How to Make Virtual Training More Engaging, with Barbara Covarrubias Venegas

Gabriela Molina

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas it the Founder and Managing Director at Virtual Space Hero and the co-founder of the Academy for Diversity and Innovation.

Barbara

Read the transcript

Luis:

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. I am your host, Luis and my guest today is Barbara Covarrubias Venegas. The Founder and Managing Director at Virtual Space Hero and the co-founder of the Academy for Diversity and Innovation. Barbara, welcome to the show.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Hi Luis. Thank you very much for the invitation. Happy to be here.

Luis:

It’s an absolute pleasure having you here. We were talking about it before we started recording you. You have a very diverse set of experiences, a very diverse career path, which I like a lot, because I do have one as well. And I wanted to start by asking, how did your relationship with remote work begin and how did it shape that career path?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Thank you so much. That’s a great question. Well, to start with, I was a researcher of New Ways of Working. So when I started my research career 12 years ago in Austria, I started looking deeply into the topic of New Ways of Working and looked into how organization are embedding flexible processes and autonomy when it comes to where and when to work. This is something that I did for almost eight years. And in 2019, and that is when mostly my practical experience of remote work came into play probably. I was part of a hybrid team, so I moved to Spain and in Spain, I became a visiting professor at the university. And while I was here, I was part of the hybrid team in Austria. Back then, I was also part of a global organization called, SIETAR Europa, which is an organization for intercultural experts. And we have also been working virtually for many years.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

So the hybrid experience being part of an in presence team and me being the remote worker was actually in 2018, 2019. And this is also how I did my relationship develop with the topic, well in 2019 I fell deeply in love with the beautiful city of Valencia here in Spain. And the only thing that I could do after being here for a semester as a visiting professor is to resign at my job and stay here. And this is how it worked. And you can imagine with being an expert or doing a lot of work about virtual teams, hybrid teams, virtual learning 2020 was a year that for my business developed like a rocket and I had a lot of work, a lot of requests. And by now I would say my business is 95% virtual, even though I do see that clients are trying to call back the in presence trainings.

Luis:

Yeah. So that’s again, a very interesting career trajectory because you were set on having and I mean, you still have an academic career, right? And that’s not something that I usually see in these remote work circles. So I wanted to take the chance to ask you a little bit about how is the remote work adoption and how is the general feeling about remote work going in the academia, if you could speak to that?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

I think in academia, remote work has been, or hybrid work has always been a tradition. Why? Because researchers are knowledge workers, they are experts in the field and very often they are working when they want and they are working also usually where they want. So many researchers for decades have been staying at home or writing on their papers while they are at the university when they’re teaching, right? So this is something very common academia.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

I do see though, that universities are still struggling now, also particularly new universities, how to adopt a new leadership style. But if we look at research as hybrid work institutions, I think they are very output oriented because in research and academia, you have very clear goals on how much you need to teach and what are the evolutions you need to reach? What are the articles or how many articles you need to publish? And this is all about output oriented management. And I think there’s a lot that organizations probably can learn from academia in this sense.

Luis:

Yeah. Okay. So, let’s dive a little bit into that. So, yes of what I get from what you’re saying is that a lot of organizations still have that mentality of people should be at work and that’s how we measure productivity, right? While in academia, people are more used to dealing with the deliverables. What do you think is making the transition and that mentality be so slow? Let’s say, because for example, I was looking at when you founded the Academy for Diversity and Innovation in your profile and it was like 2020. And I were like, “Wow, that was two years ago.” It feels like it was yesterday. So definitely companies have been forced to adopt remote work in one way or another, for two years already in many cases more than that. So why has the transition being so slow in that mentality?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Because I do think that people, HR managers and people leaders often still think that this is just a face, that this is something that is going away. That is also what I unfortunately very often hear from my clients.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

I remember one of my clients, an HR manager, she told me in September 2020, when I was offering them digital leadership trainings or virtual leadership trainings, remote work skills trainings, she was telling me, “Barbara, this is a sense storm. It will pass away.” And I was like, “Well, dear God, are you sure about that?” Well, now one and a half year later, she came back to me because they are facing a really difficult situation with talent leaving the organization because they are calling back. And so I think on one hand, the problem is HR managers, people leaders, and CEOs, they believed that it was just a phase that will go away and they are still not realizing that people are requesting it also afterwards to have an autonomous and flexible way of working.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

And I think the second part, the second biggest problem is we are all behavioral people, so to change behaviors, we need time and organizations we’re not investing in trainings or coachings that support our leaders to change those behaviors, to change the patterns of thinking. It’s all about how long they’re sitting down, even though they didn’t know, it’s not the way, but they still like to see the people on site and to have the feeling of control.

Luis:

Yeah, that’s definitely the case. So to what you said, right. Pollard calling it, “The great resignation.” Right? That talent is leaving the companies. I like to say that it’s the great reshuffling, because I do believe that the preference for people to work either on site or remotely is probably as most things in life, I would say shaped in a bell curve, right? So there’s probably a set of people on one end of the bell curve that really won’t want to ever work outside an office. There’s the other people like me and I suspect like you at the other end, that I really never want to set foot in an office again in my entire life. But I think that there’s a large amount of people that would just like to be more flexible. To go to the office when they feel like going to the office and to not go to the office when they feel they can be more productive from home.

Luis:

And the problem is that for the past, ever since the industrial revolution, really for generations, there was no choice, regardless of where you were in that bell curve, you were forced to adopt the matter of working that only the one extreme of the bell curve wished in the office. Now people realize that there’s an actual option, there’s no reason apart from just habits, there’s no reason to stick to these practices. So I do think that there are some people that do their best work in an office 24/7 and I wouldn’t want those people to stop being able to do that. But I do think that there’s a massive amount of organizations that are going to have to shift otherwise the people are going again, to reshuffle.

Luis:

So to the point of those clients that you say that are very adamant that they don’t want to leave the office, I think the challenge for them, I mean, they could try to change, change is good, Right? But it could also be to find the people that really do want to work in the office, which are not going to be many, it’s going to be a minority for sure, but they’re out there.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

And I think this is a very relevant point that you’re making here, Luis. I think the discussion also, when I follow within expert circles online, they go very much now all those virtual organizations are like, “The office is bad, nobody wants to go back.” And well, we do know that not that many people want to go back five days a week, but they are there. And not that many people want to go back two days a week, but they are also there. And that’s also why I think it is discussion that I see is very much based on where all the time. But it’s also about the when, when we talk about new ways of working. It is about where to work, when to work. So where you’re most productive, but also when you’re most productive, that is for me new ways of working.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

And new ways of working for me means the future of work is choice. And choice means that if my employees needs an office environment for whatever reason it is to be productive, then we should provide them with it. But it doesn’t need to be a classic office, it can be also just a space in a coworking space that is rented out where those employees who need it, go there. That’s a possibility if we want to keep our headquarter, that’s also a possibility, but I think we need to give options.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

And what I believe is the future for is choice also means if we are going back for example, three days a week, two days a week to the office, because many organizations and maybe that’s also good. Many organizations before pandemic had never had home office. And now they’re giving them the option of doing two days a week home office. Well, maybe that’s good for that organization because they don’t have a maturity degree to continue staying back five days a week because they need to develop as an organization. But even then I would give them the flexibility of choice when to take those two days. And that’s also where I see a lot of control because organizations tell you not to go on Friday, not to go on Monday, not to go if they’re a bridge day, not to go on your birthday, you know what I mean? So, and that’s where things are going wrong.

Luis:

Yeah. I think that the value of the office, in those cases is mostly as the shift of place, of people having a different place from where to go and to do their work and hopefully meet some people in their same area in their same company, so they can feel the energy of being in the room. And maybe exchange some ideas and et cetera. But I don’t believe it should be coordinated because as you say, the coordination [saps 00:11:38] from the benefit of the flexibility, and it’s actually a very organic way to go about it because you might see that if you give people the chance to go to the office, if you have an office, give people to go there whenever they want, maybe after three months you’ll figure that, most people are in the office, so let’s create our company culture based on people who like to stay in the office, or maybe you’ll find out that, we don’t really need an office. No one is coming.

Luis:

So, it’s actually an experimental way to figure out what works best for the team. And there will always go outliers. And you need to sort those, maybe you need to help them find a different, a better job and give them a nice severance package, et cetera. Maybe you need to figure out what works for them if you really want to keep them in the company. But by and large, I think there’s a lot to say about letting just the company develop an organic way of working.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Absolutely. And I also think, I’m working on with a client now, I really like the approach where the organization is developing general guidelines on how hybrid work is looking like, but then they give a lot of freedom to their people leaders to decide, and to work on with their teams, what works best. Because we also do know that there isn’t that one perfect solution for the whole organization, but there is a solution for every team, but also team leaders and people, leaders then need to let go a little bit because very often they have not involved their team members in those processes to define how we are going to work together. That needs a high feeling of uncertainty tolerance, because I’m opening up to my people.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

And also people need a lot high level of uncertainty tolerance because you need to be aware that this is going to be changing maybe in two weeks, maybe in two months. And pandemic has showed us one thing, virtual works, but also we need to be prepared for things to happen that we are not considering maybe beforehand. And that means high level of tolerance for ambiguity, for uncertainty and so on.

Luis:

That’s interesting. Can you tell me a story about that? What would such an event be?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

What do you mean with such an event?

Luis:

I mean, when you’re talking about you need to have a tolerance for uncertainty, that was the expression, right? To me, that presumes that an event could happen that would normally disrupt the operations and the team or the business, or whoever ever survives that by having a hike, tolerance for uncertainty. So can you describe what that would look like in practice? Tell me a story about it.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Yeah. In general, I was referring just to what happened during the pandemic. So the pandemic showed us that first wave, second wave. Now we’ve done third wave, we’ve done fourth wave, fifth wave. And we have seen how it was difficult for many teams to deal with this back and forth, back and forth. “What do we do? But I want to know do I work back tomorrow in the office or don’t, I need to organize myself.” And just these two years showed us how something that we cannot control impacts deeply the way we work, where we work, the way we live. And this is also, I like using that as an example, when I’m in team trainings or when I’m coaching managers, because this shows us that there are many things that are out of our control, and it doesn’t make sense to invest our energy in trying to control that because we cannot.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

But that also means that our level of tolerance for uncertainty, or maybe ambiguity, right? The VUCA world, volatile and uncertain, complex and ambiguous, it is there. And that means that we need to work on that. Very often what I see in teams is they want to have a set of rules. They want to have a clear set of guidelines or norms, and that is what they’re going to use, but they need to adapt the ways we are working together need to evolve and adapt and we need to see what works best for us. But very often in the past, it was like, “Okay, we work this way. And that’s how we go ahead.” But that’s also, it fosters a low level of uncertainty tolerance.

Luis:

Yeah. A lot of people still go about, so this thing happens, how do I solve it? Well, let me go to the company, Wiki, to figure out what are the extractions. It dramatizes the person’s approach, the team’s approach to things, instead of creating something where people can be creative. Got it.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Absolutely.

Luis:

Okay. So I want you to talk a bit about learning and teaching online. Obviously you do a lot of that, that’s your main thing, correct? I’m not mistaken, right?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

I do a lot of trainings for organizations, teaching for university and coachings all in the virtual space, all about topics around hybrid work, virtual work, remote work. Exactly.

Luis:

Exactly, okay. So how do you feel the educational process is better handled online? Because I see a lot of people, this is very interesting because even people that say that work should be remote, people that are very defensive of remote work, they’re not so keen on learning remotely. They say, “Well, I’m taking all the team together to do a workshop, in presence workshop to learn about working remotely.” Or even, “Hey, let’s have a conference about remote work. So let’s all get together in a space to have our remote work conference.” And I’m like, really? I mean, I definitely and I am a fan of getting the team together for some things. I think that there’s a real benefit there, but I feel like if we’re hoisting the flag of remote work, we should figure out how to do other stuff better remotely as well, right?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Absolutely. You’re so right. And these are a fantastic examples. I see that also happening a lot. And I must say, I just don’t accept those offers. There are a lot of companies who want me to do trainings about virtual leadership in their headquarter. And I’m like, really? There’s no point to that. I don’t accept them. And I’m in the luxury position to be able not to accept them, because for me it doesn’t make sense.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

But what I think why people are so hesitant to virtual learning is because we have seen in the pandemic so many bad virtual trainings happening. Trainers that are only converting whatever they were doing before onsite and then they were doing whatever they can do online and they were not transforming the way they are training people. A lot of trainings are just conversions of what was done in a normal training setting. And that’s not working. That’s the point here. We’ve been doing a lot of research about that. We are also running for other professors, training program to become a virtual learning designer, a virtual learning facilitator, because that’s where the problem lies in my opinion.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

And the second problem is on one hand is the competency gap that is on the side of the trainers. And on the second side, I think the big challenge is that we ourselves did not develop virtual training skills or virtual learning skills. It has a lot to do with my level of self reflection, it has a lot to do with my level of self-motivation, self leadership when I’m in a virtual learning process, but that all needs to be structured and led well by a virtual facilitator. And so, there are two dimensions in my opinion, trainers are not well-skilled and individuals did not up skill either they’re virtual learning practices so far.

Luis:

All right. So what are some, two or three key points that in case of that you think you and the people that are researching that with you are learning to do differently?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

I think when you design and facilitate virtual learning journeys, you need to plan differently and you need to break it much more down, you need to plan for much more interaction in the virtual space than you may be doing onsite. And this also needs the skill that you, a virtual facilitator need to be able to engage with the screen. You need to be able to have that mindset, that virtual learning in the virtual space through a monitor is working. The participants also need to have that, but you need to be able to take them with you on the journey. Virtual learning provides you with so many possibilities because of the chunking.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

If I’m just thinking about my corporate clients, they cannot fly me in every two weeks for a two hour session, because from a budget perspective it won’t work, fly me in and fly all the international people in. And with a virtual learning design, you have the possibility to have a one and a half hour session, two hour session this week on Wednesday, then in two weeks again, and then maybe in two other weeks again. And with that you’re already creating this space learning, which means that you have time in-between to digest, to reflect, to practice what you were learning. And this is not happening if you have an eight hour training, right? Because you’re there and there’s so much content in those eight hours, even though you are experiencing it.

Luis:

Yeah. You’re thinking about the coffee break for the half time. Yeah, I’ve been there. So how do you feel is because I feel that it’s harder to drive in engagement, personally I feel that it’s harder to drive an engagement via Zoom. I’ve been spending the past 10 years trying to figure out what’s the key thing in massive online projects and massive online games in general, because I was a big fan back in the time. I actually started my remote work journey in the gaming industry. And I felt that it was obvious to me that it was very easy to be engaged with a group of people through the internet. But I’ve always had trouble figuring out what was that X factor that happened in, let’s say a World of Warcraft, and bring it to the learning experience or the working experience where it’s a real effort to, let’s say 15 people in a call and have them all engaged. So how do you solve for that?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

When we do our virtual life trainer courses, we work on, I would say three levels. Level number one is level that you, as a trainer, you need to work on your virtual presence on your digital facilitation techniques and how you come across. How do your participants perceive you? How engaging are you when it comes to your facial expressions? How do you use hands and so on? So this is number one for me, and I can have the most fantastic slide set, if I’m not in the moment I’m not there and I don’t know about where to look, how to check the chat, on how to set up my room so that it’s also attractive looking at me and on how to play with hands, without hands on what effect it might have, if I’m looking at you or not at you, that makes the whole difference. And this is where we start our trainings with.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

And it’s interesting because I can tell you that many people for the first time in our trainings are recording themselves. There are so many people who plan and prepare themselves if they go in a big stage, but if they go in a big stage and that’s in the virtual space, they never record themselves beforehand, which is a mess, right? So they do it for the first time in our course. And they’re always like, “Oh my God, how do I come across?” And that’s what we start training with.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

The second I mentioned that for me, is very important, is the design and particularly interaction design. Why? Because we do know that we have so many distractions in the virtual space, so we need to plan intentionally for interaction every five to seven minutes. And they can be as small as using the chat, as small as using the emoji button or reaction button, or we can use breaker drums, all of that always according to our learning objectives and the competency development, that takes the focus of.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

And dimension number three is plan and design for learning transfer. Think about what you can do during your virtual life sessions, but also in-between to keep them engaged in the learning. How do you arouse the interest for the virtual learners, also in-between the sessions to the next modules? And we are going through very small little techniques and tips that help you keep them engaged all the time.

Luis:

Yeah. So can you give some examples of those things to keep people engaged? I’m particularly interested in it. The only thing I can think about is homework actually, which is probably not bad. I mean, I’m a fan of learning, I like to do courses. I’ve never had much success with online courses, myself. What usually happens is that I buy an online course, I download the materials and then they sit on my hard drive for the next 10 years. And that’s the situation.

Luis:

But I did join a couple of courses, while I didn’t feel it was optimal, it was different because instead of stuff to download, it gave you access to an online platform. And it said, this online platform is available for three months. There’s a new lesson comes out every week or every, or twice a week. And it comes with a prompt, that’s basically homework that you need to do. And you can do it at your own pace. You can take one week, you can take two weeks, but because the time the course is open is limited, it’s nice to do it as they came out, so then you can also interact with students and they can interact with your output and cetera. So I find that to be rarer, to have people run workshops like this, but also much more effective. What do you think is the direction to have people engage more?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

I think definitely one of the things that you were mentioning is of course, activities after the course or in-between the sessions. But what I find very powerful is doing peer learning, social learning, because we do know that the moment that we are grouped up into small groups and we are invited to solve a case, a problem or do an activity together with somebody else that is already very powerful, small, very powerful. Many trainers don’t use that.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

What I do also in some of my training programs, I send learning nugget videos in-between. So between module one, two and three, I send a quick learning nugget video that I’m recording myself with a reflective question or intriguing question, and maybe some further material that they could read into, that is super powerful. And through the platform that you’re using, you can also check how many people are engaging with that. And that’s when you see how good was that learning nugget or how long they were watching it. Works fantastically.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

There’s another thing that we do, for example to arose learner’s interest is, it also has to do with very often we go to a training and in presence trainings, we are getting the food, we are getting the coffee breaks, and we don’t get that in the virtual space. So sometimes depending on the company that I’m working for, we organize for lunch breaks that are being delivered. So the lunch meals are being delivered to the participant’s home. And sometimes we give them, it would be onsite and then you could choose from. So they’re eating similar things that are being delivered to their homes, always depending on the possibility of where they’re connecting from what services are available.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

And last but not least one thing that I really liked myself, that I had it in one of my courses. I got before I started the course, a gift box, a surprise box. And me, myself and my team, we were doing that in one of the long training programs to become a virtual learning design and facility that we are doing that as well. We were sending a surprise box with a mug of our organization, plus a notepad plus a [tea 00:27:54] and some things that connect to the topic, plus a small envelope where it’s written only open on a certain date. So all the people are, they’re like, “Oh, what is going to be in there? What is going there?” And that is when you already create that interest, right?

Luis:

Yeah. Those things sound lovely. I have to wonder at the logistics of getting, let’s say 15 people a meal at more or less the same time. That’s probably not easy to organize?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

I think it depends on the global outreach or international outreach of your project. So if it’s within Europe, very often you can find some of the chains that are operating in many countries and you just go for that.

Luis:

Yeah, that makes sense. So what about from a learner’s perspective, right? What can we do to be better online learners?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

I believe that it has a lot to do with our organization of the day. So for example, it’s the same one we talk about, how can we be more healthy? Often it just helps when we are working back home that we have in the morning, a dedicated 30 minutes slot in our calendar for yoga or some running or whatever we do, because the moment that we give its dedication, our calendars, that’s when we are also stick more to that. Some small reminders help.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

So I was just talking about routines, healthy routines for modern workers. And it could be also just a post-it for those who like having post-its around a post-it that reminds you about what you need to learn or what you need to practice. If it’s a new behavior, you should need to practice and I do positive leadership trainings for example, and there is gratitude. So I ask my participants to have a gratitude journal. Sometimes they forget about that, but they need to think about how can I be more consistent with my behavior. And sometimes they put at their desk at the end of the day, a post that is there. They look at it and it says gratitude journal. So they know I need to spend my next three minutes on the gratitude thing. And those small things for example, having a Friday morning dedicated to learning to your personal development, that would help already tremendously.

Luis:

Yeah. How do you recommend people implement the things that they learn? Because I also feel that something that happens a lot is that we go on a workshop and then we learn something and we were excited, et cetera. And then we never revisited again. So to your point, I guess, that scheduling some sort of habit based on what you learn would probably be helpful?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And there is one more, very powerful. And so small thing that trainers can do, you can plan and design for learning transfer, for example, by providing your participants with checklists. So nobody is going through a video recording of three hours. People are rarely going through your slides, but if you have a document that is a checklist, for example, how to set up yourself before you enter a virtual training, that is powerful. People always get that out back again, checklist or step-by-step approach that helps a lot. And these small checklists, they are designed to make learning transfer happen, to make learning stick.

Luis:

Yeah. I think that’s a great point. I’m actually currently reading a book about marketing, about how to create a certain kind of ads. And I’m going over the book and it’s written like a novel and I’m like, I just wish they would give me a checklist of how to do this, so I could learn for myself just by doing, instead of wrapping it around this whole story and almost like a novel. So yeah, I can definitely feel that. I think that’s a problem with people feeling that they need to over-complicate things to feel valuable. Some people say, if I write a book that has value, if I do a checklist, well, that’s basically just a blog post, no one will feel that’s valuable, but I think that’s wrong. We live in a world with limited time and there is value in brevity.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Absolutely. And being very clear, concise in short checklists or brief messages that is a superpower nowadays, right?

Luis:

Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree. So you want to be respectful of your time and I want to wind down with some rapid fire questions. The questions are rapid fire, but the answers don’t need to be, please take as long as you liked.

Luis:

The first question I want I have for you is what does your virtual office look like? When you start your workday, what are the tools, the apps, the browser tabs that you have open to begin your workday? What’s your virtual workspace look like?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

My virtual workspace is very traditional because I’m not that digital [inaudible 00:32:56] going around the beach and any co-work things I’m always working. I prefer and love working for my home office, where I have a dedicated desk, I have good light, I have my good microphone. I have all the things set up so that I can work comfortably. A comfortable chair, ergonomic chair, and so on and so forth. Standing possibility when I’m presenting. That is the first thing about home office environment.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

The second thing I would say is that when I work, the only apps that I’m using is Toggl because I am very conscious about time tracking. And we are working with Slack as a communication tool in several teams. I’m using Trello as a project management app, and I have my Google systems in place, so I’m mostly Google-based in my collaboration tools or scheduling tools.

Luis:

Got it. Seems that you have a setup that’s very similar to mine, actually. I do want to ask because it’s been something that I’ve been exploring lately and we’ve talked about presence and how keeping people engaged in a call is important to the learning stuff. Have you looked into any VR things at all? Virtual Reality things at all?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

I did, but I didn’t have enough time. Yeah.

Luis:

Yeah.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

I did look into it. I was in some avatar-based platforms where I just didn’t have the right goggles, but they are there, but I’m not using it for my trainings either, not yet.

Luis:

Yeah. I think they’re very interesting though. They’re still early days, they’re still a bit rough. I’ve been trying the Facebook workstations, Workrooms with Oculus Rift. And I have to say that it’s very surprising how the avatar are engaging, because right now we’re using Zoom, we have both of us have good quality webcams, so the definition is quite good. I have a very good idea of what you look like, you have a very good idea of what I look like, et cetera. Virtual Reality avatars are very far away from this, right? They’re essentially cartoon versions of ourself, but I felt instantly more engaged than I do with Zoom video. I think it’s something to do with the three dimensionality, because even though I was looking at a cartoon version of my coworker, I was like, “Oh, it feels like there I’m in the room.”

Luis:

There’s something going on there either with maybe a combination of the tree dimensionality with the fact that when a VR helmet, everything else is blocked and you only get there, right? There’s some extra sensorial deprivation that focuses you on that virtual room because there’s nothing else. So I do think that for the things that we talked about, it’s super interesting, but yeah, it’s still rough, the technology is still not super fluid. The UI, they still need to figure out their UI. But it’s definitely very interesting, so that’s why I wanted to ask about your experiences with it.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Thanks. I have very similar experiences. I hear from people who say I find it super engaging, but I also hear from people who find it super disturbing to have those not perfect hand movements and they’re weirdly moving sometimes bodies. So I hear both sides.

Luis:

Oh yeah. Hopefully they will figure out the kinks in that technology. So yeah, if you were going, let’s say that you have 100 and we’re in Europe, so let’s talk Euros. Let’s say that you have a 150 Euros to buy something for everyone working with you. Or if you prefer for everyone in one of your workshops, whatever. The only rule is that you need to buy the same thing for everyone. Could be an experience, could be an app, could be a tool, whatever you want. It just can’t be giving them the cash, so they pick or a gift card or cash equivalent. So if you’re going to buy in bulk for the purpose of the things that we’ve discussing now to improve their online experience, their online learning experience, or their online working experience, what would you give them?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

I would probably go, as we know that in virtual settings and audio is so important and I’m just sharing some background at my end, I would definitely invert in Crisp for all my team members, which is an app. It’s an app to reduce the background noise, so Crisp account for everybody.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s a good one. Usually people talk about microphones, but yeah I’ve heard of Crisp before, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried it. Maybe I should. Okay. So what about for yourself? What is the purchase that you’ve made in the last six months that has improved your work life, work life balance, the metrics you care more about?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Okay. Let me think. So I think from a professional point of view, one thing that improved my virtual work was definitely the fantastic book from Karin M. Reed, Suddenly Hybrid. I learned a lot. It’s a fantastic book. She also wrote Suddenly Virtual, and I just love that book, lots of very good practical tips in there. And as a person, what I think really was the best purchase for me personally, it was the book called, Transcend from Kaufman, a professor he’s talking about the hierarchy of needs. He’s developing mass [inaudible 00:38:20] publication. And that’s helped me a lot to think about what is my [ikigai 00:38:24] what I’m focusing on, what is it that makes me happy? So professionally and personally, it was definitely the book in this case.

Luis:

Nice. All right. So we’ll have the link to the book in the show notes. Usually I ask about books, but I guess this more or less comes is there any other books that you’d like to recommend or even better, that you’ve gifted apart from the one you just mentioned? Because I always feel like one thing is the things that I get for myself, but I usually put a lot of thought when I actually give books to someone.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Yeah. Well, I published two books and one is an intercultural cookbook, which I left, which you can find it, Intercultural Cookbook on Amazon as well with my name, Barbara Covarrubias. And it is a lovely gift because the recipes are coming from people who are also giving cultural background about what that recipe is about coming from that country. So that’s really a very nice one, giving more context.

Luis:

What’s the story behind that book I want to ask? What made you decide to write that book?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Well, I do a lot of work in diversity and inclusion, and one of the organizations [inaudible 00:39:38], we were always organizing different webinars and topical webinars about things that have to do with culture. And at some point we were having dinner together and the idea came up. Why don’t we talk about food and recipes or cooking and culture, because we know that there are a lot of differences. And so we thought about how do to engage our members and we prepare that book publication.

Luis:

Yeah. Food is a special thing for cultural mixing, for sure. I know that because I am in an intercultural marriage, my wife is Brazilian. And we do actually learn a lot about our cultures in the kitchen because we both like to cook, so that makes all sense. That makes a lot of sense.

Luis:

So, okay. So I want to ask the final question. This one has a bit more of a setup. So please bear with me, but let’s say that we’re in a position, certainly in Europe, we’re starting to get closer to that where it’s easier to have a great dinner, right? Everyone together, everyone dining, everyone having fun. So let’s say that you’re organizing one such dinner. In attendance are going to be the decision makers at top tech companies from all over the world and the round table, the topic of tonight is about remote work and the future of work. Here’s the twist. And this is good for you because you wrote the book about cultural cuisine. It happens in a Chinese restaurant. So you, as the host get to choose the message that goes inside the fortune cookie.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

I love that.

Luis:

What is your fortune cookie message?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

The future of work is choice people.

Luis:

Nice. The future of work is choice people. I like that. That’s a good message. That’s a great message. You didn’t even flinch. Nice. Great. Okay. So that’s a great message to end on, I believe, but before we go, I do want you to tell people where can they connect with you? How can they continue the conversation with you? How can they learn more about the services that you offer at Virtual Space Hero?

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Thank you so much, Luis for giving me this possibility. So best to-

Luis:

Also, your books please, I missed your books. I don’t know how, so please also tell them about this.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

So definitely best to connect with me is on LinkedIn. And if you go to linkedin.com and you put a slash there, barbaracv, like curriculum vitae, barbaracv, then you come to my profile, I’m happy to connect. And on my webpage virtualspacehero.com, you can find all my programs, all the topics that I’m talking about, I’m sharing a lot of content on LinkedIn, so I would love to connect with you there as well.

Luis:

All right. We have all of this in the show notes and it was an absolute pleasure talking with you, Barbara. Thank you so much for being here.

Barbara Covarrubias Venegas:

Thank you so much for the invitation for having me.

Luis:

Yeah. And thank you for listening to the DistantJob Podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams see you next week.

Luis:

And so we close another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. And if you enjoy the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners. And the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well.

Luis:

You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners. Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcasts, click on your favorite episode and any episode really and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up, so you can actually produce the conversations in text form.

Luis:

And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world, because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help with that again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we you need, and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate, 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I give you a deal, see you next week on the next episode of DistantJob Podcast.

Conducting meetings and training virtually is an entirely different experience than on-site. You need to take different approaches and use the tools that enhance the learning experience. However, as many are just starting to adapt to this new virtual, learning how to make it work is challenging.

During this podcast episode, Barbara gives insights from an academic perspective on remote work. She also makes emphasis how leaders and trainers need to learn virtual skills if they want to succeed in virtual training.

Highlights:

  • Why has the remote work transition been slow for many companies?
  • The importance of companies to evaluate the best work model (onsite, hybrid, or remote) based on their culture, resources, and needs
  • Insights about why the future of work is choice
  • Why freedom is key to making your virtual team efficient and engaged
  • Insights about online education and why virtual training skills are fundamental
  • How to level up virtual training

Book Recommendations:

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