Virtual Goes Viral

Article 16 March 2020

Virtual Working - Saying NO, I can’t and don’t want to ...

A few months ago, I heard voices across organisations and between individuals that articulated our self-limiting beliefs and implicit biases about working virtually...
  • “Face to face is best because you can create intimacy and body language tells you so much - you cannot do that as well virtually”
  • “Working virtually is Plan B or simply an add-on to face to face working”
  • “It is difficult to develop trust when working virtually”
  • “Virtual work is best for tasks rather than for facilitating processes with groups”
  • “Virtual working is not as colourful or dynamic as working face to face”

Lots of statements about why we can’t do it. Very few about why we can.

Late January this year, I was working in Delhi on the Ericsson on the Move culture programme. I was facilitating a session on ‘How we get in our own way’. I invited the participants to put their phones on selfie mode and take a look at themselves and be aware of the person they see, who is their best friend when they are showing up at their best. I asked them to take another look and notice that that very same person they are looking at is the person that gets in the way and can be their worst enemy whispering messages into their ear about what they can’t do and saying ‘what if you fail’. 

What if you tried and succeeded?



... To Saying YES to Virtual Working

That same week, Covid19 was spreading rapidly in China and Ericsson on the Move had a workshop planned in Beijing. In keeping with the name of the programme we were challenged to stay "on the move", and redesign the 3 day face to face programme and facilitate it virtually for 100 people. There was no time to think about what couldn’t be done - We had to think about what was possible. With our client, Ericsson, we co-created this experience and continue to deliver more sessions. We are literally on the move; and strong, intimate, trusting connections across the organisation have been made and the network continues to grow. The positive energy and can-do attitude is contagious.

I am passionate about exploring diversity and inclusion. I get energised when experimenting with different ways of knowing from the use of imagery, emotions, our physical beings (e.g. body sculpting), movement, improvisation and yes, virtual working.


Learning and always improving our practice for our benefit and the benefit of our clients.

Two weeks ago, my colleagues and I got together virtually in order to sharpen our skills of working virtually with Ghislaine Caulat, an expert in virtual working. This session was dynamic, engaging, colourful, with close connection, intimacy and trust as we developed our practice. We learned together, and sharpened our virtual practice full of ideas of what we could do to build our expertise and expand the work we are already doing. I recall how I felt when Barack Obama was elected and from his speech, the words YES WE CAN still ring loud in my head and make my heart beat stronger as Hope, what is Possible, and Opportunity chimed.

  • We can have a strong virtual presence and be present virtually
  • We can create and build Trust in the virtual environment
  • We can work in small groups in break-out sessions virtually
  • We can do mindfulness exercises virtually
  • We can be off mute and interrupt each other virtually
  • We can listen at all levels (feeling, facts, intention) virtually
  • We can annotate, interact, be creative virtually
  • We can do silent brainstorming (sounds like an oxymoron

Saying YES to the Virtual Mindset

Sheppard Moscow connecting virtually, having important conversations and enjoying each others company.

My colleague and Sheppard Moscow Managing Partner Anita Harris recently posted a photo on LinkedIn of her messy office as she worked virtually for 3 days on the same Ericsson on the Move programme. Change is messy, daunting and YES, exciting. We are being called on in this volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, Covid19 world that we have been thrust into; in the words of Frank Barrett (2012), to “Say YES to the mess”.

As leaders, we hear and heed the call to innovate and do things differently in order to get a different outcome, improve performance and develop.

The challenge with Covid19 is to open up our minds, hearts and guts. Have the mindset that enables us to be at our best when working virtually. Virtual working is not Plan B. Virtual working is part of our expansive portfolio of different ways of working that are available to us. The mindset we need to be at our best when working virtually is the same mindset we need when working creatively and innovatively.

  • Suspend disbelief
  • Think bigger – challenge and stretch ourselves
  • Open your mind to possibilities - Stay open … ‘Yes and’
  • Nurture
  • Build don’t break
  • Embrace uncertainty
  • Be radically curious
  • Widen the circle of involvement – Go viral
  • Create Psychological safety
  • Fail happy (where possible)
  • Enjoy it – have fun!

Covid19 has gone viral. Besides the virus, what really has gone viral with Covid19 are all the messages about what we should not be doing. Let’s create a movement and go viral with what we can do. I am not saying it is easy, however, I trust that with our collective leadership we can make the 'can do' messages bigger than the 'can’t do'.

What is clear, as it is with every change, is that we have no idea what the world we emerge into will be like in a few weeks, months or a year’s time. What is also clear is that we will not go back to the way that it was. 

As virtual goes viral, I look forward to leading and co-creating our new emergent world with you, my virtual friends and colleagues.

TsheliLujabe-3.jpg Tsheli Lujabe