Video and transcript from Kaleem Clarksons talk at Austin’s 3rd Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

Recently, we hosted our annual facilitator summit alongside our sponsor MURAL, but this time, it was virtual. Instead of gathering in Austin’s Capital Factory, 172 eager learners, expert facilitators, and meeting practitioners gathered online for a 3-day interactive workshop. Our mission each year at Control the Room is to share a global perspective of facilitators from different methodologies, backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, and ages. We gather to network, learn from one another, and build our facilitation toolkits. 

This year’s summit theme was CONNECTION. Human connection is an integral component of the work we do as facilitators.

When we connect things become possible. When we are disconnected there is dysfunction. When ideas connect they become solutions. When movements connect they become revolutions. 

Control the Room is a safe space to build and celebrate a community of practice for facilitators, which is paramount to learn, grow, and advance as practitioners and engaging in a dialogue that advances the practice of facilitation. We must learn the tools and modalities needed to foster connection and be successful facilitators in the new virtual landscape. 

“We must establish a personal connection with each other. Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur.” —Peter Block

This year’s summit consisted of 18 expert facilitator guest speakers who presented lightning talks and in-depth workshops, where they shared their methods and activities for effective virtual facilitation. 

One of those speakers was Kaleem Clarkson.

Kaleem Clarkson, Chief Operating Officer at Blend Me, Inc., and David Klasko, Actor, Comedian, and Founder of Artly Working, presented on what the research says about the dangers of isolation, and how playing simple (and incredibly fun) games can create meaningful human connection in the virtual workplace. Technology has provided a platform to find and foster these relationships, but it takes a thoughtful and structured approach to create a human connection. Based on improv comedy, and built for video conferencing, Artly Working has designed workshops to add humor, vulnerability, and spontaneity to the virtual world – in other words, the human element! Using games and exercises developed specifically for the platform, the goal is to fight isolation and loneliness and build bonds on our remote platforms, and not in spite of them. Participants learned games and exercises that can be implemented with teams right away.

“Let your fear out. Exaggerate it. Give it a voice.”

Watch Kaleem Clarkson’s talk “Fighting Isolation and Building Meaningful Relationships through the Power of Play” :

Read the Transcript

Kaleem Clarkson:

All right. Well, thank you everyone. Thank you everyone for attending today. I really, really appreciate Douglas inviting me. I’m pretty amped up. It’s really a pleasure. I know one thing, a lot of people talk about having a imposter syndrome, of course, right? And this this past week, I get a chance to meet all of the presenters and speakers. And it’s actually a privilege and an honor to be part of this event. So thank you so much Douglas in controller room for having me. So today what we’re going to talk about, is we’re going to talk about Fighting Isolation and Building Meaningful relationships through the Power of Play. We’re going to go to this next slide here myself. My name is Kaleem Clarkson. I am the COO of Blend Me, Inc. And basically we help organizations, startups and small businesses, with the remote employee experience.

And that includes a whole bunch of cool stuff. So what we’re going to do today is I teamed up with my man, David Klasko from Artly Working. And the idea is that we’re going to merge some science, some research, right? Because all of us as whether we are facilitators ourselves or whether we work for an organization and just want to learn more about facilitation, I think we can all agree that remote work is here. And that’s why I was so honored that Douglas invited me to come today because remote work is out of the bag. We’re not going back. Of course, they’re going to be some organizations that are going to ask people to go, come back to the office. So I’m very curious to see what those reasons are.

I think there’s going to be a lot of challenges around organizations who don’t think about that, but the idea of this whole workshop that we’re going to be doing later on this afternoon is we’re going to provide you with some research and some, maybe some statistics that can really have you, okay, I’m sorry. You know what? Sometimes with these virtual things, you got to focus. The Slack Chat just got me distracted for a second. So I’m glad that everyone was active in the Zoom. I can’t actually can’t see it. So I’m sorry. I couldn’t do shout outs. I couldn’t do shout outs. That’s my thing. So if you come to the workshop today, you’re going to see what I’m talking about. We’re going to do shout outs to the area code. So thank you.

Thank you all for doing that. And hopefully you’ll come the workshop and enjoy some more. So anyway, right back to what I was talking about earlier, we’re going to provide you with some research in the importance of isolation and how it can actually have an impact on your actual employee experience. And as a facilitator, hey, we got to have some statistics and some research behind what it is that we’re doing. So your next client, your next call, if you’re talking to somebody and they’re like, “Well, hey we want to do this.” Throw a couple of these statistics items so that you can prove your value. So here we go, Octo Q let’s see what we got here. So Remote Work Challenges, right? The three major challenges for managing remote teams are…

Of course there are plenty of challenges that managers are having, but these are the three biggest challenges. Okay? Lack of social interaction, right? No ability to be able to interact with your colleagues. As a manager, if you’ve always been that type of person that’s, “Hey, let me tap your shoulder real quick.” Then the lack of interaction is definitely a challenge. Think with lack of face-to-face supervision. We’ve had this years and years and years of experience of learning how to manage in the moment. Let me look in the camera for emphasis. Managing in the moment, right? We’re now moving to a position in society where everything has to be intentional. So that lack of face-to-face supervision is a big challenge for all of us. I mean, for me as well.

And then the third one, lack of access to information. As a manager, you may have other people who you always just tap them on the shoulder real quick, or buzz them real fast to ask a question, but unfortunately you can’t do that. Now I’m in that remote space. So those are the three major challenges, as far as some of the biggest struggles as individuals. Some of the biggest struggles you can see here, shout out the buffer, always go to their state of remote work. They’ve been doing it. One of the longest out of the ones who are doing it, love, buffer, suggest that you check them out. Love it. But in this state of remote work report in 2020, you can see the top two biggest challenges with remote work that employees are actually starting with, right?

So you can see collaboration and communication. That’s tied for number one and then loneliness today. Our workshop, what we’re hoping is that you can see we’re going to have some fun. I can’t wait to do this. We’re going to act a fool on camera. We’re going to act silly, but we’re also going to accompany that with some important parts of the employee, the remote employee experience where the power of play helps you alleviate some of these challenges, for example, loneliness, communication and collaboration. So those are the two things we’re going to focus on. So the impacts of loneliness in the workplace. Why does it matter, right? Obviously people in this community, I learned this a lot. This community is very well-read. So a lot of this stuff is going… A lot of people are going to have seen this, was in a cool co-op house room the other day with Adam Grant. It was pretty cool. But basically when you’re lonely, we feel invisible, right?

If you feel invisible and then one of the most powerful ways to fight is just to help others feel seen. I’m sure all of us have gone down this route, especially as facilitators. I mean, I know this group takes it personal to ensure that everybody is being seen or people being heard. So that’s really important. So what is loneliness specifically? It’s complex. But it’s a set of feelings that occur when intimate and social needs are not met. Notice that intimate and social needs are highlighted there because you need social interaction. I am a remote work advocate. We consult, my partner and I, we can solve them on remote work, but let’s not fake the funk. We need to be sociable. That’s actually, we are a tribal species, right?

We’re not like, what’s that animal I learned with my daughter, Sonic the hedgehog there. The hedgehog is like a animal that lives by itself. I learned that watching cartoons with my daughter, by the way. So the impacts of loneliness, quickly. Because this is a lightning talk. So I got to keep rocking and rolling fast, right? The physical impacts of loneliness are real. The first one here, just think about this. Remember cigarettes? You all remember that? Some of you might remember when cigarettes were cool, some of you may not. Well, number one, it’s as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. That’s a lot of butts. That’s a lot of huffing and puffing, and we all know how bad smoking is for your health. So just think about that. How bad is isolation and loneliness? It’s equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s dangerous being alcoholic, not a huge fan of exercise, and I’m trying to be better, but it’s as harmful as never exercising. And twice as dangerous as obesity.

So how can we fight… Loneliness’ Impact on the Workplace. Sorry, the control is a little bit behind for me. We’ll go through some of these real quick. So loneliness, not only does it impact you physically, but also that impact goes over on to the workplace, right? So lonely workers, they take double the number of sick days. In a lot of business, absences can be very costly for organizations, especially if you’re not set up correctly. We’ve learned that some organizations who are set up correctly, they didn’t have very many challenges with the pandemic. Organizations who were not set up correctly, obviously, had a lot more challenges. So absence can really be a big challenge. Reduces job and task performance. Lonely employees, they feel alienated and less committed.

The relationships between between teammates can deteriorate, co-workers perceive lonely people as distant. I mean, think about that in your mind like, “I’m just lonely. I still like all of you, but I’m just lonely.” Just think about how that that perception could be incorrect, right? Like, “No, I like all of you. I’m just lonely and I’m feeling it.” So you can see there how that has an impact there. Reduction in executive functions. Chronic stress causes decline in executive functions such as like reasoning and decision-making. So if you’re an executive, it can have a major, major impact on your ability to get through things like that. This one number four. Having a best friend at work, increased engagement by seven times, that is one of the things that we found in our research that I found absolutely surprising.

And if you think about it, it makes sense, right? You spend more of our waking hours at work than we do with our colleagues. So if you have a place where you can celebrate or console about your personal professional lives, when you don’t have that in that absence, you can feel really really lonely and impact C-suite executives as much, actually half CEOs report feeling lucky. Everyone wants to be their own CEO, right. But it’s lonely at the top. You’ve heard that phrase, I’m sure. And then for new CEOs, it’s even worse. It’s like nearly 70% of new CEOs feel lonely. So you can really see how, it doesn’t just impact lower level employees. It impacts employees at all levels. And then last but not least, and we’re going to talk about this decrease engagement due to a lack of trust, the willingness to communicate with others.

And because you feel alone, you don’t have that confidence. You’re not motivated, right? You’re not motivated to participate. So that drops. A degree of engagement drops from that. So you can really see how loneliness can have a financial impact. So for all of all of the facilitators out there, we’ll have these notes and the slides for your notes. If you need to show this to some of your clients, I totally urge you to do that because with the state of remote work, moving forward in 2020 and beyond, this has to be a top priority for managers and leaders in companies who are going to be distributed.

So how can we fight back against isolation and loneliness? I mean, there are many ways, of course, this is not the only way. There are so many great sessions that are going on today. The master facilitators, they’ve been thinking about all of these things for years. So it’s nothing, anything new, but Hey, the power of play, what we’re going to figure out today, what we are going to dive into is we’re going to dive into some silly. I mean, I like to be silly. I think we all like to be silly. I mean, let’s not face it. So I mean, that’s not true, but I like to say that it’s one of my favorite saying, so come along and play at 1:30, central standard time, come with us. Sorry I’m hyping my session. But we got to, it’s a lightening talk.

So, you know, we’re going, we’re going to hype our session a little bit. So Why Improv Games? Not only are they fun, but builds confidence, increases engagement amongst your teams, creativity. So I’m not an actor. And my homeboy, my homie, David Klasko, he’s going to talk to us a lot about this, but when we’re passionate and we were just having these discussions, you don’t think about, I don’t anyway, and I apologize, but you just forget sometimes when you’re watching a movie, how skillful they are at their craft, at their trade, they practice. And it just seems so easy because we’re just watching the show or a movie. You don’t even think about it. But creativity, it’s a muscle. He was explaining that it’s a muscle and you can actually practice it.

So that’s something that we’re going to, we’re going to dive into. It helps you practice empathy. Is it for everyone? We’re all… Some people are more introverts than others, but these are all skills that service well and interpersonal skills are skills that service well in any industry. So yes, they are for everyone. And then it also provides higher inclusion. It’s a structure. I’m sure that you’ve seen in some of these conversations. Our job as facilitators is to have some sort of structure in the meeting so that people feel comfortable and sharing and participating. So you have to do different things to ensure that you have different modalities to allow people to participate. Well, this space, it helps you produce some sort of structure so that you can… If you want your team to spend quality time, having a structure helps.

So this leads to that. So I hope that I provided you with a little bit of information. We’re going to get into some of the research, but loneliness is important. Loneliness is a real thing that can have a major impact on your business, financial line, it can have an impact with your clients. So hopefully we gave you a little bit of research. Hopefully we piqued your interest. So let me just show you, we were going to play a video here but, hey, pictures are worth a thousand words. So you can get the idea. We are going to act a fool. We’re going to act silly and hopefully, we get some laughs. But then we’re also going to break into groups and talk about how we could use some of these games in our own meetings. And also talk about some of the challenges that you could see with some of these games. So with all that said, hope to see you soon.