Remote Wellbeing

Closing the distance: A 3-step approach to navigating life in times of change

Candace Giesbrecht | Director, Talent Strategy at Teamit
June 24, 2021
5 min read

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Originally posted on The Propeller Experience

When I was 11 years old, my best friend invited me to go to summer camp with her. She was fun, which meant summer camp was going to be FUN. I learned songs, played games, made friends, and got to try things I’d never done before. Away from my normal day-to-day I got a glimpse of life…outside of my little life.

The camp was in a small community in Northern British Columbia – the province where I live – and one of our activities during the week was to visit Hudson Bay Mountain. In the winter, it’s a local ski hill. In the summer, there are alpine flowers, quiet paths and – that day– there were a bunch of whining pre-teen girls. “How much longer? When will we go back? Something bit me!”

And then – as we were walking along the path, we came over a ridge and saw a beautiful crater lake.


Photo Credit:

This picture is from a tourism website promoting the area – but takes me back to when I was there. The lake was ice cold, the sun was hot on my shoulders and the water was crystal clear. I was awestruck. The whining stopped. We took our shoes off and stepped in the frigid water. We found smooth rocks and skipped them along the surface of the water. In a minute our perspectives changed. In a minute our focuses changed. We lifted our heads up and looked across the distance to something better and more beautiful than we could have imagined.

As we navigate life in the midst of change, we need to be aware of where we’re focused on the distance between us and the things we hope for. We need to trust that there's something beautiful for us just over the next horizon and make sure we aren’t missing what’s right in front of us.

Through the Remote Performance Academy, we talk a lot about the research done by Dr. Karen Sobel-Lojeski published in her book, The Power of Virtual Distance: A Guide to Productivity and Happiness in the Age of Remote Work, and recently, it dawned on me how relevant this is in not only workplaces, but also in my daily life.

The Power of Virtual Distance

According to Dr. Karen Sobel-Lojeski, Virtual Distance is a sense of psychological and emotional detachment created when most encounters and experiences are mediated by screens on smart devices and can occur as a result of:

  • Physical Distance - the distance between us created by geography or time zones,

  • Operational Distance - referring to those issues that get in the way of fluid communications day to day, and

  • Affinity Distance - arising from a lack of visible commonalities between our value systems and styles, social behaviours, relationship histories, and worldviews or shared mental models.

Of each of these three kinds of distance, which one has the greatest impact on organizational outcomes?

While a great deal of emphasis this last year has been placed on the Physical Distance we have experienced in being apart from one another, it is Affinity Distance that is most likely to impact collaboration and the formation of relationships over time.

According to Dr. Lojeski’s research, Operational Distance has double the impact on productivity and happiness than the Physical and Affinity distances – that distance we experience when we feel like we don’t belong or we aren’t valued? Double again.

Source: The Power of Virtual Distance by Karen Sobel-Lojeski

If this is true in workplaces, is this also true in my life? Is it possible, that by attending to these different kinds of distances, I might be able to experience greater productivity and happiness in my life? I think so.

When I am physically distant from the people most important in my life, how is my personal productivity and happiness impacted?

When it’s hard or complicated to communicate with the people or systems I need to take care of all the operational and admin needs of my life, what is the impact? How much time do I spend just trying to *get through*?

If we don’t have people walking with us on life’s journey who share our values and we have “Affinity” with, how does that impact our motivation and, ultimately, our happiness?

Closing the Distance

As we navigate the weeks and months ahead, where can you shift your perspective and close some distance? Going back to my memory on that mountain, everything looked and felt different when I walked further up the path to be able to see over the ridge. If you persevere a little longer and look a bit further up the path you’re on, what do you think you will see?

Where can you close Physical Distance, narrow or streamline Operational Distance and, most importantly, where can you spend time with people whom you have Affinity with?

Interested in achieving more productivity and happiness in your life? Have a look at where there is Physical, Operational or Affinity Distance and commit to taking a step to closing the distance.

About the author

Candace Giesbrecht | Director, Talent Strategy at Teamit

Candace’s passion for connecting people and building stronger teams and communities has been her “why” for over 20 years. As a Chartered Human Resources Professional, with a social work, mental health and fintech background, she has a large and varied toolbox to draw on to serve clients and to support the pursuit of healthy workplaces and great candidate experiences. She is values-driven and a consummate professional unless you’re with her during an NBA playoff game. She lives in Kelowna, BC with her husband, son, motorbikes and two rescue dogs, Wylie and Lucy.