Dr. Brennan Jacoby is a philosopher and the founder of Philosophy at Work, an organization that works with businesses seeking to improve their thinking skills by leveraging great philosophers and philosophical techniques.
In 2020, Dr. Jacoby has been busy, not only supporting clients through “interesting times”, but developing a new report on The Virtues of Virtual, which focuses on how organizations can think more clearly about (and thereby thrive in) this new era of vastly expanded flexible, remote, virtual working.
Here he tells us about his work, and how the way we approach technology can help us to get the best value from it.
Tell us about the Virtues of Virtual report?
The report focuses on how we can work really well together even when we’re not together, and how we can thrive as a business in this remote context.
One of the key characteristics of 2020 has been the way it’s forced us to respond to challenges, uncertainty and change. At Philosophy at Work we’ve collaborated with clients on a number of different sessions that showed us that there was a real tendency to respond to change in one of two main ways—to overreact or underreact.
For instance, we’ve encountered a lot of managers who pre-crisis might not have been particularly prone to micromanagement, but post-crisis have responded to the surge in remote and dispersed working by really tightening their style. Often, their teams have responded quite negatively to this switch. Other managers have gone in the opposite direction—they were almost too hands off during the outset of quarantine, and left their teams feeling insufficiently supported.
How should businesses strike the right balance between overreaction and under-reaction?
Well our report title actually comes from the work of Aristotle, who said that the right way to live is to try and strike a balance between extremes: he says that a virtue always strikes that balance between the two.
In our report, we identify five virtues that we think strike a really helpful balance between extremes in virtual workplace environments. These are: democracy, accountability, clarity, collegiality and understanding.
How does moderation impact our engagement with technology?
We interviewed lots of experts, and one of the things that was highlighted was that, while remote or virtual working is characterized hugely by our engagement with tech, what makes the biggest difference isn’t so much the tech we have, but more the way that we use it.
When a company goes virtual, they’re often thinking “well, we’re virtual now because we’re holding out meetings via video conferencing,” or, “we’re doing our learning and development virtually” etc. But this can serve to take our eye from where we really need to be paying attention, which concerns how we’re actually connecting with each other, and what our experience of using the technology is like.
In other words, it’s about humanizing technology through our approach to technology.
For more information on Dr. Jacoby and his work, check out his organization, Philosophy at Work.
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