Balancing strength with gentleness, Spider is known as the weaver.
Spider is a symbol for the infinite possibilities of creation.

In 2008, while consulting for a large global corporation, I developed a small group online peer coaching process that augmented a year-long leadership development program where people came together in person four times. This peer coaching process was in between the in-person sessions.

The tools at that time were a bit rough but, even though they had no visual Hollywood squares, they did have audio, a white board, and the ability to show slides. And, thus, virtual work was possible. My vision was that these tools could enable us to build global community without having to travel and that not traveling would save a lot of time and keep people with their families more. Not having to travel would also significantly reduce both costs and the carbon footprint.

Over the next few years, hundreds of business leaders from all over the world participated. Most had no previous experience working virtually. Yet, more and more, they were finding themselves leading geographically dispersed teams. So this development process served more than one purpose: 1) It gave them positive virtual experiences, 2) It helped them learn how to lead virtually, and 3) It gave them a way to get to know and connect with physically distant and culturally different colleagues.

One principle I emphasized was the power of noticing what we do when we are in person and then finding ways to apply that to the virtual experience. For example, I suggested ‘virtual coffee.’ You know how when we go for coffee, often there is no set agenda? Sometimes it’s scheduled and other times it’s spur of the moment. The same thing can be done online. We can set a time to talk without any predefined agenda. Or we can just pick up the phone. (I know we don’t do that much anymore even though it still has value.) 

I understand that some people feel quite ‘zoomed out’ after the pandemic. Yet a gift of the pandemic has been that so many more people have experiences working virtually. Even so, however, I sense that many people’s virtual experiences may have lacked the informal, human, and personal touch that we all long for. Said another way, often virtual experiences have been based on 2D transactions like sharing information and problem solving. Centered in the head. What’s required to help us feel nurtured and whole online is that we make our experiences 3D. That means we add true connection. Centered in the heart. 

As an example, I worked with a leader in Latin America who received great feedback from the people he was located with geographically. However, he received rather disturbing feedback from people – like his boss – who were geographically located in other places. It turns out that he was really good at shmoozing in person. But he didn’t do any of that online. Rather, online he was all business. Experimenting with virtual coffee gave him a new way to approach the online world and, over time, it entirely changed the work landscape for him.

Here’s a video I made in 2011 that offers some about the process, my enthusiasm for it, and people’s feedback about their experiences: Virtual Inquiry and Peer Coaching as Leadership DevelopmentDon’t miss the music! “Justin’s Lullabye” by Hapa. And, fyi, I no longer have the lightrivers email.

You will notice that I deliberately use the words ‘virtual’ and ‘online’ but I do not use the word ‘remote.’ Some synonyms for ‘remote’ are distant, secluded, isolated, godforsaken, in the middle of nowhere, obscure, cut off, off the map, and so on. Given that, of course we would be affected, if only subconsciously. Synonyms for ‘virtual,’ on the other hand, are essential, effective, practical, potential, fundamental, quintessence, essence…. Quite a difference!


Photo by Barbara
Theo Wirth Park
Minneapolis, MN