent Organizations”


Didier Marlier

January 23, 2021

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The actual pandemic will have taught us the joys and challenges of distance-work, working from home, virtual meetings etc. And there is no question, in my mind, that this is absolutely necessary. It enables organisations to continue to work (and it is amazing how quickly we have adapted and performed) whilst limiting the damage to employees’ health and showing respect to them.

Working from home is also mutually beneficial to employees (who save precious hours per day instead of being stuck into traffic jam, metro, trains, planes), working closer from their families and enterprises (reducing the amount of sq meters needed for offices’ operations) and realizing, following several studies that, working from home, employees tend to spend more hours at the service of the business, the line between privacy and work being increasingly blurred.

We also know the many downsides of working from home: The burden it creates on the lives of couples being constantly together, the difficulty to find quiet office space at home, the loss, little by little of a feeling to belong, loneliness etc.

I invite you to look at this short clip (which I must have posted 2 or 3 years ago). Based on Complex Adaptive Systems theories, it is a perfect metaphor for what happens when people live in a “Relational Culture” and make the time for holding “random conversations”:

Imagine the value randomly created each time such a connexion is established and the quantum leap, every time a connexion creates a network…

Why do you think that the successful Nokia, who lived and believed in “Connecting People”, was asking on their yearly assessment of their top people that they describe their relational network?

Transactional cultures are efficient, to the point and “no time wasted”. There is nothing to say against it. Nevertheless, “not knowing what I don’t know”, the transactional mode sometimes leads us to miss huge opportunities. In some of our Leadership Development Experiences, we organise “Connecting People Sessions”. We offer one hour to the many participants attending the course and ask them to connect informally and without a particular objective to those people they know less. We always have, during the debrief, people who had nice conversations but no more and who wondered what was the point when… others enthusiastically describe the incredible connexion they just made with someone who brought the solution to a big issue they had… Such random and relational connexions rarely happen through Zoom and other platforms.

We don’t know what we don’t know and rapid, focused connexions are of no use to help us progress. I will never forget this program I ran for a large electronic appliances company in Europe. It was 1 am and two tables of participants, far from each other were passionately discussing about something one team was desperately in need of but couldn’t find any supplier for whereas the other were bitching about not finding anyone having the courage to try their new and revolutionary solution. When, by pure luck, both tables reunited for “a last drink” and found out what their mutual grievances were… They couldn’t believe their ears. The next morning, our room was covered with charts, calculations and drawing: one of the company’s most successful product was born!

Working in isolation, connecting with others, exclusively on the basis of a too full agenda, failing to allow Pathos (emotions) to insert itself in the remote interaction don’t just bear a huge human and corporate culture cost. It also prevents those moments of out of the box thinking, innovation and collective intelligence building.

Indeed, we are not yet close from going back to working together from a shared location. But it is important to think of what isolation destroys in financial value. This is probably why, one of our beloved client in Brazil has asked us to run a process where, by talking about their actual biggest leadership challenges, people connect every two weeks, for 2 ½ hours with other leaders. They progress on their issues, but far more important they rebuild, in spite of the distance, a relational, connected and random connexion-based culture.

Enjoy your Leadership Journey! We will prevail!



    Thanks Didier for sharing with us this video which is perfect example of what we lack in this period of time.

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you, dear Bruno,
      Indeed, these needed moments of isolationare frustrating. I guess our duty as leaders is to be more relational and Pathos based, even at a distance, in order to balance the situation. Thank you for having read and commented!
      Have a good week

  2. Michelle Delac

    Thank you for yet again another great article that brings with it so much ‘food for thought’ and insight. Although I must say this article is something I already pondered (before seeing this actual article) and something in which I could not agree more! Being someone who values human connection and knows the power of ‘relationships’ this is not at all surprising to me. I always say that the ‘magic happens’ during the ‘in between meetings’ i.e. over a coffee at the coffee machine, walking to the elevator or even over dinner/lunch. The ‘magic’ is very much lost working in a remote and virtual world.
    I do think organisations have moved far too quickly to downsize offices and change the whole work dynamic. It won’t be felt now but it will be felt!
    Thanks again Didier for sharing your insights.

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you, dear Michèle… Indeed, the “virtual environment” puts at risk those “random conversations, at a random time, with random people on a random topic”. Sometimes, these only serve to build, reinforce a network of connections, like in the clip above, often, they contribute in creating an intelligent organization… And that is, indeed, (with the cultural aspect” what will hurt deeply in a close future if leaders keep treating their virtual meetings in a transactional manner.

      THANK YOU for having taken the time to read and shared your thoughts! Kind regards


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