First, thanks to everyone who shared kind words in response to my last post on “From Wanting to Needing Remote Work".  It’s a story I needed to share to better explain my personal perspective on a new way to navigate the world of work: Differability (or the ability to work differently).

Over the years, I’ve discovered many ways to increase my capacity to change how I work.  Many of us were challenged to work differently during the Covid-19 pandemic.  My level of differability allowed me to navigate those challenging years just as it helped me successfully adapt to remote work many years before.

For today though, let me share a lighter story of how I recently expanded my differability capacity and how it’s connected to remote work. Like many of you, my family had not been on a true vacation since before the pandemic.  For us, vacation lets us explore new places, find new ways to travel, and to get out a move.  My youngest son recently graduated from high school and we wanted to gift him travel for his accomplishment.  So we planned a trip to the northern mid-west United States — Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota.  There were several national parks in the area that we had not seen before.

I faced a challenge with this trip.  Going through crowded airports or being in any crowded indoor location would likely trigger my vertigo (as described in my last post).

A pattern emerged for me that I’ve seen before:

  • I was clear on the challenges I faced.
  • I had challenges that I WANTED to overcome.
  • I would be working with people I cared for on a project I cared for.
  • I had to experiment since the combination of challenges were unique.  This meant preparing months before.

For me, travel becomes a type of pleasurable work with unique rewards and often requires collaboration.  Travel also has a higher reward than other projects for me because I learn so much when I travel.

So how did I increase my differability?

For traveling through airports, I tried three different approaches.  First, I had to find a way to reduce the noise levels when I was in a busy airport terminal.  For months, I experimented with different types of ear plugs that would reduce the crowd noise.  Fortunately, my daughter introduced me to one type of hollowed ear plug that would reduce the crowd noise but allow me to hear my conversations.  I tried them in busy stores and finally in a local day-long conference.  No vertigo triggered!

We also scheduled early morning and late evening flights so the airport would be less crowded or the crowd would likely be quieter.  Finally, I decided to walk around in airports where we would have layovers so I was never stuck near a noisy crowd.  My wife inspired this last idea as she is not a fan of sitting and likes to get up and move.

So how did the trip go?  I will let our photos tell that story.

Collage of me, my wife and son at various national parks in Montana and South Dakota.

The photo on the upper left was our selfie with a buffalo at a safe distance.  See that brown dot just above my son’s shoulder?  The smiles in the other photos are a strong indicator of success.

Let me review the pattern one more time as I’ve seen it with successful remote teams as well:

  • I was clear on the challenges I faced.
  • I had challenges that I WANTED to overcome.
  • I would be working with people I cared for on a project I cared for.
  • I had to experiment since the combination of challenges were unique.
  • I collaborated with others on the experiments to learn what they’ve done in similar challenges and adapted them for my situation

I hope it will inspire you to to explore different ways of working when you have choice or when you are forced to work differently.

Yours in exploring different ways of working,

P.S. While writing this article, I had a wonderful surprise.  I heard from one reader recently where they have increased their ability to work differently (shared with permission):

“I owe a ton to you! I got your book because I know you are a smart guy, but I thought it was a nice idea that I did not truly believe in. Well — no worries —because distributed Agile did not need my belief to happen! I was so glad to have the playbook handy in the summer of 2020! I was never against distributed teams, but I wasn’t a champion. Thank you for marching down that path when so few of us were!!”
- David Fogel, Professor of Agile at Defense Acquisition University

If you are looking for that playbook on remote work, you can find it here.  April Jefferson and I are working on the next book to improve your differability.