Coronavirus, Agile Work, Deceleration

What do they have to do with each other?

Events, especially larger ones like fairs and conferences, are being canceled all over Germany. The risk of coronavirus spreading is considered too high. Some of my friends whose travel obligations had been canceled reported a feeling of relief. What stroke me as interesting was that this feeling of relief was not related to the fear of infection. It had more to do with the opportunity to slow down for a moment and to do so in good conscience, as there is not much that an individual can influence. So despite reports about mostly damaging effects on the economy (although there have been reports about positive effects on some products, like disinfectants, toilet paper, can food, etc.), the slowing down effect of the virus could offer advantages to the individual. 

I recently came back from a conference, which gathered around 300 representatives from academia, the private and public sector to discuss digital transformations in the world of work, (digital) competences and the role of education. As one keynote speaker put it: “While everyone is canceling their events in light of the coronavirus, the mechanical engineering sector perseveres“.

I was asked by the organizers to give a presentation using a dynamic, Pecha Kucha format. Pecha Kucha is a presentation format that includes 20 slides containing mostly images that automatically change at a pace of 20 seconds, meaning that the time available for one presentation is 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

This is the opposite of decelerating, and yet it was a good experience: 

Act, Reflect, Act again…

It’s interesting how even professionals tend to get nervous in front of the unknown. The speakers I spoke to, like me, had no prior experience with this format. No wonder we were all unsure about managing our speaking time and our audience’s perception.

And given it’s such a dynamic format, it’s naturally associated with stress. So, mantras like: “Be more courageous” or “Try something new” in such a moment sound like rehearsed cliches. Surely being more self-confident helps your personal feeling of well-being, as self-efficacy has been positively associated with success.

For me, what makes the difference is what you do subsequently: whether you take the time to reflect on your action and explore its learning effect. “Learning ability” was also the main message of the conference!

In a dynamic setting: less is more!?

Despite the same format, speakers used it very differently.

Some chose to pace their story independently of the revolving images in the background, others adjusted the content of their speech to each image. Some used only pictures, others had a mix of pictures, graphs, and text.

The first approach (free storytelling and pictures) gave speakers certain leeway in an extremely limited time-frame. On the other hand, it had the disadvantage of creating a feeling of disconnect between the slides and the speech.

The other approach (content adjustment and mixed slides) was more clearly structured, but on the downside focused more on the format rather than the message.

The good news is that regardless of the approach, all presentations automatically ended after 400 seconds, thus allowing plenty of time for discussion among participants and speakers – something which is often missing, as presentations tend to last longer than planned.

Deceleration vs. Agile working

Discussions on the change of work range from topics like New Work, flexibilization, agile working, etc. to complete deceleration and mindfulness. However, most of us still do not like choosing between the poles and have a hard time positioning themselves on this continuum.

What does it anyway mean to be agile? Is it the pace of work or the type of method? Is it availability?

What does it mean to be mindful? Do I have to meditate every day? Is it about being conscious despite the changing work or because of it?

What I learned from my Pecha Kucha experience was that if you want to get your message across, you have to make the effort to build a comprehensible argumentation around a minimalistic presentation. And the effort to make the most of your 6,4 minutes may be twice or three times as high as when you have all the time in the world to present.  

Coming back to my example from before, being relieved about the cancellation of work obligations suggests that we may use this pause for reflection. The next dynamic cycle will inevitably follow.

Luckily we have the virtual formats to stay in touch. 


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