Finding Comfort on a Stranger’s Virtual Shoulder
In a few spare minutes, people show their best sides through patience and understanding.
On one particular occasion I screwed up a work task that brought me to tears. I was scheduling a seasonal mailing for a client when, due to a bug in the scheduling tool, it got sent out too early to a database of 40K plus people. I gasped when I noticed. That was terrifying!
Such mistakes could cost businesses their clientele. In this situation, the mailing brought in dozens of sales, so my mistake turned out profitably and my manager was not upset. I was though.
Last week a similar situation arose. Not with the mailing, but having a meltdown.
Virtual coworking partners
I was pushing myself hard to achieve the goal I set for a 50-minute virtual coworking session on Focusmate. All I needed to do was restructure information with the help of a spreadsheet. I just couldn’t get my thinking to cooperate and create order in the mess of data.
Time pressure and my most dreaded doubts entered the room together, holding hands, about to circle me in, ready to talk me down.
“How do I approach this task? Where to best start? Am I wasting time on the company clock if I do it like this? Should I ask for help?”
As the minutes went by and the timer got closer and closer to zero, fog started to gather in my brain. Still eager to do a good job I felt more and more anxious and time-constrained. I looked at one section of my spreadsheet, then another, unable to see the full picture.
Less than one minute was left. Soon I’d have to tell my partner how I did, and I have nothing.
I felt like a failure who let myself and my partner down. The whole idea of virtual coworking, at least on Focusmate, is to commit to a task for the full 50-minute session, and ideally, achieve it. I am most satisfied when both my partner and I…
- Are able to stay focused for most of the session
- And when we both complete our tasks.
Having someone else present to vocalize your aspirations and accomplishments to is supposed to increase the feeling of accountability. And it sure does that for me.
The timer hit zero. The gong sounded, marking the end of the session. I feel utter disappointment and dread the next moments as I unmute the mic.
The partner and I start exchanging our session review. When it’s my turn to speak, I mumble that I got off track and that it didn’t go so well. Doing my best to not start crying on-screen to a total stranger, I start to tremble. Tension builds up in my face. The first tears break through.
I feel my face turn redder and blush with shame. I apologise for not being able to keep it together.
“This is a complete stranger, how dare you drop your issues on them?”, I thought to myself.
If people book Focusmate sessions “back to back”, there’s less than 10 minutes to get a break before the next session commences. And here I was stealing their time.
The Focusmate seemed to not mind and took the time to talk to me until I had calmed down a bit.
They told me, “Your brain is clogged up. No matter how hard you push, you won’t be able to produce right now. Take a break, go for a walk, and try again later today.” I didn’t even realise that was what I needed.
People book virtual coworking sessions to get work done. Not to play pro bono psychologist. Especially not after the session during their much needed break time.
Virtual coworking platforms such as Focusmate work because of:
- The people it attracts: people who want to get serious work done, together with a buddy who works on their things.
- People respect each other’s time. Sessions are not for chitchat. You do verbally communicate with the Focusmate at the start of the session with a “hello, how are you”, and the goals you’ll be working on, but always followed by 50 minutes of focus and silence. At the end, you share a small recap. Then you say goodbye and leave the session.
I broke the latter as a rule. I never intend to have meltdowns in virtual coworking sessions with strangers. Those two times it did, I couldn’t hide it. The shame I started with quickly withered as the responses were milder than I expected.
Small gestures to build up humanity
The coworking partners could’ve just exited the session and left me there to deal with my meltdown on my own. Instead, they showed patience and understanding, and assured me I didn’t need to feel ashamed.
Their approach helped me feel less troubled. All they did was stick around and talk to me for a few spare minutes.
A gesture can be so small, yet its impact lasting. And if I ever come across a coworking partner who’s struggling with themselves, like I was on those days, I will recall those times where others helped me and try to pay it forward.