72. The evolution of collaboration and the Future of Work | Lisette Sutherland, Director of Collaboration Superpowers


Lisette Sutherland | Director of Collaboration Superpowers


This week we turn the focus of our conversation to collaboration and the Future of Work. Our guest is Lisette Sutherland, Director of Collaboration Superpowers.
In Episode 72 we look at the evolution of collaboration from 5 years ago to what it is today, including a cool look at the advancement of Augmented Reality.


Lisette Sutherland web


Lisette Sutherland is the Director of Collaboration Superpowers. Her company, provides individuals, teams, and managers with a roadmap of how to work together anywhere – successfully through online, interactive workshops given by professional licensed facilitators all over the world.

She is the author of the Work Together Anywhere Handbook, the host of a podcast featuring interviews with remote-working experts, and a facilitator of workshops on a variety of remote working topics.




[00:00:00] - Lisette Sutherland
There's nothing like being together around a whiteboard. You got a pile of nachos and some Coca Colas and you're just like... There's nothing like that. That is definitely one way of doing it. But that's not to say that brainstorming and creative work can't be done in the remote environment as well.

[00:00:23] - Doug Foulkes
Hello, and welcome to episode 72 of Chaos & Rocketfuel: The Future of Work Podcast. I'm Doug Foulkes, and I'm with the CEO of WNDYR and Pattyrn, Claire Haidar. Claire, this is the second time we're chatting to Lisette Sutherland. We're talking deeply about collaboration and not just using it as a buzzword. What are we discussing with her in this particular segment?

[00:00:45] - Claire Haidar
Hi, Doug, so good to be back on the air with you and also with Lisette. We really got into the meat of the conversation in the second segment with her, where we really looked at the evolution of collaboration. What did collaboration—not only in companies but also in different technology tools—look like five years ago, and what does it look like today?

[00:01:09] - Claire Haidar
The interesting twist at the end of the segment—which I really enjoyed with her and I know you did as well—was when we started going into augmented reality and AI and how far those tools have come along. A lot of people still think of them in terms of what they experienced five years ago, but there's been such huge advancements with those tools today that's actually enabling work in very interesting ways.

[00:01:36] - Doug Foulkes
Yes, it was a great conversation and look forward to sharing that with the audience.

[00:01:42] - Claire Haidar
That sets the baseline in terms of what is collaboration, what are the characteristics of it, and how do you measure it, if you should be measuring it at all? Moving on now, what I'd like us to segue the conversation into is the evolution of collaboration. We're in a very different world today because of the pandemic that we've all just lived through. Work has fundamentally changed. It's never going to be the same again. Take us back in time and share with us what collaboration looked like five years ago.

[00:02:17] - Lisette Sutherland
If I think back five years ago and I look at the talks that I was given at the time then about remote working, I was doing a lot of bashing of Skype for business because of how terrible of a collaboration tool that it was at the time. Of course, Microsoft Teams has improved greatly in the meantime. I can't really bash it anymore, although with all those engineers, it's still not awesome. It should be an awesome tool and it's still not awesome.

[00:02:42] - Lisette Sutherland
But in any case, so we were still using Skype for business, digital nomads were still being considered like the total outlier weirdos out there, and I was still trying to convince companies out there that having remote-first policies in place was good for their business, because at the time, I was using examples like sick kids at home or the plumber that's coming between 09:00 AM and 05:00 PM.

[00:03:08] - Lisette Sutherland
I would never have used the example of a global pandemic because it would have just seemed so over-the-top extreme, so exaggerated of a risk. But here we are, there's a global pandemic. I never went back and said, "I told you so," but it seems so obvious five years ago that we are heading in this direction. Nobody had any idea that we would be catapulted in this direction.

[00:03:33] - Lisette Sutherland
But five years ago, it's not that remote working was weird, it's just that it wasn't widely accepted. Remote collaboration wasn't widely accepted. A lot of people were doing it. Tons of people were doing it, so we had our community, but we were really still considered the weirdos. When I look back at actually my travel schedule, I of course teach online workshops about how to work remotely. I always designed the workshops to be taught online, because I thought if you want to learn how to work remotely, taking an in-person workshop just seems like insanity, really.

[00:04:06] - Lisette Sutherland
I couldn't convince companies to... It was too weird still at the time. They were thinking they were buying a very expensive webinar at the time. Now, I think what companies are seeing is that actually, you can have effective, interesting, engaging, interactive online learning sessions without having to fly somewhere in person. I used to charge people more, almost double the rate, but they would insist that I would have to do half the workshop on-site and then I could do the other half remotely. But I first had to fly there.

[00:04:42] - Lisette Sutherland
That has all changed. I would say in collaboration, the world has really shifted in terms of the technology has gotten a lot better, the expectations for what people understand remote can do. But also, we've now seen the power of remote collaboration, and everybody, even the naysayers, have to now admit that it is possible when necessary.

[00:05:02] - Claire Haidar
Lisette, can I play a little bit of Devil's advocate with you? Because what I'm hearing on the ground from our customers that we are working with is they're actually now, and very interestingly, they're literally going back to the fundamentals of how their buildings are designed. It's almost like there's been this flip flop where they used to do all their collaborative work in-person, plus all their normal work.

[00:05:28] - Claire Haidar
Now, the normal day-to-day, what I would call transactional work, seems to be very well-aligned to people working remotely and using all the digital tools. But there seems to be a very definite yearning and pullback, particularly from senior leadership, to get people back into spaces for collaboration purposes. Do you think that your model and your direction is going to have to change a little bit to fit with that, or do you feel strongly that your original hypothesis that existed way before the pandemic still holds true and companies should still be building according to that?

[00:06:06] - Lisette Sutherland
Well, I think there's a little bit of both going on. The data right now is showing that brainstorming and creative activities, collaborative activities like that, are actually suffering in the virtual world. But I would argue that, okay, that could be true, and yes, there's nothing like being together around a whiteboard. You've got a pile of nachos and some Coca Colas in here. There's nothing like that. That's definitely one way of doing it.

[00:06:32] - Lisette Sutherland
But that's not to say that brainstorming and creative work can't be done in the remote environment as well, obviously, as we've seen from so many examples all over the world. It's just that I think that people are not fluent in the language of online collaboration, like the infrastructure. People are not taking infrastructure seriously in terms of having a good enough Internet connection or learning how to use the whiteboards. There's like a technology fear of people...

[00:07:00] - Lisette Sutherland
When I mentioned that there are virtual offices or people are working in virtual reality or using telepresence robots, most people's eyes kind of go like, "Huh? Is she on crack or is this for real?" It's too Star Trek still. But I would say that that is the language that we need to be learning for the future. If you really want to virtually collaborate online, then you're going to have to dive into what this new medium requires, and it requires better infrastructure and actually learning how to behave online in this way.

[00:07:33] - Lisette Sutherland
There's an argument for both, right? There are some teams that really do just prefer to be in person. I think more power to them. My husband is specifically, actively, looking for a job that he can go to in person.

[00:07:45] - Claire Haidar
This is part of our podcast. We chatted about this, about how some people can just be so distinctly different.

[00:07:52] - Lisette Sutherland
For me, it would be a nightmare. I would hate it, every minute of it.

[00:07:56] - Claire Haidar
Lisette, I think, though, what you've said there is really important. I've actually seen this very recently with my husband. My husband is very well-versed in tech. He considers me to be like the most non-techy person, you know what I mean? To give you an idea in terms of the gap between us. He's just recently gotten us an Oculus for home. We've been experimenting with Oculus.

[00:08:21] - Claire Haidar
I can remember back when I was still living in Europe and going to tech conferences, I would always play around with the Oculus stuff and everything like that. And his mind was just blown literally in the last week in terms of how the progression on that platform alone has evolved and matured in terms of what that immersive experience actually is. We would have been two of the really, really early adopters in Oculus, but being very acutely aware of its limitations in terms of being truly immersive. You can see that the road ahead, but it definitely wasn't there five or six years ago, whereas now-

[00:08:58] - Lisette Sutherland
Even two years ago.

[00:09:00] - Claire Haidar
Even two years ago, yeah. Now, it's genuinely mind-blowing. For somebody like him who is so well-versed in tech to actually see that leap says something. So I think it's true what you say, that a lot of the people still feel and see those things as very futuristic, whereas they actually aren't anymore. They are very real right now. I think it would do well for companies to actually dedicate teams and resources to exploring those things and incorporating them into how they collaborate.

[00:09:31] - Lisette Sutherland
Indeed. Because I think what we're seeing is that presence is important, but people make the assumption that it has to be in person. But I would say, if your hologram could beam in to a meeting where you could be there as a hologram... Especially with climate change issues coming up, the reality is we're going to have to use more technology in the future because of environmental issues, probably. Who knows how far down the line? But Spain just had 43 degrees Celsius this week. That's one of the highest. India, my colleague lives in India, they're having like 47 degrees. So climate change is going to be a real thing. We're going to have to use the technology.

[00:10:12] - Lisette Sutherland
But even without climate change, the technology exists, and it's awesome. I think that there's just not a lot of training and time being spent getting to learn it, because there's a new app every day, so really, who has time to explore everything? And we all have work to do in the meantime. Companies really should dedicate some time and energy to this because really, it's awesome what's possible now.

[00:10:34] - Lisette Sutherland
I'm going to jump in there, Lisette, because I haven't used any augmented reality stuff. I haven't used Oculus. You were talking about how amazing it is, and Claire, you were saying how it's come along. For those of us that have never put a headset on, can you basically... What is the difference when you're going into a meeting, when you're collaborating? Is there a couple of practical things that you can tell us that makes it that good?

[00:11:00] - Lisette Sutherland
I've used a number of different meeting softwares, but my favorite is called MeetinVR. Basically, from the time that you download the app to the time that you in a meeting room is about seven minutes. Even for a new user who's not very versed in the Oculus world, seven minutes, you could be in. What it does is it puts me into a meeting in a meeting room. The default is this room floating above Earth. I am now sitting at a table with five or six other people. I can spatially hear who's to the right versus who's to the left of me. I can actually shake somebody's hand, and they're now working on technology where you can feel the other person when you do that also, so there's like this thing, incredible stuff.

[00:11:41] - Lisette Sutherland
But the other thing that you can do is you're all sitting around the table, you're talking, you can see each other, and it really feels like you're in the room with somebody. But then you've got the added superpower capabilities of being able to just bring up a random YouTube video by doing some motion behind your ear, and all of a sudden, YouTube comes up. You can just type on the virtual screen with your hands in the air, which video you want, and then it plays on a virtual screen in this meeting. There's no infrastructure needed. I can just pull it out of thin air, these kind of things.

[00:12:11] - Lisette Sutherland
The other thing that I was able to do is I was able to draw with a pen, a 3D object in virtual reality that I was then able to pass to the person to the right. They are now able to add on using other tools. We can then save that object and then 3D print it.

[00:12:28] - Lisette Sutherland
It really is awesome. We went into a workshop room space where the canvas for the workshop is on the wall, so you could actually stand with your team at the wall with a canvas, and all the filling things out, like you're at the whiteboard together. I think what it does is it just allows us to interact in this virtual space as if we're in the real world together. I don't want to call it real world. It's like the virtual world and the real world. It just gives you superpowers.

[00:12:54] - Claire Haidar
Doug, I think the point that a lot of people haven't really been able to verbalize, but what they're feeling, is what everybody is calling the Zoom fatigue right now. It's not that it's Zoom that's causing the fatigue. It's the fact that we're all sitting stationery in a single chair staring at a box. It's that whole perpetual eight-hour reality that's causing this underlying fatigue that we're carrying into. It's bleeding over into dinner time with our families. It's a fatigue that's there because we're not moving the way we used to.

[00:13:31] - Claire Haidar
I think that's the piece that I'm particularly excited about with regards to these virtual tools in this augmented reality, is that it's bringing the movement back. I've been somebody that has always moved my whole life. I used to play very serious competitive volleyball at university. Just being somebody that's moved my entire life, I'm feeling that fatigue right now because my work life is confined to this box that I'm in essentially every single day.

[00:14:04] - Claire Haidar
I can feel the difference, because when I get onto my Peloton bike now, how I feel after 20 minutes is exponentially more than after a three-hour volleyball match before in my life. But it's just because my body is craving that oxygen flow that happens that comes from movement, because we haven't been in these environments where we walking back and forth and doing things anymore. I think that's what excites me, is that it's allowing that freedom of movement to come back again.

[00:14:34] - Doug Foulkes
Sure, yeah, and if that's what people want, that's what will be developed, obviously. You can't put your hand up and say something in a meeting unless you've cycled for three laps round the Arc de Triomphe or something.

[00:14:48] - Claire Haidar
Exactly. You know what I mean?

[00:14:50] - Doug Foulkes
That brief look at collaboration through the virtual world brings us to the end of episode 72. If you missed the first part of our conversation with Lisette, then you can check it out on Spotify, Google, or Apple Podcasts, or on the WNDYR website. That's wndyr.com. We'll conclude our chat shortly. From Claire and myself, we'll see you soon.

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